Let’s explore some of the movies that borrowed Rome’s magic by featuring its breathtaking locations in their most iconic scenes.
The Eternal City is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and as such it has inspired many directors with its magic. If you want to watch a movie as you excitedly prepare for your arrival in Rome then let’s take a journey to discover cinematic gold.
The Bicycle Thieves
Directed by Vittorio de Sica (1948)
An exploration of postwar Rome, this 1948 neorealistic movie received an honorary Oscar in 1949 and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Directed by the brilliant Vittorio de Sica, “The Bicycle Thieves” tells the story of an impoverished Ricci, played by Lamberto Maggiorani, who spends each day in a queue for a job until, one day, an offer for a poster hanger comes up and he immediately takes it stating he has the required bicycle. His wife Maria, pawns the family linen to get back the previously pawned bicycle now needed for the job. During his first day hanging posters, the bicycle is stolen and so Ricci begins to desperately search for the thief through the chaos of Rome accompanied by his son Bruno. De Sica creates a portrait of a man defined and limited by his economical class who is merely trying to provide for his family during the postwar era and the essence of that struggle is a story everyone can relate to.
Directed by William Wyler (1953)
Starring Gregory Peck and the ethereal Audrey Hepburn, William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” went on to become one of the most iconic bittersweet romantic comedies movies of all time. Rome could be considered one of the main characters as a sheltered Princess Anne escapes her embassy and entourage to visit the Eternal City freely. This leads to a serendipitous meeting with a Journalist who is initially unaware of her identity. Realizing one of her biggest desires is visiting the city, he later proposes to help her discover Rome’s splendor, hiding his identity in the hopes of getting the scoop on the rebellious Princess. Rome’s most iconic sites are featured in Wyler’s comedy as the story unfolds and the naïve Princess falls for the deceptive journalist. The movie was only partly shot in Rome’s Cinecittà studios as most of the scenes were shot in Rome’s most iconic sites: Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church, Roman Forum, The Spanish Steps, La Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), Pantheon and Castel’Sant Angelo. By the end of the movie, you will fall in love with Rome much like Princess Anne and you might even find yourself irresistibly drawn to visiting the idyllic sites once you reach the city. Remember to stop for a taste of equally irresistible, authentic Italian gelato in honor of the movie!
Big Deal on Madonna Street
I Soliti Ignoti directed by Mario Monicelli (1958)
The Italian title of this movie, I “Soliti Ignoti” (“The usual unknown persons” would be an accurate English translation), is ironic because the cast Mario Monicelli’s included Marcello Mastroianni, Carlo Pisacane, Tiberio Murgia, Vittorio Gassman, Totò, Renato Salvatori, some of the biggest onscreen legends of the time. Claudia Cardinale, who would later rise to stellar fame in other projects, also appears briefly in this movie in the role of a Sicilian who is overprotected by her brother. This satirical caper movie, filmed in Rome’s streets, follows the misadventures of a motley crew of five in their attempt to burgle a pawnshop safe. Featuring comedy legend Totò as the headliner of the poster, this Roman comedy became a celebrated cinematic masterpiece that has inspired many caper films.
La Dolce Vita
Federico Fellini’s iconic cinematic masterpiece (1960)
Featuring some of the Eternal City’s most beautiful gems, Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece tells the story of a gossip journalist who goes on a discovery of Rome as he overviews his life. From the viewpoint of the main character, played by Marcello Mastroianni, the city’s decadence and hedonistic nature are uncovered resulting in an exploration of la “dolce vita” as Italians call it. This movie created pure cinematic gold and one of the most iconic scenes of all time features Marcello Mastroianni and a breathtaking Anita Ekberg sharing a moment of connection in the Trevi Fountain. A timeless scene that is forever impressed in the imaginations of all who think of Italy and one you will surely find celebrated in most restaurants, gelaterias as well as cafés of Rome through displayed pictures or posters. You will quickly come to understand that “La Dolce Vita” is so iconic that not only did it change film aesthetic but also impacted fashion, photography and so much more becoming a timeless classic and a celebration of a life philosophy that is still prevalent in today’s Rome.
