Top 10 Italian film directors

Italian film directors

Today we will talk about some of the most important Italian film directors ever. Italy is well-known for its generosity as to forms of art and artists given to the world and cinema is no exception to this apparently unbreakable rule.

We’ll start naming current filmmakers but also will look back at those who paved the way for the “new batch” –and not only: their influence encompasses Neorealism through the genre known as “Spaghetti Western”, which launched the career of none other than Clint Eastwood.



Let’s open this Italian movie directors list with the author of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso and La leggenda del pianista sull’oceano, an incredible movie very appreciated by musicians and especially pianists, among other productions. Tornatore was born in Sicily in 1956. His approach to storytelling aims at making look real stories that are totally fiction.

Also, his relation with legendary composer Ennio Morricone is such that, in his last years, Morricone would have only considered coming out of retirement if it was for scoring a Tornatore’s movie. The filmmaker from Bagheria was a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1993.


Another of the Italian filmmakers we’ll learn about is rather known as an actor and a specialist in Dante Alighieri. Roberto Benigni hails from Tuscany. His great achievement as a director is Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella, 1997), which he also wrote and starred along with wife in real-life Nicoletta Braschi.

Back in its time, the movie caused a stir among certain conservative circles as it approached such a human tragedy as the Holocaust from a very unusual point of view, mixing humour and drama.

Life is Beautiful received seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), won Best Foreign Language Film and Benigni himself was awarded as the best actor. After learning about the seven Oscar nominations, Benigni met President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and, shaking hands, said “Now I have the Oscar in my hand”.


Among the Italian directors we need to list Paolo Sorrentino, who is also a screenwriter. Somewhat young, he was born in Naples in 1970. At 16, he lost his parents. Sorrentino frequently casts Toni Servillo, works with cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, and shows a fascination for sex, money and power through a sort of oblique storytelling not always easy to follow.

In 2001, with L’uomo in più, his first full-length feature, he was selected to the Venice Film Festival, achieving three nominations to the Davide di Donatello award (the Italian Oscar) and won the Nastro d’Argento (a prize awarded by cinema journalists).

Films like Il divo show aging men struggling with their progressive loss of relevance. Other films by Sorrentino are Le conseguenze dell’amore, L’amico di famiglia, La Grande Bellezza (for which he was awarded an Academy Award and a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film and, as of lately, La mano di Dio. He also made a TV series, The Young Pope.


No list with modern Italian film directors would be complete without this filmmaker, who has been around for over 50 years. Stylistically, he gets surreal elements come up in otherwise realistic contexts.

Bellocchio often works with Maya Sansa, Roberto Herlitzka, psychoanalyst Massimo Fagioli (particularly in the 1980s and 1990s) and composer Carlo Crivelli. His films tend to show the conflict between the Church and the radical, to neither of which he aligns. Bellocchio’s movies also attack Italian symbols of conformism, frequently show fractured, dysfunctional families and display social issues without becoming overtly ideological. 


Obviously, we will name some of the moviemakers who established Italian cinema as art. Among them we find the deservingly celebrated Federico Fellini, whose unique style brought about the term “Felliniesque”, but also the word paparazzi – as Paparazzo was a journalist photographing celebrities in La Dolce Vita.

Fellini was nominated 4 times for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award with La strada (1954), Le notti di Cabiria (1957),  (1963) and Amarcord (1973). It turns out, all 4 won the prize. Fellini passed away the day after his 50th wedding anniversary, the same date as River Phoenix died, and was born the same day as DeForest Kelley of Star Trek Fame.

Italian Christmas movies

Mario Monicelli was born in Rome in 1995 and died in the same city in 2010 under quite tragic circumstances. He was a three-time Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee. His films include I compagni (1963), Speriamo che sia femmina (1986) and I soliti ignoti (1958).

Another important director is Vittorio De Sica. There were Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film to his works Ieri, oggi, domani (1963), Matrimonio all’italiana (1964, starring Sophia Loren), and Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1970). Ieri, oggi, domani and Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini won. Ladri di biciclette (1948) and Sciuscià (1946), heartbreaking studies on post-war Italy, obtained special Honorary Awards. 

One of the masters of Neorealism, Roberto Rossellini was President of jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977. He and Ingrid Bergman made 6 movies together: Europa ’51 (1952), Giovanna d’Arco al rogo (1954), La paura (1954), Siamo donne (1953), Stromboli (1950) and Viaggio in Italia (1954). They would also have three children together, including great actress Isabella, in a tumultuous marriage that lasted a little longer than seven years. Classic Roma città aperta, an anti-fascist anthem, is his.

Last but not least, to wrap up this article, we’d like to mention Ettore Scola, President of the Jury at the 1988 Edition of the Cannes Festival. Early in his career, he also used to ghostwrite for comedian Totò, who would very much be the equivalent of Chaplin in Italian cinema. Also, Sergio Leone, the most recognizable name when it comes to Spaghetti Western.

We hope this helps you make a very slight idea of the true weight and influence of Italian filmmakers around the world.

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