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This post combines two of my favorite things…movies and travel. Long before I visited Italy, my dreams of exploring that beautiful country were fueled by movies that I enjoyed. While watching the stories unfold, my eyes also scanned the background shots. I fell in love with Rome, Venice and Tuscany through those films.
When my grandson, daughter and I visited Italy in 2017, what fun to recognize places from the movies. It felt surreal, in fact, to stand in those locations that seemed new and familiar at the same time.
Check out these 12 movies that inspire you to visit Italy. And dream a little, of travel.
Roman Holiday 1953
This classic movie, filmed in black and white, stars Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert.
A bored princess, on a tour of European cities, sneaks out of her Italian room one night, in search of adventure. An American reporter stationed in Rome finds her asleep on a park bench and takes her back to his apartment. His intention is to get an exclusive story about the princess. However, romance soon blossoms between them.
Fun fact: Paramount wanted to shoot the movie in Hollywood, however the director insisted on filming in Rome. Paramount finally agreed, but reduced the budget which meant filming in black and white and using an unknown actress in the title role. Audrey Hepburn played the princess and won an Oscar.
Enchanted April 1991
This lavish and beautiful film stars Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker, Josie Lawrence and Alfred Molina.
Post World War I, four British women, unhappy with their lives, rent a villa in Portofino, Italy for a month. They embrace a leisurely lifestyle while there, that allows each of them to reconnect with herself, explore their different personalities and backgrounds and reexamine their current relationships.
Fun fact: The castle scenes were filmed at Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy, the same castle that Elizabeth von Arnim stayed in during the 1920s. While there she penned the novel by the same title, on which this movie is based.
Much Ado About Nothing 1993
This Shakespearean inspired film stars Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale, Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Michael Keaton.
The young lovers Hero and Claudio wed in a week. To pass the time, they play matchmakers in an attempt to get arrogant Benedick to fall in love with his favorite sparring partner, Beatrice. Meanwhile, evil Don John conspires to break up the wedding by accusing Hero of infidelity. In the end, it’s all “much ado about nothing.”
Fun fact: Set in Messina, Sicily this film was shot near Florence, Italy and made splendid use of the gorgeous countryside. The movie cast a real life married couple in the lead roles, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. They later divorced.
Only You 1994
Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr, Bonnie Hunt and Billy Zane star in this romantic comedy set in Italy.
Faith believes in destiny and soul mates. Based on a couple of incidents in her teen years, she believes she is supposed to meet and marry a man named Damon Bradley. Time passes and Faith settles for a dull man who is NOT named Damon. Ten days before their wedding, she takes a call from her fiancé’s friend, who is on his way to Venice. The friend’s name is Damon Bradley. Faith risks everything to follow this man to Italy, to see if he is really her soul mate.
Fun fact: Robert Downey Jr and Marisa Tomei reenact the Mouth of Truth scene made famous by Gregory Peck’s prank on Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday! That scene is the thing I remember most about Roman Holiday.
Life is Beautiful 1997
Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini star in this whimsical historical film set in 1930s Italy.
A carefree Jewish book seller named Guido begins a fairy tale life when he marries his beautiful girlfriend. They have a son and live happily until the German occupation of Italy. Attempting to keep his family together and help his son survive the horrors of a concentration camp, the father pretends that the Holocaust is a game and tells his son that the prize for winning is a tank.
Sad fact: Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote, directed and starred in the movie, says the title comes from a quote by Leon Trotsky. In exile in Mexico, and about to be killed by Stalin’s assassins, he saw his wife in the gardens and wrote that, in spite of everything, “life is beautiful”.
The Talented Mr. Ripley 1999
This thriller stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In the late 1950s, Tom Ripley, a chronic underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy named Dickie. After arriving in Italy, Tom attaches himself to Dickie and his pretty fiancée, soaking up the life of luxury. Tom’s gifts include lying, forgery and doing impressions, so when the rich couple tire of him, he uses all of his talents to make the millionaire’s lifestyle his own.
Fun fact: Dickie’s favorite tailor in Rome, Battistoni, is a real tailor shop founded in 1946.
Another historical film set in Italy, Gladiator stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou and Derek Jacobi.
