Italy is such a popular, well-travelled destination and is surely on every keen traveller’s bucket list. Do you even really need any recommendations for amazing films set in Italy to inspire you to visit? I mean, you probably already know it’s a fantastic country! But I have a list anyway, just in case you need some extra encouragement.
The first thing you might think after reading through the films set in Italy I’ve picked for this list is ‘where the eff are all the Italian language films?!‘ and you’d be absolutely right. There are so many brilliant Italian films I could have included. However, since the majority of my audience is from the UK and USA I’m going to assume most of you do not speak Italian and it’s more likely that you’re going to watch films in your language, featuring actors you know. So that’s the reason for the very Hollywood/British-heavy selection! But there are still one or two Italian language films, too.
You might also notice that there are no films set in Rome, films set in Sicily or Venice on this list. And that’s quite simply because I have other blog posts specifically on those destinations (Venice coming soon)! So if you’re planning a big trip to Italy (you lucky thing!) and are visiting all of these places, then you have quite a lot of film recommendations, my friend.
But if you’re visiting any other region/city in Italy (Milan in Lombardy, Florence in Tuscany, etc.) then this general list of amazing films set in Italy is for you! Let’s dive in!
Top Films set in Italy
1. Purple Noon (1960) dir. René Clément
Languages: French, Italian Run time: 115m 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Purple Noon should definitely be high on my ‘to watch’ list because I absolutely love the film The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and this film is based on the same book. Working-class American Tom Ripley is sent to Italy to persuade Phillipe Greenleaf to return to the US and take over his father’s business. Instead, Tom becomes enraptured by Phillipe’s lavish and luxury lifestyle. Even when Phillipe becomes mean and hurtful towards him, Tom is unwilling to give up this new life.
I love it! What’s better than a thriller set in Italy? Purple Noon shot in Naples and Rome and Ischia Island stood in for the fictional town of Mongibello. Maronti Beach on Ischia Island is where Tom sunbathes in the very last scene. Apparently, Ischia is seen as the ‘hidden gem’ alternative to the popular Italian island of Capri.
2. Rocco and His Brothers (1960) dir. Luchino Visconti
Language: Italian Run time: 177m 89% Rotten Tomatoes
Highlighting the Italian North-South divide, Rocco and His Brothers is about four brothers (and yes, one is called Rocco) who uproot from Lucania in the south to Milan with their widowed mother to live nearer their older brother, Vincenzo. The film follows each brother’s new life separately, intertwining the narrative at different points. But the main force guiding the plot is a prostitute called Nadia who comes between Rocco and his brother Simone.
It might be a bit grittier than you’d expect from a travel-inspiring film, but Rocco and His Brothers filmed all over Milan and Lombardy region. Filming locations include the Duomo, Bellagio on Lake Como, Milan Central Station, Piazzale Lugano and more! All of the Turin scenes were shot in Rome, however, so you won’t be finding any filming locations in Turin.
3. La Notte (1961) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Language: Italian Run time: 122m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
I’ve already mentioned Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy in a couple of blog posts previously. L’Avventura (1960) is the first film and set in Sicily and L’Eclisse (1961) is the final film and set in Rome. Well, La Notte is the middle film and it’s set over just one day and night (hence the film’s title) in Milan.
A couple in a strained marriage hop from place to place, with each new event and interaction highlighting more cracks in their relationship. La Notte and the rest of Antonioni’s trilogy is a perfect example of Italian neo-realism and filmed at locations in the Sesto San Giovanni commune of Milan.
4. Come September (1961) dir. Robert Mulligan
Languages: English, Italian Run time: 112m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
After watching Roman Holiday (1953) and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), it seems really refreshing to watch an American film set in Italy outside the capital city! Come September follows a rich businessman who has a standing agreement with his Italian mistress to meet at his villa in Liguria every September. One year, he moves their meeting up to July only to discover his villa is now a hotel and the guests are a group of teenage girls. To make matters worse, a group of teenage boys become infatuated with the girls and have set up camp outside.
