It was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo, though with Trumbo on the Hollywood blacklist, he did not receive a credit; instead, Ian McLellan Hunter fronted for him. Trumbo's credit was reinstated when the film was released on DVD in 2003. On December 19, 2011, full credit for Trumbo's work was restored. Blacklisted director Bernard Vorhaus worked on the film as an assistant director under a pseudonym.
It was shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome during the "Hollywood on the Tiber" era. The film was screened in the 14th Venice film festival within the official program.
Ann (Audrey Hepburn), the crown princess of an unspecified country, becomes frustrated with her tightly scheduled life, and breaks down at having to repeatedly answer "yes, thank you" and "no, thank you" to demands of her time. Her doctor gives her a sedative to calm her and help her sleep, but she secretly leaves her country's embassy.
The sedative eventually makes her fall asleep on a bench, where Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), an expatriate American reporter for the "American News Service" based in Rome, finds her. Not recognizing her, he offers her money so she can take a taxi home, but a woozy "Anya Smith" (as she later calls herself) refuses to cooperate. Thinking she's intoxicated, Joe finally decides, for safety's sake, to let her spend the night in his apartment. He is amused by her regal manner, but less so when she appropriates his bed. He transfers her to a couch. The next morning, Joe, having already slept through the interview Princess Ann was scheduled to give, hurries off to work, leaving her still asleep.
When his editor, Mr. Hennessy (Hartley Power), asks why Joe is late, Joe lies, claiming to have attended the princess' press conference. Joe makes up details of the alleged interview until Hennessy informs him that the event had been canceled because the princess had suddenly "fallen ill". Joe sees a newspaper picture of her and realizes who is in his apartment. Immediately seeing an opportunity, Joe proposes getting an exclusive interview. Hennessy, not knowing the circumstances, agrees to the deal and offers $5,000 if the interview is all Joe claims it will be, but bets Joe $500 that he will not succeed.
Joe hurries home and, hiding the fact that he is a reporter, offers to show "Anya" around Rome. He also surreptitiously calls his photographer friend, Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert), to tag along to secretly take pictures. However, Ann declines Joe's offer and leaves.
Ann, enjoying her freedom, explores an outdoor market, buys a pair of shoes, and, on a whim, gets her long hair cut short. Joe follows and "accidentally" meets her on the Spanish Steps. This time he convinces her to spend the day with him. They see the sights, including the "Mouth of Truth", a face carved in marble which is said to bite off the hands of liars. When Joe shouts in mock pain and pulls his hand out of the mouth, it appears to be missing, causing Ann to scream. He then pops his hand out of his sleeve and laughs. (Allegedly, Hepburn's shriek was not acting—Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell his co-star beforehand.)
Later, Ann shares with Joe her dream of living a normal life without her crushing responsibilities. That night, at a dance on a boat, government agents finally track her down and try to escort her away, but a wild melee breaks out and Joe and Ann escape. While trying to rescue her from plainclothes government agents, Joe is ambushed and falls into a river after being struck. Ann dives in to save him, and they swim away together away from the agents, finally sharing a kiss as they sit shivering on the riverbank. Later, knowing her royal responsibilities must resume, the princess bids a tearful farewell to Joe and returns to the embassy. When she arrives at the embassy she is lectured upon the sense of duty she must display, but (visibly pained) retorts that without such a sense, she would never have returned.
During the course of the day, Hennessy learns that the princess is missing, not ill as claimed. He suspects that Joe knows where she is and tries to get him to admit it, but Joe claims to know nothing about it. Joe decides not to write the story, despite the considerable amount of money riding on it. Irving first plans to sell his photographs independent of the story, but eventually decides against it.
The next day, Princess Ann appears to answer questions from the press, and is surprised to see Joe and Irving there. Irving takes her picture with the same miniature cigarette-lighter/camera he had used the previous day. When asked by a reporter which city of her European tour was her favorite, Ann first makes a diplomatic "all were equally good" answer, but interrupts it with an impulsive "Rome! By all means, Rome."
At the end of the interview, the Princess requests to "meet" the journalists, shaking hands and making brief formal conversation. As she reaches Joe and Irving, the latter presents her with an envelope with the photographs he had taken, under the pretext of a generic memento of Rome. The three make several statements that hint at the truth and their dispositions, while feigning formality and the distance expected between the princess and two strange journalists. As the interview with the princess comes to an end and she reluctantly leaves, the crowd of journalists and reporters eventually disperses, and Joe walks away alone.
