Learn Italian with movies.

Learn Italian with Movies: 21 of the Best Italian Films for Language Learners

Watching Italian movies can be an incredibly effective way to learn the language.

So let’s take a closer look at why movies are so useful, how to learn Italian by watching movies and a few Italian movie recommendations you don’t want to miss!


What Are the Best Movies for Learning Italian?

I’ve picked out 21 Italian films from a variety of decades and genres. Not only are these excellent, immersive learning materials, but they also shed light on the culture, history and humor of the Italian language and the people who speak it.

Of course, tastes vary and there’s no single “best” way to do anything.

And, not every film on my list will be a cinematic masterpiece—I’ve snuck a few in there that are more for a lark.

But, if you’re not sure where to begin in the vast cinematic repertoire of the Italian language, these movies are a great place to start.

Intrigued? Want to know more? Later in this post, I share all about the best movies to learn Italian, and where they’re available for purchase or streaming.

But before we get to that, let’s find out how to use Italian movies to learn the language. Stick around!

Why Learn Italian with Movies: Language Learning Material on Steroids

Why are some of the best movies in Italian also some of the most useful Italian learning tools? There are several logical reasons why you should make movies a regular part of your Italian study schedule.

Movies are multi-sensory and immersive

If you’re looking for excellent online learning tools, you’ll want resources that are multi-sensory and immersive—they’re the best language learning materials on the planet.

And guess what? Learning Italian with movies offers exactly that experience in spades.

We learn so much from what we see, and movies offer that visual context to language learning like nothing else can. You actually see language as it animates the interactions of characters in the film. You see the gestures as wielded by native speakers, the subtle nuances that make the language so vivid.

Not only that, but you actually get to hear exactly what Italian is supposed to sound like. You hear the melodious valleys and peaks of Italian twang and gain more appreciation of it.

And you hear all that—not in repetitive, laboratory-like conditions—but in the very authentic style of the movie where there’s an engaging story and characters go from one misadventure to another.

The first thing you learn when using movies is that the characters talk mighty fast. That’s normal, the movie is primarily intended for native speakers, not language learners. But that’s what immersion is supposed to feel like: training your ears, trying to get used to the language at the pace employed by its native speakers.

In essence, watching movies is really like sitting outside a café by the piazza, watching and listening to an unfolding story.

Movies are nuanced, diverse and flexible language learning tools

There’s this misconception that you only learn so little from the movies, if at all. There’s also the misconception (albeit a little better) that your learning will be limited to the genre of film you’re watching.

So if it’s a love story, you only get to know vocabulary pertaining to love, romance and phrases that have something to do with plucking the stars from the evening sky and making a beautiful necklace out of them.

These are indeed misconceptions and, as you’ll soon find in the next section, there’s a way to learn Italian by actively watching movies that allows you to mine and milk them for every language lesson they contain.

In reality, with movies, you have a pretty diverse set of contexts, topics and stories. Think about it: Movies tackle subjects and genres that other learning material cannot even consider.

Regardless of its genre, an Italian movie is a treasure trove of language lessons. A single film can actually tackle many different fields. A single scene can contain vocabulary, phrases and expressions that will add more texture and nuance to your arsenal, and be brought into your daily conversations.

You only need to have the creativity or the insight to apply them to other situations.

There’s a correct way to watch a film for language learning. In the next section, we’ll look into the details so you’ll know exactly what to do when you’ve got an Italian classic in your hands.

Movies relax your brain and help you learn better

You’ve probably heard of “learning through play” or “gamified learning”—the idea that we learn better while playing games.

Related to this is the idea that we learn better when we’re relaxed.

Even if we’re watching an action movie or a thriller, some part of our brains understands that screen time equals fun time. When you plop down into your favorite cozy chair in front of the boob tube at the end of the day, you automatically start to relax.

Scientific studies have shown that relaxation causes us to produce theta waves, which make us more receptive to new information—and also enhance our memories of what we learn in that state.

