What are the best French movies?
Boasting one of the oldest and most avant-garde film industries in the world, French cinema has produced some absolute gems. Arthouse wonders rub up against provocative tales and uplifting dramas as we compile a list of what we consider to be the top 10 French movies of all time.
List of the most important French movies
- Intouchables (2011)
- Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008)
- Amélie (2001)
- La Haine (1995)
- Army of Shadows (1969)
- La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
- Breathless (1960)
- The 400 Blows (1959)
- Children of Paradise (1946)
Based on the tragic yet ultimately uplifting true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, Les Intouchables (“Untouchable”) charts a blossoming friendship between the paraplegic and wealthy businessman and his caregiver, Abdel Sellou.
Contrasting backgrounds and obstacles are navigated as camaraderie blossoms, creating a feel-good buddy movie to warm the soul and exhaust handkerchief supplies.
A career-skyrocketing performance from Omar Sy as Driss (Sellou) paired with a moving performance from François Cluzet is chemistry personified. Layered with a gorgeous soundtrack from Ludovico Einaudi (including the haunting composition Una Mattina,) you’ve got a much-loved showpiece of modern French movies.
Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008)
Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Ch’tis) is a fish-out-of-water comedy that quickly became a favorite of French cinemagoers.
Following the unhappily married Philippe (Kad Merad) as he’s uprooted from the south and banished to the grim and grey north — home to the distinctive Ch’ti dialect (a risky mouthful for English speakers) — the “punishment” becomes a dream escape. Translated in English to Welcome to the Sticks, unsurprisingly, the Sticks and les Ch’tis are easy to get along with.
Written and directed by Dany Boon and peppered with engaging characters and a dollop of gallic wit and charm, this is another in a long line of warmhearted comedies that broke box-office records in France.
Imaginatively blending romantic whimsy and heartwarming comedy, Amélie matched international box office success with critical acclaim.
Brought to life with a captivating performance from Audrey Tatou, Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain charts the colorful and heartwarming escapades of our shy hero as she brings joy to fellow Parisians to mask her loneliness.
Backdropped by the bohemian streets of Montmartre, the quirky world is utterly Parisian. Yet the tale, shimmering with good vibes and hope, holds universal appeal.
Nominated for multiple Oscars, Amélie easily ranks as one of the greatest French movies of this millennium.
La Haine (1995)
The brutal, swaggering tale of 3 disaffected young men from the Paris banlieues is a 24-hour rollercoaster that begins and ends with tragedy.
A rage-fueled ride through the underbelly of French society, the film asked big questions but did it with style and without being anything less than thrilling from start to finish.
Army of Shadows (1969)
L’Armée des ombres (Army of Shadows) is a typical war movie, yet far from average.
Released just as Charles de Gaulle became a polarizing figure in France as the country recovered from the Algerian War, the film depicting French Resistance fighters in occupied France was not initially well-received. It was only released in the US in 2006, rapidly earning critical acclaim (97% on Rotten Tomatoes).
The director, Jean-Pierre Melville, fought with the Resistance. And it shows. Relentlessly tense, the authentic plot pulls no punches and paints a bleak picture of the period. Essential viewing for anyone interested in French history.
La Grande Vadrouille (1966)
Frequently hailed as the finest French comedy, La Grande Vadrouille (“The Big Stroll”) pokes fun at European stereotypes and contrives outlandish scenarios as a British bomber crew plots to escape Nazi-occupied France.
Directed by Gérard Oury and starring iconic comedians Louis de Funès (a star in our top 10 most famous French actors) and Bourvil, the 1966 movie is an absurd masterclass in French satire. Timelessly funny, La Grande Vadrouille still ranks among the most-watched French movies of all time.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) won the hearts of critics and viewers.
It probably helped that the actors lip-synced to a soundtrack performed by professional singers. And although every word is delivered in song, the actors stepped up too. Notably a young Catherine Deneuve in her breakout role.
Splashy, colorful, and resplendently French, the offbeat concept — the middle installment of a romantic trilogy from director Jacques Demy — comes together brilliantly; a work of art and the antidote to suggestions that French movies take themselves too seriously.
Another shining star of nouvelle vague cinema, À Bout De Souffle (Breathless) is a critical darling that influenced generations of filmmakers.
Directed by new wave champion Jean-Luc Godard and this time starring another filmmaking pioneer François Truffaut, the stylish and sexy crime drama ripped up the Hollywood rulebook while paying homage to its influence.
Film buffs will argue Breathless marked a turning point in French cinema that rippled across the filmmaking world. Few disagree.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) was the first feature directed by French New Wave icon François Truffaut.
His innovative and realistic approach to storytelling snagged the Best Director award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination for the screenplay. Its stature among film buffs has since blossomed, with Time Magazine (and many other polls) placing it among the 100 best movies of the last century.
A spirited coming-of-age drama, the camera follows a schoolboy protagonist on a rebellious yet joyous descent from boredom to lawbreaking.
Said to reflect Truffaut’s personal outlook, the heartfelt acting, worldly humor, and touching portrayal of ordinary lives set the benchmark for a series of French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) productions that would redefine French cinematography.
Children of Paradise (1946)
Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) is a triumph of early French cinema, discretely made under the noses of Nazi occupiers.
The bitter-sweet drama unfolds in the theatrical world of 1830s Paris and follows disparate and disloyal characters competing for one woman’s amour.
Flamboyant yet laced with heartache, the ensemble cast delivered a performance for the ages.
Written by one of France’s most beloved poets, Jacques Prévert, and directed by the acclaimed Marcel Carné, Les Enfants du Paradis is rightly lauded as one of the finest and most influential French movies ever.
Vive le Cinéma Français
We have left dozens of classic French movies off this list, stretching right back to Georges Méliès groundbreaking feature film from 1902, Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon).
No surprise. France is home to a filmmaking industry that charts its own path and still caters to an audience that loves its homegrown films. If you want to discover more brilliant French movies (and TV shows), get the popcorn popping and hop over to our guide about how to watch French TV online.