ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

I know there are some out who claim The Godfather is the quintessential gangster movie - and, sure, it is pretty incredible - but I still think Martin Scorsese's genre masterpiece, Goodfellas, can give the entire Godfather Trilogy a run for its money.

The United States Library of Congress certainly agrees, as they have accepted Goodfellas into the National Film Registry for being "culturally significant," while it was also showered with awards from around the world - including a Best Film win at the BAFTAs.

With this mind, let's take a look at some lesser known facts about Goodfellas.

The "You Think I'm Funny" Scene was Improvised

One of the most iconic scenes in the movie actually took place without most of the actors involved fully knowing what to expect. The scene is actually based on a real life situation Joe Pesci encountered while working as a waiter in a restaurant. He once told a known mobster that he thought he was funny, which resulted in the gangster becoming very angry. Even though he eventually said he was joking, Pesci was still left terrified by the encounter.

In this scene, only Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta knew what to expect.

Joe Pesci Played His Character to Near Perfect Accuracy

According to Henry Hill, the real-life former gangster played by Ray Liotta in the movie, Joe Pesci was 90-99% accurate in his portrayal of the rather sadistic and dangerous Tommy DeSimone. The only difference was that DeSimone was really a massive, well-built man.

The Famous Steadicam Shot Was a Fortunate Accident

The now legendary scene in which Henry escorts his date, and future wife, through the bowels of the Copacabana Club was in fact a happy accident. The location had refused Martin Scorsese the use of the front entrance, and so he had to devise another way of entering the club.

Al Pacino Almost Played Another Gangster

Classic gangster actor, Al Pacino, was originally offered the role of Jimmy Conway - which eventually went to the other classic gangster actor, Robert De Niro. Pacino reportedly turned it down because he feared being type cast after The Godfather Trilogy.

Interestingly, however, Pacino did end up playing a gangster in the same year as Goodfellas' release, taking the role of Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy. He has since admitted he regretted turning down the Goodfellas role.

Goodfellas Featured Actual Mobsters

According to Nicholas Pileggi, the co-writer of the script, some actual gangsters were hired as extras to give the film extra authenticity. Apparently, many of them gave fake social security numbers to Warner Bros. and it is unknown how they were actually paid.

Goodfellas Also Featured an Ex-Cop Who Later Became a Mobster

One relatively minor role was that of 'Fat Andy,' a mobster who Henry introduces us to in the bar. This character was played by Lou Eppolito, a former NYPD detective whose father, uncle and cousin had all been in the Mafia. However, in 2005 it was revealed Eppolito and his partner were involved in racketeering, the obstruction of justice, extortion and up to 8 murders. Eppolito was eventually sentenced to life plus 100 years in prison.

The Witness Protection Attorney Played Himself

The scene in which Henry and Karen are discussing entering the Witness Protection Program features former U.S. Attorney Edward McDonald playing himself. He was the actual attorney responsible for the real-life Henry and Karen entering the program. For the film, he simply reenacted what actually happened. He's actually a pretty good actor.

Goodfellas Opened to Terrible Preview Reviews

When Goodfellas was opened up by Warner Brothers to advanced reviews, it received the worst preview responses in the studio's history. Martin Scorsese even claimed "the numbers were so low it was funny." Of course, when it was released commercially, with no alterations, it received overwhelming critical acclaim.

Tom Cruise and Madonna Were the Studio Favorites for Henry and Karen

Originally, Warner Brothers producers campaigned for Tom Cruise and Madonna to take the lead roles of Henry and Karen Hill. I think Martin Scorsese made the right decision, don't you?

Goodfellas Contains a Lot of Fucks

Goodfellas contains 321 instances of the word 'fuck' (and its derivatives). Almost half of these were spoken by Joe Pesci alone. After watching the film, his mother claimed she liked it, but also asked if he had to curse so much.


Which classic gangster movie is your favorite?


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