I love watching films set in Italy, particularly when they feature places I’ve actually been! Come September shot in Portofino (popular with the rich and famous around the time Come September was shot) and Cinque Terre which I visited last year. Some scenes were also filmed in Rome, Milan and of course in Universal Studios, California.
5. Romeo and Juliet (1968) dir. Franco Zefferelli
Language: English Run time: 138m 94% Rotten Tomatoes
There have been so many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet, but Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet is probably one of the most successful and critically acclaimed. I’m sure you know the plot, but if not: young teenagers Juliet Capulet and Romeo Montague both belong to families who have a longstanding feud but fall in love despite their family tensions. Due to a few incidents and misunderstandings, the lovers are banished from their home city of Verona and tragically kill themselves due to, again, a huge misunderstanding.
Romeo and Juliet was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two, and is possibly one of the best and most authentic Romeo and Juliet adaptations in existence. However, the film did not shoot scenes in fair Verona, where the play/film is set, but in Rome, Pienza in Siena and Gubbio in Perugia. The beautiful Palazzo Borghese in Rome was used for some interior scenes.
6. The Italian Job (1969) dir. Peter Collinson
Language: English Run time: 99m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
Regularly charting on ‘the greatest British films of all time’ lists, I don’t know any self-respecting British film fan who hasn’t watched The Italian Job (1969) at least once. Starring Michael Caine as a newly-released convict, he puts together a team to rob a case of gold bullion bars from a security truck in Turin, Italy by causing a traffic jam. It’s a clever, laugh-out-loud film that is both a typical 1960s British comedy and a timeless classic.
Some scenes took place in London while the gang were planning their robbery, but the scenes in Italy were filmed primarily in Turin. Specific filming locations include Torino Palavela, 8 Gallery Lingotto Torino and Chiesa Della Gran Madre di Dio.
7. Avanti! (1972) dir. Billy Wilder
Language: English Run time: 140m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
Purple Noon isn’t the only movie on my list of films set in Italy that noticed the cinematic potential in the Island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. American film Avanti! starring Jack Lemmon chose some breathtaking landscapes on the west coast of Italy including Ischia, the Isle of Capri and the Instagrammable Amalfi Coast.
Avanti! is about a wealthy American businessman who must travel to Italy to deal with his recently-deceased father’s affairs. He soon learns that his father left behind a mistress and that his month-long trips to Italy weren’t for the relaxing mud baths. Avanti! shot at the same hotel where the film is set, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, which is still open today.
8. Amarcord (1973) dir. Federico Fellini
Language: Italian Run time: 124m 90% Rotten Tomatoes
Federico Fellini is one of Italian’s most revered directors of all time. So, one of his films had to feature on my list of films set in Italy. Amarcord is a self-autobiographical film based on the director’s experience growing up in 1930s Fascist Italy. Before moving to Rome, Fellini lived in Rimini in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where Amarcord is set. The film doesn’t have a traditional ‘plot’ but rather a series of snapshots around the village of Borgo San Giuliano near Rimini.
It must be considered a decent enough film because Amarcord won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Fellini shot most of Amarcord in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios but shot a couple of scenes on location in Rimini and Rome.
9. A Room with a View (1985) dir. James Ivory
Languages: English, Italian Run time: 117m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
Based on the classic novel of the same name by E.M. Forster, A Room with View is set in England and Italy. It’s about an inhibited young woman, Lucy, living in Edwardian England. Lucy and her chaperone stay with a young man named George and his father at their home in Florence where Lucy and George strike up a friendship. Lucy returns to England, but when the pair are reunited, Lucy is already engaged.
Most of the film takes place in England, but it’s the scenes in Italy everyone remembers. A Room with a View is the quintessential travel-inspiring film to watch if you’re heading to Tuscany! Who doesn’t want a room with a view when the view is overlooking the river Arno, eh? Some of the filming locations in Florence include Piazza Della Signoria, Piazza Santa Croce and the Fiesole area of Florence.
