The 20+ best Italian Directors of All Time

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Last Updated on 2023/11/08

Greatest Italian Film Directors of All Time

Italian directors have been greatly involved in the revolutionizing of cinema since the 1940s. Here is the list of the most important Italian directors from the post-war period to the present day. The list has only a representative value.

The 1940s

Italian neorealism

In 1943, during the Second World War, a film destined to anger fascist officials was released in Italian cinemas: Ossessione by Luchino Visconti. The film is the first true example of a cinematographic current destined to change Italian and world cinema: neo-realism. Neo-realistic cinema tried to describe the economic difficulties and moral conditions of the population of post-war Italy. Neorealism exploded as a post-war movement with Roberto Rossellini‘s Rome trilogy, Rome, Open City (1945), Paisà (1946), and Germany, Year Zero (1948). The actors in these films were often non-professionals alongside veteran actors such as Silvana Mangano, Anna Magnani, or Vittorio Gassman. The cruelty of life is told poetically by Vittorio De Sica. The movement lasted until the early sixties and the main films of this current were: Shoeshine (1946), The Bicycle Thief (1948), Miracle in Milan (1951), Umberto D (1952) by Vittorio De SicaLuchino Visconti‘s The Earth Trembles (1948); Federico Fellini‘s La Strada (1954); Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s first film, Accattone (1961).

Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977)

Roberto Gastone Zeffiro Rossellini was one of the most important directors in the history of Italian cinema. Rossellini is considered the father of Italian neorealist cinema. François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese have repeatedly claimed to have been influenced by Rossellini’s cinema and to see him as a master.

Roberto Rossellini, Germany Year Zero, 1948
Luchino Visconti (1906 – 1976)

Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo was an Italian nobleman, director, and screenwriter. Visconti has shot numerous historical films, where his scenic reconstructions have been admired and imitated by generations of directors. Later some themes such as beauty, decay, death, the decline of the nobility, and the bourgeoisie return in his films.

Luchino Visconti, The Earth Trembles, 1948
Vittorio De Sica (1901 – 1974)

Vittorio De Sica was one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Italian cinema. De Sica was also a theater actor and documentary maker. Together with Rossellini and Visconti, he is considered one of the fathers of Italian neorealism and one of the greatest directors and performers of Italian comedy.

Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952

The 1950s

During the 1950s, Italian cinema began to explore new themes, using new points of view and different styles. A generation of directors flourishes who have contributed in a fundamental way to the development of cinematographic art. Federico Fellini‘s surreal cinema and Michelangelo Antonioni‘s existential veins contributed substantially to the shaping of the new artistic cinema.

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912 – 2007)

Michelangelo Antonioni made some of the most intense and profound films in the cinema of the sixties and seventies. Between 1960 and 1962, thanks to his famous “trilogy of incommunicability”, composed of the three black and white films L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclisse (starring Monica Vitti, at the time Antonioni’s companion also in life) Antonioni succeeds in «renewing film dramaturgy» and creating a strong «bewilderment» between audiences and critics, who welcome these «formally very innovative» works in «a contrasting way». These films are among the first cinematographic works that address the modern themes of incommunicability, alienation, and existential distress.

Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow Up, 1966
Federico Fellini (1920 – 1993)

Federico Fellini has created numerous works full of satire and veiled in a subtle melancholy, characterized by a dreamlike and visionary style. The titles of his most famous films – I vitelloniThe roadThe nights of CabiriaLa dolce vitaand Amarcord – have become points of reference, in their original language, all over the world.

Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni in 8½ (1963)
Pierpaolo Pasolini (1922 – 1975)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a versatile Italian poet, screenwriter, actor, director, writer, and playwright. Pasolini was a complete intellectual, distinguishing himself in numerous fields of art and literature. Notable filmography: Accattone, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Hawks and the Sparrows, Oedipus Rex,Teorema, Pigsty, Medea, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian NightsSalo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Pierpaolo Pasolini, Accattone, 1961

Italian-style comedy (Commedia all’Italiana)

Commedia all Italiana is a film genre born in Italy in the 1950s and developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Commedia all Italiana is an umbrella term that includes comedies, with a strong focus on social issues of the period, with a predominantly middle-class setting, often characterized by a substantial underlying bitterness. Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi and Pietro Germi.

Mario Monicelli (1915 – 2010)

Mario Monicelli together with Dino Risi, was one of the leading exponents of the Italian comedy, who contributed to making it known abroad with films such as Big Deal on Madonna Street (I soliti ignoti), The great war, For Love and Gold (L’armata Brancaleone), and My friends.

