Mr. De Laurentiis’s career dated to prewar Italy, and the hundreds of films he produced covered a wide range of styles and genres. His filmography includes major titles of the early Italian New Wave, including the international success “Bitter Rice” (1949), whose star, Silvana Mangano, became his first wife; two important films by Fellini, “La Strada” (1954) and “Nights of Cabiria”(1957), which both won Academy Awards; and the film that many critics regard as David Lynch’s best work, “Blue Velvet” (1986). In 2001, Mr. De Laurentiis himself was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement.
But Mr. De Laurentiis never turned his nose up at unabashed popular entertainments like Sergio Corbucci’s “Goliath and the Vampires” (1961), Roger Vadim’s“Barbarella” (1968) and Richard Fleischer’s “Mandingo”(1975) — several of which hold up better today than some of Mr. De Laurentiis’s more respectable productions.
“A producer is not just a bookkeeper, or a banker, or a background. He makes the picture,” Mr. De Laurentiis told Cue magazine in 1962. “If the film is a failure, I am responsible. If it is a success, then it is the joint contribution of the actors, director, writers, set designers, musicians and script girl — everybody except the producer. This is a fact of life; I do not complain.”
Mr. De Laurentiis was among the first European producers to realize the potential of the international co-production. In the early 1950s, when the vertically integrated Hollywood studios were breaking up because of a Justice Department antimonopoly decree, studio-groomed stars were turning into freelance agents and back lots were beginning to be sold off in favor of using location photography, the studios started to turn to outside suppliers to keep a steady stream of product coming in for their distribution apparatus.
Mr. De Laurentiis lured Anthony Quinn to Rome for “La Strada,” and shortly after that cast Kirk Douglas in the title role of “Ulysses,” a spectacular that was directed by the Italian film veteran Mario Camerini (with an uncredited assist from the director and cinematographer Mario Bava) and that Mr. De Laurentiis sold to Paramount. The formula proved to be a profitable one, allowing Mr. De Laurentiis to pay grandiose salaries to his imported stars while cutting costs by using local technicians.
Actors like Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda (“War and Peace,” 1956), Anthony Perkins (“This Angry Age,” 1958), Vera Miles and Van Heflin (“5 Branded Women,” 1960) and Charles Laughton (“Under Ten Flags,” 1960) made their way to Italy, where they often performed with other international stars. The results, filmed in a Babel of tongues, were dubbed into different languages for different markets.
At the same time, Mr. De Laurentiis continued making films for the home market. He had a close relationship with the legendary Italian clown Totò (for whom he produced the 1952“Totò a Colori,” one of the first Italian feature films shot entirely in color) and Alberto Sordi, a rotund comic whose portrayals of middle-class Romans struggling to stay ahead of the game became a projection of the national identity. His success, aided by the government subsidies that had been put in place to encourage postwar production in Italy, eventually allowed him to build his own studio, which he named Dinocittà.
Mr. De Laurentiis’s empire began to crumble in 1965, when Italy’s Socialist government passed new regulations that put severe restrictions on what could be called an Italian movie.
With his subsidies in doubt, his contract with Mr. Sordi coming to an end and a continuing legal battle with Fellini over unmade projects, Mr. De Laurentiis closed Dinocittà in 1972 and the next year moved to New York, where he opened an office in what was then the Gulf & Western building on Columbus Circle.
In New York, Mr. De Laurentiis initiated a series of well-known productions, including “Serpico” (1973), “Death Wish” (1974), “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), John Wayne’s final film, “The Shootist” (1976), and John Guillermin’s big-budget remake of “King Kong” (1976).
But the successes alternated with failures, like “King of the Gypsies” (1978) and“Hurricane” (1979), and soon Mr. De Laurentiis was founding and closing production companies with dizzying speed, often selling the rights to his old films to secure the financing for his new ones.
Expensive follies, like a hotel opened on Bora Bora (the location of “Hurricane”), an upscale delicatessen on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and a studio complex in North Carolina, strained Mr. De Laurentiis’s bottom line, and in later years he was forced to sell many of his properties and rein in his activities.
Still, he persisted through the 1980s and ’90s, thanks chiefly to a relationship with Stephen King, many of whose books were filmed by Mr. De Laurentiis, and his ownership of Thomas Harris’s first novel in the Hannibal Lecter series, “Red Dragon.” Mr. De Laurentiis filmed the Harris novel twice: first in 1986 as “Manhunter,” with Brian Cox in the role of the cannibalistic serial killer, and then under the novel’s original title in 2002, withAnthony Hopkins back for another turn in the role after becoming a star playing Lecter in the non-De Laurentiis “Silence of the Lambs.”
Agostino De Laurentiis was born in Torre Annunziata, a town in the province of Naples, on Aug. 8, 1919, the third in a family of seven brothers and sisters.
He had four children with Ms. Mangano: Veronica, Raffaella (who eventually joined her father in business), Federico and Francesca. Federico De Laurentiis died in an airplane crash in 1981. After Ms. Mangano’s death in 1989, Mr. De Laurentiis married the American-born producer Martha Schumacher, with whom he had two daughters, Carolyna and Dina.
In addition to his wife and daughters, he is survived by three sisters, Rose Balsamo, Raffaella Cimino and Anna De Laurentiis; five grandchildren, including the chef and Food Network host Giada De Laurentiis; and two great-grandchildren.
Mr. De Laurentiis’s second wife, as Martha De Laurentiis, continued to work with him as a co-producer. Their most recent projects included “Hannibal Rising” (2007), a prequel to the Lecter saga starring the young French actor Gaspard Ulliel as the apprentice flesh eater.
A master at publicizing his movies and himself, Mr. De Laurentiis made a lot of proclamations that were hard to take seriously. (He referred to his “King Kong” remake as “the greatest love story of all time.”) He could also be wryly self-deprecating, as in this explanation of how he became a producer:
“I see my face in the mirror, and I said, ‘No, my ambition is not to be an actor.’ ”