10 great Italian movies and how to watch them

It sounds like a cliché some freshman film school students would use, but Italian cinema is where it is. The style, subject and general atmosphere of classic Italian films like 8 ½, Italian wedding, and Once upon a Time in the West is something that many have attempted to replicate over the years, but few have succeeded in doing so. It is not so much a critique of modern films as a celebration of some great Italians.

But, sometimes the language and cultural barriers in films directed by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and others like them can be too broad and difficult to overcome. In such cases, it helps to have a guide to the great Italian films and notes on why and how you should watch them (whether streaming or on physical media), which is what you have come across now …

Marcello Mastroianni in 8 1/2

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

8 ½ (1963)

More often than not, when someone brings up the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, the first film they want to discuss is his surreal drama from 1963. 8 ½. One of the most iconic films of all time (and one which continues to be influential 60 years after its release), 8 ½ focuses on filmmaker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), whose lack of creativity in one of the most pivotal moments of his life forces him to escape the shooting of his latest film, not to an idyllic town on the coast Italian, but in the depths of his thoughts and memories.

During this overwhelming experience, Guido tries to free himself from the weight of his mental block by coming to terms with his past. And if he tries to escape those memories, the director soon begins to feel their influence at every step of his production.

Stream 8 ½ on HBO Max.
Rent / Buy 8 ½ on Amazon.
Buy 8 ½ on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola in Bike Thieves

(Image credit: Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche)

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

1948 drama by Vittorio De Sica Bicycle thieves (also commonly called The bike thief) is often considered one of the favorite films of legendary filmmakers. Set in post-war Rome, the film centers on Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), a man who struggles to make ends meet for his family. After looking everywhere for a way to make a living, Antonio gets a job hanging posters all over the Italian capital. Misfortune, however, is not far off, as Antonio’s bike is stolen and his hope for a better life for his family is shattered before it even begins.

With his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), Antonio Ricci roams the streets of Rome in search of his stolen bicycle, resulting in a series of dramatic and moral decisions.

Stream Bike Thieves on HBO Max.
Rent / Buy Bike Thieves on Amazon.
Buy Bicycle Thieves on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Jessica Harper in Suspiria

(Image credit: International Classics)

Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento’s supernatural horror film from 1977, Suspiria, follows Suzy Bannon (Jessica Harper), a young American ballet dancer who travels to Germany to attend a prestigious dance academy with its share of dark secrets. As Suzy makes her way through the grueling school program run by a group of mysterious instructors, she begins to notice strange happenings all around her. From eerie noises to missing classmates and eerie figures in the night, the young and naive dancer soon learns that the Tanz Dance Akademie is anything but what it appears to be.

Stream Suspiria on Tubi.
Buy Suspiria on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in Cinema Paradiso

(Image credit: Titanus)

Paradiso Cinema (1988)

The epic of Giuseppe Tornatore in 1988 Paradiso Cinema explores the impact cinema can have on young moviegoers by offering them not only an escape, but also the inspiration to make something with their lives. The film, which takes place over several decades, centers on Salvatore Di Vita (Salvatore Cascio) as he finds refuge in a dark cinema in Sicily just after the end of World War II. Through his visits to local cinema, Salvatore befriends projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) who helps the young boy learn to love cinema while learning a thing or two about life. From there the real journey begins.

Stream Cinema Paradiso on Paramount +.
Rent / Buy Cinema Paradiso on Amazon.
Buy Cinema Paradiso on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini in La vie est belle

(Image credit: Miramax)

Life is Beautiful (1997)

Roberto Benigni’s dramatic comedy, Life is Beautiful, took the world by storm and made the writer / director / star of the film an overnight sensation when it was released in 1997. The film centers on Guido Orefice (Benigni), his wife Dora (Nicolette Braschi) and their young son, Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini), because their calm and relatively carefree lifestyle is upset by the occupation of northern Italy by Nazi Germany, during which they are sent to a concentration camp. Guido, not wanting his son to fully understand the gravity of their situation, tries to convince the young boy that this is all a fun game and that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

Sometimes a joyful exploration of the meaning of family and making the most of life while other times extremely sober, Life is Beautiful remains an achievement not only of cinema but of human emotion.

