classic french movies

24 Classic French Movies to Put on Your Must-Watch List

It’s well-established that watching French movies is a fun way to get comprehension practice in the comfort of your pajamas. 

Keep reading to discover our favorite picks of 24 classic French films from classic black and white to vivid color!

We’ll also dive into how to watch and where to watch classic French movies online. 


1. “La Règle du Jeu”  (“The Rules of the Game”)

Where to watch: Criterion

Genre: Drama

Year: 1939

Director: Jean Renoir

“La Règle du Jeu” is the crowning achievement of Jean Renoir, son of painter Auguste Renoir and was one of the last French films made before World War II.

It depicts a world of privileged individuals whittling their time away while the world crumbles around them. 

2. “Le Chomeur de Clochemerle” (“Easiest Profession”)

Where to watch: YouTube

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1957

Director: Jean Boyer

“Le Chomeur de Clochemerle” (“The Unemployed of Clochemerle”) features actor Fernandel, a legend in French cinema for several decades. In this film, he plays a philosopher who tries to get paid as a “licensed” unemployed person.

There’s a noticeable difference in cinematography between this movie—filmed not long after WWII—and “La Regle du Jeu,” filmed before the war. 

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3. “Moderato Cantabile” (“Seven Days and Seven Nights”)

Where to watch: Amazon DVD

Genre: Drama

Year: 1960

Director: Peter Brook

The words “Moderato Cantabile” are actually directions from a piece of music, a sonatina, and mean the piece should be played “moderately and singingly” (modéré et chantant). What the movie lacks in fast-paced action, it makes up for with its powerfully simple plot.

Based on the eponymous book by Marguerite Duras, this movie shows a morose wife and mother falling for a dock worker at her husband’s company—each witnessing the same murder.

4. “Masculin Féminin”  (“Male Female”)

Where to watch: Criterion and YouTube

Genre: Drama

Year: 1966

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

“Masculin Féminin” is probably the film that best illustrates the departure from the ’50s.

Under the direction of quintessential New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, a group of urban youth takes advantage of the new and exciting youth culture around them.

5. “Les Bidasses en Folie” (“Soldiers Fooling Around”)

Where to watch: YouTube

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1971

Director: Claude Zidi

The popular band made of hilarious comedians, Les Charlots (The Clowns) get into all sorts of trouble when they have to show up for military service in “Les Bidasses en Folie”.

Note that “Charlot” is also the French name for Charlie Chaplin’s character The Little Tramp.

6. “Au Revoir Les Enfants” (“Goodbye, Children”)

Where to watch: Criterion

Genre: Drama/War

Year: 1987

Director: Louise Malle

The occupation was an unfortunate time in French history, but also a time of courage and altruism.

“Au Revoir Les Enfants,” recounts a friendship formed by two students in different circumstances at a Catholic boarding school.

7. “La Révolution française” (“The French Revolution”)

Where to watch: Amazon

Genre: Drama/War

Year: 1989

Directors: Robert Enrico and Richard T. Heffron

Filmed for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, this two-part movie does a great job recounting this major historical event.

8. “Le Dîner de cons” (“The Dinner Game”)

Where to watch: Amazon

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1998

Directors: Francis Veber

When a group of elite Parisians decides to see who can bring the most idiotic person to dinner as a competition, the winning “idiot” turns the tables on them. 

This is a great French film filled with a load of laughs that will have your sides splitting.

9. “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (“Amélie”)

Where to watch: Disney+

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2002

Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Titled just “Amélie” in the English version, but with an original French title that translates to “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain,” this movie was such a success that it received well-deserved notice worldwide.

Amélie, a young woman living in Montmartre, lives in her own little world. One day, after returning a candy box of childhood mementos to its owner, she sets out to do good deeds for those around her. 

10. “Ils se Marièrent et Eurent Beaucoup d’Enfants” (“Happily Ever After”)

Where to watch: AppleTV

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2004

Directors: Yvan Attal

Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and with a cameo appearance by Johnny Depp, “Ils se Marièrent et Eurent Beaucoup d’Enfants” (“They Got Married and Had Lots of Children”) traces the life of three, 40-something friends unsatisfied with their lives.

