Hollywood in Italy

by Meher Tatna February 20, 2020
Premiere of The Lion King 3D at the Rome Film Festival

Premiere of The Lion King 3D at the Rome Film Festival.

getty images

One in an occasional series exploring the state of Hollywood films in global markets.

In a departure from the trend in other countries, the top-grossing film on the Italian charts in 2020 is Tolo Tolo, a comedy about migration directed by and starring Luca Medici, aka Checco Zalone, the country’s most popular comedian, who regularly commands the top of the charts with his broad farces. What’s surprising is that it made over $50 million in the first four weeks of the year. Little Women, the first American release on the charts is No. 3 at $6.4 million. In comparison, in 2019, the highest-grossing movie was The Lion King which came in at $42 million in 20 weeks, even higher than the ubiquitous Avengers: Endgame which made $34 million in 17 weeks. Medici is no stranger to success – his 2016 Quo Vado? about job security made $68 million in Italy alone.

While box office returns in 2018 were the worst in a decade for Italy, 2019 showed signs of a turnaround with an uptick of 14% to $706.5 million, attributed to more summer releases (like The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Spiderman: Far From Home), upgraded cinema screens and the improvement of the quality of domestic releases, according to Variety. Admissions crossed 100 million, the threshold for a successful year, but Italy has yet to catch up with other European markets.

While generous tax breaks of 20% for local producers and 25% for foreign productions capped at $7 million were threatened to be stopped by the Italian government, the decision was reversed by a loud protest by the local industry, and a total of $150 million was committed mostly to film and some to television production in 2019, again according to Variety.

Hollywood has always had a close relationship with the Italian film industry throughout the decades.

Clint Eastwood only became a star once he made his bones in spaghetti westerns (westerns produced and directed by Italians with signature grand vistas, Ennio Morricone scores, and violent shoot-outs), his career thus far in the US being confined to bad movies like Francis in the Navy and Tarantula before he was cast in the TV show Rawhide. In fact, it was during his hiatus from the show that he made Sergio Leone’s 1964 A Fistful of Dollars, his first leading role for which he was paid $15,000, and which brought him international stardom.

Burt Reynolds, seeing his friend’s success, couldn’t wait to get on a flight to work in a movie by ‘Sergio,’ according to Vulture. But when he got on the set he found out that the director was Sergio Corbucci, not Leone. Charles Bronson was luckier – another TV actor with a couple of good movies under his belt in the US, he was cast by Leone in his 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West alongside Henry Fonda, and another western star was born. Lee Van Cleef made a career in the genre with over a dozen films; his forte was playing villains in films like Death Rides a Horse and Sabata. Jack Palance was a big star in Italy starring in Vittorio De Sica’s The Last Judgment and The Sensuous Nurse with Ursula Andress. Others, from Ernest Borgnine to Anthony Quinn took regular sojourns back then, working at Cinecittà studios which in their heyday were known as “Hollywood on the Tiber.”

And gorgeous Italian locations still show up periodically in Hollywood movies, in recent years in the Julia Roberts movie Eat, Pray, Love shot around Rome and Naples; Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane; Robert Downey Jr,’s Only You featuring Rome, Venice, Tuscany, and the Amalfi coast; Matt Damon and Jude Law’s The Talented Mr. Ripley again highlighting the best parts of Italy; The Wolf of Wall Street shot in Portofino, Cinque Terre and Chiavari; Letters to Juliet starring Amanda Seyfried set in Verona. The opening scene of Quantum of Solace, in which the Palio race in the Piazza del Campo in Siena is also featured, features car chase set around Lake Garda – and Bond will once again maneuver his Aston Martin around Italian streets in the upcoming No Time to Die (specifically in Matera, where Mel Gibson also shot The Passion of the Christ). And Sicily attracts hordes of tourists specifically as the location for The Godfather.

Netflix, as usual, is a big player in Italy since its launch in 2015. The company caused an uproar with the simultaneous release on Netflix and in theaters of On My Skin which the Italian government to regulate theatrical windows in 2018 to 105 days in exhibition before movies could be seen on television and streaming platforms.

But Netflix continues to shore up the local industry as it has done in so many territories. In 2019, three new local projects were announced, as well as an original film Lo Spietato and the adaptation of the book Fedelta. In January 2020, Netflix announced the opening of its Rome office with 30 employees and its intention to pay local taxes, just a week after it opened its Paris office. It also announced a deal in 2019 with Silvio Berlusconi’s commercial broadcaster Mediaset to co-finance seven movies shot locally with Italian talent. According to Variety, the company has committed $221 million to local programming through 2021 as it hopes to expand its subscriber base. It has approximately two million subscribers in the country.

In September 2019, local authorities said they smashed the world’s largest pirate streaming network, Xtream Codes, which got its content from Netflix, Sky Italy and Mediaset, and had 5 million customers in Italy alone.