You can learn the Italian language by literally watching Netflix and chilling in your sweatpants.
The beauty of Italian is that it’s dynamic and fun, with a rich artistic culture.
Whether you opt to delve into Italian music, magnificent Italian films or even the vibrant Italian YouTube community, even the pickiest learners can find an aspect of modern Italian culture to complement their learning.
Let’s take a look at exactly how you can blend Netflix into your study time.
- How to Get the Most Out of Italian Movies on Netflix in 2021
- The 10 Best Italian Movies on Netflix in 2021
- “Gli infedeli” (“The Players”)
- “Lazzaro felice” (“Happy as Lazzaro”)
- “Pane, amore e…” (“Scandal in Sorrento”)
- “Natale a 5 stelle” (“5 Star Christmas”)
- “Benvenuto Presidente!” (“Welcome Mr. President”)
- “Il legame” (“The Binding”)
- “Sotto il sole di Riccione” (“Under the Riccione Sun”)
- “18 Regali” (“18 Presents”)
- “La vita davanti a sé” (“The Life Ahead”)
- “Slam: Tutto per una ragazza” (“Slam”)
How to Get the Most Out of Italian Movies on Netflix in 2021
Using Italian movies is one of the most effective—and the most fun!—ways to improve your Italian.
It exposes you to the real language as spoken by natives. While movies are scripted, they tend to use language that’s less formal (and more commonly used) than the Italian language a learner is exposed to in a course or textbook.
Italian movies can also help you pick up slang, tune in to the fast pace of the language and get acquainted with the many dialects of Italian.
To use Italian movies to help you improve your Italian, I recommend following this simple, three-step strategy. This process allows you to really, truly understand every scene in any Italian movie you discover on Netflix, and it’s even able to improve your Italian speaking, reading and listening skills all at once.
Step One: Watch in Italian with English Subtitles
When you first watch an Italian movie on Netflix, turn on those English subtitles.
This first step might feel like a no-brainer, but some will argue against ever using English subtitles for support. The only caveat is that you shouldn’t expect the subtitles to be perfectly accurate or literal translations of what’s being said. With that in mind, you can use English subtitles to your educational advantage.
You may be tempted to not have any subtitles at all, but having English subtitles allows you to get familiar with the movie and the language while having a thorough understanding of what’s going on.
So, start with the first scene (or choose a favorite scene if you know the movie already), turn on those English subtitles and follow along. Jot down any unfamiliar or useful phrases that you might not have heard before, but don’t go totally crazy with this. The purpose of watching with English subtitles in this step is primarily to understand the movie itself.
Don’t worry, because in a second we’re going to rewind and watch that scene again!
Step Two: Watch Again in Italian with Italian Subtitles
Rewind to the beginning of the scene you just watched with English subtitles.
Now I want you to switch on the Italian subtitles. By this time, you should be familiar with what exactly is going on in this scene. This time around, you can focus fully on the Italian language being used.
Make sure to keep your notebook and pen handy in case you stumble upon more words and phrases that you don’t know or that you’d like to remember for later Italian conversations.
Step Three: Watch Again in Italian Without Subtitles
Rewind one more time and turn those subtitles off!
By this time, you should be able to recite the entire movie scene without even the help of Netflix.
Watching the scene a third time without subtitles should help you to solidify the new words and phrases you picked up on the first two watches, and you’ll be surprised to discover that the scene you initially watched—you know, the one that seemed like a jumble of random Italian sounds—is now perfectly understandable to you!
You’ll soon see that leveraging subtitles is the key to understanding everything in Italian while still watching entertaining movies made for native speakers (and not limiting yourself to over-simplified dialogues for students). That’s why subtitles are a major feature in modern language learning programs such as FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The 10 Best Italian Movies on Netflix in 2021
Now that we know how to watch Italian films, it’s time to pop some popcorn, power up your laptop and pick one of the best films available on Netflix!
Check out our awesome recommendations for you to watch in 2021.
“Gli infedeli” (“The Players”)
“Gli infedeli” is a movie that’s pretty much about what the title says: It centers on a number of men who are players, each with their own story of infidelity and relationship drama.
But this movie doesn’t just focus on one story. In fact, it’s a collection of vignettes, each with its own flavor. Some of the vignettes are dramatic and intense, others sad, and there’s even humor in some of the vignettes.