What could be a more perfect time to study Italian than when you’re relaxed, comfortable and thoroughly chilled out?

Aside from the learning benefits, this practice gives you positive reinforcement—demonstrating, again and again, that there’s entertainment and enjoyment to be found when you open up to the Italian language.

And, by making Italian films part of your regular relaxation routine, you also demystify the language.

On a subconscious level, hearing Italian will soon become second nature to you. This is a great way to convince your psyche that you’re well on your way to Italian fluency—and having confidence in your ability to learn it half the battle!

How to Learn Italian with Movies: Top Tips and Techniques

How to milk the scenes

The first time you watch a film, don’t consider it a language lesson. It’s Friday night at the movies. Grab a bucket of popcorn and watch it like any Hollywood flick. Gawk at the beautiful actresses and be genuinely shocked by the twist and turns of the movie. Do this once or twice.

Around the third time you watch the film, that’s when you put your language-learner hat on.

Now is the time to break the film down into manageable chunks. Working the whole movie as if it’s a single language lesson prevents you from milking all the gems contained in the film.

So break the movie into its component scenes. This allows you to devote focused attention to parts of the movie that have a limited number of players, a unifying theme, pivoting around a single thought.

A chase scene, for example, has a single purpose: Get away from the bad guys. A dinner scene, while it may involve many different topics, enables you to tie them all up in your mind and makes the lessons easier to remember.

And while watching each scene, don’t shy away from pressing those pause and replay buttons as many times as possible. Forget about the next scene or the story as a whole. You already know how the movie’s going to turn out. You’re there now for a totally different reason.

In each scene, look for things like mood, goal, conflict or situation. What’s the scene about? Is it a couple fighting? Is it two strangers eating at a restaurant? Is it about a witness being grilled in a courtroom?

Try to be conscious of these things because the flavor of the language that will be used—the type of vocabulary and expressions employed—depends very much on the function of the scene.

Make no mistake about it—and it will be very clear as soon as you dive in deep—the language used for each scene is very different. (Also watch for mood changes in the same scene, because you’ll be in for some shift in the language.)

Understanding the theme and nuances of each scene will help you find other real-life situations where you can apply the specific words and phrases it uses. If you understand what’s being said and why you can better master the subtleties of the words and phrases you’re learning. 

Learning with authentic content is the best way to do this. When you start listening to Italian media, you will be able to learn Italian in a more natural way. Learning the language as it is actually spoken, and not just from a textbook will keep you motivated, and give you the cultural fluency to be able to communicate with Italian speakers more easily. 

However, sometimes authentic content can be hard to find. Searching for high-quality videos that are appropriate for your level of learning can be time-consuming. And when you do finally find something in Italian, it can be deflating to have to constantly pause to look up new words. 

FluentU‘s website and app have a tailor-made video player that can solve these problems. The platform features hundreds of Italian videos that come from real sources, like movie trailers, drama clips and cooking shows. And when you find something that interests you, each video is equipped with interactive subtitles so learning a new Italian word in context is as simple as hovering over the word. 

italian text

If you want to save the words you are learning, simply click on them to add them to a custom vocabulary list, which you can study later using the built-in flashcard system with multimedia flashcards–featuring example sentences, definitions and links to other videos in which the word is used. 

FluentU also has a speaking feature so you can perfect your pronunciation and intonation by mimicking Italian speakers. 

So if you feel you aren’t ready to watch a whole movie, or you need some extra practice before you begin with such a high endeavor, try FluentU’s videos using the website or app in the App Store or Google Play

How to mine the subtitles

As you begin to pay careful attention the third time you watch the film, use the subtitles for countless language lessons.

The sequence for watching with subtitles should be:

  1. English subtitles
  2. Italian subtitles
  3. No subtitles (cue standing ovation!)

Mine the English subtitles first for all they’re worth. Notice the correspondence between the English translation and the Italian delivery by the characters. Do you see and hear words that repeat and often crop up? Especially watch out for short lines in the dialogue where it’s relatively easier to spot the Italian words and their English counterparts.

