In an industry where anyone can claim to be an independent producer, Dino De Laurentiis was the real thing.
Unlike so many others who spent decades seeking an Oscar, De Laurentiis, who died Nov. 10, 2010, at 91, didn’t take long to win. In 1957 he received the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for producing (with Carlo Ponti) Federico Fellini’s LA STRADA. De Laurentiis, who’d only started making movies in post-war Italy in 1946, won again in ’57 for Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA.
Over the course of his long career, he produced or co-produced over 500 films — with 38 of them earning Oscar nominations. By the 1960s, he’d gone from making Italian art-house movies to producing mainstream Hollywood-type films in Italy. That led to opening his own studio, Dinocittà — or DinoCity — in 1964 in Rome, where Cinecittà Studios had been Italy’s famous dream factory since 1937. Among his international productions before moving to America in 1976, where 10 years later he became a U.S. citizen, were: the 1966 James Bond spoof KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE, the 1968 sci-fi comic book fantasy BARBARELLA with Jane Fonda & 1972’s GODFATHER-style crime drama THE VALACHI PAPERS, from DR. NO director Terence Young with Charles Bronson.
Filmmaking conditions in Italy in the early ’70s led to De Laurentiis selling Dinocittà and setting up a U.S. distribution relationship with Paramount that resulted in hits like 1973’s SERPICO with Al Pacino, DEATH WISH in 1974 with Bronson, 1976’s KING KONG remake with Jeff Bridges & the 1979 disaster epic HURRICANE with Mia Farrow. Other high-profile titles followed, including the 1980’s FLASH GORDON remake for Universal & 1983’s horror film based on Stephen King’s THE DEAD ZONE for Paramount.
De Laurentiis went on to produce the first Hannibal Lecter thriller MANHUNTER, released in 1986 through his own De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. He didn’t make its sequel, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won the best picture Oscar in 1992, but he did produce two other sequels — HANNIBAL in 2001 & 2002’s RED DRAGON — as well as the 2007 prequel HANNIBAL RISING.
Of course, not every De Laurentiis film worked. One that he executive produced that fizzled badly at the time was David Lynch’s DUNE in 1984. Made for a then costly $40 million, it grossed only about $31 million worldwide — and was, happily, forgotten until just recently when the success of Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE suddenly reminded us of the original.
“After the war, there was no industry. We lost the war. We had our whole city destroyed. No money. No studio. No film. No camera. No equipment. We would shoot in the street. We had no actors. Nothing. But we wanted to do movies. And we did the best movies in the world.” – Dino De Laurentiis