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The Greatest Italian Movies You Need To See

Part of my ever growing passion for Italy is my love for Italian cinema. I’ve been learning more about the genre of Italian Neorealism and how important Fellini movies are to Italians. I wanted to share my list of the greatest Italian movies with the request that if you enjoy my suggestions or have some of your own, please let us know.

Greatest Italia Movies - Fellini

Frequently Asked Questions About The Greatest Italian Movies

What Is The Most Famous Italian Movie?

This question is dependent on a number of things, one of which is the age of the viewer. In my opinion, the most famous Italian movie is La Dolce Vita, which also happens to be the first Italian movie that I saw. There were others that followed, but the cultural importance of this film, the iconic scenes and the popularity worldwide make this, in my opinion, the most famous Italian movie of all time.

What Is The Highest Grossing Italian Film?

Surprisingly, the highest grossing Italian film, according to Statista is Quo Vado. It surprises me because I am not a fan because it is a more slapstick style of comedy, which I don’t really like. It focuses on a character that is desperately trying to get a Posto Fisso job, which is like a “job for life” where you don’t need to work hard and can’t get fired. I actually bought the DVD on Amazon and had it shipped from Italy to the US (before we moved here) at a considerable expense. This probably adds to my disappointment.

Greatest Italia Movies - Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona – Site of Many Films

Where To Start With Italian Cinema?

It depends on your Italian language skills and your interest in reading subtitles, but for me, a great place to start is with Roman Holiday. It is a beautiful story told in English with many beautiful shots all around Rome.

Where Can I Watch Vintage Italian Movies For Free?

If you are in the US, there are a couple of options to see old Italian movies for free. One is to create an account on RaiPlay, the national broadcaster in Italy. You will need a VPN to act like you are in Italy, but their library is great and they are always adding to it. The only downside is the movies are in Italian with no subtitles.

The other option is to make use of your local library. Years back I was able to borrow DVDs of all the classic Italian movies. Now I think they is a streaming service the libraries partner with that also offers great Italian films.

Where Can I Watch Italian Movies Online?

Netflix is a great place to start if you are looking for classic and new Italian movies. If they don’t have what you are looking for, your library probably offers media streaming for a limited amount of time. Finally, you can create an account on RaiPlay, the national broadcaster in Italy. You will need a VPN to act like you are in Italy, but their library is great and they are always adding to it. The only downside is the movies are in Italian with no subtitles.

The Greatest Italian Movies About Italy

Greatest Italia Movies - Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery – A Great Scene In “The Best Of Youth”

The Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventù)

  • Release Date: June 20, 2003 (In Italy)
  • Genre: Drama, with a little Romance
  • Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
  • My Favorite Stars: Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Maya Sansa
  • Background: This might not really be considered a movie in the traditional sense because as it was explained to me, this was a T.V. mini-series, which would make sense when you consider the more than 6 hour run-time. We didn’t realize it was a 6 hour movie when we started it, but our experience watching it was so great that I was held captive until the end. Can you imagine going to a theater and not realizing you were in for a 6 hour showing. Thankfully we enjoyed it from the comfort of our living room.
  • Synopsis: This epic follows two brothers, Nicola and Matteo as they grow from childhood to adulthood, covering a 40 year timeline. You learn about their passions, fears, friends and lovers all with the backdrop of major events in Italy that shaped them and their country. Events included the flood in Florence, domestic terrorism and bribery scandals. We LOVED this movie because of the performances by the lead actors, the historical significance of the events in Italy used as the backdrop and heart of the characters. 
Greatest Italia Movies - Fellini's La Dolce Vita

Movie Poster In A Bar In Rome

La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)