Mario Monicelli, My Friends (1975)
Dino Risi (1916 – 2008)

In the Sixties, Dino Risi‘s cinema revolutionized Italian comedy by depriving it of the happy ending in the film Una vita difficile (1961). Il sorpasso (1962) is the film most inextricably linked to his name, the forerunner of American road movies, the story of a forty-year-old idler (Vittorio Gassman) engaged in the initiation into the life of a shy and awkward student (Jean-Louis Trintignant), on Italy’s background of the economic boom.

Dino Risi, Il sorpasso, 1962

The 1960s

In the late 1940s, Italy became one of the major destinations for American film companies. In this period many large-budget American movies were shot at Cinecittà, such as Quo Vadis (1951), Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), and Cleopatra (1963). Thanks to this opportunity, Italian cinema began to specialize in the production of low-budget films with a mythical or biblical theme, giving life to the genre Peplum film genre, also known as Sword and Sandal.

Spaghetti Western

Over the years, in the wake of Peplum, a new genre of Western movies became popular in the country: Spaghetti Westerns. The most famous director of this current is undoubtedly Sergio Leone, author of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), featuring Clint Eastwood and notorious scores by Ennio Morricone. Other notable movies are Sergio Corbucci‘s Django (1966), Giuseppe Colizzi‘s God Forgives… I Don’t! (1967), Boot Hill (1969), and Ace High (1968) with the iconic duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, and Enzo Barboni‘s They Call Me Trinity (1970).

Sergio Leone, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966
Sergio Leone (1929 – 1989)

Sergio Leone is a director particularly known for his spaghetti-western films thanks to his more realistic, dirty, morally ambiguous, and complex characters, very distant from the original models of American cinema of the time.

Related article: Five great movies by Sergio Leone with pictures and posters; Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone pose together in the primary school year book

Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, James Hayden, and Larry Rapp in Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990)

Sergio Corbucci together with Sergio Leone is considered one of the masters of the spaghetti western thanks to films such as Django (1966), The Great Silence (1968), and The Mercenary (1968).

Segio Corbucci, Django, 1966

Giallo Horror Cinema

“Giallo” is the Italian term designating mystery fiction and thrillers. During the sixties and seventies, a group of Italian directors developed the Giallo Horror cinema by directing a series of films that became classics and influenced the genre internationally. Among these Dario Argento and Mario Bava are the most famous directors.

Dario Argento, Deep Red, 1975
Mario Bava (1914 – 1980)

Mario Bava is considered a master of Italian low-budget horror cinema. Despite having very limited budgets, poor actors, and limited resources, he managed to make a series of films that later became cult movies: The Girl Who Knew Too MuchBlack SabbathThe Whip and the Body (1963); Blood and Black Lace (1964), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Kill, Baby, Kill (1966), Danger: Diabolik (1968), A Bay of Blood (1971), Baron Blood (1972), Lisa and the Devil (1974) and Rabid Dogs (1974).

Mario Bava, Black Sunday (1960)
Lucio Fulci (1927-1996)

Lucio Fulci was a director, scriptwriter, actor, and songwriter. Fulci garnered an international cult following for his Giallo and horror films with movies like Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981),  The New York Ripper (1982), Zombi 2 (1979).

Lucio Fulci, Don’t Torture a Duckling, 1972
Dario Argento (1940)

Dario Argento’s influential work in the horror genre during the 1970s and 1980s has led him to be referred to as the “Master of Horror”. His best-known works include the Animal Trilogy (composed of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, 1970; The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, both from 1971), Deep Red (1975), and the trilogy of The three mothers (composed instead of Suspiria, 1977, Inferno, 1980, and The Mother of Tears, 2007).

Dario Argento, Tenebrae, 1982

The 1970s

In the 1970s, Italian auteur cinema continued its path of analysis of a contradictory society by developing new languages and emancipating itself from Fellini’s surrealist cinema or Antonioni’s existentialist veins. Lina Wertmüller‘s cinema combined elements of grotesque Italian comedy with political themes. Italian cinema criticized the contemporary political and industrial system in a series of famous films such as The Mattei Affair (1972) by Francesco RosiInvestigation of a citizen beyond suspicion (1970), The working class goes to heaven (1971), and Elio Petri‘s Todo Modo (1976) starring Gian Maria Volonté.

Ettore Scola (1931 – 2016)

Ettore Scola was an Italian film director and screenwriter, mostly known for directing films such as We All Loved Each Other So Much (1974), Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976), and A Special Day (1977).

