Watching movies about Rome can be a great way of getting inspired to visit the city; certain particular areas in it; eating specific foods. It can also be a way to learn more about the history (albeit not always historically accurate) and culture of the city; the current vibe and way of life.
Rome certainly is a magnificent backdrop for movies: whether you are looking at a romantic comedy; a crime / psychological drama etc, landmarks in Rome provide a great setting for movies!
The best movies about Rome – or, shall I say, my favorite ones – are those filmed in the 1950s or 1960s, at the time of the Italian economic boom. Back then, the city was truly glowing. But even more contemporary movies are excellent (The Great Beauty is probably the best!).
One curious fact: not all the best movies about Rome are actually Italian productions. Many are Hollywood productions; and others are the work of independent directors and producers.
Curious to find out more? Now, without any further ado, let me introduce you to the best movies about Rome! You will find most of them on Amazon Prime for rent; on Netflix and other common channels.
The Best Movies About Rome
Angels And Demons
Based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name, Angels and Demons was released in 2009. This Hollywood mystery thriller – directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks – is the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code (also by Dan Brown).
Filming took place in Rome, with several notable locations from the city seen in the film. The film sees Hanks play Harvard professor Robert Langdon who arrives in Rome to uncover a conspiracy against the Vatican City. It’s a twisting, turning tale that was widely panned at the time, and it’ll keep you interested enough.
This classic depiction of Ancient Rome is an icon of a film – it won a whopping 11 Oscars when it was released in 1959. The religious epic was directed by William Wyler and starred Charlton Heston in the title role.
It’s actually a remake of a silent film from 1925, itself an adaptation of a 1880 novel. It’s the story of a wealthy prince of Judea who ends up as a slave in the Roman empire and swears revenge. The movie is famed for its chariot scene, which still stands up as epic cinema today.
Ben Hur actually had the largest budget of any film at that time (over $15 million). It also boasted one of the largest sets ever built – specifically at Rome’s Cinecittà studios, where they built an 18-acre racetrack modeled on the Circus of Antioch.
Don’t bother with the 2016 remake!
Another film from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Cleopatra stars the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor in the title role – alongside retro heartthrob Richard Burton as Antony. The epic historical drama was released in 1963.
It tells the story of Cleopatra as she becomes the mistress of Julius Caesar of Rome, in order to save her kingdom, afterwards falling in love with Marc Antony, and becoming entangled in a power struggle to control the Empire.
Eat Pray Love
Something of a modern classic, Eat Pray Love is adored by (some) travelers, even if it does portray stereotypes throughout – including of Italians. That’s a disclaimer on my part!
Julia Roberts heads up the cast of the movie, playing the author of 2006 memoir (also called Eat Pray Love) by Elizabeth Gilbert. The film follows Gilbert, whose life appears full on the outside – she had a career, home, and successful husband. However, she found herself searching for something that was missing and following a divorce, she embarks on a journey across the world to “find herself”.
Her travels take her to Bali, India, and, of course, Italy, where Roberts (as Gilbert) explores a cliche Rome full of pizza and spaghetti.
The 1969 fantasy drama by acclaimed director Federico Fellini is situated in Nero’s Rome. It is loosely based on Satyricon by ancient poet Petronius. The film is split into nine separate sections, with the plot following Encolpius and his friend Ascyltus as they try to romance a young man named Giton.
The whole film features a surreal landscape of Rome and might not exactly be for everyone – it’s often nonsensical, with sex and violence throughout. Most of the surreal images for the movie took place at Cinecittà studios.
The Great Beauty
Directed by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty was released in 2013 to mixed reviews. However, it did walk away with a lot of different awards, scooping Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.
While it showcases the art and heritage of the city, it’s great for lovers of travel. It even opens with a quote from Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 book Journey to the End of the Night: “Traveling is very useful – it makes your imagination work. Everything else is just disappointment and trouble. Our journey is entirely imaginary, which is its strength.”
Note, however, that this isn’t exactly a very exciting film.
Russel Crowe stars in Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic historical drama. The film is a tale of Maximus (Crowe), a general who sets out on a campaign of revenge after his family is murdered. He is reduced to slavery and works his way up the ranks of gladiator competitions.