11. “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (“Welcome to the Sticks”)

Where to watch: Disney+ and Amazon

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2008

Directors: Dany Boon

An employee is transferred from the south of France to Nord-Pas-de-Calais where the locals—called Ch’tis—live different lifestyles and speak a noticeably different accent.

12. “Rien à Déclarer” (“Nothing to Declare”)

Where to watch: Amazon

Genre: Comedy

Year: 2010

Directors: Dany Boon

“Rien à Déclarer” is a comedy about two customs workers—one French and one Belgian—who have to work together during the gradual process of EU integration.

13. “Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie” (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”)

Where to watch it: Amazon and iTunes

Genre: Comedy, drama

Year: 1972

Director: Luis Buñuel

A group of upper-middle class friends try to dine together, but this is no easy task (for a multitude of bizarre reasons). If you aren’t familiar with surrealist film, this is a great introduction to the insanity of it.

This film is a great choice if you want a good laugh, a taste of (satirized) bourgeoisie life in France and a historic gem all wrapped into one 90-minute masterpiece.

14. “Amour” (“Love”)

Where to watch it: AmazoniTunes

Genre: Romantic drama

Year: 2012

Director: Michael Haneke

Amour” is something of an unconventional love story, the film centers around an elderly couple. When the wife suffers a stroke, this incites a series of events that will pull on your heartstrings—hard.

If you aren’t deterred by all the crying that will happen, this film is beautifully shot, powerfully acted and leaves you in an unusual state of suspense as its tension plays out. 

15. “Le gamin au vélo” (“The Kid with a Bike”)

Where to watch it: iTunes

Genre: Drama

Year: 2011

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

This film is about a young boy whose father leaves home. He finds comfort in a neighborhood woman who sort of takes him under her wing.

The film is a heartwarming, heartbreaking reflection on boyhood, violence and growing up too fast. The Dardenne brothers, the creators of the film, are known for their naturalist style—and are a great choice if you want to delve into some Franco-Belgian Cinema!

16. “Populaire” (“Popular”)

Where to watch it: Amazon | iTunes

Genre: Comedy, drama

Year: 2012

Director: Régis Roinsard

Released in 2012, it’s a romantic comedy that takes place in the late 1950s. The protagonist, a secretary, is encouraged by her boss (ahem, the love interest) to enter speed-typing contests.

Swoon (at the adorable lead actors) and laugh (at the hilarity of speed-typing) all wrapped-up in a 1950s setting. It features the kind of flirty French that will remind you of why you learned the language in the first place.

17. “Les amants du Pont-Neuf” (“The Lovers on the Bridge”)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Genre: Romance

Year: 1991

Director: Leos Carax

The film starts with some pretty grim shots, highlighting the homeless population in Paris. The protagonist is one of them, and is arguably having the worst night of them all.

Then Michèle comes along, suffering through the horrors of being a painter going blind. They end up emotionally tangled on Pont-Neuf (the oldest standing bridge in Paris) which they’re illegally living on during its renovation.

18. “Belle de Jour” (“Morning glory”)

Where to watch it: Amazon | iTunes

Genre: Psychological drama

Year: 1967

Director: Luis Buñuel

Five years before “Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie,” Luis Buñuel teamed up with the beautiful and breathtaking Catherine Deneuve for this tale of a woman who casually tries out prostitution. 

Another surrealist work of Buñuel’s, though perhaps more on the serious side, this film will give you plenty of stark visuals to watch as you train those ears.

19. “La Haine” (“Hatred”)

Where to watch it: Amazon | iTunes

Genre: Social thriller

Year: 1995

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Set in a poor neighborhood in Paris, three friends are dragged into a series of events when one of them gets their hands on a gun.

All the action takes place in one day, which only increases the tension of the film. There’s a lot of everyday French in this film—and it will give you lots of flavor as far as slang is concerned.

So whether you watch it for the hip language or Vincent Cassel’s perfect performance, this one comes highly recommended.

