If Hollywood Royalty Exists, It Begins With The Coppola Family

The family’s influence is vast, stretching across many genres and many eras.
By  · Published on June 25th, 2017

This weekend we’re exploring the concept of Hollywood Royalty. For more, click here.

The family’s influence is vast, stretching across many genres and many eras.

Throughout Hollywood history, there have been plenty of families whose members have found fame and fortune within the industry. To name a few: Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher, the Smiths (Will, Willow, Jada, Jaden), and The Barrymores (Ethel, Lionel, John, Drew). However, there is perhaps no other family which can match the talent and influence of the Coppola clan.

The Coppola family’s influence is so wide-reaching that Entertainment Weekly published an article outlining the various branches of their family tree. There is no one explanation as to how so many individual members of one family have been able to achieve such success within the film industry — it is not a simple case of generational nepotism, as these are all deeply talented artists. Certainly, having family ties to the industry has given basically every member of the Coppola family opportunities that other people can only dream of. They have access to film sets, financial and production-related resources, and influential people within the industry. However, they have proven time and time again that they are an exceptionally talented group of people with great passion for cinema.

It isn’t as though every member of the Coppola family exclusively makes great movies — they have had their share of missteps and misunderstood works, much like any artists — but their influence within Hollywood is undeniable. The Coppola family has been making and acting in movies since the 1960s, and three different generations of the family have been nominated for Academy Awards. The Coppolas are actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, musicians, and entrepreneurs. They’ve worked in various genres such as comedy, drama, horror, gangster films, and countless teenage coming-of-age tales. They have all developed distinct and unique styles in their work, contributing to various movements and periods within Hollywood history.

Francis Ford Coppola

Apocalypse Now/United Artists

Francis Ford is the beating heart and the King of the Coppola family. His mother and father, Italia and Carmine, were the children of Italian immigrants who moved to New York to start a family. His father was a musician and composer — best known for winning the Best Original Score Oscar for his work on The Godfather Part II. Carmine Coppola scored a number of Francis’ films, from The Godfather trilogy to Apocalypse Now.

Peter Biskind provides an incredibly detailed outline of Francis’ filmmaking career — with all its ups and downs — in his book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.” FF was an obsessive and meticulous filmmaker right from his start at UCLA Film School. His drive, intelligence, and ability to take charge combine to make the perfect directorial temperament. FF became known as part of the “New Hollywood” movement, which Biskind’s book focuses on. This was an era when young directors were studying the new discipline of cinema in school and were becoming literate in film history, including European art cinema and films from around the world.

Filmmakers such as FF Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and George Lucas began their careers at this time, and all found a way of combining classical Hollywood cinema with more experimental European-style filmmaking. This male-centric movement was when Coppola’s career thrived: he directed The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), and The Outsiders (1983). Ian Sansom of The Guardian writes that Coppola “personifies a particular era in American movie history,” and that over time he has become something of a mythic figure. It has also been speculated that George Lucas based the character Han Solo off of Coppola. The two were good friends and founded the production company American Zoetrope together in 1969. Although this business venture sometimes proved tumultuous, the studio has been incredibly successful over the years, producing films by directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, and Akira Kurosawa, and was one of the first studios to adopt digital technologies.

Coppola’s films reflect his obsessions with perfectly composed images, raw emotional performances, and medium-specific experimentation. Gordon Willis’ dark cinematography in The Godfather beautifully symbolizes the shadowy secrets of the mafia. Martin Sheen’s descent into the dizzyingly hot Vietnamese jungle amidst gunfire, bombs, and The Doors reflects the personal turmoil Coppola went through in making Apocalypse Now. Despite financial, physical, and mental difficulties, Coppola gave everything he had to finish this film. He cares so deeply about his work that he would nearly die to make movies. His wife Eleanor directed the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse which delves into the borderline-traumatic making of this masterpiece.

Perhaps a perfect distillation of Coppola’s filmmaking style, as well as the New Hollywood movement as a whole, is The Conversation. The film stars Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who stumbles upon what he thinks is a murder plot, and who becomes increasingly paranoid about what he may have heard. The film bears stylistic and narrative similarity to Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blowup. This represents the influence of European directors on young American filmmakers. The Conversation has one of the perfect sound designs of any film — Hackman’s character obsessively plays and re-plays the titular conversation through his headphones, and over time the words take on different meanings, despite having not changed at all. The smallest sounds have significance in this film. Coppola creates an incredibly tense and suspenseful film without anything particularly violent happening onscreen. The Conversation showcases Coppola’s mastery over the medium, as well as his knowledge of experimental and arthouse film history.

While the New Hollywood movement is when Coppola developed his style and directed the films now considered to be his masterworks, he has been consistently making films since then. He has been lauded for his creative and emotional work on films such as Rumble Fish (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Jack (1996), The Rainmaker (1997), and most recently, Distant Vision (2015).

