In 1901, Corleone, Sicily, nine-year-old Vito Andolini’s family is killed after his father insults local Mafia chieftain Don Ciccio. He escapes to New York and is registered as "Vito Corleone" on Ellis Island.
Marauding bandits approach a rural mountain village, but their chief decides to spare it until after the harvest because they had raided it before. The plan is overheard by a farmer who tells the rest of village. Lamenting their fate, three farmers ask Gisaku, the village elder and miller, for advice. He declares they should hire samurai to defend the village. Since they have no money to offer, Gisaku tells them to find hungry samurai.
Henry Hill says, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster", referring to his idolizing the Lucchese crime family gangsters in his blue-collar, predominantly Italian-American neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn. Wanting to be part of something significant, Henry quits school and goes to work for them. He is able to make a living for himself and learns the two most important lessons in life: "Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut", the advice given to him after being acquitted of criminal charges early in his career.
In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick "Mac" McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.
On the occasion of his daughter Connie's wedding, Vito Corleone hears requests in his role as the Godfather, the Don of a New York crime family. Vito's youngest son, Michael, wearing a Marine Corps uniform, introduces his girlfriend, Kay Adams, to his family at the reception. Johnny Fontane, a famous singer and godson to Vito, seeks his help in securing a movie role; Vito dispatches his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to Los Angeles to talk the abrasive studio head, Jack Woltz, into giving Johnny the part. Woltz is unmoved until he wakes up in bed with the severed head of his prized stallion.
In the opening scene, chickens are being prepared for a meal when a chicken escapes and an armed gang chases after it in a favela called the Cidade de Deus ("City of God"). The chicken stops between the gang and a young man named Rocket (Buscapé), who believes that the gang wants to kill him. A flashback traces Rocket, the narrator, back to the late 1960s. He lived incredibly poor in this slum of Rio.
Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino and her parents are traveling to their new home when her father takes a wrong turn. They unknowingly enter a magical world that Chihiro's father insists on exploring, believing it to be an abandoned amusement park. Her parents sit at an empty, but seemingly-operational, restaurant stall, and begin to devour the fresh food in a piggish manner; meanwhile, Chihiro discovers an exquisite bathhouse across a bridge, where a young boy named Haku warns her to get out before the impending sunset. Frantically, Chihiro returns to her parents, only to discover that they have literally transformed into pigs. She attempts to escape, but the way by which they came has since become submerged. Frightened and alone, she observes as the world she ventured into reveals itself as a luxurious retreat for spirits to revitalize themselves.
Leone "Léon" Montana (Jean Reno) is a hitman (or "cleaner", as he refers to himself) living a solitary life in New York City's Little Italy. His work comes from a mafioso named Tony (Danny Aiello). Léon spends his idle time engaging in calisthenics, nurturing a houseplant, and watching old films.
A deadly firefight and a fire aboard a ship docked in the San Pedro Bay leaves only two survivors: a Hungarian criminal named Arkos Kovaz hospitalized from severe burns, and a small-time con artist, Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a pathetic cripple. Separately, FBI agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito) and Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) arrive in San Pedro, lured by reports of a large cocaine shipment, and Kujan's personal vendetta against Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), a formerly corrupt police officer who has since given up his life of crime but who was supposedly involved in the massacre. While Baer is at the hospital attempting to get security for Kovaz, Kovaz begins yelling in Hungarian, and mentions the name Keyser Söze, which stops and stuns Baer. As Verbal later explains, Söze has a near mythical and vengeful reputation, having killed his own family when they were held hostage by a Hungarian gang and then killing all but one of the gang members before disappearing underground, keeping his true identity secret by insulating himself from his agents, who usually do not know for whom they are working.
In 1939 Italy, Guido Orefice is a young Jewish man who is leaving his old life and going to work in the city where his uncle lives. Guido is comical and sharp, making the best from each situation he encounters. From the start he falls in love with a girl Dora. Later he sees her again in the city where she is a teacher. Dora is set to be engaged to a rich but arrogant man. He is a local government official with whom Guido has run-ins from the beginning. Guido is still in love with Dora and performs many stunts in order to see her. Guido sets up many "coincidental" incidents to show his interest. Finally Dora sees Guido's affection and promise and gives in against her better judgement. He steals her from her engagement party on a horse, humiliating her fiancé and mother. Soon they are married and have a son, Giosuè.
In Kraków during World War II, the Germans had forced local Polish Jews into the overcrowded Kraków Ghetto. Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German, arrives in the city hoping to make his fortune. A member of the Nazi Party, Schindler lavishes bribes on Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and SS officials and acquires a factory to produce enamelware. To help him run the business, Schindler enlists the aid of Itzhak Stern, a local Jewish official who has contacts with black marketeers and the Jewish business community. Stern helps Schindler arrange loans to finance the factory. Schindler maintains friendly relations with the Nazis and enjoys wealth and status as "Herr Direktor", and Stern handles administration. Schindler hires Jewish workers because they cost less, while Stern ensures that as many people as possible are deemed essential to the German war effort, which saves them from being transported to concentration camps or killed.
In a Louisiana nursing home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb becomes nervous while watching the 1935 film Top Hat. He is with his elderly friend Elaine, who becomes concerned, and Paul tells her that the film reminded him of his past, when he was a prison officer in charge of death row inmates at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary during the summer of 1935. The scene shifts to 1935, where Paul works with fellow guards Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Harry Terwilliger, and Dean Stanton. Unlike the other guards, Paul is a very calm guard and is sympathetic with some inmates.
During a lunchtime tryst in Phoenix, Arizona, a real estate secretary named Marion Crane discusses with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, how they cannot afford to get married because of Sam's debts. After lunch, Marion returns to work, where a client drops off a $40,000 cash payment on a property. Her boss asks her to deposit the money in the bank, and she asks if she can take the rest of the afternoon off. Returning home, she begins to pack for an unplanned trip, deciding to steal the money and give it to Sam in Fairvale, California. She is seen by her boss on her way out of town, which makes her nervous. During the trip, she pulls over on the side of the road and falls asleep, only to be awakened by a state patrol officer. He is suspicious about her nervous behavior but allows her to drive on. Shaken by the encounter, Marion stops at an automobile dealership and trades in her Ford Mainline, with its Arizona license plates, for a Ford Custom 300 that has California tags. Her transaction is all for naught - the highway patrolman sees her at the car dealership and witnesses her purchase of the newer car.