What makes this movie even better are the actors and actresses it features. There are definitely some well-known names starring in this one, namely Laura Chiatti and Riccardo Scamarcio who previously starred together in the movie “Ho voglia di te” (“I Want You”).
This movie is also a great way to practice romance vocabulary, and a lot of it! With each vignette focusing on its own style of a fractured relationship, learners can find words to express pretty much anything about love and betrayal in Italian.
“Lazzaro felice” (“Happy as Lazzaro”)
“Lazzaro felice” is a critically-acclaimed Italian movie that’s perfect for viewers who want a little taste of Italian high cinema. It has received glowing reviews from critics, 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.
That said, “Lazzaro felice” is a complex and cinematically pleasing film. It follows Lazzaro, a young worker on a farm estate, as he befriends the young estate manager to extort money from the estate owner. When Lazzaro falls down a cliff and wakes up years later without having aged a day, the estate Lazzaro remembers is drastically different. Namely, it has been abandoned, raided by robbers and its former workers now lead lives of crime to support themselves.
The acting in this movie is amazing, and the twist at the end is well worth the wait. While the language in this film can be quite advanced and much is implied, there’s ample vocabulary about farm life, friendship and life in general. This is also a movie you won’t want to watch just once: You’ll notice new things the next time around as well as reinforce new vocabulary.
Since “Lazzaro felice” is quite an artsy film, its vocabulary and language usage are quite elevated. Because of that, you’ll want to make sure you watch the movie with subtitles in both Italian and English to help you through the tough spots.
“Pane, amore e…” (“Scandal in Sorrento”)
While the title of this film literally translates to “Bread, Love and…”, it’s better known in English as “Scandal in Sorrento.”
This classic film was groundbreaking back in its day: As the third movie of a trilogy, “Scandal in Sorrento” was the first in the series to be shot in color as well as to actually be filmed on location in Sorrento. It was released in 1955, received an Honorable Mention at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival and featured classic movie stars such as Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica.
The movie is a romantic comedy set in Naples following Marshal Antonio Carotenuto (De Sica) who returns to his hometown. He’s been renting the home out to a fishmonger named Donna Sofia (Loren), and she refuses to leave. As a way to stay, Donna allows the Marshal to court her, promising to marry him if he doesn’t kick her out on the street. Hilarity and drama ensue!
This film is also a great way to get exposure to the Italian words and pronunciation of yesteryear.
“Natale a 5 stelle” (“5 Star Christmas”)
Unrelated to the 2020 American film of the same name, “Natale a 5 stelle” is a hilarious film with a healthy flair of Christmas that’s perfect for the holiday season—or for anyone who enjoys the festive vibes all year long!
The movie follows Italian Prime Minister Franco Rispoli who goes on an official diplomatic trip to Budapest during Christmas. Along with him is his secretary, Giulia Rossi, but she gives Mr. Prime Minister more than just political assistance, if you catch my drift.
While Franco and Giulia are engaging in their… “official business,” we’ll say, they spot a man in a Santa costume dangling from the hotel room’s window. It turns out the man’s dead, and thus begins a farce. How can Franco and Giulia keep their scandalous relationship secret while disposing of a corpse and as their respective spouses arrive in Budapest?
This funny movie is a great one to grow love vocabulary as well as political and government vocabulary. The humor can also be a little cultural, so some of the jokes may be worth looking into. Besides, culture informs such a huge part of humor, that learning both with be beneficial for your Italian learning journey.
“Benvenuto Presidente!” (“Welcome Mr. President”)
Like getting a dose of the political without it becoming too heavy? Here’s a great political comedy.
This movie stars famous Italian actor Claudio Bisio as the titular character, and he does a fantastic job in the role. Bisio plays Giuseppe Garibaldi, a librarian from a small town in Piedmont. Many miles away from Piedmont in Rome, political leaders are electing a new president of the Italian republic. To express their unhappiness with all the available candidates, the politicians elect a long-dead military leader and patriot.
Little do they realize, the man they’ve elected in protest shares his name with a very alive person: Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Just like that, the small-town Garibaldi becomes the president of Italy, much to the chagrin of the political leaders. With no way to nullify the vote, Garibaldi becomes entangled in the corrupt and intense world of Italian politics. As you can imagine, some impassioned speeches and hijinks ensue.
