In the mood for a cinematic treat?
Many French learners already know that watching movies is one of the best and most pleasurable ways to learn through immersion.
Some are even aware of techniques for using movies to accelerate their learning.
Finding the movies themselves, though?
That can be a hassle!
You have a limited amount of time and don’t want to waste it watching something boring. Even worse, imagine starting a movie only to find that it involves absolutely no French conversation!
FluentU offers fun, authentic French videos specially selected for learners.
But when it comes to feature films, you’re sorta left to fend for yourself. Which can be tough.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best films for French learners that are currently on Netflix in 2021.
We’ve considered not only the quality of the movies but also the features included—all in order to give you the best possible learning experience.
All you have to do is sit back and enjoy!
What Makes a French Movie Ideal for Learning
Before we get into the movies themselves, here’s a look at factors that went into their selection.
To state the obvious, if there’s not a whole lot of talking in a movie, it’s not going to help your French comprehension. For improving your listening, more loquacious characters are ideal. The films below all contain a lot of talking. That’s not to say they’re nothing but talking, but they’ll give you a hefty earful of modern, real-world French.
And if you wind up wanting more where that came from, FluentU is your one-stop-shop for awesome video material loaded up with authentic French speech.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
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Being able to switch subtitles on and off is a huge advantage for French learners. It makes content useful for a wider range of levels and increases learning possibilities. The following films all have subtitles that can be turned on and off with the Netflix instant viewer.
A boring movie can be a real bummer and cause you to waste an entire evening. The good news is that France is a leading film producer, and truly has something for everyone! French film boasts a rich and interesting history. Somewhere along the way, though, it developed a reputation for being overly arty and obtuse. Like a lot of stereotypes, this has some truth to it, but it’s been blown way out of proportion and is no reason to avoid the artier side of French cinema altogether.
The following list exists in a happy middle ground of accessible film with a distinctly “French” touch. All the films should have wide appeal, but many contain artistic or cultural elements specific to France. They can be your gateway drug to the land of New Wave or classic French film, if you’d like to travel that path.
Tips for Finding More French Movies on Netflix
This list should give you a wealth of material for enjoyment and practice. But you’ll soon want to branch off on your own, if you haven’t already. Here are a couple of things to consider while browsing for more French movies on Netflix.
Expand your search over multiple countries.
Netflix sorts movies by country or continent, not by language. So if you only search under “French,” you’re going to be missing out on some real Francophone gems. Be sure to check out the Belgian, African and Canadian categories as well. None of these places has as prolific a film culture as France (yet), but they’re all worth keeping an eye on.
“Grigris,” a film by acclaimed Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, follows a young man who dreams of being a dancer despite having a paralyzed leg. The film was a nominee for the Cannes Palme d’Or.
Xavier Dolan is a hip, young French-Canadian director who employs influences from both French and international cinema. His movies are simply shot, playful and accessible. Check out “Heartbeats” and “I Killed My Mother” (not as sinister as its title would suggest).
Although these movies aren’t available to watch on Netflix as of 2021, you can check off the “Remind Me” box to be notified when they come back. Or, search around to find your new favorite!
Find out who directs your favorite movies.
The French tradition places emphasis on the unique work of each director. It’s no coincidence that the term auteur, referring to a director who creates films according to their own creative vision, is the French word for “author.”
Getting familiar with French directors is the key to getting familiar with French cinema as a whole. When you reach the point of anticipating a new film by one of your favorites, you’ll be in for a lifetime of French cinematic enjoyment.
Becoming a French film lover is one of the best ways to expose yourself to the language. And the good news is that you can get started anytime. So pick one film that intrigues you and load it up right now!
The 10 Best French Movies on Netflix in 2021 for French Learners (+10 Bonus Movies)
“Street Flow” (Banlieusards)
Enter a gritty story that artfully depicts the realities of life in the Parisian projects. Written and directed by the prolific French rapper Kery James, the tale gives a stunning insight into the struggles and challenges of growing up in these often troubled areas.