Stream la vie est belle on Paramount +.
Rent / Buy Life is good on Amazon.
Buy Life is Beautiful on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

As influential as it is epic, Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western in 1968 Once upon a Time in the West remains not only one of the best films of the acclaimed Italian director’s career, but also one of the greatest titles in the genre. The execution and scope of Leone’s story is what turns an admittedly simple premise into one of the most beloved and important films of all time. Set in the Old West, the film focuses on various strangers and vagrants whose respective paths intersect in the fictional town of Flagstone. There’s the ruthless killer Frank (Henry Fonda), a well-meaning wanderer known as the Harmonica (Charles Bronson), and all kinds of other unique and memorable characters at the center of their own stories.

With widescreen shots of the vast openness of the West, an iconic score by Ennio Morricone, and the signature nuance and style of Sergio Leone, Once upon a Time in the West is a must-have watch.

Stream Once Upon a Time in the West on Amazon.
Rent / Buy Once Upon a Time in the West on Amazon.
Buy Once Upon a Time in the West on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Marco Macor and Ciro Petrone in Gomorrah

(Image credit: 01 Distribution)

Gomorrah (2008)

Against the backdrop of a months-long battle between rival organized crime groups in Naples, Matteo Garrone’s crime drama in 2008, Gomorrah, tells the story of five people whose only connection is the pain and misfortune caused by the gangs in the area. With characters of all ages, backgrounds and gang affiliations, the famous thriller paints a full picture of crime infested areas, similar to what Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund did City of God made for the favelas of Rio de Janeiro a few years earlier.

While not as elegant as other examples of great Italian cinema, what Matteo Garrone was able to accomplish with the sprawling, interwoven narratives featured in Gomorrah is a success in itself.

Stream Gomorrah on The Criterion Channel.
Rent / Buy Gomorrah on Amazon.
Buy Gomorrah on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg La Dolce Vita

(Image credit: Cineriz)

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Federico Fellini’s comedy-drama from 1960 The good life focuses on hedonistic journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) as he bounces from situation and girl to girl in and around Rome. Throughout his seemingly aimless journey among the ruins of the Roman Empire and the hustle and bustle of modern life, Marcello tries to find love, happiness and meaning in life, and if these three concepts can be achieved with others.

Divided into seven episodes (plus an intermission halfway through) which end with a prologue and an epilogue, The good life delivers a revolutionary cinematic experience, which perfectly balances the exploration of big ideas with a degree of style and sophistication that still makes it one of the best examples of cinema the world has ever seen.

Stream La Dolce Vita on Filmbox (Amazon Add On).
Buy La Dolce Vita on DVD / Blu-ray at Amazon.

George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman in Voyage to Italy

(Image credit: Titanus Distribuzione)

Trip to Italy (1954)

1954 drama by Roberto Rossellini Journey to Italie follows Alexander (George Sanders) and Katherine Joyce (Ingrid Bergman), an English couple whose love for each other and passion for life is all but extinct when they travel to Naples after inheriting a property there. When the couple can’t put aside their differences and spend time away from home without getting throated, they decide to spend time away from each other and find out what brings them joy. in life.

As their brief departures from each other draw to a close, Alexander and Joyce both face a decision about their future: accept a divorce and explore all that life has to offer on their own or find. a way to save their marriage before it is too much. late.

Stream Travel to Italy on HBO Max.
Rent / Buy Travel to Italy on Amazon.
Buy Journey to Italy on DVD / Blu-ray on Amazon.

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in the Italian Wedding

(Image credit: Embassy Pictures)

Italian wedding (1964)

The romance of Vittorio De Sica in 1964, Italian wedding, tells the story of Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) and Filumena Marturano (Sophia Loreno), a couple with a tumultuous relationship spanning decades. Years later, after bearing his children and devoting his life to them, Domenico decides he wants to leave his mistress behind and marry a young saleswoman. This decision leads the angry Filumena to hatch perhaps the most ingenious plan (and bordering on insanity) when she decides to fake a terminal illness so that her lover will marry her.

Stream Italian Wedding on Tubi.
Rent / Buy an Italian wedding on Amazon.
Buy Italian Wedding on DVD / Blu-ray at Amazon.

It’s only scratched the surface, but it should be a great place to start if you’re looking to further explore the fascinating world of Italian cinema. If you’re looking for something new to check out at your local theater (or streaming service), take a look at CinemaBlend’s 2021 movie schedule so you don’t miss a thing.

About Victoria Rothstein

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