Watch and listen for English and Italian cognates. These are word pairs that sound similar in both languages, suggesting a shared origin. They’re like word cousins that have the same word grandpa. These are words like familiare and “familiar,” which would make you exclaim, “Hey, these look familiar!”

There are plenty of English and Italian cognates, and you can learn many of them before you switch to the Italian subtitles.

When you switch to the native subtitles, this is where your learning goes to a whole new level. This is also where a lot of writing and researching comes in.

Remember that you’re actively watching the film, not just sitting back and grinning at the antics of Roberto Benigni.

By the way, be aware of how Italian spelling compares with Italian pronunciation. Fortunately, unlike French, Italian has practically no silent letters. So if you see it in the spelling, you’ll hear it when it’s spoken.

Have your paper and pen ready as you dissect a scene. The moment you see an interesting word in the subtitle, hit “pause” and write it down. Look for longer words that you suspect to be verbs, nouns and adjectives. (The short words are usually connectives.) Lastly, try to have 10-12 words per scene.

After you finish a scene, head online to research the words you’ve written.

You can use WordReference and play around with their Italian-English and English-Italian sections. Their entries offer deep and nuanced insights into the words, with ample sentence examples for study.

Barron's Italian-English Dictionary: Dizionario Italiano-Inglese (Barron's Foreign Language Guides)The Free Dictionary also has an endearing Italian version. And if you love the crinkle of real paper, you can get a copy of Barron’s or Webster’s English-Italian dictionaries.


After getting the meanings and usage examples, head back to the scene and watch it again. Do this for every scene in the movie and you’ll not only gain more insight into the language, but you’ll also appreciate the movie’s writers even more.

How to mimic the sound

There comes a point, maybe somewhere around the fiftieth time you’ve watched a scene, when you can practically talk along with the film. You’ve got all the gestures down pat, and you can time the ebb and flow of conversation to perfection.

I encourage you to talk aloud as the characters talk.

It’s very important that you actually give voice to the Italian that’s in your head and in your ears. You have to experience the feeling of actual Italian words coming out of your mouth, rolling off your tongue—imperfect as they may be.

Actually, you need to start talking aloud long before you become super familiar with the lines, when the honest learner in you knows that you’re going to mess it up anyway.

Do it.

Read aloud even when you can barely keep up with the native speakers on the screen. It’s like humming to a song when you don’t actually know the lyrics. So what if the actors talk faster than you can read? Do it anyway.

It’ll be uncomfortable and awkward at first, but stay with it. I can’t stress this last point enough.

There’s something so visceral with the experience of actually speaking; it solidifies your learning. Again, regardless of the mistakes that you’re bound to make. Do it even if you have to mimic or ape how the character gestures or moves, like a baby learning how to talk.

So read aloud what you can, and repeat until the break of dawn.

And when you’ve memorized the lines, close your eyes, say the lines and make your mama proud.

Why go through all this?

Because when deconstructing a film, there’s a real possibility that you might be content to just understand the lines spoken by the actors. You might think that’s the goal.

But nope, that’s just a vital stop to an even more important destination: the ability to speak in Italian.

The danger is to master the movie and not the language.

So speak as much as you watch. If you’ve seen the scene 1o times, you should also have read/spoken along with it just as many times. Just remember to do it when you’re alone—and definitely not during your flight to Milan. Trust me.

Next, why don’t we check out some of the titles that could be your next buds in learning Italian?

Learn Italian with Movies: 21 Essential Films for Italian Language Learners

If you’re looking to learn Italian by watching movies, these 21 beautiful films will provide you with an excellent starting point!

1. “La vita è bella” (“Life Is Beautiful”) (1997)

Director: Roberto Benigni
Find it on: Amazon (check availability), Netflix

Life Is Beautiful (English Subtitled)

This film won a spate of awards including Best Actor for Roberto Benigni at the 71st Academy Awards.