Directed by Federico Fellini (1972)
“When I found Rome, I found my world.” The director famously stated. This semi-autobiographical film follows Fellini as he learns about and celebrates Rome shifting back and forth between the present and the past and providing an interpretation of the city through his extravagant perspective. He intertwines past and present Rome by showing his life as a young man and alternating the storyline to the older version of himself during the 70s. At the very end of the movie, Anna Magnani plays herself in the film, in a cameo that was meant by Fellini to iconize her as the symbol of the Roman spirit.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Directed by Anthony Minghella (1999)
The adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, this psychological thriller tells the story of the charming sociopath Tom Ripley (brilliantly played by Matt Damon) who is tasked with bringing the wealthy Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law, back home. To do this, he befriends Dickie and his high society girlfriend Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Matt Damon’s performance will captivate you through the whole movie. To keep from spoiling the plot completely, I will just write that in a twisted turn of events, Ripley ends up traveling to Rome where he must keep up his deceptiveness. This gives us a chance to see 1950’s Rome in all its beauty as well as its darkness. From the St. Regis Gran Hotel to Piazza Mattei where Ripley, now impersonating Dickie, rents out an apartment. A pivotal scene in the movie features the famous Fontana della Tartaruga (Turtle Fountain). While taking a stroll through Piazza Navona with Cate Blanchett’s character, a wealthy heiress named Meredith, Ripley tells her has never been happier. Spanish Square and Sant’Angelo Bridge and the Roman Opera House are other locations you will see in Anthony Minghella’s thrilling movie.
Angels & Demons
Directed by Ron Howard, (2009)
Starring Academy Award winner Tom Hanks and based on Dan Brown’s thriller “Angels and Demons”, this intriguing movie features some of Rome’s key squares such as Piazza del Popolo, St. Peter’s Square, Navona Square and especially its main churches. The film follows Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist and Vittoria Vetra, a scientist, as they uncover the secret brotherhood of the Illuminati ‘s plot against the Catholic Church. By following the symbols all around the Vatican, they find themselves on a mission to stop a terrorist attack that involves the death of four cardinals and a mass destruction weapon. They are assisted in this mission by the Vatican police, the Camerlengo Patrick Mckenna (played by Ewan McGregor) and Commander Richter. In a key moment of the movie, Castel Sant'Angelo is revealed as the Illuminati’s lair by Cardinal Baggia. As the story unfolds, you will be at the edge of your seat.
If you want to discover the sites of Angels and Demons and walk in the footsteps of its main characters, consider taking the tour.
To Rome With Love
Directed by Woody Allen (2012)
Written and directed by Woody Allen, “To Rome With Love” seems to be intended as a loving postcard dedicated to the Eternal City as it follows the romances, life challenges of the intertwining lives of its protagonists. Although it is a lighthearted movie and features a star-studded cast among which Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Carol Alt, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Allen himself, it received less than stellar reviews. The movie has its share of funny and uplifting moments and although Rome is presented through an outdated clichéd perspective, its key locations are featured in the four unfolding stories as all the characters are visitors or residents of the Eternal City. Piazza Venezia, Navona Square and the iconic “Dolce Vita” Via Vittorio Veneto are some of the locations Woody Allen featured in his film.
The Great Beauty
Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (2013)
This cinematic masterpiece will introduce you to Rome through the eyes of Neapolitan, Academy award-winning Paolo Sorrentino and his powerfully stylized, almost surrealistic perspective. Rome’s key locations are featured throughout the film so much so it has led to the creation of themed Tours of the filming locations and a guide to discovering its most secret locations was even written by Costantino d’Orazio and titled “The Great Beauty of Rome.” Sorrentino captures a hedonistic Eternal City in his movie as his main character Jep, played by Toni Servillo, explores the Roman highlife's full decadence, uncovering the layers of beauty and darkness of Rome along the way.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (2004)
Featuring Italy in only a few of its scenes, this star-studded sequel to 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven lets you enjoy an old-style heist gang set in modern times and features Rome as a romantic backdrop. This high budget film was shot partly in the US and partly in Europe. Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 12 sets up a beautifully romantic interlude for Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ characters that follows them as they explore Rome and fall in love, The Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Lungotevere as well as the Vatican are the locations featured in these scenes and you will love the chemistry between the two actors. Thus, the Eternal City acts as a romantic backdrop for Rusty and Isabel at the beginning of the movie. Years later, these two characters will end up on each other’s trails as the Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), now a Europol agent, will become involved in capturing Ocean’s gang. The full members of the gang are surely Stars you will recognize as George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy García and Don Cheadle are part of the cast. Lake Como (Clooney’s Villa in Laglio) is featured in a scene between Clooney, Julia Roberts and Vincent Cassel. Another featured Italian location is Castellamare del Golfo’s Scopello which will enchant you briefly at the end of the movie. If you love heist movies you will surely love Ocean’s 12, despite the fact it does not live up to the first remake of Ocean’s Eleven which honored the 1960 Frank Sinatra original movie brilliantly.
In view of your trip to Rome, keep in mind you can choose to explore the cinematic universe and discover magnificent scenes set in the locations you will enjoy visiting. These are only a few of the highlights as once you reach the city you will realize that there is something to discover around every corner almost! If you do choose to watch one or more of these movies, please do share what you enjoyed and if you are a movie lover like me, consider a visit to Cinecittà, Rome’s iconic movie studio. May your trip to the Eternal City be full of magic!
Written by Anamaria Maier
Might interest you:
-> Top 5 Cinemas in the English language in Rome
-> Roman Holiday, a movie that made the History of Cinema