10 Best Italian Movie Stars

Friday, January 21 by Alan Rankin

No one makes movies like the Italians, and the 10 best Italian movie stars have all crossed over into international stardom, inspiring other actors and filmmakers around the world. Whether winning awards or breaking hearts, these stars have created some of the most immortal moments in film history. And their role in film history goes back to the very beginning:

  1. Rudolph Valentino. Although he made his name in American films, the world’s first male movie heartthrob was born and raised in Italy. In five short years of silent-movie stardom, he gained a level of fame rivaling that of today’s most popular teen stars. His early death left legions of fans devastated; there were reports of suicides and riots, reactions that would not be seen again until the passing of Elvis Presley 50 years later.

  2. Marcello Mastroianni. He made hundreds of films in Europe, but Mastroianni is best known in America for his work with Italian director Federico Fellini. Fellini repeatedly cast Mastroianni as the lead in his fantastical pictures, using him to represent the audience or Fellini himself. He is best remembered for his roles in “La Dolce Vita” and “8 ½,” as well as his many parts opposite Sophia Loren.
  3. Sophia Loren. Loren shot to stardom with the 1960 film “Two Women,” for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress. This was a landmark achievement; she was the first to win the award with a non-English-speaking role. Her film career spanned the next half-century in America, Italy and around the world.

  4.  Gina Lollobrigida. The beautiful woman with the mellifluous name debuted in Italian films of the early ‘50s. Soon she was starring in American epics like “Solomon and Sheba” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She continued to act in American and Italian productions throughout the 20th century, while venturing into photography and political activism.

  5.  Valeria Golino. In the 1988, Golino made her American debut opposite Tom Cruise in “Rain Man.” It was a standard Hollywood leading-lady role, a function she spoofed with relish in the “Hot Shots! movie satires. After playing romantic interests for Cruise, Charlie Sheen, and Pee-Wee Herman, Golino returned to the Italian cinema

  6.  Giancarlo Giannini. Giannini first won acclaim and Oscar nominations in the films of iconoclastic director Lina Wertmuller. Wertmuller’s influential art flicks gave Giannini the opportunity to play a wider range of roles around the world. He is familiar to American audiences from parts in the Hannibal Lecter and James Bond film series.   

  7. Anna Magnani.  Magnani electrified audiences in the films of Roberto Rossellini, winning worldwide admiration for her acting style. She was praised as the greatest female actor of her generation. Tennessee Williams wrote “The Rose Tattoo” specifically for her; she won the Oscar for the film version.

  8. Claudia Cardinale. The beautiful Cardinale is a celebrated star in her native Europe. In the ‘60s she made a handful of classic films, such as “8 ½” for Fellini and “Once Upon a Time in the West” for Sergio Leone. She was also in the original “Pink Panther” and other American productions.

  9. Roberto Benigni. The comic actor won over audiences in America and Europe with his Buster Keatonesque slapstick. In 1991, he did the impossible and created a concentration-camp comedy that almost everyone loved, “Life Is Beautiful.” Hollywood awarded him two Oscars for pulling off that trick.

  10. Monica Bellucci. Often called the most beautiful woman in the world, model Bellucci crossed into acting in the 1990s. She has since gained renown for her film work and her political activism. Her most famous role to date is Mary Magdalene in “The Passion of the Christ.” 
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