5 Italian Movies Every American Film-Lover Should Watch

Updated on April 4, 2019
Gianfranco Regina profile image

Gianfranco is a student at St. John's University, who has a passion for learning and helping others.

5. La Vita é Bella (Life is Beautiful) 1997

Roberto Benigni stars in this comedic drama depicting the life of a Jewish Italian store owner during World War II, and his attempt to comfort and distract his son by pretending the gruesome life in a concentration camp is just part of a game. The sheer idea of this film is daunting and the addition of comedy to the dark story adds to the level of intensity and care for the characters. The film, directed by Benigni himself, won many awards internationally, with Benigni even winning the Oscar for his leading role.

The reason it breaks the language barrier?

The horrid events during the Holocaust are not confined to one language and this film depicts the toll it takes on one man and the selflessness of a father. Maybe not all the jokes will stick but Benigni's vivacious and physical way of acting will definitely captivate viewers.


4. Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) 1948

Vittorio De Sica directs this classic which is the epitome of neo-realism in Italian film history. Interestingly enough, neither the story, nor the actors make this film memorable. Not one actor in this film is famous and the story is quite simple. However, the beauty in this film lies in its themes and its raw depiction of poverty after the war. The premise of the film revolves around a poor man and his young son's search for his stolen bicycle, a necessary tool in keeping his job.

The reason it breaks the language barrier?

This film is a cultural symbol that has been the inspiration for many directors and filmmakers across the globe. One episode (Season 2, Episode 1) of the hit Netflix show Master of None pays homage to the film. Since the film does not heavily rely on plot, the audience can focus on the dialogue and the importance of family.


3. Cinema Paradiso 1988

Cinema Paradiso is a journey into the dreams, aspirations, and heartaches of a movie loving child throughout his whole life. Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, this film depicts the idea of nostalgia and friendship in a way that few other films do. The plot revolves around Salvatore and the older owner of a movie theater, Alfredo. As the film progresses and as Salvatore gets older, the audience gets a realistic insight on how things and people change in a town dominated by poverty and religious censorship. Perhaps one of the more iconic aspects of this film is its beautiful score by Oscar winning composer Ennio Morricone, and his ability to depict nostalgia and love with instruments.

The reason it breaks the language barrier?

This film won the Oscar for best foreign film and the film itself is about the love of movies, especially classics. This film is for anyone who loves a coming of age story that is accompanied with amazing music and wise advice about life.


2. Divorzio all'Italiana (Divorced, Italian Style) 1961

Divorce in Italy was illegal and honor killings were legal during the time this film was created which gave director Pietro Germi the perfect opportunity to create a satire and commentary on the irrationalities of these laws and the irrationality of men. The film centers on a man scheming to get rid of his wife any way he possibly can, even if it means setting her up with another man. The film is a pure comedy that exaggerates almost every stereotype there is in order to emphasize the absurdity of the laws that existed in Italy at the time. Perhaps the most convincing part of this film is the brilliant performance of Marcello Mastroianni. His character is very unlikeable but Mastroianni's charm makes the character seem like a lovable idiot.

The reason it breaks the language barrier?

This film currently boasts a 100% on review site Rotten Tomatoes and is a quick, fast paced film guaranteed to make one chuckle even if he/she does not understand Italian.


1. La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) 1960

Arguably the greatest Italian film ever created, La Dolce Vita takes top spot on this list due to the genius of director Federico Fellini, the impeccable acting from Marcello Mastroianni, and the Dante-esque journey Marcello, the protagonist, follows. It is simply a beautiful commentary on superficial life and existentialism. The film follows Marcello, a celebrity journalist, on a journey through the streets of Rome, as he seeks validation and meaning in his life. Fellini touches on religion, post-war life, and love, all in one film. Mastroianni, once again, delivers an astonishing performance, which according to film critic Roger Ebert, changed the way he watched the movie throughout his life. He also stated that Fellini and Mastroianni "had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal."

The reason it breaks the language barrier?

Besides being a pop culture phenomenon, La Dolce Vita is arguably one of the greatest films of all time. The journey Marcello follows, or parts of it, can resonate with anyone. faithfulness, validation, lust, fun, etc. This film is a long one but its guaranteed to make you think of life and think: is life really sweet?


Your Opinion

What is your favorite movie on this list?

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    • Gianfranco Regina profile imageAUTHOR

      Gianfranco Regina 

      18 months ago

      Thank you for reading! I hope one (or all) of these movies catch your eye!

    • reyvirre profile image


      18 months ago

      This is exactly the kind of list I needed right now


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