The best movies about Italy are those that help you understand its history and culture, and to appreciate its beauty. They are those that, from the very comfort of your sofa or bed, take you all the way to Italy and immerse you in a wholly different world, and that give you plenty of reasons to want to visit Italy.
Italy has produced some real masterpieces when it comes to movies, and continues to inspire writers and directors. But not all these movies are Italian: some of them are actually Hollywood productions that you surely have seen. I have seen some of these movies when I was living in the United States or in England, and I remember thinking to myself what a gorgeous country I am lucky to call home.
All these movies have plots that take place in Italy – wholly or partially, with beautiful settings that will leave you itching to go to that very place, and discover those very corners. Some are romantic comedies; others are thriller and even action movies; and there even is a good dose for drama.
In this post, I select all the movies you should watch before visiting Italy.
33 Best Movies About Italy
Classic movies set in Italy
Roman Holiday (1953)
Released in 1953, Roman Holiday is one of the oldest as well as one of the best movies about Italy – in other words, a real classic. It features Audrey Hepburn who plays a princess utterly bored with the royal tour she is on, and willing to do absolutely anything to escape.
That’s how she encounters reporter Gregory Peck, who if following the royal tour, with whom she ends up zipping around the beautiful streets of Rome before returning to her royal life and duties.
This is the movie that launched Audrey Hepburn and that made Vespas become associated with Italy.
Journey to Italy (1954)
One of Roberto Rossellini’s masterpieces, Viaggio in Italia (that’s the original title) is a 1954 black and white movie that features Ingrid Bergman and George Sander as a couple facing a crisis who travel from London all the way to Naples, where they have inherited a villa, in the hope of reviving their passion for one another and – with that – their marriage.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. But meanwhile, they visit gorgeous places – Capri, Pompei and Naples.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Award winning Italian director Federico Fellini‘s masterpiece dates back to 1960 and features paparazzo (photojournalist) and womanizer Marcello Mastroianni (one of the best Italian actors of last century) searching for the sweet life of Rome over the course of a week.
It’s a movie about the power of images – so very much contemporary, if you just think of nowadays influencers. It will take you through the streets and squares of an ever so beautiful Rome.
The most famous scene is the one in which actress Anita Ekberg jumps in Trevi Fountain and calls for Marcello. Simply a classic.
Make sure to read my post The Best Movies About Rome.
The Leopard (1963)
This movie, filmed in 1963, is based on the novel by the same name written by Giuseppe Tomasi and masterly explores a time of political and social change. The plot takes place in 19th century Sicily, a time of turmoil that eventually led to the unification of Italy.
The main character is a nobleman and womanizer that does see the change coming and fears for the fall of aristocracy, but has no means to oppose it. If anything, watch it for the incredible setting and the gorgeous costumes, and to learn an important part of Italian history.
Italian actress Claudia Cardinale is on one of her best roles every played.
The Godfather (1972)
Partially filmed in Savoca and Forza d’Agrò, in Sicily, this isn’t just one of the best movies about Italy, but in fact one of the greatest movies ever filmed. With a cast of incredible actors that include Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvalle and Diane Keaton it’s little wonder that it won a number of Academy Awards.
The movie follows a powerful mafia family of New York whose main characters are absolutely ruthless.
A Room With A View (1985)
This 1985 movie will make you want to pack your bags and travel to Florence and Tuscany on a whim. I am all for movies with a historical setting and this is a really good one.
It looks into the British society of the beginning of the 20th century with a truly critical eye, and sees the main character, a British aristocrat, as she lives a wholly different existence in Italy, where she can enjoy more freedom, where social boundaries are not nearly as strict, and life is more relaxed in general.
Enchanted April (1991)
This 1991 movie follows the story of four English women who, living an unhappy marriage, decide to spend time at a beautiful Italian villa. Rural life in Italy gives them joy and – once again – hope. The movie was filmed in Castello Brown in Portofino, Liguria.
Famous Italian movies
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
This 1948 movie is a cult. Filmed and set in Rome, this movie directed by Italian director Vittorio de Sica follows the footsteps of a working-class man whose bike got stolen – he sets on a mission to get it back: without his bike he won’t be able to go to work and he’s at risk of getting fired.