Set in the 1930s, it’s the story of a father protecting his son from the harsh reality of the Holocaust. Guido Orefice (Benigni), a simple Jewish bookshop owner, and his son were taken to a concentration camp by German officers.

Guido somehow knew there was no good news to be had from the ordeal.

In order to protect his five-year-old son, he hatched an elaborate fiction telling the boy that they have entered some sort of reality show where they’ll undergo a series of tasks (like hiding from German guards) in order to win a real tank (to the utter delight of his boy).

The movie exhibits the length a father goes to protect his son from the inhumanity of it all. It has artfully teased out some Chaplin-esque comedic moments in the midst of misery.

Language learners will take a lot from the effusive Guido who not only talks non-stop but grandly gestures his words. You’ll remember the vocabulary and the catchphrases simply because there’s a highly kinesthetic actor flailing about with his hands.

And, despite being set in the ’30s, the film uses fairly contemporary Italian that you can work comfortably into daily Italian conversations.

2. “Malèna” (2000)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on
: Amazon (check availability), Netflix

Malena (English Subtitled)

“Malèna” is a coming-of-age film set in 1940 Sicily. It tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who perpetually fantasizes about a beautiful school teacher, Malèna, whose husband was called to war in Africa.

The effervescent Monica Bellucci plays the role of a woman who sets gossip afire by simply walking around town going about her daily chores. She’s a shy wife pining for her husband while the whole town talks about her behind—er rather, behind her back.

Renato can’t get Malèna off his mind and it’s fair warning to viewers that the film gets heated especially when the contents of the boy’s mind is portrayed.

While Malèna barely speaks in this film, you’ll have your fill of period Italian through the lines and the vivid, engaging narrations of the lustful Renato, as well as the jealous town folks.

Who knew gossip would be such a fertile language material?

3. “L’attesa” (“The Wait”) (2015)

Director: Piero Messina
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)


Piero Messina’s directorial debut tells of a mother’s grief for her dead son.

Well, that’s a whole movie right there.

But what if your son’s French girlfriend, who still doesn’t know her boyfriend is dead (but is wondering why he’s suddenly not answering his phone), shows up at the doorstep of your Sicilian villa to spend Easter there, and you don’t tell her that her boyfriend isn’t coming, ever?

Now that’s a great story to tell!

When I mentioned earlier that movies are immersive, this is one of those. The cinematography is beautifully executed—at times screaming, at times subtle.

The austere nature of the film makes for dialogues that are controlled and deliberate. The pace is oftentimes just right for language learners.

And if you need language learning inspiration, take a page from Juliette Binoche, who plays the mother in this film. She’s French, but she learned Italian to hit the right notes on this one.

4. “I cento passi” (“One Hundred Steps”) (2000)

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Find it on:
Amazon (check availability)

One Hundred Steps (2000) ( I cento passi ) ( 100 Steps (The Hundred Steps) ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Italy ]

The title refers to the distance between a political activist’s house and the house of an influential Mafia boss.

“I cento passi” is the story of Peppino Impastato, who at a time when nobody else was brave enough to even acknowledge the existence of the Mafia, headed a radio program that revealed their criminal activities and abuses.

Ultimately, Impastato was liquidated by the Mafia, in what was originally ruled as a suicide. Twenty years after the event, the case was reopened and a conviction was eventually handed down for murder.

The movie is peppered with charged language and is a treat for those of you who want to acquaint yourselves with the Sicilian dialect.

And just as a side note, in the opening of the movie, you can hear the young Peppino sing “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (“In the blue that is painted blue”) which you may know as “Volare.” It’s a great Italian song that’s worth a study.

5. “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” (“Paradise Cinema”) (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on:
Amazon (check availability)

Cinema Paradiso (English Subtitled)

“Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” is a classic from Tornatore about a man’s journey through life. We see him grow from a boy slipping into the projection booth at the cinema, to working as a projectionist himself, to becoming an acclaimed director.

