The Italian-American community is one of the most vibrant immigrant communities in the United States. Given how prominent they have been in all aspects of American politics and culture, it makes sense that they would also appear in a number of movies. While some of the most high-profile of these, most notably The Godfather, emphasizes the links between Italian-Americans and the mafia, there are quite a few other movies that show other elements of the immigrant experience.
These movies show just how varied this community is, and how they shouldn’t be pigeonholed in terms of cinematic representation.
10 My Cousin Vinny (1992)- Available on HBO Max and Cinemax
My Cousin Vinny is a vintage 1990s movie, focusing as it does on a pair of Italian-Americans from New York who, after getting stranded in Alabama, face a murder trial for a crime they didn’t commit. It features delightful performances from its entire cast, including from Joe Pesci as the titular cousin Vinny, a lawyer who is, to put it mildly, quite inept. Though its fish-out-of-water plot might be predictable, the courtroom scenes alone make the movie a very hilarious comedy.
9 Moonstruck (1987)- Available on HBO Max
It’s hard to imagine a more mismatched pair of actors than Cher and Nicholas Cage, but they manage to have powerful chemistry in Moonstruck. In fact, it’s fair to say that this is one of Cher’s best movies (and the same can be said of Cage). Its story about a widowed Italian-American woman who falls in love with her husband’s younger brother is an interesting one, and it uses this convention to explore bigger questions, such as the nature of love and of family. As a result, it becomes a comedy with heart.
8 Marty (1955)- Available on Prime, Tubi, and plutoTV
The 1950s was something of a golden age for Hollywood, and there are many iconic movies from the period. Though Marty isn’t one of the period’s most prominent movies, it is still a remarkably touching and romantic offering, focusing as it does on an Italian-American man who, faced with encroaching middle age, decides to try to find romance.
Unfortunately, his efforts to do so conflict with his family, and the resulting drama is at times heart-wrenching and at others deeply touching. Ernest Borgnine delivers a powerful performance as the title character.
7 I Love You To Death (1990)- Not Streaming
There were many black comedies that emerged during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I Love you to Death was definitely one of those. It revolves fundamentally around two Italian-American characters, Rosalie and Joey Boca (played by Tracey Ullman and Kevin Kline, respectively), particularly Rosalie’s attempts to murder her philandering husband. There’s an undeniable chemistry between the two leads, and though it’s a movie that is very much of its time, there’s a warmth and a humor to it that it is impossible to resist.
6 Saturday Night Fever (1977)- Available on HBO Max and Cinemax
Saturday Night Fever is rightly seen as not only one of John Travolta’s best movies, but also as one of the best musicals of the 1970s. With its disco soundtrack and its powerful story of a young man trying to find meaning in an age known for its disillusionment, it became a significant hit. Furthermore, it also helped to popularize disco and fully established Travolta’s stardom. Furthermore, Travolta’s Tony experiences all of the mixed emotions that often accompany those who occupy a particular ethnic identity and neighborhood.
5 Staying Alive (1983)- Available on HBO Max and Cinemax
Given how much of a success it was, it was inevitable that Saturday Night Fever would engender a sequel, entitled Staying Alive. Travolta once again appears as Tony, who continues to struggle to see his dream of becoming a dancer realized. While this particular movie eschews the ethnic interests that were such a signature part of its predecessor, it is still notable for the way that it shows Tony still attempting to overcome what he sees as the limitations of his Brooklyn upbringing.
4 Big Night (1996)- Available on Showtime
The 1990s was an era in which the unique genre known as the comedy-drama seemed to flourish. There are few movies that quite typify that unique blend like Big Night, which focuses on a pair of Italian immigrant brothers who have very different views about their restaurant, its future, and their role in American life. It features some very strong performances from its cast, including Stanley Tucci. Through its rather simple story, it manages to capture the many complexities that often accompany the immigrant experience as those who come to the US wrestle with the pressures of assimilation.
3 Fatso (1980)- Not Streaming
Obesity is one of the most difficult subjects to capture in dramatic form, at least not without surrendering to problematic representation. Though the movie Fatso doesn’t entirely avoid some of these pitfalls, it nevertheless manages to engage with the issue of obesity in such a way that it doesn’t lose sight of the humanity of its subjects.
In particular, it focuses in particular on its main character, Dom, and his attempts to learn how to love himself for who he is, as well as his fraught relationship with his family.
2 Rocky (1976)- Available on HBO Max and Cinemax
There’s no question that Rocky is one of the most iconic and beloved sports movies of all time, and it is one of the movies that helped to establish Sylvester Stallone as a leading man. In many ways, it is the epitome of the traditional American story, focusing as it does on a working-class Italian American man who aspires to be a heavyweight boxer. Given who central Rocky’s Italian heritage is to his character, this is a movie that helps to demonstrate the extraordinary contributions of this community to American cinema.
1 Do The Right Thing (1989)- Not Streaming
Do The Right Thing is widely regarded as one of Spike Lee’s best movies, and it is a searing and at times difficult to watch portrait of racial tensions in late 1980s America. In particular, it focuses on the deep-rooted animosity in a Brooklyn neighborhood, between the African American residents on the one hand and the Italian-American owners of a pizzeria on the other. More than anything else, it exposes the very deep racial tensions that were and are a key part of the American experience.
NEXT: Oscars 2022: First & Last Lines In Every Best Picture Nominee
Scream: Every Main Character In The Franchise, Ranked By Funniness
About The Author