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30 Must-Watch Italian Movies For Italian Language Learners 

 October 1, 2020

By  Jessica Maggi

Watching videos and movies in Italian can be an incredibly effective way to immerse yourself in the language. By watching movies, you can improve your conversational grammar, assess your comprehension level, and learn new words, phrases and a little about Italy’s culture and history.

We have picked the best movies for learning Italian. Ready? Toss some popcorn in the microwave, then, and start watching!

1. La Vita è Bella (Life is beautiful)

Directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, Holocaust comedy-drama film La vita è bella is recognized internationally for being one of Italy’s most famous movies.

Part drama, part comedy, part war story and part love story, La vita è bella is directed by Tuscan actor and screenwriter Roberto Benigni, Italy’s national treasure, who also contributed to the story of the film. This masterpiece won a spate of awards, including Best Actor for Benigni at the Academy Awards.

Set in the late 1930s, La vita è bella tells the story of Guido Orefice (Benigni), a simple Jewish peasant who comes to the city of Arezzo to work in a bookshop. When he meets Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife) a schoolteacher with social standing, it’s love at first sight. They get married, have a son, Giosuè, and live happily together until Italy is occupied by German forces.

Guido and Giosuè are arrested and shipped to a concentration camp, while Dora, who is not a Jew, volunteers to go to the camp, to be close to them. Guido plays an elaborate game to protect Giosuè from the horrors of the Holocaust.

This really is a masterpiece that makes me proud to be Italian. Watch it, and get ready to laugh a lot and cry your eyes out at the same time, while improving your Italian.

2. Il Postino (The Postman)

The poetic 1994 Italian film Il Postino is set in Salina, the greenest island of the Aeolian archipelago, just off the northeast coast of Sicily.

When the popular Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) is exiled from his home country in 1953 due to his communist ideas, his presence on the island of Salina is accompanied by a massive increase in mail.

The town hires a timid, sweet and simple fisherman called Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi) to hand-deliver the extra mail. A genuine friendship soon develops between the postman and the poet. Mario learns the power of words and develops a love of poetry.

Il Postino is so heartwarming I can’t believe anyone not liking it. What makes things even more touching is that the lead actor Massimo Troisi grew ill during production, and died one day after filming had wrapped. The movie was released posthumously, and his brilliant and sincere performance received great notice.

3. I Cento Passi (The hundred steps)

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana and released in 2000, I Cento Passi is a drama set in Cinisi, a small town in north-western Sicily.

It tells the story of Peppino Impastato, an anti-Mafia activist who was brutally murdered by the local Mafia boss, Gaetano Badalamenti. One hundred steps was actually the distance between Impastato’s family house and Badalamenti’s house.

This biographical film explains the important role played by young activist Peppino Impastato in facing the Sicilian Mafia.

4. La Dolce Vita (The sweet life)

Directed and co-written by Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita is a cult classic of Italian cinema. It tells the story of gossip columnist Marcello Rubini, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who spends his days rubbing elbows with the rich and famous in Rome.

When he crosses paths with Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a gorgeous American actress, Marcello feels himself floating away from his devoted fiancée Emma. Devastated by the suicide of his distinguished intellectual friend Steiner, he must decide whether to look for a more meaningful life or go on with his frivolous lifestyle.

This movie is best known internationally for the scene in which stunning Anita Ekberg lures Marcello Mastroianni into the waters of the Trevi fountain at dawn wearing a beautiful black evening dress. Surely one of cinema’s most sensual scenes, that sequence is immortalized in countless souvenirs in Rome today.

5. La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)

Directed and co-written by Paolo Sorrentino, La Grande Bellezza is a fascinating Italian art drama that can be described as an homage to that feeling of Roman-ness that somewhat evokes Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita.

It centers around 65-year-old writer Jep Gambardella, a man-about-town at the center of Rome’s fashionable nightlife and high-class affairs. The protagonist is played by uniquely potent stage and screen actor Toni Servillo.

6. La Strada (The Road)

You’ll be blown away by the heartbreaking operatic pathos of this early masterpiece by Fellini, regarded as one of the most influential films ever made.

Italian actress Giulietta Masina gives a brilliant, “Chaplinesque” performance as Gelsomina, a simple-minded working-class girl with what would now be called learning difficulties. She is sold by her family to an itinerant street performer called Zampanò, played by Anthony Quinn, who takes her with him on the road.

7. Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle thieves)

Directed by Vittorio De Sica, Ladri di biciclette is an often-cited example of Italian neo-realism, based on the use of non-professional actors and real locations. It came out in 1948.

Ladri di biciclette is a devastating and touching movie that follows the story of Antonio Ricci, a poor man desperately struggling to provide for his family and himself.

8. Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City)

Directed by Roberto Rossellini, Roma città aperta is an iconic movie set during the Nazi occupation of Rome. It is about a soon-to-be-wed couple who find themselves caught in the middle of the conflict between Italian resistance fighters and Nazi occupying forces.