This film is a great way to learn Italian related to politics, elections and even books.
“Il legame” (“The Binding”)
Are you in the mood for a scary movie? If so, “Il legame” is the film for you!
At first glance, this movie seems like your typical horror fare. But wait! It’s more than that.
While visiting her soon-to-be husband’s family in southern Italy, Emma finds out that her daughter has been “bound” to an evil spirit who wants nothing but to claim the little girl as its own. Throw in some jump scares, creepy music and a pretty good twist at the end, and this movie is much more than just a scary flick.
This movie is also good for learning vocabulary related to family and the occult—if you’re into that sort of thing! It’s not for the faint of heart, of course, but it could give your Italian a little jolt.
“Sotto il sole di Riccione” (“Under the Riccione Sun”)
A teen coming-of-age film, anyone?
Set on the beach (of course!), this movie follows a group of teenagers as they spend their summer in Riccione, a seaside resort town on Italy’s Adriatic coast. The movie intertwines several storylines of love and friendships, throwing in some healthy doses of heartbreak, drama and tear-jerking romance.
This movie has a modern flair too: It incorporates the phenomena of social media and finding love interests through dating apps.
If you’re looking for a feel-good film that perfectly blends comedy and drama, then “Sotto il sole di Riccione” is a great choice that will help you learn informal Italian and slang as it’s spoken by Italian youth.
“18 Regali” (“18 Presents”)
Based on the true story of an Italian woman named Elisa Girotto, you’re definitely going to need a tissue box handy for this movie.
The movie follows Girotto as the main character. She’s pregnant with a daughter at the age of 40. Before she gives birth to the child, she discovers that she has terminal breast cancer, and she likely won’t live long enough to see her daughter grow up. To cope with the grief, Girotto decides she’ll collect 18 gifts for her unborn daughter with the intention of her daughter opening one each year until her 18th birthday. This collection includes sentimental gifts that slowly reveal who Girotto is so that her daughter can truly understand what she was like.
“18 Regali” doesn’t just focus on Girotto collecting the gifts; it also features the daughter opening them as she grows up, getting more and more glimpses into her familial past.
To say that this movie is emotional is an understatement—I’m getting choked up just writing its description! However, it’s a good one, and its exploration of the themes of love, loss and life is truly stellar. Additionally, this movie allows you to learn the Italian words and expressions that go along with these themes quite nicely.
“La vita davanti a sé” (“The Life Ahead”)
Can you ever get enough Sophia Loren?
The answer is “no,” and that’s why this is the second time one of her movies is on this list.
While this film was produced in 2020, Sophia Loren gives a magnificent performance as the main character in this drama. Loren stars as Madam Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who runs a brothel in Bari. When the young son of a Senegalese immigrant attempts to rob her, she takes him in, agreeing to care for him while his father is away. Even though it seems that Madam Rosa sacrifices a lot for the child initially, it turns out that he also has something to offer her, especially as Madam Rosa’s mental state begins to decline.
There’s a reason why this film has 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for a bunch of awards: it’s amazing! There’s also the opportunity to learn Italian words related to history, hardship and slang.
“Slam: Tutto per una ragazza” (“Slam”)
The Italian title of this movie pretty much gives its plot away! Tutto per una ragazza means “all for a girl,” and that’s just what Sam thinks he’s sacrificing when he discovers he has gotten his new girlfriend pregnant.
Just as his future as a professional skateboarder seems to be slipping away, he finds support from an unlikely: famous skateboarder Tony Hawk! Okay, well… he doesn’t actually get support from Tony Hawk, but he reads a lot about his skateboarding idol. This allows him to make decisions that will impact the rest of his life as well as consider how his girlfriend’s life is also being changed by the pregnancy.
This movie is surprisingly lighthearted for the subject matter, and the soundtrack is awesome! Learners can expect to access a lot of vocabulary related to youth, slang and, of course, skateboarding!
Geez, with all these Italian films so readily available, I don’t even want to wait for a rainy day!
I may just go on a Netflix binge tonight.
Follow suit—select a film and enjoy!
Michael Cristiano is a Canadian writer and language enthusiast. His latest ramblings on foreign languages and language learning can be found on his YouTube channel, The Polyglot Files.