The movie is a fantastic example of neorealism.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988)
You will definitely fall in love with this bittersweet movie released for the first time in 1988, directed by Italian maestro Giuseppe Tornatore. The movie will take you back to the small villages of Sicily, where the main character has to travel to follow the burial of his father, cinema-keeper and projectionist Alfredo. It is a movie about the roots, which we in Italy feel very strongly about.
What makes this one of the best movies about Italy is not only the story, the morals behind it, and the setting, but also the incredible music, which was written by Ennio Morricone. It is – in other words – a masterpiece.
Il Postino (1994)
What a classic this movie is! Directed by the late Massimo Troisi and featuring a gorgeous Maria Grazia Cucinotta, this 1994 movie will take you back to 1950s Procida Island, where Pablo Neruda nonetheless arrives as an exile from Chile and hires Mario Ruoppolo (Troisi), a fisherman who is forever in love with barmaid Beatrice (Cucinotta) as his postman.
It’s through the friendship with Neruda that Mario learns to appreciate poetry and to express his love for Beatrice.
This movie is in perfect Troisi style: romantic, funny but bittersweet at the same time. It honestly is one of the best movies ever filmed in Italy.
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Roberto Benigni 1997 movie won him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture and Best Actor. The movie is less about Italy than it is about love and endurance, even at the hardest times.
It sees Jew Benigni fall in love with Christian Nicoletta Braschi (his wife in real life too), and then captured and sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis. There, he does his best to keep his son entertained and safe despite the scarcity of food, and the harshness of life.
It not with Italy, this movie will make you fall in love with Italians and their endless optimism and resilience.
Tea With Mussolini (1999)
English boy Luca is abandoned by her mother and ends up in the guardianship of eccentric British and American elderly women who live in 1935 Florence, while Italy at hits darkest time – Mussolini’s dictatorship – to feed on their love for Italian history and art.
The tone of the movie is generally easy and joyful, but it touches upon some of the worst crimes committed during Fascism, among which the fierce discrimination of the Jews.
The movie was released in 1999 and it was directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
Bread and Tulips (2000)
Directed by Silvio Soldini, this movie released in 2000 tells the story of Rosalba, who is taking a day trip to Paestum with her husband, sons and friends. For a turn of events, she’s left behind at a rest stop. She manages to get a lift home, but instead of going home she ends up going to Venice, where she is hosted by Icelandic waiter Fernando, who speaks perfect Italian, and befriends Grazia. She soon gets a job at a flower shop.
Her husband eventually sends Costantino, an improvised private investigator, to find her, not so much because he misses her, but because he feels overwhelmed by domestic duties. Costantino eventually falls in love with Grazia; whereas Rosalba finds herself in love with Fernando. She does eventually go back home, only to discover that nothing has changed and to be rescued back by Fernando.
This is such a lovely, sweet movie that I had to include it in this list of best movies about Italy. I am sure you will also enjoy it.
Released in 2000 and featuring Monica Bellucci, one of the most famous Italian actress, this is definitely one of the best movies about Italy. It features the story of Maddalena, known as Malena, who lives in an imaginary village in Sicily during WWII. She is so beautiful that inevitably attracts much attention, including that of 13 year old Renato, who falls in love with her but – given his young age, can’t confess his love.
Once her husband dies in the war, Malena becomes even more the target of village gossips, to the point that she is accused and trialed for adultery. Although she wins the trial, this doesn’t put an end to the persecutions she receives – which culminate in her lawyer raping her.
Struggling to survive, Malena eventually becomes a prostitute and flees the village, but soon enough her husband – who hadn’t actually died in the war – comes back to the village. He eventually finds Malena in Messina, a nearby town, and they go back to the village a year later. Having partially lost her charm and not seen as a threat by the village people anymore, the couple can finally leave in peace.
Romantic and at times sad, this is a very entertaining movie.
The Great Beauty (2013)
This 2013 movie by Paolo Sorrentino is one of the most acclaimed one of recent times. Some find it as beautiful as the title recalls, others terribly boring. I am more of the second opinion, yet it made such a sensation when it was released that I decided to included in this list of best movies about Italy.
Through this movie, you will get one of the most magnificent portraits of Rome and of the incredible void that there often is between the low morals of contemporary life Italy and the deep culture of the country’s past.
If anything, watch it to admire Rome in all its glory.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
This 2017 movie is set in northern Italy Crema, where teenager Elio spends his summers with his family. His father, a professor, hires a doctoral student, Oliver, to assist him.
