Best Italian Movies

Powerful image from the film Gomorrah which follows the mafia of Naples. Photo courtesy of Slant Magazine

Best Italian Movies – Top 25

One of the most frustrating (yet liberating) aspects of studying philosophy as an undergraduate was the idea that one could construct a logical argument for pretty much anything (such as figuring out the best Italian movies).  So, I spent my University days racking my brain at getting at “ultimate truths” like whether God exists and if our minds are separate from the physical world (the “Mind/Body” problem or Cartesian dualism) only to get frustrated when I realized that arguments could be made to support any position!

When it comes to getting at the best Italian films of all time one can, like my point above, make plenty of arguments for why one film should be included or not.  Hence, my dilemma when I started thinking about the top Italian films I’ve watched.  In order to help me narrow down my top 25 I used the following selection criteria:
  • Did the film cause me to think about some big issue (I think any good film needs to do this in a serious way)?
  • How beautiful was the film or was the cinematography top notch?  Let’s face it, film is, of course, a visual art and if one doesn’t get a sense of beauty when staring at the screen then the film hasn’t done much.
  • Did the film elicit an emotional feeling (i.e., anger, joy, sadness, disbelief, etc.)?  Just as a film can cause one to think deeply about certain topics, a good film should make one “feel” something in a profound way.

In turn, here are my top 25 Italian films of all time (including a fair amount of contemporary titles).  Note: the list is alphabetical and not according to rank or preference.  Also, I’d like for you to tell me which films I’ve missed or whether I’m crazy with my selections below (please leave a comment!).

  1. 1900
  2. The Great Beauty
  3. 8 1/2
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Golden Door
  6. Gomorrah
  7. I Am Love
  8. Il Grido
  9. Il Postino
  10. I’m Not Scared
  11. Incantato
  12. La Notte
  13. La Strada
  14. L’Aventura
  15. Life is Beautiful
  16. Mafioso
  17. My Mother’s Smile
  18. Roma, Citta` Aperta
  19. Respiro
  20. Seven Beauties
  21. The Battle of Algiers
  22. The Best of Youth
  23. The Bicycle Thief
  24. The Leopard
  25. The Son’s Room
  26. Umberto D.

Update: 11/19/10  Thanks to the many readers that wrote in with the following suggestions (see comments section for more recommendations):


  1. Thanks very much for the list, bro.

  2. Without a doubt La vita è bella is my all-time fave. Il Postino is a close second. I’m not too up on classic Italian cinema, but I’m sure there are some greats in there that I haven’t seen 😉 La Dolce Vita I wasn’t crazy about, but it gets mentioned a lot 🙂

  3. You have a great list; especially agree with Golden Door and La Vita e Bella (cried my eyes out on both. Also loved My Son’s Room and Best of Youth. My list would include many of yours, but also I Centi Passi, Malena, Non Ti Muovere, Facing Windows, and His Secret Life.

  4. I saw John Turturro and Roman Paska’s “Rehearsal for a Sicilian Tragedy” at a film festival this past weekend. It was excellent and, if it gets enough play, may make the list one day!

  5. Don’t miss “Roma, Citta` Aperta. If you know enough italian you can follow it. It’s a Rossellini masterpiece. Part of a trilogy. Part of italian film history,

  6. Ho sbagliato! It’s #17, “Open City”

  7. Thanks for the list – so many to explore. May I add Olmi’s “Tree of Wooden Clogs” (L’albero degli zoccoli)?

  8. Just want to thank every one for the list and the comments. I like to watch I Italian movies so that I don’t forget the Italian I learned in high school and in my travels through Italia. The first movie I saw was Cinema Paradiso. It was almost 20 years ago and I still love it. I also like Pinoccio. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the list. Bellucci is my favourite Italian actress.

  10. Un giornata particulare 🙂

  11. Oneyear when we were in Bologna they had a film festival-“Clint Eastwood”! Huge crowd in Piazza Maggiore to see these films-and us, the puzzled Americanos!

  12. Two Women (Italian: La ciociara, roughly translated as “[The Woman] from Ciociaria”) is a 1960 Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It tells the story of a woman trying to protect her young daughter from the horrors of war. The film stars Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown, Carlo Ninchi and Andrea Checchi. The film was adapted by De Sica and Cesare Zavattini from the novel of the same name written by Alberto Moravia.

  13. Great article and I am rarely but totally in agreement about your criteria as well your selections. It would be wonderful to take the aesthetic social account of Fellini who loved to watch people eat for instance and present it with a Jarmusch–Ridley Scott tension and intensity. However connect that with a director like David Lynch and one would have the most intense Italian movie ever which would be driven by cinematography and great music. Molto buono

  14. Divorce, Italian Style – Pietro Germi

  15. L’Eclisse
    Mamma Roma
    Salvatore Giuliano
    Il Postino
    Hands across the city
    I Fidanzati
    Il Conformista
    I Vitelloni 

  16. This year’s Terraferma is awesome and I can get it to you if you want.

  17. Night of the Shooting Stars

  18. I think you missed Nights of Cabiria, possibly the greatest Italian movie ever. For comedies, how about Big Deal on Madonna Street. Also some of Visconti’s movies aside from the Leopard such as Ossessione. I also think you have to add something of Pasolini such as Mama Roma. Oh, and Ginger and Fred and Intervista were fantastic as well.

  19. OMG…you completely forgot Oggi, Ieri, Domani (Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow) & Marriage Italian Style two unbelievable movies with Sophia Lauren and Marcello Mastriani!!

  20. Great list, thank you! So sorry if these were already mentioned, but I don’t think I saw the 2 recent films directed and acted by Gianni Di Gregorio (Mid August Lunch and The Salt of Life) Very low budget films but simple, sweet, and often funny storylines.

  21. I just watched Bitter Rice. Silvana Mangano was stunning.

  22. Oh!…I almost forgot, Toto’s Arrangiatevi. Hilarious, but a total biased pick since my father was an extra in the film.

  23. My favorite is Antonioni, especially L’avventura an L’eclisse (which isn’t on the list, I’ve noticed). I have yet to see La Notte and Red Desert, but they are both on my list.

  24. Watch Carosello Napolitano, Bocaccio ’70, To Forget Venice before you make such a list. And do the movies Anna Magnani made in the US count as Italian? They probably should. The Rose Tattoo, Wild is the Wind, to name just two.

  25. Good list – I’m impressed that you have included so many new ones. I get annoyed when people insist that nothing good is happening anymore.

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