Sofia Coppola

The Virgin Suicides/Paramount Classics

Ian Sansom writes that Francis Ford Coppola is “often compared to Michael Corleone…[he] has always sought to involve his family in his business.” Sofia is the daughter of Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola and has also become one of the best-known directors in Hollywood. Sofia is known for her quiet, introspective films which often focus on troubled female characters and their inner lives. Sofia also appeared as an actress in a few of her father’s films, most notably the maligned The Godfather Part III (1990), where she was harshly criticized for both nepotism and less-than-perfect acting.

The first film she directed was a short called Lick the Star (1998), a wicked and funny teenage drama, and a perfect precursor to her first feature — The Virgin Suicides (1999). The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the Lisbon sisters, five young blonde girls, all quiet and thoughtful, who decide to take their own lives, as a group of young boys watch them over time, confused and intrigued. The biggest takeaway from the film is that one cannot understand what is going on inside someone else’s head, despite any amount of speculation — specifically as this relates to young women. This theme is a thread which weaves throughout Coppola’s work, which FSR’s Sinead McCausland beautifully explores in this article.

Female melancholy permeates all of her films, including Lost in Translation (2003) — for which she won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay — as well as Marie Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010), and The Bling Ring (2013). Coppola explores different expressions of femininity, with some of her images, sounds, and characters being soft and quiet, and others being bold, loud, and obnoxious. Her upcoming film The Beguiled seems to be a combination of both, focusing on an isolated group of women, and their wicked influence over a man who accidentally ends up within their gates. Despite her maligned performance in The Godfather, Sofia Coppola has proven that she is a hard-working and intelligent director, whose talents have little to do with who she is related to.

Talia Shire

Talia Shire — maiden name Coppola — is the sister of Francis and their brother August, a literature professor. She is a nuanced and emotionally intelligent actress, best known for playing Connie Corleone in The Godfather films, and Adrian Balboa in the Rocky film series. The Coppola family magic applies to Talia Shire, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for her acting work in The Godfather Part II and Rocky (1976). Across these two film series, Shire has shown her talent and range in playing characters who are damaged, sweet, shy, dedicated, and troubled, all at the same time. She is also mother to Jason Schwartzman, another talented and fairly eccentric actor who has appeared in numerous Wes Anderson films such as The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Rushmore (1998), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

Nicolas Kim Coppola

Double Nic Cages in Adaptation/Columbia Pictures

Wait, who? You know this — Nicolas Cage. Nic Cage is the son of August Coppola, Francis and Talia’s brother. In fact, he has a very small role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) where he is credited as “Nicolas Coppola.” If you haven’t done so already, please acquaint yourself with Chris Coffel’s brilliant series of articles, The Tao of Nicolas Cage, in which he delves into the performances and nuances of the enigmatic NC.

Despite memes upon memes making fun of Nic Cage, he is certainly one of the most interesting actors to ever work in Hollywood. He is a man with a style all his own, who puts 100% into every single role he takes on — even if those roles are in ridiculous films such as Ghost Rider or National Treasure. Nic Cage is the kind of actor who does not see any role as one to be ashamed of, and while this could potentially be a point to criticize, it just proves his dedication to his craft. Nicolas Cage is an actor with an endless amount of artistic energy. His Lynchian Elvis impersonation in Wild at Heart (1990) is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. He gives passionate and strangely sweet performances in Moonstruck (1987), Raising Arizona (1987), and Adaptation (2002). Nic Cage is versatile and willing to take risks and definitely does not deserve the criticism and mockery he so often receives.

Gian-Carla “Gia” Coppola

Palo Alto/Tribeca Film

The youngest member of the Coppola family to break into the industry, Gia Coppola is the daughter of Sofia and Roman’s eldest brother, Gian-Carlo (who died tragically before she was born). Gia grew up on film sets, specifically her aunt Sofia’s, and she even contributed to the costume design of Somewhere. It seems to be a combination of natural talent and being nurtured by the film industry, but Gia seemed destined to become a director herself. Her first feature, Palo Alto (2013), is an adaptation of a book of short stories by James Franco (who also starred in the film). The film has the dreamy softness of a Sofia Coppola film — a poster for The Virgin Suicides is visible at one point — and also focuses on the heaviness and melancholy of being a teenage girl. Daniel D’Addario describes it as a “moody, atmospheric piece of work”, and notes that Coppola was only 27 years old at the time of directing her first feature. One cannot be sure what is in store for her future, but it almost definitely will be bright and creatively rich.

This was my attempt to parse through the works of one of the most famous, influential, and talented families in Hollywood history. Much more could easily be written on any member of the Coppola family, as they have contributed so much work to the industry over four generations. From Apocalypse Now to Lost in Translation, from Rumble Fish to Palo Alto, the Coppola family is Hollywood royalty if there ever was such a thing.

Related Topics: , , ,

Actual film school graduate from Toronto. Always thinking and writing about queerness, feminism, camp, melodrama, and popular culture.