Italian cinema has a rich history that dates back to the early 1900s and has produced many critically acclaimed films over the years. Italian filmmakers have been known for their innovative techniques, artistic flair, and ability to tell compelling stories that resonate with audiences around the world.

From classic neorealist films to modern-day dramas, Italian cinema has something for everyone.

In this article, we will be exploring some of the best Italian movies of all time, including classics like “The Bicycle Thief” and “La Dolce Vita,” as well as more recent favorites like “The Great Beauty” and “Call Me By Your Name.”

Best Italian Movies

We’ll dive into what makes these films so special, their impact on the world of cinema, and why they continue to be beloved by audiences to this day.

So, whether you are a seasoned cinephile or just starting to explore the world of Italian cinema, join us as we celebrate the best that Italian movies have to offer.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

“Cinema Paradiso” is a 1988 Italian film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The film tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director who returns to his hometown in Sicily for the funeral of his old friend and mentor, Alfredo. Through a series of flashbacks, the film explores Salvatore’s childhood and his love for movies, which was nurtured by Alfredo, the projectionist at the local cinema.

One of the most notable aspects of “Cinema Paradiso” is its celebration of the power of cinema to bring people together and shape their lives. The film is a nostalgic tribute to the magic of the movies, and it explores the role that film can play in our personal and cultural memories.

The film is also notable for its beautiful cinematography, lush score, and powerful performances, particularly by Philippe Noiret as Alfredo and Salvatore Cascio as the young Salvatore.

“Cinema Paradiso” won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is considered a classic of Italian cinema and a must-see for anyone interested in the power of film and storytelling.

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Arrow Video Cinema Paradiso [Blu-ray]
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  • English (Subtitle)

2. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

“Bicycle Thieves” is a classic Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica, released in 1948. The movie tells the story of Antonio, an unemployed worker who finally lands a job that requires a bicycle, which he needs to provide for his family.

Unfortunately, on his first day of work, his bicycle gets stolen, and he is left with no other option but to search for it with his young son.

The movie portrays the harsh realities of post-World War II Italy, where poverty and unemployment were widespread. It depicts the struggles of a father and son, the bond between them, and their relentless pursuit to find the stolen bicycle.

“Bicycle Thieves” is considered one of the greatest films ever made and is regarded as a masterpiece of Italian neorealism. The movie’s simple yet powerful storytelling, realistic depiction of poverty and social issues, and exceptional performances make it a must-watch for film enthusiasts.

   

The film’s impact has been far-reaching, influencing filmmakers worldwide and inspiring the development of new cinematic movements.

3. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Once Upon a Time in the West is a classic spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and released in 1968. The film stars Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, and Jason Robards, and is known for its iconic score by Ennio Morricone.

The film tells the story of a mysterious stranger (played by Charles Bronson) who arrives in a small western town and becomes embroiled in a conflict over land rights. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and features Leone’s trademark style of close-ups, long takes, and dramatic cinematography.

Once Upon a Time in the West is widely regarded as one of the greatest westerns ever made and is considered by many to be Sergio Leone’s masterpiece. Its themes of greed, violence, and revenge, combined with its stunning visuals and memorable characters, have made it a beloved classic of cinema.

Once Upon a Time in the West (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)
  • Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale (Actors)
  • Sergio Leone (Director) - Bernardo Bertolucci (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

4. Perfect Strangers (2016)

“Perfect Strangers” (Perfetti sconosciuti) is a 2016 Italian comedy-drama directed by Paolo Genovese. The film tells the story of seven friends who gather for a dinner party and decide to play a game where they put their mobile phones on the table and share all the calls and messages they receive with each other. As the night progresses, secrets and lies are revealed, leading to unexpected twists and turns.

One of the strengths of the film is its exploration of modern-day communication and technology, and how it affects our personal relationships. The characters are forced to confront their own insecurities and vulnerabilities as their private lives are exposed to their friends.

The film also touches on deeper themes such as trust, friendship, and the impact of technology on our daily lives.

“Perfect Strangers” received critical acclaim for its writing, direction, and performances. It won several awards, including Best Original Screenplay at the David di Donatello Awards and the People’s Choice Award for Best European Film at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The film was also a commercial success in Italy and was later remade in several countries, including Spain and Mexico.