The film follows the journey of three brothers. More specifically, the youngest brother Noumouke is forming his identity and deciding on a path to go down. Will he follow that of his brother Soulaymaan, a hard-working and dedicated law student? Or his brother Demba, a drug-dealing gangster who lives fast?
The film is in a similar vein to French film classics such as “La Haine” (Hate) as it deals with the struggles of life in the Parisian suburbs, especially with respect to immigrant families. It’s also a solemn reflection on the choices that we all must make and those we look up to.
“I Am Not an Easy Man” (Je ne suis pas un homme facile)
“I Am Not An Easy Man” introduces us to Damien (Vincent Elbaz), an unapologetic male chauvinist. He cruises through life relatively carefree and without any consideration of his sexist actions or behavior. That is, until he hits his head, and a kind of French “Freaky Friday” happens, which completely alters the fabric of the universe.
Damien wakes up and must immediately navigate his new life in a matriarchal society. He’s subjected to the same sexist treatment he had subjected women to throughout his life.
Not only was it the first French Netflix film, but it’s also a great introduction to French satire, which often takes aim at structures of power in society and politics.
At the end of the day, it’s also a relatively light-hearted comedy with plenty of laughs and an easily digestible dialogue—the simple storyline making it a great one to follow for intermediate learners.
“The Climb” (L’ascension)
“The Climb” is growing in popularity on Netflix and receiving acclaim from French and non-French speakers alike.
This movie is loosely based on the Everest ascent of Algerian-Australian Frenchman Nadir Dendoune, a journalist, writer and climber. Dendoune’s motivation was to make a statement about French immigrants’ potential and present a positive image of French-Algerians in society. A great way to combat preexisting prejudice was to stand on the highest point on earth.
The film itself follows the journey of Samy, a Senegalese Frenchman, who takes on the monumental task of an Everest ascent in a bid to impress his love interest, Nadia. You’ll find yourself cheering along for Samy, who, like Dendoune, may at first seem an underdog with no mountaineering experience.
The heartfelt, comedic and ultimately inspiring journey will have you wanting to watch the film several times, solidifying your vocabulary and tuning your ear to the comedic dialogue. No matter how many times you rewatch the film, you’ll be taken aback by the stunning cinematography of Nepal and drawn into the endless endearing scenes.
“The Wolf’s Call” (Le chant du loup)
The free world’s fate rests on the shoulders of a maritime acoustics specialist Chanteraide, played by François Civil. With the sub-nuclear war threat, Chanteraide must use his almost seemingly paranormal listening skills to detect subtle noises in the subaquatic landscape to prevent all-out nuclear war from an unclear adversary.
In a typical submarine movie style, you’ll feel claustrophobic and tense, yet remain fully gripped as the film dives deeper and deeper into the dark world of submarine warfare.
Not only is it a great film to build maritime and military vocabulary, but the long tense scenes also provide an excellent opportunity to focus on comprehension. Many of the scenes are delivered in a slow, straightforward, and measured tone indicative of military orders using numbers, countries and times.
“The World Is Yours” (Le monde est à toi)
If you’re a fan of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, “The World Is Yours” will feel strangely familiar. With acclaimed and world-renowned French actor Vincent Cassel on board, the strong cast does a fantastic job navigating the twists, turns and unexpected occurrences of this unorthodox crime drama.
François dreams of a life beyond being a small-time drug dealer, but to get there, he concocts a wacky plan that quickly spirals out of control.
Due to the fractured plot and crazy characters, it can be difficult to follow if you’re beginning your French journey, so be sure to put on subtitles. That being said, you may find some relief in the occasional English scene featuring a character known as “The Scot.”
“I Lost My Body” (J’ai perdu mon corps)
You might not expect to find an animated film on this list, but this one deserves a top spot and with good reason. France is, in fact, one of the biggest exporters of quality film animation in the world.