10. Enchanted April (1991) dir. Mike Newell
Language: English Run time: 95m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Ever felt unhappy with the direction of your life and wanted up sticks to the Italian Riviera? Well, if you were rich in the 1920s, that’s exactly what you’d do! Enchanted April is a little-known film about four women who have hardly anything in common except the desire to share the rent in an Italian villa for one month to get away from it all.
The ‘villa’ the four ladies stay in is actually Castello Brown in Portofino and Enchanted April shot on location there. Castello Brown is a castle up on a hill overlooking the whole of Portofino and the port. I imagine it’s a pretty spectacular place to stay!
11.The English Patient (1996) dir. Anthony Minghella
Languages: English, German, Italian, Arabic Run time: 162m 85% Rotten Tomatoes
It’s been aaaages since I watched The English Patient! I’m not sure I could even explain the plot without the help of my good pal, Wikipedia. Though, I did not forget that The English Patient was a triumph during awards season, sweeping up several Academy Awards including Best Picture. But those Academy judges do love a period-set, country-hopping war film, am I right?
It’s near the end of WWII and Hana is a French-Canadian nurse who moves into a bombed-out Northern Italian Monastery to care for a burn victim who cannot remember who he is. In a series of flashbacks, the anonymous burn victim uncovers his identity and many adventures. Aside from Tunisia for the flashback sequences, The English Patient shot the majority of its scenes in Italy. Grand Hotel des Bains stood in for a hotel in Cairo and the glorious monastery from the film is actually the Agriturismo Sant’Anna in Camprena in Siena, Tuscany which you can actually stay in! And host a wedding in! Other Italian cities used as filming locations include Rome and Trieste.
12. Life is Beautiful (1997) dir. Roberto Benigni
Languages: Italian, English, German Run time: 116m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
Life is Beautiful was the director and actor Roberto Benigni’s passion project. His father spent two years in a Nazi concentration camp in WWII and inspired this heartbreaking yet life-affirming film. Benigni plays a Jewish-Italian bookshop owner who is captured by Nazis along with his son. He uses his comedic talent and imagination to shield his son from the tragedy happening around them.
Not very travel-inspiring you say? I understand, but there are some cracking filming locations in Life is Beautiful. The majority of the Italy-set scenes are filmed in Arezzo, Tuscany and Terni, Umbria as well as Viterbo in the Lazio region. Think long cobbled streets with brightly painted houses and historic piazzas galore!
13. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) dir. Anthony Minghella
Language: English Run time: 139m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
Of all the films set in Italy on this list, The Talented Mr Ripley is the one I recommend the most. Why? Because I think it’s an extremely well-made, enticing drama-thriller featuring great, well-known actors. Oh, and it showcases at least four different drop-dead gorgeous places in Italy. It’s the perfect all-rounder if a group of your travel-loving mates are coming round to watch a film.
Since it’s based on the same novel, the plot to The Talented Mr Ripley is very similar to that of Purple Noon. Except in this version, ‘Philippe Greenleaf’ is ‘Dickie Greenleaf ‘and a few more Italian cities are ticked off, too. Ischia Island yet again stands in as the fictional seaside town of Mongibello. While in Rome, Tom and his pals visit the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the Roman Forum and stay in La Grand Hotel and Positano even makes an appearance somewhere (probably as San Remo). Towards the end of the film when the characters stay in Venice, Cafe Florian and Hotel Europa & Regina are filming locations.
So many Italy filming locations, all over the country, in just one film! Dammit, I really wanna just stop writing this blog post to watch The Talented Mr Ripley right now. Does anyone know if it’s on Netflix?
14. Tea with Mussolini (1999) dir. Franco Zeffirelli
Languages: English, Italian Run time: 117m 66% Rotten Tomatoes
Over 30 years later, and director Franco Zefferelli makes my list of films set in Italy for another British-Italian film. Dames Judy Dench and Maggie Smith are part of a group of intelligent English women living in Italy during WWII who take it upon themselves to care for a young boy whose father shows little interest in.
