Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Ben-Hur had his chariot, but Russell Crowe brings his own brand of Roman machismo to the Colosseum in “Gladiator.”
If you miss spending time in the Eternal City, get a taste of la dolce vita with these movies about Rome.
Rome, perhaps more than any other city, is built layer upon layer over its past. A ruin from ancient Rome can be found magnificently crumbling between an office building from the Mussolini era and a sleek apartment block. Filmmakers like Fellini and Ridley Scott have captured the magic of Rome—the buzz of Vespas, the parade of Roman soldiers, the grandeur and squalor existing side by side. Visiting Rome, which we can’t do right now (at least, not in person), is the best way to experience it, but we’re summoning its unique vibe through these films, where the Eternal City plays a leading role; all are available to stream on Netflix, Amazon, and more. So stir up a Negroni and settle in for an evening watching these movies set in Rome.
Lies! Deceit! Murder! Jude Law in resort wear! There are many reasons you’ll be enthralled by this film adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller novel, but the sun-soaked Italian landscapes bursting with color stand out as the most impressive. Positano and villages on the islands of Ischia and Procida were used as filming locations for the fictional town of Mongibello, where most of the film takes place, but some of the film’s most pivotal scenes take place in Rome, including at the Piazza di Spagna and Le Grand Hotel. The scene where Matt Damon’s character overlooks the ruins of the Roman Forum at sunset will make you long for your next visit to the Eternal City. –Ciera Velarde, Newsletter engagement editor
You’ll be captivated by the swinging vision of postwar Rome revealed right from the opening sequence of La Dolce Vita: First a shot of a statue of Christ flies through the air, then the camera pulls back to show it dangling from a helicopter, which ferries it across the Roman skyline. The camera then pans to reveal the pilot and male passengers of another helicopter that follows the statue; they’re ogling some bikini-clad women sunbathing (while smoking and dancing) on a rooftop. The black-and-white movie follows the dreamy and world-weary journalist Marcello Rubini (played by the dreamy and talented Marcello Mastroianni) in his search for happiness and meaning in a hectic and aimless life. In the most famous scene, Anita Ekberg dances ecstatically in the Trevi Fountain. —Ann Shields, Managing editor, travel guides
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This film is a love letter to Rome told through the eyes of an aging writer, who begins to push past the superficial and look for moments of—you guessed it—great beauty. Gorgeously shot, with generous screen time given to Rome’s monuments and streetscapes, it’s at once a fantastical film about nothing and something. Don’t just take my word for it: Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014. And oh, the soundtrack! —Katherine LaGrave, Digital features editor
A poor man gets a job hanging posters, but his bicycle, essential to his job, is stolen. The man and his son walk the streets of Rome, searching for the thief and the bicycle, which means the difference between eating or not. Desperate, what can he do? Director Vittorio de Sica did not use professional actors in this memorable film. —Pat Tompkins, Copy editor
Bertolucci’s 1970 drama shows life in Rome during the 1930s. A craven and morally bankrupt man working for the Fascist police is asked to assassinate his former college mentor. He visits the professor and his young wife while on his own honeymoon. His plan, and his sense of purpose, rupture when he falls in love with the professor’s wife; he begins to question both the assassination plans and his political beliefs. He’s damaged and despicable, and you can’t stop watching. The film uses the beautifully brutal architecture of the period, the angularity of late 1930s fashions, and the heightened contrast of light and darkness of the cinematography to depict a harsh period of modern Roman history. Mesmerizing. —A.S.
The concept of a gladiator epic genre hadn’t been revisited since Judah Ben-Hur took his last chariot lap of the Colosseum in 1959, but director Ridley Scott dusted off the laurel wreath again with this sweeping film about ancient Rome, incest, slavery, patricide, and sandals. The solid cast—Russell Crowe, Olivier Reed, Joaquin Phoenix, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou—performs before a CGI backdrop of the grand city as it was in 180 B.C.E. (it was actually filmed in Malta). Seeing Roman ruins in their original intact state, not bleached or crumbling but colorful and grand, will lend a fresh perspective to your next visit. —A.S.
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Love Wedding Repeat is not something you watch to further your knowledge of Italian cinema. It’s something you watch because you accidentally binged too many pandemic movies and now need a frothy rom-com to get you off Planet Anxiety. The Netflix film revolves around Jack (Sam Claflin) and Dina (Olivia Munn) who strike up a flirtation while visiting Jack’s sister, Hayley, in Rome. Fate strikes a blow, separating Jack and Dina right before a kiss that would theoretically seal their romance. But fate then reunites them at Hayley’s wedding in Rome three years later. From there, the movie takes a surprising twist that involves mishandled sleep medicine and some parallel worlds-ishness. But even better than the slapstick comedy and clever dialogue is the setting: Villa Parisi, a 17th-century castle practically dripping with chandeliers, mosaics, and exquisite frescoes. Anxiety, who? —Aislyn Greene, Senior editor
Life in Nazi-occupied Rome is the setting and subject of this movie by Roberto Rossellini. It even shaped its look, made using what scraps of film stock the director could find. A memorable performance by Anna Magnani is just one reason to see this early triumph of gritty realism, which focuses on efforts to protect an underground leader of the Resistance. —P.T.
In her major debut U.S. performance, Audrey Hepburn shines as Ann, a sheltered princess who falls for a rakish newspaperman, Joe Bradley. Drama ensues when Joe (played by Gregory Peck) realizes he can profit financially by becoming close with the princess and enlists his photographer friend to take photos of them to sell to tabloids. Come for the sparkle between the costars, and stay for the dizzying shots of Rome: Though the film was shot on location, doing so meant a greater expense than anticipated—so the film ended up in black and white after it was supposed to be in color. —K.L.
In this autobiographical drama, Federico Fellini cast handsome Marcello Mastroianni in the role of movie director. Why? Mastroianni looks nothing like Fellini. Why not? Fellini can do what he wants. Or can he? This is a movie about a director struggling after his latest success. He’s confused and under pressure. The title refers to the number of movies Fellini had made at that point. —P.T.
A comedy about a gang of bumbling amateur thieves planning a pawn-shop heist. Acted by Italian greats like Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, and Claudia Cardinale, the film is funny and ridiculous and follows the gang (and a baby one of them is caring for while his wife’s in prison) through apartments, slums, messy improvised meals, and along the streets and alleys of Rome near the Trajan’s Market ruins. The Rome on screen is obviously still reeling from and impoverished after WWII, but the good-natured and funny Roman spirit is palpable. —A.S.
When a retired civil servant in postwar Rome faces a rent increase, he struggles to raise money. Carlo Battisti, a novice actor, plays the title character, whose sole source of comfort is his small dog. This is a powerful study of a “forgotten” man in a city synonymous with art, architecture, and la dolce vita. Directed by Vittorio de Sica. —P.T.
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