Oliver is very open about his sexuality and soon starts a relationship with Elio, who through him will discover his. All of this with the backdrop of one of the most idyllic settings in Northern Italy, and with an incredible 1980s soundtrack.
The Man Who Bought The Moon (2018)
Released in October 2018, L’Uomo Che Comprò La Luna is directed by Sardinian Paolo Zucca and sees a cast of mostly Sardinian actors such as Jacopo Cullin and Benito Urgu.
The plot is surreal: soldier Cullin is sent back to Sardinia, the island where his family is from and which he has not visited in a long time, on a mission to hunt down a man who claims to be the legitimate owner of the moon. Instructed about the kind of environment he may find, he soon realizes that Sardinia is nothing like what it is portrayed to be.
This movie will walk you through the most beautiful landscapes of Sardinia, some of its traditions as well as its contradictions. As a Sardinian, I can only but recommend watching it and feel obliged to name it among the best movies about Italy.
Rom-Com Movies set in Italy
Only You (1994)
This romantic comedy released in 1994 is one of the best movies about Italy, as you will travel there with the main characters.
Marisa Tomei is convinced since her childhood that she’s to marry a certain Damon Bradley, whom she’s actually never met. About to get married with a foot doctor, she convinces her best friend to follow her on a journey to Italy where she goes in search of this supposed love only to meet Peter Wright (Robert Downey Jr).
It’s a fun, easy to follow and entertaining movie that will put a smile on your face.
Under The Tuscan Sun (2003)
In this 2003 movie, the main character is a woman who, having recently divorced, buys a villa in Tuscany and embarks on the task of renovating it and making it her home. Based on a novel by Frances Mayes, this movie will take you to one of the most idyllic landscapes in Italy.
Letters To Juliet (2010)
This 2010 romantic comedy starring Amanda Sigfriend is set in Verona. Perhaps not the best movie ever filmed, it tells the story of Sophie, a journalist from New York who visits Italy with her fiancé and soon discovers that letters to Juliet, Shakespeare’s heroine, are answered by what are known as Juliet’s secretary.
When she discovers a letter from 1957 that went unanswered, she takes it upon herself to get back to the woman who sent it (Vanessa Redgrave), who soon travels all the way to Verona with her grandson.
As Redgrave goes in search of her long lost love, Sophie eventually falls in love with Redgrave’s grandson.
Romantic comedies may hardly be your genre – they certainly aren’t mine. But the movie is entertaining and you will be able to admire beautiful Verona.
When in Rome (2010)
This fun 2010 romantic comedy tells the story of New Yorker Beth who goes on on a trip to Rome to attend her sister’s wedding. There she meets Nicholas, and romance quickly follows – including all the drama of seeing him kissing another woman.
Walking around town drunk, she ends up picking three coins from a fountain (likely Trevi Fountain). But according to legend, the owners of the coins will fall in love with whoever picks them.
Eventually, love triumphs and you’ll have your happy ending – all with the incredible backdrop of Rome.
Thriller and action movies set in Italy
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
I saw this movie for the first time at the cinema in 1999, when I was living in Boulder, Colorado, and it made me miss Italy so much that I went to see it again within a week.
The plot will keep you glued to your seat. Sociopath Mr. Ripley (played by Matt Demon) is a major con artist and a man of little means. When he is sent on a mission to persuade Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to go back home to the US, he finds himself immersed in a glamorous, fun life which he quickly gets addicted to. Ripley eventually kills Greenleaf and establishes himself in Rome, where he goes by pretending to be Greenleaf.
It definitely is one of the best movies about Italy in terms of the beautiful setting, and you get to admire various locations which include the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Venice and Sanremo.
The Italian Job (2003)
This 2003 thrilling action film starts Charlize Theron, Mark Wahlberg and Donald Sutherland among many others and is the remake of a 1969 thriller.
Most of the movie was filmed in Venice, following the plot of a group of expert American thieves who manage to steal a safe stuffed with gold to the brim and escape to the Italian Alps. Steve, one of the main characters, decides to keep all the gold to himself and ends up killing one of the partners – who decide to take revenge and recover the gold.
It’s a fun, quick movie that will keep you on your toes.
One of the best movies set in Italy, Gladiator was released in 2000 and starts a fantastic Russell Crowe – winner of the Academy Award for his performance – and Joaquin Phoenix. Crowe starts as Roman General Maximus, who is on a mission to kill the emperor (Phoenix), guilty of killing his father and ordering the murder of Maximus’ family and of enslaving him.