Wyler first offered the role to Hollywood favorite Cary Grant. Grant declined, believing he was too old to play Hepburn's love interest (though he played opposite her ten years later in Charade.) Other sources say Grant declined because he knew all of the attention would be centered around the princess. Peck's contract gave him solo star billing, with newcomer Hepburn listed much less prominently in the credits. Halfway through the filming, Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her to equal billing—an almost unheard-of gesture in Hollywood.
Wyler had initially considered Elizabeth Taylor and Jean Simmons for this role, but both were unavailable. Wyler was very excited to find Hepburn, but he didn't choose her until after a screen test. Wyler wasn't able to stay and film this himself but told the assistant director to ask the cameraman and the soundman to continue recording after the assistant director said "cut" so that she would be seen in a relaxed state after having performed a dignified, subdued scene from the film. The candid footage won her the role; some of it was later included in the original theatrical trailer for the film, along with additional screen test footage showing Hepburn trying on some of Ann's costumes and even cutting her own hair (referring to a scene in the film). Roman Holiday was not Hepburn's first acting appearance ( who had appeared in Dutch and British films from 1948; and on stage, including the title role in a Broadway adaption of Gigi) but it was her first major film role and first appearance in an American film. Wyler wanted an anti-Italian actress who was different from the curvy Italian maggiorate like Gina Lollobrigida, and said that She was perfect .... his new star had no arse, no tits, no tight-fitting clothes, no high heels. In short a Martian. She will be a sensation.
The film was shot entirely in Rome and in the studios of Cinecittà:Mouth of Truth, Piazza Bocca della Verità, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Caffè Rocca, Piazza della Rotonda e Pantheon
Piazza di Spagna
Trinità dei Monti
Via Margutta 51, the location of Joe's apartment where he hosts Princess Ann
Via dei Fori Imperiali
Via della Stamperia 85, the barber shop where Ann has her hair cut
Palazzo Colonna - Gallery, shown in the final scenes of the princess's press appearance
Palazzo Brancaccio - the princess' ornate Roman bedroom
The film earned an estimated $3 million at the North American box office during its first year of release.
Due to the film's popularity, both Peck and Hepburn were approached about filming a sequel, but this project never got off the ground.Academy Award for Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn)
Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Edith Head)
Academy Award for Writing (Motion Picture Story) (Dalton Trumbo)*
BAFTA Award for Best British Actress (Audrey Hepburn)
Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress — Drama (Audrey Hepburn)
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn)
Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy (Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton)
* Award was initially given to Ian McLellan Hunter, since he took story credit on blacklisted Trumbo's behalf. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences later credited the win to Trumbo. In 1993, Trumbo's widow Cleo received her late husband's award.Academy Award for Best Picture
Academy Award for Best Director (William Wyler)
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert)
Academy Award for Writing (Screenplay) (Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton)
Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Hal Pereira & Walter H. Tyler)
Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Franz Planer & Henri Alekan)
Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Robert Swink)
BAFTA Award for Best Film from any source
BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor — (Eddie Albert)
BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor — (Gregory Peck)
DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (William Wyler)
In 1999, Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute included the film as #4 in its AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions, and as #4 in the romantic comedy category in its AFI's 10 Top 10.
The film was remade for television in 1987 with Tom Conti and Catherine Oxenberg, who is herself a member of a European royal family.
Paramount Pictures has licensed three adaptations of Roman Holiday into musicals:In 2012, a musical stage version of Roman Holiday, following the plot while using the songs of Cole Porter, was presented in Minneapolis at the Guthrie Theater. The cast included Stephanie Rothenberg as Princess Ann and Edward Watts as Joe Bradley. The book adaptation was done by Paul Blake (Beautiful: The Carole King Story) This adaptation is scheduled for a pre-Broadway run in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Theatre from May 23, 2017 to June 18, starring Stephanie Styles, Drew Gehling and Georgia Engel. The musical is expected to open on Broadway in an undisclosed theater in fall 2017.
Another version was staged in 2004 in Rome under the title Vacanze Romane using the Cole Porter score, supplemented with music by famed Italian film composer Armando Trovajoli. This production is performed annually at the Teatro Sistina in Rome and on tour in Italy and Spain.
A version entirely in Japanese with a completely different score was produced in 1998 by Toho [Japanese Theatre Company] starring Daichi Mao as Princess Ann and Yamaguchi Yuichiro as Joe Bradley.
An unofficial Tamil-language adaptation, titled May Madham, was released in 1994.