Ettore Scola, Ugly, Dirty, and Bad, 1976
Elio Petri (1929 – 1982)

Elio Petri’s cinema explored the social and cultural condition to tell corruption in a subtly ironic way. Petri’s cinema easily ranges from social and political criticism to science fiction, from drama to thriller, to comedy. Petri’s work is distinguished by an expressionist direction characterized by dreamlike visions, in the doubling of being and schizophrenia. Some of his most famous works are The 10th Victim (1965), To Each His Own (1967), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971), and Todo Modo (1976).

Elio Petri, Todo Modo, 1976
Lina Wertmüller (1928 – 2021)

Lina Wertmüller is known because became the first female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in 1977 and for her 1970s art-house films The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (1974), and Seven Beauties (1975) starring Giancarlo Giannini

Lina Wertmüller, Seven Beauties, 1975
Francesco Rosi (1922 – 2015)

Francesco Rosi has shot numerous successful films in Italy, such as Hands over the City (1963); The Mattei Affair (1972); Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979).

Francesco Rosi, The Mattei Affair, 1972

The 1980s

The decline of Italian cinema

The 1980s were a period of decline for Italian cinema also due to competition from commercial television which deprived a substantial part of the audience. In this period were made Bernardo Bertolucci‘s The Last Emperor, winner of nine Academy Awards, and Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone. In 1984 the cult movie Non ci resta che piangere was made with Roberto Benigni and Massimo Troisi.

Bernardo Bertolucci (1941 – 2018)

He has shot numerous internationally acclaimed films such as The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972), 1900 (1976), The Last Emperor (1987), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Little Buddha (1993), Stealing Beauty (1998) and many others.

Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor, 1987

The 1990s

At the beginning of the nineties, Italian cinema was practically dead. Towards the end of the 1980s, however, a new generation of directors flourished in the country, including Giuseppe Tornatore who won the Oscar with Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in 1990, and Gabriele Salvatores who instead won it in 1991 with Mediterraneo. In 1998, Roberto Benigni‘s Life is Beautiful won three Oscars (Best Actor for Benigni himself, Best Foreign Film, Best Music). 

Roberto Benigni (1952)

Roberto Benigni is an Italian actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter, famous all over the world for his irreverent style. Before winning two Oscar awards for his Holocaust film Life is Beautiful (1997), he had made several films that have become very popular in Italy, such as The Little Devil (1988), Johnny Stecchino (1991), The Monster (1994).

Roberto Benigni, La vita è bella, 1997
Giuseppe Tornatore (1956)

Giuseppe Tornatore is an Italian director, screenwriter, film producer, and editor of several films that have enjoyed considerable success in Italy and abroad. In 1990 he won the Oscar for the film Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.

Giuseppe Tornatore, Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, 1988
Gabriele Salvatores (1950)

Gabriele Salvatores is an Italian director and screenwriter, author of the film Mediterraneo, and winner of the Academy Award in 1982. Between 1989 and 1990 Salvatores made Marrakech Express and Turné. In 1992 he directed the film Puerto Escondido and in 1997 the science fiction movie Nirvana. The prevailing themes in his films are the escape from a reality that he does not understand or that he does not want to accept, the nostalgia for a distant past, and travel.

Gabriele Salvatores, Mediterraneo, 1990

The 2000s

With the new millennium, Italian cinema has regained stability and international critical recognition thanks to the work of a talented group of directors.

Paolo Sorrentino (1970)

Paolo Sorrentino is considered one of the most important Italian filmmakers of his generation. In 2014, his film The Great Beauty won both the Oscar for best foreign-language film and the Golden Globe for best foreign film. Other notable films by Sorrentino are Il Divo (2008), Youth (2015), and The Hand of God (2021).

Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty, 2013
Matteo Garrone (1968)

Matteo Garrone is an Italian director, screenwriter, and film producer. He achieved great success thanks to his film adaptation of Gomorrah (2008). Other notable films by Garrone are The Embalmer (2002) and Pinocchio (2019).

Matteo Garrone, Pinocchio, 2019
Luca Guadagnino (1971)

Luca Guadagnino directed Call Me by Your Name (2017) with the screenplay by James Ivory, A Bigger Splash (2015), and the remake of Argento’s Suspiria (2018).

Luca Guadagnio, Suspiria, 2018

Other notable directors: Pupi Avati, Nanni Moretti, Alberto Lattuada, Paolo Virzì, Marco Bellocchio, Stefano Sollima, Carlo Verdone, Ermanno Olmi, Luigi Comencini

Source: Wikipedia

Topics: Italian directors 2022, famous Italian directors, best Italian directors working today


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