The film also tells the story of a love lost. It’s a movie that can make you fall in love with the characters as well as the story.

It continues to be discussed in film circles today, with cinephiles debating over deleted scenes. It’s been remastered so generations of moviegoers can experience Tornatore.

Language learners will truly appreciate how beautiful the Italian language is. Not only are famous lines from other movies quoted, but the movie itself is also a basket of beautiful prose.

Look especially at the lines of Alfredo, the original movie projector operator who mentored the young protagonist.

6. “Il postino” (“The Postman”) (1994)

Director: Michael Radford
Find it on:
Amazon (Region 1) (Region B/2)

Der Postmann - Il Postino (Special Edition) (Blu-r

And speaking of the power of words and the beauty of the Italian language, we come to “Il postino.”

It’s a fictionalized story of a mailman and the renowned poet Pablo Neruda, who was politically exiled to a small Italian island. Mario, one of the islanders, relishes his job of biking to the poet’s house and personally delivering letters from the hordes of Neruda admirers (most of them women).

Il postino” is a movie about courtship. But as it turns out, it’s not really about the courtship between Mario and Beatrice, the woman our protagonist wanted to seduce through his poems.

It’s the courtship between Mario and Neruda, who initially responded to Mario’s interest and admiration with elitist nonchalance.Placido Domingo: Il Postino (Live Performance)

But the poet’s cold exterior melted and soon he began to take Mario under his wing, teaching him not only poetry but also his political philosophies.

You’ll have so much more appreciation to the written word after this movie. You’ll begin to comprehend how governments, hearts and mindsets fall with the strike of a well-written word.

You can also watch the theater production version of the movie on Amazon and compare the two versions!

7. “Lazzaro felice” (“Happy as Lazarro”) (2018)

Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Find it on: Netflix, Amazon (check availability; Region 0 Blu-Ray or Region 2/4 DVD)

Happy As Lazzaro [DVD] [2019]

Born into a generation of latter-day sharecroppers on a tobacco plantation called Inviolata (Untouched), the teen-aged Lazzaro has always been happy with his simple, hard-working life.

Having always lived in isolation in rural Italy, Lazzaro has no idea that his labor—as well as the manual labor of all his family and neighbors—is being illegally extorted by the Marchioness Alfonsina De Luna.

When Lazzaro becomes friends with De Luna’s son, Tancredi, his whole world changes. He sees the injustice of the sharecropping arrangement and joins Tancredi on a quest for money and justice.

Beautifully told with both symbolism and gritty reality, “Lazzaro felice” won “Best Screenplay” at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

8. “Benvenuto Presidente!” (“Welcome Mr. President”) (2013)

Director: Riccardo Milani
Find it on: 
Netflix, or Amazon (check availability; Region 2 DVD/Blu-ray)

Welcome Mr. President! (2013) ( Benvenuto Presidente! ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import - Italy ]

In this wacky political farce, the main character wins a presidential election simply by dint of sharing the name of celebrated historical figure Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Echoing some plot devices of political comedies like Eddie Murphy’s “The Distinguished Gentleman” and Kevin Kline’s “Dave,” “Benvenuto Presidente!” gives viewers a humorous take on the Italian political machinery.

The movie also spotlights the universal feeling that politics might work better without career politicians.

9. “Sotto il sole di Riccione” (“Under the Riccione Sun”) (2020)

Director: YouNuts
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

A good selection for a night when you just want to relax and give your brain a break, this teen dramedy finds its charm more in the acting and presentation than the plot.

The characters discover each other and dare to find love during a picturesque and dynamic holiday on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Its director, YouNuts, is known primarily for directing video shorts; this seems to be the only feature film in YouNuts’ filmography, to date.

10. “L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose” (“Rose Island”) (2020)

Director: Sydney Sibilia
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

This film is based on the true and strange story of Giorgio Rosa, who literally built his own island off of the coast of Rimini.