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Perfect Strangers ( Perfetti sconosciuti ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]
  • Perfect Strangers ( Perfetti sconosciuti )
  • Perfect Strangers
  • Perfetti sconosciuti
  • Marco Giallini, Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta (Actors)
  • Paolo Genovese (Director) - Perfect Strangers ( Perfetti sconosciuti ) (Producer)

5. Mamma Roma (1962)

“Mamma Roma” is a 1962 Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film tells the story of Mamma Roma, a former prostitute who tries to start a new life for herself and her teenage son, Ettore, in Rome. Mamma Roma hopes to leave her past behind and provide a better future for her son, but she soon realizes that escaping her former life is not so easy.

One of the main themes of “Mamma Roma” is the struggle of marginalized people to find a place in society. The film explores issues of poverty, class, and exploitation, as well as the effects of these issues on personal relationships. The film is also notable for its raw and gritty depiction of life in Rome in the 1960s.

“Mamma Roma” features powerful performances by Anna Magnani as Mamma Roma and Ettore Garofolo as Ettore. The film is considered a classic of Italian neorealist cinema, and it is widely regarded as one of Pasolini’s best works. Its exploration of the social and economic struggles of marginalized communities continues to resonate with audiences today.

Mamma Roma - (Mr Bongo Films) (1962) [DVD]
  • Mamma Roma (1962)
  • Mamma Roma (1962)
  • Anna Magnani, Franco Citti, Ettore Garofolo (Actors)
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini (Director) - Mamma Roma (1962) (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. One Hundred Steps (2000)

“One Hundred Steps” is an Italian biographical drama film directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, released in 2000. The movie is based on the life of Peppino Impastato, a political activist who challenged the mafia’s influence in his hometown of Cinisi, Sicily.

   

The film depicts Peppino’s upbringing, his family’s ties to the mafia, and his growing disillusionment with their criminal activities.

Peppino eventually decides to take a stand against the mafia and becomes a vocal opponent, using his radio station to speak out against their influence. However, his activism leads to his assassination by the mafia in 1978.

“One Hundred Steps” is a powerful portrayal of a man’s courage and determination to fight for justice and the cost of doing so. The film is notable for its strong performances, particularly by the lead actor, Luigi Lo Cascio, who plays Peppino Impastato.

It also offers a nuanced and insightful look into the complex social and political landscape of Sicily during the 1970s. Overall, “One Hundred Steps” is a moving and thought-provoking film that sheds light on the struggles and triumphs of a true hero.

One Hundred Steps (2000) ( I cento passi ) ( 100 Steps (The Hundred Steps) ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]
  • One Hundred Steps (2000) ( I cento passi ) ( 100 Steps (The Hundred Steps) )
  • One Hundred Steps (2000)
  • I cento passi
  • 100 Steps (The Hundred Steps)
  • Luigi Lo Cascio, Luigi Maria Burruano, Lucia Sardo (Actors)

7. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Once Upon a Time in America is a crime drama film directed by Sergio Leone and released in 1984. The film stars Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern, and tells the story of a group of Jewish gangsters in New York City during the Prohibition era.

The film follows the characters from their youth in the Jewish ghetto to their rise as gangsters, and their eventual downfall. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, as the central character, played by De Niro, struggles to come to terms with his past.

Once Upon a Time in America was highly anticipated upon its release, as it marked Leone’s return to filmmaking after a long hiatus. Although the film was initially met with mixed reviews, it has since been reappraised and is now widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Its epic scope, memorable characters, and powerful themes of memory, regret, and redemption have made it a beloved classic of cinema.

   
Once Upon a Time in America
  • Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern (Actors)
  • Sergio Leone (Director)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

8. Life Is Beautiful (1997)

“Life Is Beautiful” (La vita è bella) is a 1997 Italian tragicomedy film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. The film tells the story of Guido, a Jewish man in Italy during World War II, who uses his humor and imagination to protect his son from the horrors of the concentration camp where they are imprisoned.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way in which it blends comedy and tragedy. Despite the bleak subject matter, Benigni manages to inject moments of humor and lightness into the film, making it a truly unique and memorable viewing experience.

The film’s themes of hope, love, and resilience in the face of adversity have resonated with audiences around the world, and it is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Italian cinema.