A former Roman general, Maximus is chosen to succeed Emperor Marcus Aurelius, rather than the emperor’s son, Commodus. A power struggle ensues, resulting in the death of Maximus’ family and his capture. He is forced to participate in the gladiator games. The fierce desire that fuels Maximus now is to survive long enough to get revenge.
Fun fact: It’s not true that a Roman emperor gives a thumbs up to spare the life of a gladiator. In reality, a thumbs up symbolized sword action and death. A thumbs down represented a sheathed sword and mercy. However, since a thumbs up is nowadays considered a good sign, the director decided to leave it and not confuse the movie audience.
Under The Tuscan Sun 2003
This romantic comedy stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan and Raoul Bova.
Frances, an author, struggles to complete her latest book. In the midst of her writer’s block, her husband files for divorce. Urged by friends to get away, Frances joins a bus tour of Tuscany, where she falls in love with a crumbling villa. She impulsively buys the house in Tuscany and begins a new life. Restoring her beautiful old home, she ultimately restores her life as well.
Fun fact: When a bird poops on Frances, while she is looking at the villa, the owner cries out “Grazie, Santo Francesco!”. She sees the incident as a good sign that Frances is the right buyer. Read more about good luck traditions in Italy HERE.
Angels & Demons 2009
This action thriller stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer and Stellan Skarsgard.
Following the murder of a physicist, Robert Langdon, a symbolist, and Vittoria Vetra, a scientist, embark on an adventure that involves the secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati. Clues lead them all over the Vatican while an assassin, who works for the Illuminati, kidnaps four cardinals. The pair must also locate a destructive weapon that could kill millions.
Fun fact: Crew members visited Vatican City as tourists and took many photographs to capture as much detail as possible. They knew it was unlikely that they could film there so the photos helped them recreate the sets as faithfully as possible.
Letters to Juliet 2010
This charming romantic comedy stars Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal. Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Egan.
Sophia, an American writer on vacation in Italy, finds a 50 years old unanswered “letter to Juliet” in Juliet’s Courtyard in Verona. These letters, left in the courtyard wall by lovers, are typically answered by a group of women known as the secretaries of Juliet. Intriqued, Sophia goes on a quest to find the writer of the letter and help her find her lover.
Fun fact: Juliet’s secretaries really do exist. They are called the Juliet Club and they volunteer to reply to letters left in the Verona courtyard. They also organize events in honor of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s Courtyard is one of Verona’s biggest tourist attractions. I stood in that courtyard and touched the wall where lovers hide their letters.
Eat, Pray, Love 2010
This biographical drama stars Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup and Viola Davis.
Liz Gilbert appears to have everything…a husband, a nice house, a promising career as a writer…and yet she feels like she has lost herself. After divorcing her husband, Liz embarks on a year long journey that takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia. During her travels, she discovers herself and what she most desires to do in life.
Fun fact: Rome’s two pro soccer teams, SS Lazio and AS Roma, are fierce rivals. In the book, Luca Spaghetti is an SS Lazio fan. The filmmakers made him an AS Roma fan, which enraged the local SS Lazio fans.
To Rome With Love 2012
This romantic comedy stars Woody Allen, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni and Alec Baldwin.
Four interconnected stories play out in Rome, the Eternal City. A worker unexpectedly wakes up a celebrity, an architect takes a trip back to the street he lived on as a student, a young couple honeymoon in romantic Rome and a frustrated opera singer discovers he has a gift for finding talented singers.
Fun fact: One of the characters drops her cell phone into a square manhole. The manhole cover bears the initials SPQR. This is a Roman Empire symbol. It stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” and means “Senate and People of Rome”.
Movies That Inspire Travel
I’ve seen all of these films, beginning with Roman Holiday in my childhood. Each one fed my desire to someday visit Italy myself. I own several of these movies, in DVD format, and watch them still.
How amazing, to travel through Tuscany, stand in Juliet’s Courtyard and explore Rome and Venice, and recognize locations from these films.
Movies are such an important part of my life. I love the connection between them and my travels. Watch for more posts like this one, that weld together these two passions of mine.
How many of these films have you seen? And do you have a movie that inspired you to travel?
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