8 Best French Cult Films That Put the “Cult” in French Culture

Cult films take you to the heart of a culture.

And French cult films show you the weirdest, strangest parts of the French language and the countries where it’s spoken. You won’t get this from mainstream movies or French 101.

Especially when French grammar gets tough and you just want to give up, getting to the heart of a culture is just what is needed to really keep going.

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 dark 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. It’s weirder than the weirdest parts of “The Wizard of Oz” and yet it tells a very sweet science fiction story about a trip to the moon in a very beautiful way.

Sure, it’s not the greatest for studying the language, being a silent film and all, but it’s sure to pique your interest! And it’s a relatively short film, so consider this your warm-up.

The makers of this film inspired many Hollywood filmmakers of this period and introduced new techniques. Made by early innovator George Melies, this film proves how greatly France had a hand in creating the art of filmmaking itself. Perhaps learning French will help you tap into the recesses of creativity in French culture.

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. To American viewers, the humor can feel at times over-the-top, and at times too subtle, but the more you watch, the more it becomes “just right.”

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 film tells the story of a French gangster and car thief and an American woman who can’t decide if she loves him.

This film is fascinating to watch as it breaks every rule of filmmaking. Surprisingly the rule-breaking seems to serve the story in a refreshing way, and the plot remains dynamically intact despite the jump-cuts and breaking of the “fourth wall.”

The director, Jean-Luc Godard, is a total 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 a young boy who specializes in cutting school and pulling pranks, this film will widen your background knowledge of French history, as it’s set during a very specific moment in history, a time before the cultural rebellions of the 60s took place.

If you’re a film buff, the director Francois Truffaut will delight you with the famous freeze frame ending, and regardless it’s a highly relatable film for anyone who’s ever grown up anywhere in any country.

That said, it might just soothe the growing pains you’re feeling as you try to learn to spell some of the same tough French words as little Antoine struggles with.

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

Find it on: Prime Video, Apple TV

With its bizarre “plot” and ethereal strangeness, this unique film will fascinate and intrigue. Two strangers meet at a chateau and wonder whether or not they’ve met before at a resort.

By another famous New Wave director, Alain Resnais, the filmmaking is beautiful to experience, and the plot is perfectly crafted such that it will raise plenty of questions.

While you might feel inspired to learn more French out of a desire to understand this one better, this one remains an enigma to most.

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) but still more of a thriller than a horror, with a truly fascinating plot.

France loved Albert Hitchcock in his day, along with all the other American Noir and gangster films of the 40s and 50s, and getting to know this darker side of American-inspired French cinema is a big part of getting closer to French culture.

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 casting this talent upon a story such as the “Beauty and the Beast” was a very, very good idea.

While it tells the fairy tale largely in the way you’ve heard it before, it does it with a fascinating display of old-school special effects which were largely invented by the director.

As a typical French fairy tale, this is a wonderful way to see further into the roots of this culture.

8. “La femme Nikita”

Find it on: Prime Video

Here’s the gritty, darker side of French cinema, but with a fascinating plot involving a druggie punk who goes to jail, whose death is then faked by the government, and who is ultimately recruited to help them fight crime.

Not to mention a certain amount of sexual tension between our protagonist and the guy who recruits her. She’s a very intriguing protagonist and will definitely give you a sense of France in the 80s and 90s and show you how French filmmaking has stayed relevant.

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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