Heralded as a masterclass in storytelling and animation, the film follows the journey of a severed hand making its way through Paris’s streets to reunite with its owner, Naoufel. Naoufel’s tragic story is also told in flashbacks as it deals with themes of loss, blame and guilt. The animation itself is dripping with symbolism and metaphor while you explore the iconic streets of Paris in an entirely new light.
Perfect for a beginner, the dialogue is minimal, meaning plenty of time to stop, take notes, reflect and become engrossed in the work’s incredible imagery and originality.
“Brother” (Mon frère)
Following the trend of new-wave rappers turned actor-director acclaimed rapper MHD (Mohammed Sylla) makes his acting debut in this violent and often confronting Netflix drama. Accused of murder, Teddy (MHD) enters an unfamiliar world: a detention center for young offenders where he must adapt to the pack rules or end up in trouble.
The film utilizes lots of slang, especially that used by younger French speakers, and is an excellent choice if you are wanting to add a native feel to your French fluency.
“The Most Assassinated Woman in the World” (La femme la plus assassinée du monde)
Follow the tale of Actress Paula Maxa (Ana Mouglalis) in this wonderfully titled movie. Paula Maxa is known for over 10,000 theatre death scenes and throughout the film, she starts to draw startling comparisons between her stage life and real life as a deadly stalker emerges out of the darkness.
Paula Maxa was a real French actress, and this film is loosely based on her life in Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (The Theatre of the Grand Puppet). Characterized by extreme violence, blood and gore, this early 20th-century Parisian theatre tradition is brought to life in “The Most Assassinated Woman in the World,” where the realism starts to take its toll on Maxa and eerily similar murders are discovered throughout the city of love.
The film was the first Belgian film to be released with Netflix and gives a great insight into 1930’s French theatre tradition.
This one is not for the faint-hearted!
This stunning debut from director Sacha Wolff, “Mercenary” follows Soane’s journey (Toki Pilioko), a Wallisian man from New Caledonia who escapes an abusive father to play rugby in rural France. What’s most striking about the film is the fact that many of the actors were non-professionals. This adds to the overall realism and intensity of the performances.
The diverse cast and contrast between the small typical French commune of Fumel and the breathtaking landscapes and pristine beaches of Northern New Caledonia make for some incredible cinematography. With a similar feel to the classic New Zealand film “Once Were Warriors,” it deals with issues of a strained father-son relationship, abandonment and finding your own voice.
It’s also a great film to remind you just how global the French language. It’s not only a handy film for French learning, but it also gives a nice introduction to some components of Polynesian culture.
“Lost Bullet” (Balle perdue)
Think “Mad Max,” “Baby Driver” and “The Fast and the Furious,” but in French and set in the port town of Sète, and you’ve got pretty much got “Lost Bullet.”
Ex-mechanic Lino (Alban Lenoir) is on a relentless crusade to clear his name of a murder charge after being framed in this classic part-thriller, a part-action masterpiece. As the title suggests, a single bullet is the key piece of evidence to clearing his name (but first he must find it).
With impressive driving, fight scenes and real stunts it’s perhaps not what comes to mind when you hear French cinema. But it’ll certainly kill your craving for a decent action flick and is set to impress.
So, sit back, strap in and enjoy the ride. This movie is lots of fun.
Oldies but Goodies
These movies are no longer available to stream on Netflix as of 2021, but you can still get a hold of them in other places. We thought they were great enough to include, so check them out if you’re looking for even more to watch!
“In the House” (Dans la maison)
Watch it on: YouTube
Director François Ozon is often associated with “New French Extremism” and the cinéma du corps (cinema of the body), both of which commonly refer to films of an edgy, transgressive nature. However, Ozon and many of the other directors placed in this camp employ a wide range of artistic styles, and may be most notable for their willingness to experiment with new approaches that offer a vivid and quirky quality to their work.
This film of Ozon’s, which features French cinema favorites Fabrice Luchini and British-born Kristen Scott Thomas, presents mainstream subject matter in a fresh and unexpected manner. It loosely employs two common formulas: the teacher-meets-gifted-student drama and the classic family drama.
