Right now, the wings of would-be travellers are well and truly clipped. Borders have closed, airlines have taken a fat red pen to their schedules and several countries have implemented lockdown restrictions.
However, armchair travel is still available to us. If you are one of those globetrotters whose travel plans have been thwarted, or if lockdown is giving you cabin-fever, you can take some solace from virtual travel through the magic of cinema.
Italy is particularly well served by cinema, from its photogenic hilltop towns and alfresco café culture to its cultural and romantic sensibilities. And the good news is that there is no shortage of movies set in Italy on the two most popular streaming services: Netflix and Amazon Prime.
With the help of my top movie blogger friends at The Subtitled Friends, I have put together a list of the best films set in Italy on Netflix or Amazon Prime. These are all films that we have seen; no recycled, second-hand opinion here!
Inevitably, there are some movies in the Italian language but there are many more that are in English.
Not all of these movies are masterpieces (although there are few that are). However, in some way, each of them effectively showcases Italian landscape, culture or society.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that there may be regional variations to the availability of movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Information here relates to the UK market in April 2020.
Movies set in Italy on Netflix
The selection of movies set in Italy available for streaming on Netflix is limited.
Eat Pray Love (2010)
Adapted from Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir of the same name, this tale of self-discovery starring Julia Roberts was shot on location in Rome and Naples. Whilst you could not claim that Eat Pray Love is a cinematic masterpiece, it is indulgent Italian food porn.
See it and salivate.
Angels & Demons (2009)
This Ron Howard directed adaptation of Dan Brown’s sequel to The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, was partly filmed in Rome (some scenes were recreated on a backlot in Culver City). Although Angels & Demons received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, it is fast-paced, albeit silly, fun.
The Two Popes (2019)
This Oscar-nominated movie chronicles the relationship, and differences, between Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and his successor, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce). Career-best performances from the two leads, forming a peculiar odd-couple in stiff white robes, and a first-rate script elevate The Two Popes above its dry subject matter.
The film was shot in various locations in Rome and a full-sized replica of the Sistine Chapel’s interior was created at the city’s Cinecittà studios.
Movies set in Italy on Amazon Prime
Although there is a greater selection of movies set in Italy available for streaming on Amazon Prime, many of these are not included in the subscription and are subject to a small fee to own or rent.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
If pushed, I would name La Dolce Vita as my favourite film of all time.
This Fellini masterpiece follows Marcello Mastroianni’s central journalist character over seven days in nights in Rome, searching in vain for “the sweet life.”
The film is worth watching for the opening scene of a helicopter transporting a statue of Christ over Rome alone. Or for the iconic image of Anita Ekberg’s Sylvia frolicking in the Trevi Fountain.
Video: Trailer for La Dolce Vita
8 ½ (1963)
Another Fellini / Mastroianni collaboration with the latter playing the director’s alter-ego who is hit by ‘director’s block’. This Oscar-winning surrealist comedy-drama, which is set in Rome, has inspired directors from Woody Allen to Bob Fosse.
Marriage Italian Style (1964)
I make no excuses for including a third Marcello Mastroianni film in this list of my favourite movies set in Italy, this time paired with Sophia Loren. This comedy, which is set largely in Naples and directed by the great Vittorio De Sica, tells the story of a rich man and his mistress who will stop at nothing to keep her man.
Bicycle Thieves / Ladri Di Biciclette (1948)
It would have been criminal to omit this second film from Vittorio De Sica from a list of Italian films. Acclaimed as the greatest film ever made on its release, Bicycle Thieves is a seminal work of Italian neorealism has had a far-reaching impact on cinema up to the present day.
The premise is a simple one: in post-war Italy and working-class man and his son walk the streets of Rome in search of his stolen bicycle. The film’s power lies in its almost unbearable study of poverty and the relationship between father and son.
3-Minute Video: Mark Kermode reviews Bicycle Thieves
Il Postino / The Postman (1995)
A more recent gem of Italian cinema, set on the island of Procida in Southern Italy.
Again, the narrative is a simple one. In a bid to be something more than a simple fisherman, shy, uneducated Mario (Massimo Troisi), takes a small job as a postman on an Italian island, delivering mail to an exiled romantic poet Pablo Neruda (Phillipe Noiret). The two men develop a relationship that is based on Neruda helping Mario to win the heart of his beloved Beatrice.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
If ever there was a movie that makes me weep every time I watch it, Cinema Paradiso is it.
On learning of the death of his old friend, Alfredo, renowned film director Salvatore Di Vita (Salvatore Cascio) returns home to his home village after an absence of 30 years. We are then taken back to a film-loving eight-year-old Salvatore who spends much of his time at the local cinema, Cinema Paradiso, with the projectionist, Alfredo.
Cinema Paradiso is essentially about an outwardly successful man coming to terms with demons from his past but is also a love letter to cinema.
Watch and weep.
Video: Cinema Paradiso trailer
Roman Holiday (1953)
Another one of my favourite movies set in Italy, although this time lighter fare.
Roman Holiday is two-hours of sheer entertainment, courtesy of two sparkling leads – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – and a razor-sharp screenplay. In this timeless fairy tale, Hepburn is a sheltered princess who, desperate to escape the confines of her duties, hangs out with an American reporter in Rome (Peck).
Filmed in black-and-white in multiple locations around Rome, if you are after armchair travel in Italy this is one of the best choices.
