10 Best French Movies of All Time

Enough said and discussed about Hollywood! Now, let us, for a change, look at something else. While die-hard Hollywood fans might scoff at such a blunt statement, the fact remains that a lot of us haven’t really explored anything beyond the glitzy world of Los Angeles. Does the word French cinema ring a bell? If it does, it might be helpful to appreciate that the movie industry in France has traditionally contributed some of the finest pieces of global cinema. In fact, the revered French New Wave, a movement that revolutionized the concept of cinema back during the sixties of the last century, imparted a new dimension to the medium. Overall, French movies have always been known to be quality products of cinema. In this article, we list down the top French movies ever. Again, this list is democratically open to discussions and debates. You can some of these best French movies on Hulu or Amazon Prime.

10. The Wages of Fear (1953)

Darkly exciting and thematically rich, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ‘The Wages of Fear’ could be considered to be an existential masterpiece and is one of the earliest realist thrillers. In essence, the movie chronicles the tale of four men employed to extinguish the fire in a South American oil well owned by an American company. In that pursuit, they are sent with a couple of trucks of nitroglycerine without adhering to any safety measures. The ingrained violence in the movie is only representative of the decay that has been slowly but surely afflicting the human civilization. It has been consistently ranked as one of the finest films from the fifties of the last century.

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9. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

Ranked as one of the greatest cinematic works of the twentieth century, Robert Bresson’s magnum opus ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’ (1966) is a peculiar work of art to say the least. It narrates the story of a donkey and the people around it. The religious imageries shown in the film are so stark that people start questioning humanity in itself. The movie’s unique aesthetic elements were particularly appreciated. Although it primarily shows the life of a donkey, it in many ways talks about life and its fallout. Some critics described the movie as a representation of this world in a nutshell.

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8. Jules and Jim (1962)

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by French avant-garde author Henri-Pierre Roché, François Truffaut’s ‘Jules and Jim’ is a definite milestone in the history of international cinema. A movie that has inspired numerous critical studies, it portrays a love triangle around the time of the First World War. A unique romantic drama, ‘Jules and Jim’ established Truffaut as one of the doyens of French cinema. Known for adopting a rather unique style of storytelling, Truffaut took the help of multiple elements including newsreel footage, still photographs and montages. The movie is today regarded as one of the founding pillars of the French New Wave.

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7. La Haine (1995)

Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, ‘La Haine’ is a movie that successfully breaks all the barriers of traditional filmmaking. With an outrageous plotline, it has succeeded in cementing its place in the annals of cinematic eternity. Essentially a crime drama film, it follows the lives of three young friends after a riot in the suburbs of Paris. Known for its realistic portrayals, the movie was richly applauded by critics worldwide. The movie paints a rather raw picture of contemporary France and its multiple social ills.

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6. Les Diaboliques (1955)

One of the original psychological thrillers with ingrained elements from the horror genre; Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic ‘Les Diaboliques’ was an inspiration behind Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960). The plot revolves around the supposed murder of a man by his wife and his mistress and the strange incidents that follow the murder. An intense cinematography and very tight editing add to the mystery that slowly builds up during the course of the movie. The ending has been hailed as a cinematic wonder and is arguably the best of its kind. It shows that the man had actually conspired with his mistress to kill his wife utilizing fear psychosis following his fake death. However, the twist comes when the wife is also shown to be still at large even after her death, real or not!

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5. Amélie (2001)

A crazy movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, ‘Amelie’ represents everything innovative about cinema. While dealing with the central motif of loneliness, the film humanely ventures into the troubled life of contemporary Parisians. Fundamentally, it tells the story of a young waitress who ventures into positively changing the lives of people around her while battling to reconcile with her own solitude. Much unlike other movies on the theme of solitude, it gives a quirky and pleasant feel to the audience through the employment of bright humour and distinct portrayals of humanity.

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4. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

One of the earliest movies to use nonlinear narration, Alan Resnais’s ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ is deeply insane. It crafts hope with the help of despair and it violently shakes our conscience. With innovative cinematic techniques such as the usage of flashbacks and metaphorical physiological ascriptions, the movie retells the horrors of the Second World War and the resultant nuclear warfare. The film is today considered to be one of the finest pieces of the French New Wave.

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3. Le Samouraï (1967)

Acclaimed for being one of the finest examples of non-American crime movies, ‘Le Samouraï’ essentially chronicles the story of a professional killer trying to create an alibi for himself after murdering the owner of a nightclub. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, this French-Italian Neo-noir film was ranked by Empire magazine as the 39th best movie of world cinema in its list of 2010. With a rare and perfect 100% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the film stars Alain Delon as the protagonist and is said to have influenced many future movies. Featuring very few dialogues, the ones that are there get etched in memory forever.

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2. Breathless (1960)

The maiden feature-length venture by Jean-Luc Godard, the poster boy of the French New Wave, ‘Breathless’ went on to become a rather influential movie. Chiefly known for its powerful depictions, the film narrates the story of a young criminal and his beautiful girlfriend. Rather unusually made with a liberal use of jerky cuts, the movie was highly acclaimed by critics. It has since acquired a cult status amongst youngsters and has been regularly ranked as one of the finest creations of French Cinema. The Sight and Sound Directors’ Poll placed it as the 11th best film of all time in 2012.

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1. The 400 Blows (1959)

‘The 400 Blows’ is essentially about juvenile and adolescent delinquency that is often driven by societal and parental neglect. Not only did this film put the nascent French New Wave on a firm footing but also projected François Truffaut as the brand new face of contemporary cinema. Distinctly autobiographical in nature, Truffaut’s own childhood was troubled and on similar lines. The film flows like a river and takes the audience along a journey of hope, despair, empathy and even sheer anger. A truly sincere and deeply personal piece of work, Truffaut dedicated it to his spiritual father and internationally acclaimed film theorist André Bazin. It is now considered to be one of the finest movies of all time.

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