As one of Breaking Bad‘s biggest influences, it’s no surprise that the series makes plenty of nods to The Godfather. Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad crosses into a number of different genres, from crime thriller and western to drama and sitcom. Naturally, this means the meth-making adventures of Walter White take inspiration from a wide variety of sources, but Breaking Bad still wears its love for epic organized crime movies on its sleeve, with references to Scarface, Reservoir Dogs and the Godfather trilogy dotted throughout the Easter egg-heavy show.
It feels serendipitous that Breaking Bad, often touted as the greatest TV series of all time, should be so heavily inspired by The Godfather, which in turn is considered by many to be the greatest movie of all time. On the surface, the two stories might appear very different – the era and setting are complete opposites, the characters are from entirely dissimilar backgrounds and Breaking Bad infuses dark humor where The Godfather barely cracked a smile. Look a little deeper, however, and the references, parallels and allusions to Francis Ford Coppola’s classic are prevalent throughout Breaking Bad.
Walt’s Journey Mirrors Michael Corleone’s – The biggest, most sweeping similarity between Breaking Bad and The Godfather is in Walter White and Michael Corleone’s respective arcs. Although it’s tempting to compare Walt to Marlon Brando’s Vito, it’s Michael he shares most in common with. Both characters move from a position of innocence to one of criminal power and are intellectuals in a world of muscle, both shut their wives out of their business but end up endangering their family anyway, and both men go into hiding before returning home to settle old scores.
Shadowy Cinematography – As pointed out by Insider, Breaking Bad‘s cinematography is heavily inspired by The Godfather‘s. Gordon Willis’s work on the 1970s classic was notoriously shadowy, creating intrigue and allusion by hiding facial expressions from the audience. Several examples of this groundbreaking technique are implemented in Breaking Bad, particularly with Walter White.
Recycling Famous Quotes – Breaking Bad borrows several quotes directly from The Godfather. Both Michael Corleone and Walter White drop Sun Tzu’s “keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer” advice. Saul Goodman asks Jesse if he’ll put in a good word with him “for old time’s sake” which mirror’s Tessio’s plea in The Godfather. Saul also mocks Skyler with The Godfather‘s famous “an offer he can’t refuse” line.
Saul Compares Himself To Tom Hagen – It’s fitting that Saul should be the main source of references to The Godfather in Breaking Bad – he’s the fish out of water most likely to compare real life crime with the movies. Explaining his role in the drug business to Walt, Saul visits Bryan Cranston’s character at his high school teacher day job and asks “what did Tom Hagen do for Vito Corleone?” Walt balks at being compared to Vito, and Saul accuses him of being a “Fredo” instead.
Oranges Foreshadowing Death – Coppola famously uses oranges to signify when a character is going to be killed or when an attempt will be made on their life. Breaking Bad does the same but in a less serious way. When Ted slips and falls over his rug, a bowl of oranges is placed prominently in shot. In a further example, Walt’s neighbor drops a bag of oranges when he returns to his old home in season 5’s “Blood Money,” hinting towards deadly intentions.
Murderous Montages – One of the most famous sequences in The Godfather is the montage of Michael Corleone’s men taking out rival gangsters while Michael himself attends the christening of his nephew. Walt performs a modern version of this when orchestrating his own series of murders, killing those in jail who might potentially reveal Walt to the authorities. Walt is at his family home during this, and plays with his young daughter while the TV news covers the murders.
Hank Confronts Walter White – After Hank figures out Walter White is Heisenberg, their confrontation scene has numerous parallels with Michael confronting Fredo in The Godfather II. The grabbing of the face, Hank/Michael’s flitting between anger and betrayal, and the heavy focus on “family.” Vince Gilligan has claimed that these similarities weren’t intentional, but did notice them after watching the iconic Breaking Bad scene back.