After her graduation from theater school in 1951, Wertmüller became an itinerant theatrical jack-of-all-trades, traveling through Europe as a producer of avant-garde plays, puppeteer, stage manager, set designer, publicist and radio/TV scriptwriter. Through an acquaintance with Marcello Mastroianni, Wertmüller was introduced to Federico Fellini, who offered her a production position on his film 8 ½ (1962). Through her work on this production Wertmüller developed a desire to direct her own film. Enlisting the services of several technicians from 8 1/2 Wertmüller made her first film The Lizards in 1963.
Wertmüller’s frequent collaborations with actor Giancarlo Giannini would garner critical and commercial success, with The Seduction of Mimi (1972) receiving a nomination for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Several films made after The Seduction of Mimi created an almost instantaneous cult around Wertmüller with the releases of Swept Away (1974) and Seven Beauties (1975), which would pave the way for her to become the first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for Seven Beauties in 1976.