“Life Is Beautiful” won numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Score, and Best Actor (for Benigni). It was also a commercial success, both in Italy and internationally, and is now considered a classic of world cinema.

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Life is Beautiful [DVD]
  • Claudio Alfonsi, Lidia Alfonsi, Gil Baroni (Actors)
  • Roberto Benigni (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

9. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a 1966 spaghetti western film directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. The film follows three gunslingers in a quest to find a buried treasure during the American Civil War.

One of the defining characteristics of the film is its use of wide, panoramic shots and close-ups to create a sense of epic scale and intense intimacy. The film’s score, composed by Ennio Morricone, is also iconic, featuring haunting vocals, twanging guitars, and dramatic horn blasts.

Another notable aspect of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is its depiction of violence. The film features numerous shootouts and standoffs, as well as scenes of torture and brutality. However, Leone’s approach to violence is often stylized and choreographed, rather than realistic.

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is considered one of the greatest western films ever made, and it has had a lasting influence on popular culture. Its themes of greed, loyalty, and morality continue to resonate with audiences today, and its memorable characters and iconic score have become cultural touchstones.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • 162-Minute Theatrical Cut - Over 30 hours of extensive shot-by-shot color grading and a 4K scan of a...
  • Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach (Actors)
  • Sergio Leone (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

10. Italian Race (2016)

“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a classic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone, released in 1966. The film is set during the American Civil War and follows three gunslingers – “Blondie” (played by Clint Eastwood), “Angel Eyes” (played by Lee Van Cleef), and Tuco (played by Eli Wallach) – as they search for a hidden treasure of gold.

The film is known for its iconic music score by Ennio Morricone and its epic gunfights and action sequences. The performances by the three lead actors are also widely praised, as they bring depth and complexity to their characters.

In addition to its entertainment value, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is often regarded as a landmark in the Western genre, as it subverts traditional Western tropes and presents a more cynical and morally ambiguous view of the Old West.

The film also explores themes of greed, betrayal, and survival, making it a rich and rewarding viewing experience.

Overall, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is a must-see for fans of Westerns, as well as anyone who appreciates great filmmaking and storytelling.

Italian Race ( Veloce come il vento ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]
  • Italian Race ( Veloce come il vento )
  • Italian Race
  • Veloce come il vento
  • Stefano Accorsi, Matilda De Angelis, Giuseppe Gaiani (Actors)
  • Matteo Rovere (Director) - Italian Race ( Veloce come il vento ) (Producer)

11. They Call Me Jeeg (2015)

They Call Me Jeeg is a 2015 Italian superhero film directed by Gabriele Mainetti. The film stars Claudio Santamaria as Enzo, a small-time crook who gains superhuman strength and invincibility after being exposed to a radioactive substance.

Set in the suburbs of Rome, the film follows Enzo as he reluctantly uses his newfound powers to become a superhero and protect his neighborhood from a ruthless gangster known as The Gypsy. Along the way, Enzo develops a relationship with a young woman named Alessia, who becomes his sidekick and romantic interest.

The film was a critical and commercial success in Italy, and received praise for its unique take on the superhero genre, blending gritty realism with elements of fantasy and humor.

It also features an acclaimed performance by Santamaria, who was nominated for several awards for his portrayal of Enzo. They Call Me Jeeg has since gained a cult following among fans of superhero and Italian cinema.

They Call Me Jeeg [DVD]
  • DVD
  • Various Contributors (Actor)
  • Various Contributors (Director)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

12. Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

“Big Deal on Madonna Street” (I soliti ignoti) is a 1958 Italian crime-comedy film directed by Mario Monicelli. The film follows a group of amateur thieves who plan to rob a pawnshop in Rome. Despite their best efforts, things don’t go according to plan and they find themselves facing a series of obstacles and setbacks.

The film is notable for its mix of humor and social commentary. It uses the heist genre to explore issues of poverty, unemployment, and social inequality in post-war Italy.

The characters are lovable and quirky, and the film’s humor is both clever and slapstick. The film’s cast, which includes Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni, is also a major highlight.

“Big Deal on Madonna Street” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and is now regarded as a classic of Italian cinema. It inspired numerous imitations and parodies, both in Italy and internationally, and its influence can be seen in films like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Italian Job.”