20. “La Belle et le bête” (“The beauty and the beast”)

Where to watch it: YouTube

Genre: Romantic fantasy

Year: 1946

Director: Jean Cocteau

You’re probably familiar with Disney’s version of “Beauty and the Beast.”

This is a live action version of the classic tale, with a little grimmer of a tone and ending (Oh, the French!).

The real attraction to this film is its visuals. The costumes and sets are stunning, surreal, breathtaking even. The film can also serve as a gateway to the novels (including “Les Enfants Terribles”) and paintings of the film’s director Jean Cocteau. 

21. “Alphaville”

Where to watch it: Amazon 

Genre: Science fiction

Year: 1965

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

This period of 1960s French film is characterized by naturalistic style, jumpy editing, on-location shooting and natural sound. It also influenced many directors in years to come.

For either seasoned film historians or French learners looking for a new kind of kick, “Alphaville” has all the science fiction, Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard one person can handle. It’s funny, mysterious and timeless.

22. “Le Passé” (“The Past”)

Where to watch it: iTunes | Filmdoo

Genre: Drama

Year: 2013

Director: Asghar Farhadi

If you’ve seen “The Artist” (arguably the worst French film to learn French with — it’s silent), then you may be familiar with Bérénice Bejo. 

“The Past” is an award-winning drama film about a couple who is going through a divorce (after being separated for some time). The ex-wife is re-marrying, and things get tangled up and go dark pretty quickly. 

23. ” Jules et Jim” (“Jules & Jim”)

Where to watch it: YouTube | iTunes

Genre: Romantic drama

Year: 1962

Director: François Truffaut

Truffaut, like Godard (mentioned above in “Alphaville”), was one of the fathers of the French New Wave movement. Exploring the history of French cinema is a great way to practice comprehension, and Truffaut is a great director to follow.

This movie is based on a book by Henri-Pierre Roché, if you want a book tie-in to add to your French reading list. The film itself is full of heart, drama and history as it takes place around WWI.

24. “Heartbeats”

Where to watch it: iTunes  

Genre: Romantic drama

Year: 2010

Director: Xavier Dolan

Let’s get some love in here for the French Canadians! Not only will this film give you the slightest flavor of the Quebec accent, but plenty of pause to take it all in with its beautiful slow motion shots.

The director, Xavier Dolan is well-known in France, Canada and the US for his work writing, directing and starring in “I Killed My Mother.”

If you’re a fan of indie film, this is a great French-Canadian director to know about!

Where to Watch French Movies Online


One (obviously) can’t write a post about watching French films online without mentioning Netflix.

Netflix offers a little over 150 French language titles. In some cases, you can even watch English-language films or TV with French overdubbing. This is perfect because if you’ve already watched a particular show or film in English, you can watch it again in French and already be familiar with the story.

Often, you can toggle subtitles on and off. When watching in French, subtitles in French or English will be useful so you can better follow along. Subtitles will also help you find the words you don’t know and add them to your vocabulary collection.


When you think Hulu, you likely think of binge-watching favorite TV shows. And yes, it’s definitely good for that.

What makes Hulu one of the best places to watch French films is its catalog of over 700 Criterion Collection titles. If you’re unfamiliar with the Criterion Collection, it’s a collection of classic films from around the world (art house, historically significant and otherwise). Since France is one of the cornerstones of world cinema, there are lots of French films in the collection.

In addition to pretty much every classic French film you need to watch in order to be an expert on the subject, there’s also a sizable collection of modern French films and even a few French TV shows like “Spiral” (a murder investigation drama).


YouTube is a fantastic resource for learning French. Most videos have subtitles either embedded in the video itself or in the video player. Be aware, however, that unofficial subtitles can sometimes have errors or transcription issues.

YouTube goes beyond French tutorials and stand-up comedy, though. Fun fact: you can rent movies on YouTube, and the selection is fantastic!

Make it a special occasion and find a friend (French-speaking or not) who’s willing to watch foreign masterpieces and get that popcorn popping!


If you’re going on a trip and need to load up your devices with movies, iTunes is a great way to access French films. 

They have a very large selection, including timeless classics and newer releases in French cinema. Your odds will be the best with iTunes if you’re looking for a specific French title and can’t find it elsewhere.