If you are looking for virtual travel to Rome of the heart-pumping variety, you could do worse than Spectre, the 24th film in the James Bond franchise. In this Sam Mendes directed-movie, there is a stunning set-piece where Bond (Daniel Craig) is involved in a car chase through the street of Rome and along the banks of the Tiber River.
It’s safe to say that this isn’t the greatest Bond film ever, but it is first-rate escapist armchair travel. The opening scene which takes place during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City, filmed as a continuous tracking shot, is virtuoso filmmaking.
2-Minute Video: James Bond car chase in Rome
Quantum of Solace (2008)
The opening scene of Quantum of Solace sees our favourite spy involved in another car chase, this time from Lake Garda to Siena. This is followed by the dramatic Palio race in Sienna’s Piazza del Campo, culminating with James Bond chasing bad guys along the cobbled streets and across the rooftops of Tuscany.
Again, not a stellar Bond film but a fantastic travelogue.
A Room With A View (1986)
A Room With A View is not only one of the best movies set in Italy, but also one of my favourite movies of all time, and the film that made me fall in love with Florence.
In this sumptuous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M Forster’s classic novel, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter in her screen debut), a well-brought-up Edwardian English lady is faced with a choice. Should she marry safe but dull Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) or take a chance on the charismatic but socially unsuitable George (Julian Sands), whom she has met in Italy on the grand tour?
A marvel of a movie that just gets better with multiple viewings
Where Angels Fear To Tread (1991)
Whilst Where Angels Fear To Tread, another film adaptation of an E.M. Forster novel, does not hit the heights of A Room With A View, this dark comedy does provide interesting commentary on the the ‘otherness’ of different cultures, in this case, that of Italy.
Much to the outrage of her in-laws, Lilia (Helen Mirren), an English widow, has become engaged to Gino, a younger Italian, whilst on an extended visit to Italy. Her brother-in-law, Phillip (Rupert Graves), is sent to rescue her from this ill-advised match, setting in motion a chain of tragic and comedic events.
I love this quote from the book:
Italy, Phillip had always maintained, is only her true self in the height of summer, when the tourists have left her, and her soul awakes under the beams of a vertical sun.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Matt Damon heads an all-star cast in this movie written and directed by the late, great Anthony Minghella, which is set in the 1950s.
The charismatic but psychopathic Tom Ripley (Damon) is despatched to Italy to bring back Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), a spoilt millionaire playboy. However, events take a sinister turn.
The Talented Mr. Ripley was almost entirely shot on location in Italy, notably in and around Positano and locations in Rome and Venice.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name is an outstanding coming-of-age romantic drama.
Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is staying in his family’s 17th-century villa when he meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American doctoral student who is spending the summer as an intern to Elio’s father. What follows is a sensual tale of first love set against the sun-drenched splendour of the Lombardy setting.
Video: Call Me By Your Name trailer
Only You (1994)
Are you looking for a movie that is, in effect, Italy’s greatest hits? This romantic comedy starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr takes in Rome, Venice, Tuscany, a ride along the Amalfi coast and Positano.
The narrative is slightly;y bonkers rom-com fare – woman throws caution to the wind in the pursuit of the man of that an Ouija board tells her she is destined to be with – but the settings are sumptuous.
A tour of Italy without leaving your sofa.
Letters To Juliet (2010)
Do you have a weakness for fluffy rom-coms? If so, Letters To Juliet could be just the ticket.
On a pre-honeymoon trip to Verona, New Yorker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) becomes entangled in a 50-year-old love story, scouring Tuscany for the Italian ex-lover of the widowed Claire (Vanessa Redgrave)
This is not a great film – or even a great rom-com – but it is undemanding and is effectively a love letter to Verona as well as showcasing locations in Tuscany, including Siena and Pienza.
Under The Tuscan Sun (2003)
In this decent adaption of Frances Mayes’ memoir of the same name, Diane Lane plays the author who escapes to Tuscany when she discovers her husband has been cheating on her. Falling in love with Cortona, she buys a dilapidated villa and starts to rebuild her life.
Under The Tuscan Sun was filmed on location in multiple locations in Italy, including Cortona, Florence, Montepulciano, Positano and Rome.
The Italian Job (1969)
Infinitely quotable, The Italian Job is a British caper film which tells the story of Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) who leads a criminal gang in attempting to steal gold bullion from an armoured security truck in Italy.
With one of the greatest end scenes in cinematic history and a Quincy Jones soundtrack, the film is a wildly fun romp and has achieved iconic status. The chase scenes were filmed around Turin.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Venice has never appeared more sinister than in Don’t Look Now, my final choice of films set in Italy.
Adapted from a short story by Daphne du Maurier and directed by Nicolas Roeg, this supernatural horror film centres on a married couple who travel to Venice shortly after the accidental death of their daughter. The film is renowned for its editing and recurring motifs, notably the use of the colour red, and for a sex scene so realistic that it has been the subject of a “Did they really do it?” debate.
Video: John Landis on Don’t Look Now
Whether you are a thwarted frequent flyer, looking for movies to watch before going to Italy, or simply looking for recommendations for some good movies to pass the time at home, I hope that this list of my favourite films set in Italy has been useful. I’d love to hear how you get on or your choices. Just share your thoughts below
DISCOVER OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT ITALY
- How to Order Coffee in Italy Like a Local!
- Ostia Antica vs Pompeii: Why You Should Take a Day Trip to Ostia Antica from Rome
- One Day in Urbino, Italy: A Renaissance Gem