As you can imagine, many of the scenes depict violent battles, as well as the underhanded politics of ancient Rome. Joaquin Phoenix is scarily good as the main bad-guy, Commodus, while Gladiator also features Oliver Reed in his final film role.
La Dolce Vita
Italian for “the sweet life” or more meaningfully, “the good life”, this 1960 comedy drama was directed by pre-eminent filmmaker Federico Fellini. The story follows a journalist, Marcello Rubini (played by Marcello Mastroianni), as he journeys through Rome to discover the “dolce vita” of the city.
The action takes place over a week and shows off the best of Rome’s city streets and landmarks. The most famous scene takes place when Sylvia Rank (played by Anita Ekberg) jumps into the Trevi Fountain and calls out for Marcello.
For more fountains in Rome, read this post.
The sequel to Ocean’s 11 (which was a remake of the 1960 film of the same name), Ocean’s Twelve (2004) sees the star-studded ensemble cast return for the heist of the century. It’s filmed in various locations throughout Italy, including Rome. If you’re thinking of a trip to Rome, this is a good one to watch, as you’ll see sights like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese, and Via Condotti.
Only You is a 1994 rom-com starring Robert Downey, Jr. While it is not wholly set in Rome, the movie has some scenes that are set in Rome. The story centers around a young woman played by Marisa Tomei, whose search for her soulmate leads her to Italy – and Robert Downey, Jr., of course. The film is fun and light, and also captures Rome in a brilliant way, with plenty of the city’s architectural icons on display.
Lots of strong female leads make up the cast of the musical Nine: Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Fergie, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Marian Cotillard, and Nicole Kidman. It’s the 2009 remake of the 1982 movie of the same name.
The movie is set in 1965 tells the story of a director (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is struggling with writer’s block during the filming of his latest flick at Cinecittà studios, and calls on his mother, mistress, and wife, among others, to help inspire his storytelling.
Maybe give this one a miss if you don’t like musicals – the critics didn’t think much of it either.
This absolutely classic romance movie stars Audrey Hepburn as a European princess who heads to Rome for the night. While in the city, she meets a reporter (Gregory Peck) and together they end up exploring the beautiful city streets on a Vespa.
This movie arguably shows Rome at its most stunning and, well, romantic, as it is caught in a wave of optimism during the reconstruction of the city following World War II. Roman Holiday was released in 1953 – Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance.
Care to be romantic in Rome? Read this.
Spartacus is an epic film and one that everyone should see. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, and released in 1960, the film is based on the 1951 novel of the same name and tells the story of Spartacus, the title character who ends up leading a slave rebellion in the Roman Empire.
Starring Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier, the film took home four Academy Awards, and has earned a place in the history books for iconic films. The most memorable scene – “I am Spartacus!” – will live on probably forever!
The Talented Mr. Ripley
This 1999 blockbuster sees Matt Damon playing the title role of Mr. Ripley who travels to Italy on a journey to find Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and take him back to the U.S. Ripley ends up being enthralled by Greenleaf’s rich, luxurious lifestyle, and the movie takes a dark twist.
Set in the 1950s, it’s another film about Rome that is imbued with the city’s post-war optimism, as shown by Greenleaf’s opulent life he’s leading in the Italian capital. The film is well acted and rightly received numerous Academy Award nominations.
To Rome With Love
Split into four separate vignettes, with different episodes taking place in each one, this Woody Allen movie was released in 2012. Set in Rome, each vignette features an ensemble cast of characters.
One vignette tells the story of a man who wakes up to find himself a celebrity; the second is about an architect who moves back to where he used to live as a student; next, a honeymooning couple; and finally, an Italian funeral director who has a hidden talent for singing.
While it does show off the beauty of Rome, the critics didn’t like it that much. If that helps, it’s one of my favorite movies about Rome.
When In Rome
Starring Kristen Bell, this was also released in 2012. The film sees Beth (played by Bell) in Rome for her sister’s wedding where she meets a guy who helps her out of some awkward situations at the wedding. She thinks she’s in love with him until she sees him kissing another woman.
Following this, she takes coins from a “Fountain of Love” in Rome, and the rest of the film sees Beth pursued by a plethora of different suitors – including Danny DeVito. The film is actually a remake of Three Coins in a Fountain (1954).