Another plus with iTunes is that you often have more control over subtitles compared to other sites. Once it’s on your device, you can enable or disable the English subtitles and in some cases put on French subtitles.


Catering to those who love film for its art (lots of indie hits, art house films and foreign masterpieces), it adds a new film every day and takes it off after thirty days.

That leaves you with a manageable amount of films to sort through. What makes this site absolutely ideal for French film watching is that there’s usually a handful of French films in the mix.

One last thing… it’s easy to change subtitle options. Hooray!


Filmdoo has a huge collection of French films available to watch online. At present, it boasts over 2500 films in its collection, so there should be no shortage of French flicks to catch your eye.

There are older French films as well as new ones. So you can stream classics or a surprising number of recent movies (less than 10 years old). Many of these films have English and/or French subtitles, but not all of them.

Best of all, Filmdoo has no membership fees. Simply sign up and pay as you go for each film you watch. Some films are even free!

Tips for Learning French With Classic French Movies

Since France has a healthy and thriving modern film scene and history, the options are limitless for watching and learning. Just make sure you’re getting the most out of the experience and not reading English subtitles from beginning to end, ignoring the wealth of comprehension practice these great films can provide!

What to Do About Subtitles

This is a true conundrum (nobody said this language learning business was flawless).

If you’re an advanced French speaker and want to keep your ears tuned in while enjoying the beauty of French cinema, then you know the answer. Nix the subtitles and jump right into it. It’s okay if you don’t understand every word; that’s how you improve!

If you’re a beginner, it may be helpful to watch the film once with English subtitles so you can understand what’s going on, and then a second time with French subtitles or none at all to see how much you can understand on your own. Just don’t get discouraged. It can sometimes take a while before you understand conversational French like it’s spoken in French films.

Ah, but there’s that awkward spot that every French language learner hits—the intermediate level. Depending on how well your comprehension is going along, you could go either way here. Watching French films with French subtitles can be very helpful if your reading skills are fair, but taking a chance with no subtitles could end up surprising you with how much you actually know!

How you choose your subtitles is up to you, but be aware of two quick things:

1. Watching a French film with English subtitles more than once to understand the storyline isn’t recommended. You’ll stop hearing the French and start reading the English, and the film might as well be in Japanese at that point!

2. Watching a French film with French subtitles is often an ideal choice no matter your level, but keep in mind that the written text isn’t always exactly what’s being spoken, so don’t rely on that more than the context.

Filling in the Gaps

For beginners, intermediates and advanced learners who want the full French learning experience, there are plenty of ways to make sure that you understand the film.

Look Up Words

Don’t understand a word you’ve come across in the speech or the subtitles? Pluck said word from the movie and look it up in a dictionary.

I suggest you write down the word and its translation. That act of writing the word down will make its meaning stick better in your brain.

If you’re not advanced enough to be checking off every word you don’t know (which is probably the case for most learners), focus on language that interests you or seems useful, and pay attention to how it’s used in context.

French Wikipedia

Read the film’s page after watching the film (in French)! You could do it beforehand if you don’t care about spoilers, but where’s the fun in that?

All the relevant vocabulary is there before your eyes—and you can always go between the French and English Wiki entries. This can also lead you to similar films or information on the history and making of the film. It might even guide you to source material like French novels or plays.

Watch Again

The key to making the most of any French movie is to watch the film in its entirety, and then watch it again.

The first time around, you’ll become familiar with the story, the characters and all the French words you don’t yet know. The second time you watch, you can sit closely with your translated French word list from that movie and get a more detailed look at the movie plot itself and its vocabulary.

This repetition will further solidify the vocabulary in your brain. Besides, who doesn’t like watching good movies over and over again?

Watch and Discuss

French is more fun with friends!

If you have French speaking friends, set up a movie night and then discuss the film together. It may help you fill in gaps and get further recommendations. Above all, it’s a chance to get chatty in French!


Thanks to the Internet and all the sites available for watching, it’s not an unrealistic (or boring) goal to watch one French movie a week.

Happy viewing!

And one more thing...

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