Big Deal on Madonna Street (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Carla Gravina (Actors)
  • Mario Monicelli (Director) - Age e Scarpelli (Writer) - Franco Cristaldi (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

13. Mediterraneo (1991)

“Mediterraneo” is a 1991 Italian comedy-drama film directed by Gabriele Salvatores. The film follows a group of Italian soldiers who are sent to a Greek island during World War II to establish a garrison and watchtower. However, they soon find themselves cut off from the outside world and forced to adapt to the local way of life.

One of the defining characteristics of “Mediterraneo” is its lighthearted and humorous tone, despite the serious subject matter of war. The film explores themes of culture clash, friendship, and the human capacity for adaptation and resilience.

The film also features stunning cinematography of the Greek island, showcasing its natural beauty and highlighting the contrast between the soldiers’ military presence and the island’s peaceful existence.

“Mediterraneo” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1992 and is considered a classic of Italian cinema. Its themes and messages continue to resonate with audiences today, making it a timeless film.

Mediterraneo [Italian Edition]
  • Italian (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

14. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

“Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” is a controversial Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, released in 1975. The film is an adaptation of the book “The 120 Days of Sodom” by the Marquis de Sade, and it depicts a group of fascist leaders who kidnap and torture a group of young boys and girls in a remote villa.

The film is infamous for its graphic and disturbing scenes of violence, sexual abuse, and degradation, as well as its political and social commentary on fascism, power, and corruption. It was banned in several countries upon its release, and it continues to be a subject of debate and controversy to this day.

Despite its controversial content, “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” is often regarded as a masterpiece of Italian cinema, with Pasolini’s visionary direction and innovative storytelling techniques earning widespread praise.

The film also features powerful performances from its cast, who bring depth and nuance to their characters despite the difficult subject matter.

However, due to the graphic nature of the film, it is not recommended for all viewers and should only be approached by those who are prepared to engage with its challenging themes and imagery.

Salo Or 120 Days of Sodom (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Aldo Valletti (Actors)
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

15. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (2013)

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer is a 2013 Italian comedy-drama film directed by Pierfrancesco Diliberto, who also co-wrote and starred in the film. The film is a semi-autobiographical story of growing up in 1970s Palermo, Sicily, during the height of the Mafia’s power and influence.

The film follows the story of Arturo, a young boy growing up in Palermo who is fascinated by the Mafia and their violent activities. Arturo’s infatuation with the Mafia leads him into a number of misadventures, including his attempts to impress the girl he has a crush on.

As Arturo grows older, he becomes increasingly aware of the dangers and brutality of the Mafia’s actions, and begins to develop a more nuanced and critical view of their activities. The film is a mix of comedy and drama, with poignant and humorous moments throughout.

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer received critical acclaim and was a box office success in Italy, and has been praised for its unique blend of humor and social commentary, as well as its poignant and realistic depiction of life in Sicily during the Mafia’s reign of terror.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013) ( La mafia uccide solo d'estate ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]
  • The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013) ( La mafia uccide solo d'estate )
  • The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013)
  • La mafia uccide solo d'estate
  • Antonino Bruschetta, Cristiana Capotondi, Pif (Actors)
  • Pif (Director) - The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (2013) ( La mafia uccide solo d'estate ) (Producer)

16. The Legend of 1900 (1998)

“The Legend of 1900” (La leggenda del pianista sull’oceano) is a 1998 Italian drama film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The film tells the story of a talented pianist named Danny Boodmann T.D.

Lemon Nineteen Hundred, or “1900” for short, who is born and raised on an ocean liner that travels between Europe and America.

Despite his extraordinary musical abilities, 1900 never leaves the ship, preferring instead to live his entire life onboard. The film explores themes of love, friendship, and the power of music, and features stunning performances by Tim Roth as 1900 and Pruitt Taylor Vince as his best friend, Max Tooney.

“The Legend of 1900” was praised for its beautiful cinematography, memorable score by Ennio Morricone, and emotional storytelling. While it was not a major commercial success upon its release, the film has since gained a cult following and is considered a classic of Italian cinema.