  • Release Date: April 19, 1961 (in the United States)
  • Genre: Drama with some Comedy
  • Director: Federico Fellini
  • My Favorite Stars: Marcello Mastroianni
  • Background: The impact this movie had on popular culture can not be overstated. Everyone who comes to Rome considers, even for a second, if they should jump into Trevi Fountain and frolic like Anita Ekberg. Did you know that the film is interpreted as being made up of seven different episodes? Also, most of the film was shot in The Factory of Dreams, Cinecittà Studios in Rome and the word Paparazzi originated with this film. I’ve also spent some time reflecting on the concept of La Dolce Vita, so you might check out that post.
  • Synopsis: The film follows a tabloid journalist, played by Marcello, over seven days and nights of his work and personal life. He is on the search for love and happiness as part of his search for The Sweet Life. It is very dramatic considering there is a possible overdose, a suicide and a good old trampling. More dramatic that you might expect if all you know of the movie is leap into the fountain.
Greatest Italia Movies - Actual Marforio Statue

Actual Marforio Statue

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

  • Release Date: March 14, 2014
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Paolo Sorrentino
  • My Favorite Stars: Toni Servillo
  • Background: I LOVE Toni Servillo and I am trying to watch all his work. This is definitely my favorite of his, but in all honesty, they are all great!
  • Synopsis: Jep Gambardella is a journalist who lives his adult life enjoying the nightlife of Rome. He had early career success with his one and only novel and he trades that success for being a fixture in the city’s social circles. After his birthday, he unexpectedly looks inward to find more meaning in his life, following the death of his muse.

The Most Romantic Italian Movies

Book of the Same Name Ieri, Oggi, Domani

Book of the Same Name

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Ieri, Oggi, Domani)

  • Release Date: March 17, 1964 (in the United States)
  • Genre: Comedy and Romance
  • Director: Vittorio De Sica
  • My Favorite Stars:  Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni
  • Background: The one part of this film that really jumps out at me were the scenes in “Mara’s” apartment. The view of Piazza Navona is special because it shows a time when you could drive into the piazza and park there, which is pretty hard to imagine today.
  • Synopsis: This is an original screenplay that is clearly divided into three parts, yesterday, today and tomorrow. While they are all acted beautifully by Sofia and Marcello, they are distinct stories with different characters. These three stories demonstrate the social customs and behaviors in Italy in an entertaining way.

The Postman (Il Postino)

  • Release Date
  • Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama, Romance
  • Directors: Michael Radford and the star Massimo Troisi
  • My Favorite Stars: Maria Grazia Cucinotta
  • Background: The beauty of this movie will always be tinged with sadness for me since I learned that the writer/co-director/star Massimo Troisi postponed his heart surgery so that he could complete the film. The day after filming was complete, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
  • Synopsis: Mario befriends a famous, and real, Chilean poet named Pablo Neruda, who is exiled to his small village. Massimo learns about love and poetry and takes this new learning to win the heart of Beatrice, who he recently has fallen in love with.
Greatest Italia Movies - Bocca della Verità
Bocca della Verità

Roman Holiday

  • Release Date: September 2, 1953
  • Genre: Comedy and Romance
  • Director: William Wyler
  • My Favorite Stars: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert
  • Background: One thing I found out about this movie long after I had watched it a great number of times is that the screenwriter was Dalton Trumbo. he was one of the professionals in Hollywood who were blacklisted and needed to continue working under fake names, so he was uncredited for this film initially. 
  • Synopsis: An American journalist, played by Gregory Peck, is working in Rome for a news service he doesn’t respect, but has a chance encounter with European royalty, played by Audrey Hepburn. Realizing who she is, he and his photographer friend played by Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame, spends as much time as possible with her in an attempt to get an exclusive and further their careers. And wouldn’t you know it, Peck and Hepburn fall in love. Even though it is in Black and White, the beauty of Rome shines through. It also gave a boost to the newly created Vespa brand.

Living Language Daily Italian Calendar

This fun calendar is great to sit on the corner of your desk and help you learn new Italian words everyday. I used it for years!

Other Great Movies Set In Italy

In addition to Roman Holiday which I have included above, there are other great movies about Italy, some of which were made in English for American audiences. For me, these are second tier favorites, so if you have already seen the movies I’ve listed above, then maybe this might also be of interest to you:

More Posts About Italian Movies And Culture

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy some other posts that highlight the beauty of Italian cinema and the culture that we are obsessed with:

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