Goodfellas, the 1990 movie adaption of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, is with no doubt one of the quintessential gangster movies and a definitive cinematic portrait of mafia life. In case you didn't know, it was directed by Martin Scorsese—the same guy who's behind The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019).
But many film critics have lauded Goodfellas as Martin Scorsese's greatest movie. And rightly so because the performances in Goodfellas are spectacular, and the movie feels like a two-and-a-half-hour long trailer as you move from one iconic scene to another.
But if you have watched, you already knew that. For those who haven't watched the movie, don't worry, no major spoilers today.
Instead, we will focus on the top 10 intriguing facts about the movie's production, actors, history, and its impact on pop culture.
1. The Movie Only Covers a Portion of Henry Hills's Criminal Escapades
The real-life Henry Hill was a member of the Lucchese crime family (one of the "Five Families" that dominate organized crime activities in New York City). His three-decade-long stint as a mobster inspired the book Wiseguy, which was adapted to the movie Goodfellas.
But some of Hill's infamous crimes didn't get a chance to be featured. For example, in the book The Lufthansa Heist, Hill reportedly took cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder out for a drink as his buddies stole more than $1 million worth of goods from her New York townhouse.
The story goes that Hill noticed Estee was terrified and offered to take her out for a cup of coffee, saying he'd bring her back when his men had finished robbing her!
How true this story is no one knows, but one thing is sure: Hills's crime resume was way too long to fit into a single movie—even one with a chunky 2.5 hours runtime.
2. Goodfellas isn't the Only Henry Hill Movie from the 90s
The second movie, My Blue Heaven, was written by Pileggi's wife, Nora Ephron, although Henry Hill's character is renamed "Vincent 'Vinnie' Antonelli." The movie is a comical take on Henry Hill's life in witness protection after he betrayed the mafia by turning state witness.
And in case you are wondering, this is the wife of the same Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book Martin Scorsese based his movie Goodfellas on.
In fact, much of the research for both films was done in the same sessions with the real-life New York mobster Henry Hill. In terms of story timelines, My Blue Heaven plays out as a kind of sequel to Goodfellas even though it was released one month before.
3. Goodfellas is a Recognized Cultural Phenomena
There's no denying that movies tend to have a significant impact on society and, in some ways, shape our beliefs and values.
But few movies stand the test of time and turn into cultural icons. Goodfellas is one of a few such movies. Even 30 years after it was first shown in theatres, it's still as popular and remains to be the go-to guide for typical mafia life.
The movie also gained official recognition. Since 1988, the National Film Registry has spent the last 30+ years securing the legacies of classic films, and Goodfellas made the list of "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" films in 2000.
Compiled and maintained by the United States Library of Congress, the National Film Registry currently boasts of 800 films that have undeniably cemented their impact on American culture.
4. Michael Imperioli was Rushed to Hospital with a Fake Gunshot Wound and An Actual Bleeding Hand
In Goodfellas, Michael Imperioli played Spider, a kid who is bullied by Tommy DeVito (portrayed by Joe Pesci) and shot in the foot for not bringing him a drink fast enough.
Later on, when Tommy kills Spider by shooting him several times in the chest, Imperioli accidentally cuts his fingers on broken glass while falling backward.
It turns out instead of being given a prop glass; he had been given an actual drinking glass to hold. So when Imperioli fell backward as part of the stunt, the real glass broke and cut open his hand. With his hand now bleeding, he had to take a trip to the emergency room closest to the filming location.
At the hospital, the nurses and doctors, on seeing him, thought he had been shot for real. They rushed to his side to treat his 'gunshot wounds' only to find wires and fake blood.
He did get his hand treated, but the hospital staff were not impressed at all.
5. Henry Hill Got Kicked Out of Witness Protection
After flipping on his mafia buddies in 1980, Hill went into the Witness Protection Program. However, he never really settled into the lifestyle U.S. Marshals carved out for him.
Soon after, Hill was back to his wiseguy (official member of the mafia) ways, contacting past criminal connections and getting arrested on drug charges.
Around the time Goodfellas movie was released, Hill had already been booted from the program for his wayward behavior.
