Roberto Benigni says the title comes from a quote by Leon Trotsky. In exile in Mexico, knowing he was about to be killed by Joseph Stalin's assassins, he saw his wife in the garden and wrote that, in spite of everything, "life is beautiful".
The screenplay by Roberto Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami was published in Italy in 1998. The published version featured a few more scenes that were not in the final movie, most notably a scene in which Guido inadvertently witnesses a mass execution of Partisans, spotting his friend Ferruccio among them.
Mel Brooks greatly disliked this film, claiming it made jokes out of the concentration camps. Brooks frequently satirizes Nazis themselves, but never makes jokes about their actions, considering the latter to be in bad taste even for him.