Rosa started building the island in 1958. His masterpiece—more of a concrete platform than a typical, land-based island—took nearly a decade to construct.

Rosa, an engineer, provoked the ire of the Italian government when he proclaimed his island an independent state with its own ministers: Repubblica dell’Isola delle Rose (Republic of Rose Island), also known as Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj in Esperanto (the island’s official language).

Shortly after the establishment of the Republic of Rose Island in May 1968, Italian police forces made their presence known upon the island. By February of 1969, the island had become but a memory. Now, nearly half a century later, it’s a legend.

If you want to check out the language of this film, the trailer is available on the FluentU website and app, where you can use interactive subtitles to see the meaning of every word and phrase and save unknown words to study with flashcards later. 

11. “Caffè Sospeso” (“Coffee for All”) (2017)

Directors: Fulvio Iannucci and Roly Santos
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

While reviews of this documentary film are mixed, it provides an interesting social perspective through the lens of Italy’s coffee culture.

The premise is the Neapolitan “pay it forward” gesture in which café patrons purchase two cups of coffee—one for themselves and one for someone in need. The movement has now spread worldwide; even Starbucks in some countries had reportedly joined in.

The documentary about random acts of kindness and caffeine takes us from Naples, where the tradition originated, all the way across the Atlantic to New York and Buenos Aires.

12. “Sulla mia pelle” (“On My Skin: The Last Seven Days of Stefano Cucchi”) (2018)

Director: Alessio Cremonini
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

The real-life story of Roman building surveyor Stefano Cucchi is dramatized in this dark film that was written and directed by Alessio Cremonini.

Cucchi was taken into police custody on a drug charge. While in custody, he died of a savage beating.

The film is not only the tale of Stefano himself, but also the story of how his family fought to find the truth and bring justice to Stefano’s memory.

This work was honored with four Premi David di Donatello (David di Donatello Awards) from the Accademia del Cinema Italiano (Italian Cinema Academy), including one for Best Actor (Alessandro Borghi) and Best Début Director (Alessio Cremonini).

13. “Baarìa” (2009)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Find it on: Amazon, Netflix (check availability)


A multi-generational, historical drama, this film from director Giuseppe Tornatore takes us through fifty years of family and community history in Bagheria, Palermo—known locally as “Baarìa.”

Starting its narrative in the 1930s, the film unrolls more as a series of vignettes than a traditional movie with a cohesive plot.

It explores family, career, village life, love and politics. There are some particularly graphic images in this film, so sensitive views should be aware of this issue. Also, some viewers reported difficulty seeing the subtitles.

14. “Spettacolo” (2017)

Directors: Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)


The name of this documentary means “show” or “performance” in Italian. The film tells the story of Monticchiello, a Tuscan town that has spent half a century mounting a play about the lives of its own citizens.

With breathtaking scenery and scenes straight out of real life, we get to know the people of Monticchiello as they contemplate how their art reflects their reality.

For more behind-the-scenes information about how this documentary was made, check out the NPR interview with the filmmakers.

15. “La siciliana ribelle” (“The Sicilian Girl”) (2008)

Director: Marco Amenta
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)

The Sicilian Girl (English Subtitled)

The true story of Rita Atria inspired this film about justice and revenge in the Sicilian mafia. Atria, unwittingly born into a Mafia family, sees her father and brother brutally murdered.

Only a teenager, Rita Atria breaks omertà—the Sicilian Mafia’s code of silence—in order to seek retribution for the slayings of her family members. She works with police to find justice and must eventually seek police protection in an attempt to safeguard her own life.

While not everyone in Atria’s real-life family embraced the film, it was critically acclaimed.

16. “Reality” (2012)

Director: Matteo Garrone
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)

Reality (English Subtitled)

This film is the tale of fictional fishmonger Luciano, a larger-than-life man who dreams of finding fame and fortune on “Grande Fratello,” Italy’s answer to “Big Brother.”

