After doing low-budget films in the early seventies, his breakthrough was winning an Academy Award for his screenplay of Patton. George Lucas was hired to be his assistant. In 1972 The Godfather was a critical and huge commercial success, and with that recognition, Coppola shot George Lucas to fame for producing his American Graffiti and THX 1138. In 1974 he directed The Godfather Part II, and The Conversation in the same year. The production of Apocalypse Now was an absolute nightmare for everyone who worked on it, but the film is widely regarded today by film critics as a masterpiece.
Those were his most famous works. In The Eighties he released Peggy Sue Got Married, featuring his nephew Nicolas Cage. He also directed The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, two "pet projects" of his. The Outsiders launched the careers of more than a few familiar actors now. In The Nineties he went more commercial with films such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jack and The Rainmaker.
Recent projects include New York Stories with other famed directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, Youth Without Youth and Tetro. He now publishes magazines and makes wine and lives in San Francisco.
His father Carmine Coppola was the first flautist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and won an Oscar scoring The Godfather Part II. His daughter Sofia Coppola became an acclaimed director (despite an ill-fated acting gig in The Godfather Part III). His sister Talia Shire was cast by him as Connie Corleone, and later became Rocky's wife Adrian (her son Jason Schwartzman is also an actor). His brother August is the father of Nicolas Cage.
- Auteur License: Got it with The Godfather, lost it somewhat after One From the Heart bombed and caused him to file bankruptcy. How much he still has this has varied from project to project since then until the past decade when he was able to fund his own films.
- Berserk Button: In the DVD Commentary, Coppola is very defensive of his choice to cast his daughter Sophia in the third Godfather film. The much-criticized casting choice was due to Winona Ryder ducking out of the role day before shooting began (and Coppola being having hard demands to stay on time and budget), and Coppola had to scramble to fill it. It's said to be a poor idea to bring it up in his presence.
- Breather Episode: One From the Heart was supposed to be this for him after the incredibly difficult production of Apocalypse Now. Sadly, its critical and commercial failure came close to killing his career and ensured he'd never reach the peaks of his 70s work again.
- Career Killer: One From the Heart though he's still made somewhat high profile projects compared to most victims of this trope. Its failure did kill his independent production studio though.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Subverted. Coppola felt that Mario Puzo deserved most of the credit for The Godfather, so it's known as Mario Puzo's The Godfather. He also named his Dracula adaptation Bram Stoker's Dracula.
- Troubled Production: Apocalypse Now was a case so famous that it has its own documentary dedicated to it, Hearts of Darkness. Coppola himself summed it up by saying "My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam" and famously explaining that "We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane." Let's see, where do we start? Filmed in the Philippines and took four years to finish. Marlon Brando was cast as Colonel Kurtz, being his usual prima donna self. President Marcos disrupted production by recalling the military equipment he lent to Coppola to fight against the Communist insurgents in the South. A typhoon in May 1976 combined with constant raining totally ground production to a halt for six weeks. The ending had to be re-written on the fly and the script was frequently discarded for improvisation. Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack. A scene that cost hundreds of thousands to film was thrown out. After a year of actual filming, Coppola took two further years in post-production to deliver the final product. To sum up: Laurence Fishburne lied about his age to get cast as a 17-year old in the movie when he was actually 14. By the time the movie was released, he was actually 17 years old.
- The Godfather also caused Coppola to clash with Paramount's executives very often.