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

France has impacted world cinema just as much as Hollywood has—proving that their classics are equally worthy of a trip to the cinema.

Watching a range of French movies from different genres and eras not only gives you a glimpse into how French culture has changed throughout the years, but how the cinematic production of films has as well.

Keep reading to discover our favorite picks of 12 classic French films from the 1930s to 2010—from classic black and white to vivid color!


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

Genre: Drama

Year: 1939

Director: Jean Renoir

Where to watch: Criterion

“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”)

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1957

Director: Jean Boyer

Where to watch: YouTube

“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. 

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

Genre: Drama

Year: 1960

Director: Peter Brook

Where to watch: Amazon DVD

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”)

Genre: Drama

Year: 1966

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Where to watch: Criterion and YouTube

“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”)

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1971

Director: Claude Zidi

Where to watch: YouTube

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”)

Genre: Drama/War

Year: 1987

Director: Louise Malle

Where to watch: Criterion

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”)

Genre: Drama/War

Year: 1989

Directors: Robert Enrico and Richard T. Heffron

Where to watch: Amazon

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”)

Genre: Comedy

Year: 1998

Directors: Francis Veber

Where to watch: Amazon

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”)

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2002

Directors: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Where to watch: Disney+

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”)

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2004

Directors: Yvan Attal

Where to watch: AppleTV

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”)

Genre: Comedy/Romance

Year: 2008

Directors: Dany Boon

Where to watch: Disney+ and Amazon

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”)

Genre: Comedy

Year: 2010

Directors: Dany Boon

Where to watch: Amazon

“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.

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If you get through these classics, you can check out some excellent movies for French learners next.

There’s a whole cinematic world out there for you to discover. Enjoy!

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