Luciano deludes himself into believing that he’s being surveilled and evaluated by the show’s producers after his unsuccessful audition. He changes his behavior to present what he believes is the most flattering image of himself, vexing his wife with acts of reckless generosity.

At turns heartrending and cringe-worthily amusing, this winner of the 2012 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival explores the thin line between truth and fantasy—and the myriad ways obsession with image over reality can change and damage our lives.

17. “Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini” (The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis”) (1970)

Director: Vittorio De Sica
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)

best movies in italian

In the world of Ferrara, Italy in 1938, nobility is no protection when Mussolini takes power. The Finzi-Continis are an affluent family whose comfortable lives are changed forever by the anti-Semitism that rides the wave of Fascism, in the years before World War II.

Winner of both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972 and the coveted Golden Bear at the 21st Annual Berlin Film Festival, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini” is a historical, neorealist drama that explores not only the tides of history and politics but the intimate ways in which they affect families and individuals.

18. “La vita davanti a sé (“The Life Ahead”) (2020)

Director: Edoardo Ponti
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

Screen legend Sophia Loren stars as Madame Rosa, who gives shelter to the children of prostitutes in Bari, Italy.

Having once been a prostitute herself, after having survived the Holocaust, Madame Rosa extends her compassion to Momo, an orphaned boy of Senegalese parentage who is turning to a life of crime.

Based on a French-language novel called “La vie devant soi” (“The Life Before Us”), “La vita davanti a sé” is the third version of this story to be acted out—having been proceeded by Moshé Mizrahi’s “Madame Rosa” in 1977 and Harold Prince’s Broadway musical, “Roza,” in 1987. This 2020 iteration was directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti.

19. “Oci ciornie” (“Dark Eyes”) (1987)

Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)

Dark Eyes

A pastiche of ideas drawn from short stories by Anton Chekhov—most especially, inspired by “The Lady With the Dog”—this film has dialogue in both Italian and Russian. Romano Patroni, played by celebrated Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, recounts through flashbacks how he fell in love with a dark-eyed Russian lady in the days before World War I.

The film’s Italian title, “Oci ciornie,” is a phonetic version of Очи чёрные, which is Russian for “dark eyes.”

Alas, both Romano and his Russian love interest are married to other people. With elements of both comedy and drama woven into the remembered romance, the film is enjoyed for its top-notch acting as well as its evocative cinematography.

20. “Natale a 5 stelle” (“Five Star Christmas”) (2018)

Director: Marco Risi
Find it on: Netflix

best movies in italian

For a bit of holiday fluff, with shades of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” check out this zany farce: Italian Prime Minister Franco Rispoli travels to Budapest on official business during the Christmas holiday, only to encounter his mistress, a political adversary and a Santa who’s considerably less-than-jolly.

While this one may be pure guilty pleasure, you’ll still pick up plenty of political terminologies and essential Italian holiday vocabulary—as well as Italian slang and words and phrases used to talk about romantic relationships.

21. “Maraviglioso Boccaccio” (“Wondrous Boccaccio”) (2015)

Directors: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Find it on: Amazon (check availability)

Wondrous Boccaccio

To create this visually appealing, historical drama, directing duo the Taviani Brothers drew inspiration from “The Decameron,” a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance literature by Giovanni Boccaccio.

In 14th-century Firenze (Florence), the population is dealing with the ravages of the Bubonic Plague. People of means are escaping the city, fleeing to the Tuscan countryside in the hopes of evading widespread disease.

While sharing a country estate, a group of young people pass the time by recounting stories to one another. (Remember, this was centuries before smartphones, television or even radio.) These shared stories keep everyone entertained, even as they start to forge connections between the characters.


And those are just 21 of the most awesome offspring of Italian cinema. Each one has a certain slant, flavor, style or lesson that’ll help you learn Italian by watching movies—in other words, the fun and engaging way!

I trust that with the tips gained here, you’ll be able to attack any Italian film and milk it for all it’s worth.

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