9. Malèna

Written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Malèna is a romantic comedy-drama film starring stunningly beautiful Monica Bellucci, another Italian national treasure.

Maddalena Scordia, known as Malèna, is a gorgeous woman living in a small, rural, narrow-minded town in Sicily. Her husband is in the forces in Africa, fighting the British during World War II, and she lives by herself. Because of her striking beauty, she becomes an object of lust for all the town’s men, including 12-year-old Renato Amoroso, who becomes literally obsessed with her.

10. Io non ho paura (I’m not scared)

Directed by Academy Award-winning film director and screenwriter Gabriele Salvatores, Io non ho paura is a crime mystery thriller film, which came out in 2003. It is based on Niccolò Ammaniti’s novel with the same name.

The movie is set in southern Italy during the infamous anni di piombo (years of lead), a period of social and political turmoil riddled with kidnapping and terrorism. The film is about nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, who, while playing outside one day, discovers a child chained to the ground at the bottom of a hole. When his parents learn of his discovery, they warn him to forget whatever he saw.

11. Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips)

One of Italy’s most gifted directors, Silvio Soldini directs this nice comedy about Rosalba Barletta, a dissatisfied housewife who temporarily flees from the oppressive tedium of her household and parental duties.

During a family vacation on a bus tour, Rosalba is accidentally left behind at a rest stop. She decides to continue her vacation on her own, and ends up in Venice, where she finds true happiness.

12. Giorni e nuvole (Days and clouds)

Giorni e nuvole is a drama film directed by Silvio Soldini. It tells the story of Elsa (Margherita Buy) and her husband Michele (Antonio Albanese), a happily married middle-class couple living in a posh apartment in the charming city of Genoa.

The film describes the emotional strain and financial struggles that occur when they suddenly find their life turned upside down after Michele loses his job. After making sacrifices, giving up their affluent lifestyle, finding new humbler jobs and moving into a much smaller apartment, the cracks in their now fragile marriage progressively start to widen.

13. Cosa voglio di più (Come undone)

Set in Milan, Cosa voglio di più is another great movie by Silvio Soldini. Anna, played by talented Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher, works at an insurance company and lives with her loving partner, Alessio (Giuseppe Battiston). They are happy and even start thinking of having a baby.

But when Anna meets Domenico (Pier Francesco Favino), everything changes. Even though he is married with kids, they start a clandestine, intense sexual affair based on secret meetings. As they begin to fall deeper under the spell of passion, the two lovers are faced with a life-changing choice that neither of them is actually ready to make.

14. Il Ciclone (The Cyclone)

Co-written, directed by and starring Leonardo Pieraccioni, Il Ciclone is a romantic comedy that came out in 1996. This is a very funny one.

Levante Quarini works as an accountant and lives with his father Osvaldo, his sister Selvaggia and his brother Libero in a farmhouse surrounded by corn fields. One evening a street sign pointing to a nearby holiday farm falls, and a bus with a group of gorgeous Spanish flamenco dancers due to town for a show gets lost. They have no chance but to stop at Levante’s farmhouse, and…

15. Manuale d’amore (Manual of love)

Directed by Giovanni Veronesi, Manuale d’amore is a romantic comedy set in Rome. It describes the four stages of a love story:

  • getting to know one another and falling in love
  • crisis
  • cheating
  • break-up

I also recommend the sequels to this nice movie: Manuale d’amore 2 and Manuale d’amore 3.

16. Tre uomini e una gamba (Three men and a leg)

Aldo, Giovanni & Giacomo are, in my opinion, the best comedy trio in Italy. Co-written and co-directed by them and Massimo Venier, Tre uomini e una gamba is a road movie that came out in 1997.

It is about three friends and colleagues – Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo – who have to travel from Milan to Apulia for Giacomo’s wedding. The bride’s father, who is also Giovanni and Aldo’s father-in-law, is their employer. He has assigned them the task of bringing him his beloved pet dog and a wooden sculpture of a leg. They accidentally kill his dog, and…

17. Chiedimi se sono felice (Ask me if I’m happy)

Set in Milan, Chiedimi se sono felice is a brilliant comedy film directed by Aldo, Giovanni & Giacomo. It tells the story of three actors who were once close friends and long dreamed of setting up a play adapted from Cyrano de Bergerac. However, when Giovanni fell in love with Marina, it led to a bitter disagreement between them.

However, several years later Giovanni and Giacomo decide that it’s time to bury the hatchet, and travel to Sicily to visit Aldo, who had fallen ill.

18. Mine vaganti (Loose cannons)

Mine vaganti is a comedy film directed by Ferzan Özpetek. Played by handsome Riccardo Scamarcio, Tommaso Cantone is the youngest son in a large, traditional family in conservative southern Italy. On a trip home from Rome, where he studies literature, he decides to reveal his homosexuality. But when he is finally ready to come out in front of the whole family, his brother Antonio reveals that he himself is homosexual.

19. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Paradise Cinema)

A drama film written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso came out in 1988. It tells the story of Salvatore Di Vita, a prominent Roman film director, who returns to his home village in Sicily to attend the funeral of Alfredo, the former film projectionist at the local movie house. In so doing, Salvatore embarks upon a journey into his childhood.

20. L’ultimo bacio (The last kiss)

L’ultimo bacio is written and directed by Gabriele Muccino, one of the most appreciated Italian film directors abroad. You probably have already heard of him.

It tells the story of Giulia and Carlo, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Stefano Accorsi. They have been happy together for a couple of years, when Giulia finds out she is pregnant. Frightened by his impending entry into the world of parenthood, Carlo finds himself tempted by an attractive teen girl.

21. Borotalco (Talcum Powder)

Borotalco is a funny comedy film directed by and starring Carlo Verdone. It centers around a timid and awkward young man, Sergio Benvenuti, who works as a salesman with little success.

Desperate to improve his sales’ rate, he asks his more successful colleague, Nadia, played by gorgeous Eleonora Giorgi, to give him a hand. Due to a comic mishap, Sergio bumps into an extravagant character, who introduces himself as Manuel Fantoni, and…

22. 7 chili in 7 giorni (7 kilos in 7 days)

7 chili in 7 giorni is another humorous comedy film starring Carlo Verdone. It is about two not very clever young doctors, Silvano Baracchi (Renato Pozzetto) and Alfio Tamburini (Carlo Verdone), who decide to open a fitness center and promise people to lose seven kilos in a week.

The operation is run chaotically, with more than a few incidents. When the enterprise fails miserably, Silvano and Alfio open a trattoria.

23. Divorzio all’italiana (Divorce Italian Style)

Divorzio all’italiana is a 1961 comedy film directed by Pietro Germi. It centers around Ferdinando Cefalù (Marcello Mastroianni), who wants to end his marriage to his grouchy wife Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), but Italian Catholic law doesn’t allow divorce.

On the other hand, homicide, if done to restore family honor, is only punishable by a short jail sentence. Ferdinando starts planning on finding his bad-tempered wife a lover, and kill them both out of jealousy.

24. Suspiria

How comprehensive of a list of Italian movies could this be without at least one horror entry? Directed by Dario Argento, the master of Italian horror, Suspiria tells the story of Suzy Bannion, a young American ballet student who goes to study at a well-known ballet school in Germany. She will soon discover that there’s something sinister at play.

25. La sconosciuta (The unknown woman)

La sconosciuta is a psychological thriller mystery film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. It is a movie that is almost impossible to get out of your head.

It depicts an Ukrainian woman haunted by a horrible past, who deliberately insinuates herself into the life of an Italian family. Tornatore has accurately crafted a story that is sometimes so raw it hurts to watch.

 26. Otto e mezzo

A highly influential classic, Otto e mezzo, or 8 1⁄2, is a surrealist comedy-drama movie directed by Federico Fellini. It stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a famed film director, who is evidently based on Fellini himself.

Anselmi is suffering from a so-called director’s block, and has reached a moment of both creative and personal crisis. To seek inspiration, he embarks on a personal voyage into his childhood and lost loves.

27. Viva la libertà (Long live freedom)

Directed by Roberto Andò, Viva la libertà is a comedy-drama film which deals with controversial themes, such as politics and freedom of speech. Watch it if you have at least an intermediate level of Italian listening comprehension.

The protagonist is Enrico Olivieri, played by Toni Servillo. He is a politician, whose career is in decline. He decides to flee to France, and gets replaced by his more outgoing twin brother, who leads the party towards victory.

28. Ma che colpa abbiamo noi (It can’t be all our fault)

Directed by and starring Carlo Verdone, Ma che colpa abbiamo noi is a comedy film I personally like a lot. It is about eight people in a therapy group, who are forced to find new ways of coping with their problems when their psychologist dies of a heart attack in the middle of a session.

29. Mio fratello è figlio unico (My brother is an only child)

Mio fratello è figlio unico is a political comedy directed by Daniele Luchetti. It came out in 2007. Growing up in small-town Italy during the 1960s, Manrico and Accio are working-class brothers with opposing political views, and share an ardent love of the same woman.

30. La meglio gioventù (The best of youth)

Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, La meglio gioventù chronicles the life of an Italian family, the Caratis, focusing mainly on two brothers, Matteo and Nicola. The film documents the brothers’ journey from their youth in the 1960s, to parenthood and retirement in the early 2000s. Despite being complete opposites, Matteo and Nicola stay connected through their life.

There you go! Turn on English subtitles, and get that popcorn popped! I would recommend taking note of any unfamiliar words and phrases you might come across, so you can look them up later and fix them in your mind.

Jessica Maggi


Jessica is a native Italian speaker, a passionate linguist and a proud Grammar nerd. She has a lifelong passion for English and studied Linguistic and Cultural Mediation at the University of Milan. She currently works as a freelance translator and copywriter.

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