Smooth, high quality N-polar GaN films were realized by metal organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) through growth on misoriented (0001) sapphire substrates and the development of a high temperature nucleation process. Misorientation angles from 0.5° to 4° toward the a and the m plane of the sapphire substrate were investigated. Whereas GaN films grown on substrates with a misorientation angle of only 0.5° or 1° exhibited high densities of hexagonal surface features as commonly observed for N-polar GaN films grown by MOCVD, smooth GaN layers were obtained on sapphire substrates with misorientation angles of 2° or larger. In addition, the structural and optical properties of the GaN films significantly improved with increasing misorientation angle, as evaluated by high resolution x-ray diffraction, atomic force microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and photoluminescence measurements. The properties of GaN layers grown on (0001) sapphire with a misorientation of 4° were comparable to Ga-polar GaN films grown in the same reactor.