Tea with Mussolini shot most of its scenes in Tuscany where the film is set. Piazza Della Cisterna in San Gimignano, Siena was a prolific location in the film as well as the Collegiate Church. Florence and Cinecittà Studios in Rome were also utilised for Tea with Mussolini.
15. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) dir. Audrey Wells
Language: English Run time: 113m 61% Rotten Tomatoes
Isn’t it a bit crazy it took us 15 films to finally reach one directed by a woman? Well, it’s a good one, in my opinion. I think Under the Tuscan Sun laid the foundation for the Eay Pray Love boom. It’s about a newly-divorced American writer who goes on a trip to Italy and spontaneously buys a rundown villa in Tuscany. She has to navigate hiring workers, managing her finances and a burgeoning new relationship with a handsome Italian man.
There’s a lot to love about Under the Tuscan Sun. The tour is made up of an all-gay group which is fun and you see many sides of Tuscany in just one film. There’s the super touristy, writing postcards home to your mum side of Tuscany, the traditional ceremonies and Italian family values and even an immigrant’s perspective. A really great film and a must-watch if you’re planning a Tuscan holiday.
16. Ocean’s Twelve (2004) dir. Steven Soderbergh
Language: English Run time: 125m 55% Rotten Tomatoes
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Ocean’s Twelve (so long that I didn’t even remember that there are scenes in Rome!) but it’s a great film to watch if you’re planning a trip to Europe. The second film in the Oceans Trilogy after Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and before Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), Danny Ocean’s gang is back together to steal more money to pay off the guy they screwed over in the first film. They plan three European heists which take the team to Amsterdam, Paris, Monaco, Rome and Lake Como.
Brad Pitt’s character Rusty meets Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Europol Detective Isabel at a café in Piazza Della Rotonda, just outside the Pantheon in Rome. And the thief known as ‘Night Fox’ has a rather swanky villa, Villa Erba in Cernobbio on Lake Como which makes me wish I was a millionaire.
17. Genova/A Summer in Genoa (2008) dir. Michael Winterbottom
Language: English Run time: 94m 77% Rotten Tomatoes
I know not many people have even heard of Genova or A Summer in Genoa (its USA release title), but I thought it was worth adding to my list of films set in Italy because a) I’ve been to Genoa and b) I’ve watched the film A LOT. And it’s such a big city but Genova is one of the only films I can think of that’s set in Genoa.
The film follows a recently widowed dad played by Colin Firth who moves to Genoa with his two daughters to teach at the university and have a fresh start. The girls have a summer to adjust to living in Italy before they start school which is difficult due to the recent death of their mother.
It’s not a ‘happy happy happy’ film and the aesthetic is quite grey and gritty, but Genova is shot entirely on location in Genoa and features a heck of a lot of locations. And if you’re planning on visiting this port city in Liguria, and you can actually find a copy of the film, definitely give it a watch. I have an entire blog post detailing all the filming locations in Genova so you won’t miss any!
18. Quantum of Solace (2008) dir. Marc Forster
Language: English Run time: 106m 65% Rotten Tomatoes
There have been many Bond films set in Italy but none so prolific as Quantum of Solace. Which is a bit unfortunate, considering it’s a lacklustre film compared to the two movies which bookend it: Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).
Quantum of Solace is a straight sequel to Casino Royale and starts where the previous film finishes. Bond is driving from Lake Como to Siena in Tuscany with the elusive Mr White in the boot of his car. While in Siena, M’s bodyguard turns out to be a double agent so Bond ends up chasing bad guys on the cobbled streets (and roofs) of Tuscany. Of course, he doesn’t stay in Italy for long and soon moves onto Austria, Bolivia and Russia in the rest of the film.
19. I Am Love (2009) dir. Luca Guadagnino
Language: Italian Run time: 120m 82% Rotten Tomatoes
I Am Love is the first film in director Luca Guadagnino’s self-named ‘desire’ trilogy. The second film is A Bigger Splash (2015) which I’ve written about in my films set in Sicily post and the final film in the trilogy is the very last movie on this list!