Due to the nature of the plot, which involves Luchini’s character teaching students French literature and helping one particular student, Claude, with his writing, there are several French lessons hidden within the film.
Keep your ears tuned to try to pinpoint when Claude’s narration switches from the past to the present.
“The French Minister” (Quai d’Orsay)
Watch it on: Amazon
“The French Minister” follows Arthur Vlaminck, a new employee at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as he tries to find his footing and comes into contact with a wide range of distinctive characters. A far-reaching political comedy, the story shoots off into several subplots and sometimes seems to have been conceived more as a sitcom than a movie. But this is great for learning! It brings you into contact with many different styles and modes of speech.
As there are plenty of quick vocal exchanges in “The French Minister,” it’s ideal for advanced learners looking to up the stakes. Clocking in at almost two hours long with near-constant dialogue, it’s a whole lot of content.
“2 Autumns, 3 Winters” (2 automnes 3 hivers)
Watch it on: Amazon, Tubi
This isn’t your mom’s rom-com. Actually, it’s not a rom-com at all, despite having been described as such.
It’s more of a comic but sober meditation on life and love. It employs some artier film techniques in a playful manner, such as introducing the main characters by means of narration and having them speak directly to the camera. The movie is divided into chapitres (chapters), and includes one that announces to you from the get-go that it’s going to employ the passé simple.
The narrative follows not only Armand and Amélie (the featured couple, who get together at the middle rather than the end of the film), but also a close friend of Armand’s as they all deal with the surprises life has to offer. A smart, hip film that doesn’t talk down to you but appeals to your intelligence and wit, “2 Autumns, 3 Winters” not only teaches French but creates an ideal atmosphere for learning.
“With a Friend Like Harry” (Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien)
Watch it on: Amazon, YouTube
Wanna learn French in your sleep?
A darkly comic take on a family vacation gone wrong, “With a Friend Like Harry” may conveniently haunt your dreams.
While on vacation with his family, Michel runs into an old classmate from lycée, Harry. Michel doesn’t even remember Harry at first, but invites him to have dinner at his family’s summer home. It turns out that Harry knows a lot about Michel, having even gone so far as to memorize a poem he wrote that appeared in a school publication years earlier. He becomes obsessed with Michel taking up writing again. Michel is both flattered and repelled, but can’t seem to rid himself of Harry’s presence.
Despite being thoroughly creepy, “With a Friend Like Harry” is not what you’d call a “scary” movie. As we watch Michel struggle with his past and present desires, both awakened by and obstructed by Harry, we find ourselves rooting for him up to a finale that could be considered weirdly inspirational.
The film maintains an even, relaxed pace throughout. The dialogue is well-paced, too, giving you time to process what’s being said. Bonus points if you can keep up with everything Michel’s kids yell in the background.
“Bicycling with Molière” (Alceste à bicyclette)
Watch it on: Amazon
Back to Fabrice Luchini and natural dialogue interspersed with literature.
The plot of this film follows an actor trying to convince his retired former friend to take a part in a production of Molière’s “Le Misanthrope.“ His friend (Luchini) agrees to consider the offer, but only if they can rehearse together first. Tensions rise and egos suffer as they argue over who should play which part and revisit past resentments in the process.
This offering may come off a little precious at first, as it involves actors reciting dated verse at each other. But Luchini’s character’s comic disdain keeps the atmosphere of the film down-to-earth and thoroughly modern.
Despite what some reviews on Netflix say, you don’t have to have read the play to be able to follow this movie. It will, however, offer you a crash course in Molière, and leave it up to you where to take that knowledge next.
“The Painting” (Le tableau)
Watch it on: Amazon, YouTube
An animated film taking inspiration from artists such as Chagall, Matisse and Picasso, “The Painting” is meta eye-candy.
The main characters in the movie are figures in a painting, some of whom are considered inferior due to their apparent half-finished status. The questions of why some figures have visual attributes the others lack, who le peintre (the painter) is and why he chose to paint everyone the way he did sets up a space for social and philosophical commentary.