While one would have expected him to lay low, he went on to do the exact opposite. In the years that followed, it was common for him to show up at Goodfellas-related events, and he even made frequent appearances at The Howard Stern Show until his death in 2012. How he served all those years without retaliation from the mob is a mystery.
6. The 1978 Lufthansa Heist Cash was Never Recovered
Goodfellas features a lot of real-life stories, and one of them is the 1978 Lufthansa heist. This was, at the time, the largest cash robbery in American history. 5 million in cash and almost 1 million worth of jewelry was stolen from New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The mastermind was a criminal associate of Henry Hill, Jimmy Burke (portrayed by Robert De Niro). The heist was successful other than one critical mistake— one of the gateway drivers failed to get rid of the van that had been used in the theft.
The police were able to track it down a few days afterward, and this helped the FBI link the heist to Burke's crew.
Yet, decades later, no one knows where the stolen cash and jewelry went.
In fact, most of the gangsters involved in the heist never got their cut.
Turns out the real-life Jimmy Burke killed most of them in a desperate effort to minimize any ties of the heist back to him.
He was later convicted (Henry Hill testified against him) and died in 1996 while serving a 20-year jail term. The secrets of the Lufthansa heist and the whereabouts of the stolen cash went with him to his grave.
7. Goodfellas Test Screening was Disastrous
During the Goodfellas preview screening in Orange County, California, Warner Bros. executives didn't even have to wait for the audience to turn in their scorecards to get a read on the room.
There's was a reported 70 walkouts during the screening and angry comments on the scorecards, with one even writing "f**k you" on their card.
It seems the movie's endless violent scenes had elicited angry reactions from moviegoers. This had the folks at Warner Bros extremely worried about how the film would perform once it hit the mainstream cinemas.
But if Goodfellas popularity to date is anything to go by, the disastrous screening wasn't anything to be worried about.
8. The Movie Got as Authentic as Could Be
And a great deal of material from Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book, Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1985), went straight into the Goodfellas movie without alterations. The director Martin Scorsese was committed to keeping the film as authentic as possible.
For example, U.S. Attorney Edward McDonald reenacted the conversation he had with the real Henry Hill. In the movie, he plays himself as he explains the terms of a deal with the government to Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) after Hill flipped on the mafia.
Rather than use a professional actor, Scorsese went with the genuine article. Thirty years later, the accomplished lawyer still considers Goodfellas his favorite law-themed movie and says many people still remember his famed line, "Don't give me the babe in the woods routine, Karen."
9. Some Goodfellas Actors Have Appeared in Other Major Crime Productions
The Sopranos is still largely considered to be one of the best television shows. And it also owes a lot of its success to its predecessors.
A number of elements of the hit series such as its inclination to brutish violence can be traced back to Goodfellas. And not only that: an astonishing 27 actors have featured in both works!
While most of the appearances are blink-and-you-miss-it cameos, other actors landed significant roles in both productions. For example, Lorraine Bracco appears as Henry's wife in Goodfellas and Tony Soprano's therapist in The Sopranos.
Another example is Tony Lip, who's best known for his portrayal of New York crime boss Carmine Lupertazzi on The Sopranos. The actor also made an appearance in not only Goodfellas but also The Godfather( his first-ever film role).
10. Goodfellas Has A Lot of a Certain Expletive Word in its Dialogue
Among the many things Goodfellas has become famous for over the 30 years is its liberal use of the word "f**k." In all, the expletive and its many colorful derivatives are used 300 times, ranking it number 15th on the list of the most f-bomb-laden films ever released.
Interestingly, the script only called for the word to be used 70 times, but much of the dialogue was improvised during shooting, where the expletives piled up.
Two other Scorsese films outrank Goodfellas when it comes to this specific profanity: the word is dropped 422 times in Casino (no. 7) and a whopping 506 times in The Wolf of Wall Street (no. 3).
The debate over the best mafia movie often boils down to Goodfellas and The Godfather. Today we focused on the former, but you can read our Godfather feature here: 10 Surprising Facts About The Godfather Trilogy.
Which among the two iconic mafia movies is your most favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section.