Set and filmed entirely in Milan and Liguria, I Am Love stars Tilda Swinton as Emma. She married into a powerful, Italian textile family and is the mother to three children yet remains unfulfilled. When she meets Antonio, one of her son’s friends, she develops feelings for him and they begin an affair. Aside from the cosmopolitan city of Milan, the film also shot scenes in San Remo on the Italian Riviera and some filming locations in Milan include the famous Duomo and Villa Necchi Campiglio.
20. Letters to Juliet (2010) dir. Gary Winick
Languages: English, Italian Run time: 105m 41% Rotten Tomatoes
Letters to Juliet follows young Sophie, a fact-checker from New York who takes a pre-honeymoon trip with her boyfriend to the romantic city of Verona. While he, a restauranteur, gets wrapped up in wines, cheeses and truffles, Sophie gets swept up in a 50-year-old love story. Sophie finds a letter that an English woman, Claire, wrote to the ‘Secretaries of Juliet’ asking for relationship advice, but it was never received. Claire, now widowed, is on a mission to find her Italian lover, residing somewhere in Tuscany, with the help of Sophie and her sceptical grandson.
I know that Letters to Juliet will only appeal to a certain type of film fan (those who enjoy fluffy romcoms like myself) but it’s one of the only films set in Italy that shows off the beautiful city of Verona! Crazy, right? Luckily, I got to visit Verona in June and see how gorgeous the place is and check out the Letters to Juliet filming locations for myself. I’ll have to visit the locations in Tuscany another time!
21. Inferno (2016) dir. Ron Howard
Language: English Run time: 121m 23% Rotten Tomatoes
I know, I know. Inferno is a horrendous film and this is made even worse by the fact it’s the final film in The Da Vinci Code trilogy in which the first two films are also not good. But I don’t care! Inferno is a race-against-the-clock adventure featuring the work of a 14th-century poet spanning no less than three major cities and I’ve watched it several times.
Everyone’s favourite Symbologist, Professor Robert Langdon is back and this time he’s in Florence with a concussion and bad guys chasing after him. Langdon and new pal Dr Sienna Brooks must follow the clues and fill in the blank spots to stop a deadly virus killing off half the world’s population.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code (2006) which is the first film in the trilogy and set in primarily Paris and Angels and Demons (2009) which is the second film and set in Rome, Inferno switches up locations. Starting in Florence, filming locations include the Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio and Giardino di Boboli. Moving onto Venice, Piazza San Marco makes an appearance and then the film finishes up in Istanbul, Turkey at the world-famous Hagia Sophia.
22. Call Me By Your Name (2017) dir. Luca Guadagnino
Languages: English, Italian, French Run time: 132m 95% Rotten Tomatoes
We’ve reached the end of our cinematic trip around Italy! And what a journey it’s been. I leave you with not only one of the best films set in Italy but one of my favourite films of all time.
Call Me By Your Name is set in the Lombardy region of Italy in the early 1980s. Elio is a precocious 17-year-old and Oliver is a 20-something Grad student of his father’s, staying in Elio’s family’s villa for the summer. As the weeks unfold, Elio and Oliver’s feelings for each other develop into an intense relationship against the backdrop of swimming in ponds, picking fruit from orchards and cycling in charming piazzas. Call Me By Your Name‘s locations in the Lombardy region include Crema, Bergamo and a town on Lake Garda called Sirmione which I visited in June!
Other films set in Italy: Journey to Italy (1954), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Dear Diary (1993), Only You (1994), Il Postino (1994) Stealing Beauty (1996), In Love and War (1996), A Good Woman (2004), Shadows in the Sun (2005), Nine (2009), No Time to Die (2020)
And those are all the top films set in Italy that will inspire you to visit! Are you planning a trip to Italy? Or have you watched any of these travel-inspiring films? Let me know in the comments below!