De Laurentiis originally made his name as a producer of Italian neorealist films. His best, and an international success, was director Giuseppe de Santis’ Bitter Rice. The sexy flick follows a beautiful peasant rice harvester (played by Silvana Magnano) who falls in with a pair of miscreants and finds herself won over by their dangerous ways.
La Strada (1954)
Eventually, De Laurentiis fell in with Federico Fellini, who also began his career as a neorealist. Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina starred in the director’s first classic film, about a young woman whose mother sells her to a gypsy. Although it doesn’t quite break the neorealist style, La Strada, with its musical and circus elements, certainly contained hints of Fellini’s later preoccupations.
The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
When no one else would finance Fellini’s movie about a prostitute, De Laurentiis took the risk. Masina stars again, as a streetwalker named Cabiria Ceccarelli, who struggles to stay positive despite her depressing circumstances. Fun fact: The Nights of Cabiria‘s script was co-written with that grittiest of Italian filmmakers, Pier Paolo Pasolini.
De Laurentiis also collaborated on some English-language films before moving to the U.S. in the ’70s. His work on Roger Vadim’s 1968 cult classic Barbarella — starring intergalactic superhero Jane Fonda — is the best example of De Laurentiis’ soft spot for pulp. And if you haven’t seen this midnight movie staple yet, well, what are you waiting for?
In Sidney Lumet’s 1973 crime drama, Al Pacino stars as the real-life hippie cop Frank Serpico, who took on New York City’s corrupt police force. His 1975 Pacino collaboration, Dog Day Afternoon, may get more critical love, but Serpico is essential viewing for anyone who enjoyed that film. The role has been widely hailed as one of Pacino’s best — and that’s certainly saying a lot.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Another New York story — hey, they were popular in the ’70s, and for good reason — Sidney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor is a political thriller, starring Robert Redford as a C.I.A. employee who becomes caught in a web of government conspiracy.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
More classic De Laurentiis-enabled cheese: California’s gubernator stars as Conan the Barbarian — a loving, fighting, generally shirtless brute who worships steel or something. Based on a comic book, the film is basically the male equivalent of Barbarella.
Critics hated Dune, and director David Lynch wasn’t thrilled with it, either. But the sci-fi epic — which De Laurentiis hired Lynch to make — has certainly earned a cult audience over the years. It’s worth watching, if only for the appropriately ridiculous score, by Toto (the folks who brought us “Africa”).
Blue Velvet (1986)
Directly after finishing Dune, Lynch went on to make the film that defined his career — and, as with The Nights of Cabiria, De Laurentiis was the only producer who would pay for such a strange project. Chances are, you know the rest: Dennis Hopper. Isabella Rossellinni. Kyle Mclachlan. Laura Dern. Gas masks. Sex crimes. Surreal musical performances. If you haven’t seen it yet, see it now in Dino’s honor.
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Yes, Dino De Laurentiis is even partially responsible for Sam Raimi’s fanboy favorite. Widely held to be better than its predecessor, Evil Dead 2 kicks off with your classic horror clichés — a guy, a girl, an abandoned cabin with a supernatural past — and ends up, well, very funny, if you have a gross sense of humor. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group also bankrolled the final film in the trilogy, Army of Darkness.