The ideas themselves are nothing new, but there’s an upside to that: You can focus more closely on the cool visuals and the dialogue, which tends to be clear but naturally spoken.
“Le Chef” (Comme un chef)
Watch it on: Amazon, YouTube
Brush up on your French food vocabulary and get ready for a light and highly watchable movie that will appeal to foodies and… oh, just about everyone else, too.
Alexandre LeGarde, played by Jean Reno, is a famous chef who has run into some problems. Money problems, boss problems, inspiration problems. Desperation leads him to accept help from Jacky, a self-taught chef and LeGarde admirer. Together, the two work to refashion old recipes for modern tastes.
“Le Chef” is primarily a comedy that works hard to entertain. It has great rewatch value, especially for a French learner. In addition to mouth-watering descriptions of dishes and the back-and-forth of casual kitchen banter, you’ll get a good mix of social scenarios between a wide cast of characters. This makes it a good practice film for all levels, and one that you’ll return to again and again.
“You Will Be My Son” (Tu seras mon fils)
Watch it on: Amazon
One of the darkest movie on this list, “You Will Be My Son” is a captivating thriller.
Niles Arstrup gives a brilliant performance as a cruel, critical man obsessed with securing his winemaking legacy. Dissatisfied with his own son as a candidate to replace him, he becomes set on bequeathing his estate to the son of one of his employees, which sets off all the tensions and resentments you might imagine it would.
With notes of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” a hint of “The Cask of Amontillado” and a finish all its own, “You Will Be My Son” contains that telltale je ne sais quoi that appeals to connoisseurs of creepy film. So pop open a bottle of Bordeaux and dive in (not literally, of course).
With its expressive acting, “You Will Be My Son” is a good opportunity for a French learner to observe the language being spoken with emotional emphasis and subtlety. The main difference between this film and some of the others on the list is that it deals with highly personal situations, opening up yet another angle of conversational possibilities. To be fair, most people will (hopefully) never experience the exact situations that take place in this movie, but expanding your range is always a good thing.
“Amélie” (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain)
Watch it on: Amazon, HBO, Hulu
I know, I know! This is, like, the most obvious example of an internationally known French film. Plus, we’ve already included one movie that features a chick named Amélie.
Even if you’ve already seen this one, when was the last time you watched it? With its fun and whimsical approach to colorful visuals and a narrative that builds on itself with confidence and charm, it’s a great movie for beginning and intermediate French learners. Its optional subtitles on Netflix make it worth revisiting for anyone learning French. So don’t scoff until you’ve squeezed out every last drop of cinematic goodness!
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Le scaphandre et le papillon)
Watch it on: Amazon, HBO Max, Hulu
True story: In 1995, Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby was paralyzed by a stroke, reduced to communicating by blinking his left eyelid. An assistant would read off the alphabet to him, and he would blink to select a letter as it came up. He managed to write an entire book using this system.
This is the movie based on that book. Starring Mathieu Amalric (a well-known figure in French cinema who you may recognize as the villain from the Bond film “Quantum of Solace”), the film takes us through Bauby’s entire experience from the time he wakes up in the hospital, unable to move or talk.
If you think this sounds depressing, it’s not.
While many movies about discouraging medical situations force us to watch the unfortunate victims suffer before our eyes, a large part of this film is shot from Bauby’s point of view. Characters speak to him, but we can also hear his unspoken thoughts in the background. This perspective leads to many entertaining and humorous situations, and is interspersed with colorful flashbacks and rich, creative depictions of Bauby’s inner world.
Seeing the world from a French first-person point of view (no matter how limited that point of view may be) is always a great opportunity to put yourself in the place of experiencing a conversation with French speakers. Get started with these best French movies on Netflix in 2021 and enjoy the learning journey!
Elisabeth Cook is a freelance writer, translator and unabashed French film fanatic. You can follow her on Twitter (@CooksChicken) or read her blog at litallover.com.
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