8 Best French Cult Films

French cult films can be a gateway to understanding some of the most unique, fascinating, and less known aspects of the French language. You just won’t get the same rich panoply of idiomatic phrases and odd slang from mainstream movies or your French 101 class. And since the context is intuited alongside new terms and grammar, you’re improving vocabulary, phonetics, listening and brushing up on the rhythm of the language seemingly by osmosis.

Given France’s storied love of cinema, there are plenty of cult films to choose from. These don’t come from France’s Hollywood equivalent, but rather from its darker corners. Here are eight films to start with.


1. “Voyage dans la lune” (A Trip to the Moon)

Find it on: YouTube, Creative Commons

Not only is this one of the first films ever made, but it can safely be said that it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Voyage dans la lune is a whimsical 1902 science fiction depicting a group of wizard-like astronauts who take a trip to the moon. The 15-minute silent film was directed by George Melies and inspired by Jules Vernes’ 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon.

Yes, I’m recommending you start with a silent film for studying the French language. When you’re struggling to get further in your level of fluency, it can be helpful to remember that you very likely already know enough to be able to travel in a French-speaking country. This film is understood completely without the use of words. While reaching fluency is an exciting goal, and a valid one, it’s key to remember how far you have come. Keep pushing for results even if it takes time: your past progress can reassure you about your future progress.

The makers of this film inspired many Hollywood filmmakers of this period and introduced new techniques. The film demonstrates the influence of early French filmmakers on the development of cinema as an art form.

2. “Trafic” (Traffic)

Find it on: Prime Video, Apple TV

This hilarious, oddball, physical comedy about the many difficulties one silly man can have in the process of getting a car to an automobile festival is one of the best from the director Jacques Tati, who also plays the main character.

Known for his other films about the same goofball protagonist, “Monsieur Hulot,” Tati has a special brand of humor. It is often said that once you can laugh at a joke told in another language, you truly understand it. While this might not be the perfect test of fluency, it indicates a deep understanding not only of the language, but often of the culture from which it originates. So take a close look at the humor of Jacques Tati. Does it feel over-the-top, or too subtle?The more you watch, it may begin to feel “just right.” This could be a sign you’re getting to know French culture, and understand more about the context of the language.

As another incentive, getting a feel for the various types of humor in a culture as you study their language can definitely give you a leg up when you meet native speakers.

3. “A bout de souffle” (Breathless)

Find it on: Prime Video, Apple TV

This 1960 crime drama tells of Michel, French gangster and car thief, played by hottie of the era, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and his relationship with an American woman (Jean Seberg) who can’t decide if she loves him. Playing a language learner herself, Seberg’s slow, overpronounced French should be easiest to understand.

Like his criminal protagonist, director Jean-Luc Godard breaks every law with this film, with inveterate jump cuts—a bit of a taboo in traditional, sequential film editing, and breaking the “fourth wall” when characters speak directly to the camera.

The director, Jean-Luc Godard, is an icon of French cinema, having been a leader of the French New Wave movement in the 60s that brought new life into filmmaking worldwide with its unique techniques. Gorgeous shots of Paris will woo you into studying just that little bit harder so you can justify a trip.

4. “Les Quatre cent coups” (The 400 Blows)

Find it on: Prime Video, Criterion Collection

The story of Antoine, a young boy specializing in cutting school and pulling pranks, this film will widen your background knowledge of French history, as it’s set before the cultural rebellions of the 1960s took place. The 1959 film is the first in a series of five by famed French New Wave director Francois Truffaut about Antoine growing up in Paris, misunderstood by parents, teachers, and in later films, by a series of women.

A relatable film for anyone who’s ever grown up anywhere in any country, the familiar context contributes to understanding the fast-paced native Parisian French. As an extra bonus, you’ll find yourself in good company seeing that even little Antoine finds certain French words hard to spell.

5. “L’annee derniere a Marienbad” (Last Year at Marienbad)

Find it on: Prime Video, Apple TV

With its barely scrutable plot and ethereal cinematography, this unique film will fascinate and intrigue. At a beautiful hotel, a man encounters a woman he claims to have had an affair with prior, but she insists not to be the woman he remembers. These never named characters as well as a third who may be the woman’s husband are explored in layered flashbacks.

By another famous New Wave director, Alain Resnais, the filmmaking is beautiful to experience, and the plot is perfectly crafted to raise questions, intrigue, and suspense, while letting the viewer select their own interpretation.

While you might feel inspired to learn more French out of a desire to understand this one better, that may not help you much, but follow whatever works to keep your passion for the language alive.

6. “Les diaboliques” (Diabolique)

Find it on: Prime Video, Criterion Collection

Here’s a thriller focused on a woman who decides to murder her husband with her husband’s mistress. An inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” this one is eerie enough (complete with ghostly children at a French boarding school). Ghosts aside, the mood is more in vein with a thriller or mystery than horror due to the complex and suspenseful plot.

France loved Albert Hitchcock in his day, along with American Noir and gangster films of the 40s and 50s. Get a thorough understanding at this darker side of American-inspired French cinema to zero in on this aspect of the culture. Understanding cultural trends provides fuel for conversation when the opportunity arises with native speakers.

7. “La belle et la bête” (Beauty and the Beast)

Find it on: Prime Video, Apple TV, Criterion Collection

Jean Cocteau is a master of melding the strange and the beautiful, and we are blessed that he cast such talent upon a story such as the “Beauty and the Beast.”

While it tells the well-known fairy tale in a familiar way, the 1946 film does so with a fascinating display of old-school special effects, largely invented by the director. The effect is beautifully unsettling. As a typical French fairy tale, this is a wonderful way to see further into the roots of this culture. Hearing the language used in various times and settings can help develop context around usage, and better prepare you for spontaneous conversation when traveling in French-speaking countries.

8. “La femme Nikita”

Find it on: Prime Video

In Luc Besson’s iconically gritty, neo-noir thriller, you’ll get a fascinating, yet action-packed ride. Nikita is a nihilistic druggie punk who goes to prison for robbery, but whose death is then faked by the government so she can be recruited to help them fight crime.

Following this intriguing protagonist will provide a sense of the language in the 80s and 90s and will also demonstrate how French filmmaking has stayed relevant and influential on a global scale with films such as this one.

After all of these films, to keep your studies going, you can also check out more French movie clips with a language program such as FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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Why You Should Put the “Cult” in French Culture

Watching French cult films is one way to reinvigorate your language study. In fact, any jolt of French culture can help if it stirs your excitement, and French cult films are about as deep as you can go into the rabbit hole that is culture.

Cult films celebrate the weird and wonderful—okay, sometimes just the weird—parts of every culture. If you can get excited about French culture again, then you can get excited about pushing forth towards your French study goals.

These films should get you revved up for language study because they give you the fun part that validates the long study hours. Plus, sometimes just hearing French spoken in a good film is enough to make a language learner start practicing again.

And one more thing...

If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.

FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:


FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.


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 learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."


All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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