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Legend of 1900, The (DVD)
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bill Nunn (Actors)
  • Giuseppe Tornatore (Director) - Giuseppe Tornatore (Writer) - Laura Fattori (Producer)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

17. Three Men and a Leg (1997)

“Three Men and a Leg” is a 1997 Italian comedy movie directed by and starring Aldo, Giovanni, and Giacomo. The movie also features Marina Massironi, Luciana Littizzetto, and Paolo Villaggio in supporting roles.

The plot of the movie revolves around three inept thieves, Aldo, Giovanni, and Giacomo, who accidentally come into possession of a severed leg that belongs to a dangerous gangster.

https://www.filmaffinity.com/us/film224826.html

The trio tries to get rid of the leg and escape the gangster’s wrath while also dealing with their own personal problems.

“Three Men and a Leg” received mixed reviews from critics but was a commercial success in Italy. The movie is known for its humor, slapstick comedy, and the comedic chemistry between the lead actors.

Three Men and a Leg
  • Aldo, Giacomo, Marina Massironi (Actors)
  • Aldo (Director) - Three Men and a Leg ( Tre uomini e una gamba ) (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

18. Mi fido di te (2007)

Mi fido di te is a 2007 Italian romantic comedy film directed by Massimo Venier. The film tells the story of Lorenzo (Emilio Solfrizzi), a young man who runs a small company that sells coffee vending machines, and Silvia (Luciana Littizzetto), a middle-aged woman who has just been left by her husband.

Despite their age difference and the initial mistrust between them, Lorenzo and Silvia develop a friendship and eventually fall in love. However, their relationship is complicated by the presence of Silvia’s ex-husband and Lorenzo’s insecurities about their age difference.

https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3037116953/

The film received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising the chemistry between the lead actors and the humor of the script, while others criticized the predictability of the plot and the lack of depth in the characters.

However, Mi fido di te was a box office success in Italy, and was praised for its positive portrayal of an unconventional romantic relationship.

Mi Fido Di Te
  • Audio CD – Audiobook

3 Characteristics of Italian Movies

Italian cinema has a rich history and unique style that sets it apart from other film industries. Here are three characteristics commonly associated with Italian movies:

Emphasis on Realism: Italian cinema often focuses on portraying realistic characters and situations, rather than relying on stylized or exaggerated storytelling. This emphasis on realism can be seen in classic Italian neorealist films such as “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) and contemporary works like “Gomorrah” (2008).

Strong Visual Style: Italian cinema is known for its striking visuals and use of color, light, and composition to convey meaning and emotion. Directors such as Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni are famous for their use of dreamlike imagery and symbolism in their films.

Exploration of Social Issues: Italian cinema often delves into social issues such as politics, class inequality, and corruption. Many Italian films, such as “The Conformist” (1970) and “The Great Beauty” (2013), use their narratives to explore the complexities and contradictions of Italian society and culture.

3 Reasons To Watch Italian Movies

Sure, here are three reasons to watch Italian movies:

Rich Cultural Heritage: Italy is renowned for its art, history, architecture, and cuisine, and Italian movies often reflect these cultural riches. By watching Italian movies, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the country’s heritage and traditions.

Innovative Storytelling: Italian filmmakers have a reputation for experimenting with innovative storytelling techniques. From the poetic realism of neorealist films to the avant-garde style of Federico Fellini, Italian cinema has pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling.

Diverse Genres: Italian cinema encompasses a diverse range of genres, including romantic comedies, historical dramas, crime thrillers, and more. This means that there’s something for everyone, whether you prefer classic Hollywood-style narratives or experimental arthouse films.

Best Italian Movies – Wrap Up

In conclusion, Italian cinema has a rich history and has produced many remarkable films that have made an impact both domestically and internationally. From neorealism to contemporary cinema, Italian filmmakers have contributed to the art of cinema in significant ways.

Some of the best Italian movies that are worth watching include classics such as La Dolce Vita, Bicycle Thieves, and The Godfather, as well as more recent films such as Life is Beautiful, The Great Beauty, and Call Me By Your Name. These movies showcase the breadth and diversity of Italian cinema, and offer something for every taste and interest.

Whether you are interested in exploring the roots of neorealism, the stylish aesthetic of Italian cinema, or the modern approach to filmmaking, Italian movies have something to offer. They are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Italy, and a celebration of the art of cinema.