Having become a famous gladiator, Maximus eventually faces the emperor in battle.
The most beautiful scenes – those of the gorgeous wheat fields – were filmed in Val D’Orcia, Tuscany.
Angels And Demons (2009)
This 2009 movie is based on a novel by Dan Brown and sees actor Tom Hanks, who plays the role of Harvard professor Robert Langdon, fly across the Atlantic to go to Rome and the Vatican to warn the Pope of the resurgence of the Illuminati.
It’s a movie full of suspense that will keep your attention levels high, wanting to know what happens next. More than anything else, it will be a real art history lesson about the Vatican! The views of Rome throughout the movie are simply breathtaking.
Other movies about Italy
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Based on William Shakespeare’s comedy, this 1993 movie was filmed in Greve di Chianti’s Villa Vignamaggio and represents the debut of Kate Beckinsale and has a stellar cast which includes Emma Thompson, Robert Sean Leonard and Denzel Washington.
Claudio and Hero decide to marry, but this relationship is not approved by Don John, who plots to separate the two. Meantime, Benedick and Beatrice dislike one another until they are made to believe by Don Pedro that they are secretly in love.
The Red Violin (1998)
The main character of this 1998 movie is actually a violin, crafted in Cremona in 1681, where the maker paints it with the blood of his dead wife to try to keep her memory alive. Fast-forward to 1997 and the violin ends up at an auction in Montreal. Many things happened to the violin throughout the centuries, but one thing hasn’t changed: it still plays beautiful music, and leaves a mark on anyone who plays it.
The movie stars a masterful Samuel L. Jackson.
Italian for Beginners (2000)
Not exactly a blockbuster, but if you can get your hands on it this is definitely a nice movie to watch. Incidentally, I only knew of it because when it was released I was seeing a Danish guy (we both lived in New York), so of course he wanted to watch it with me.
This 2000 Danish movie is one of the funniest, sweetest international movies about Italy. It follows the story of a group of people who set out to learn Italian in a small town in Denmark, and end up finding romance. The movie is set in Venice.
Eat Pray Love (2010)
This really isn’t one of the best movies about Italy – at least, not just about Italy. In fact, I actually don’t find it to be a great movie in general. I find it aggravating, indeed. But it still remains a nice, easy movie with a positive message, which is why I am adding it to this selection.
Let me tell you why I don’t fully like it, though.
Despite being a fairly recent movie (it was released in 2010) – it gives out a truly stereotypical image of Italy that does not even remotely corresponds to reality. The scene in which Julia Roberts complains about the lack of hot water simply makes me cringe. It may have been true perhaps in post-war Italy but it definitely is far from the truth in 2010!
However, the story of self-rediscovery after a bitter divorce is nice, and the scenes filmed in Italy will make you want to visit – and eat all the glorious food.
The Tourist (2010)
This 2010 movie starring Angelina Jolie in the role of a spy and Johnny Depp as a tourist who travels to mend his broken heart is hardly one of the best movies about Italy per se, but the Venice setting is absolutely stunning.
To Rome With Love (2012)
I was so happy when Woody Allen, one of my favorite directors, finally decided to base one of his movies in Italy – and of all the cities, he picked Rome, my favorite one.
The movie was released in 2012 and sees several parallel stories which include that of Benigni (the same actor and director of Life is Beautiful) who inexplicably finds himself to be a celebrity.
There is also an architect who travels back to the street where he used to live as a student and a couple on their honeymoon. All of this is sprinkled with Allen’s sense of humor. But more than anything else, the main character of this movie is Rome, the Eternal City.
The Trip To Italy (2014)
This 2014 British comedy follows two men on their trip across Italy as they enjoy local life and food. Places you’ll be able to recognize include Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.
The Two Popes (2019)
Available on Netflix, this is a biographical movie starring Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, future Pope Francis. They are at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of Catholicism – Pope Benedict being a very conservative Pope, whereas Bergoglio is incredibly more liberal.
Are you inspired to travel to Italy? These posts will help you plan your trip:
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- A Perfect Italy Itinerary: What To See And Do With 10 Days Or More
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- 30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia
- 5 Excellent Reasons To Go On A Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre
- 13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan
- Seventeen Incredible Things To Do In Venice
- Ten Reasons To Visit Trentino In The Summer
- A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary
- A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy