Want to become acquainted with France’s vibrant movie scene…
…without leaving your house?
Maybe you’re an aspiring cinephile with a list of top French movies you just can’t miss out on.
Maybe you’re using French-language movies to gain advanced French fluency, or maybe you’ve just started learning French and are eager to engage with the sights and sounds of the language using the cinema of any and all French-speaking countries.
Heck, maybe you’re a French teacher and you want to capture your class’s attention with a classic!
Whatever your reason, you’d probably prefer your search to be as convenient and painless as possible, and for many, streaming online is ideal.
Unless you’re in a French-speaking country, it may be difficult to find French-language films playing in theaters, and who wants to bother with DVDs if you don’t have to?
Luckily, plenty of great French films are available to stream from the comfort of your own home (or classroom, or local coffee shop).
The only challenge is finding them.
In this post, we’ll look at the five best sources for watching French-language movies online (paid and free) so you can start streaming your next favorite flick now.
Why Incorporate French Movies into Your Learning?
If you’re already a movie buff, watching a movie in French seems like a logical step. But if you’re on the fence between watching a French movie or reading a textbook chapter, there are a number of reasons why French movies give you an advantage in learning.
For starters, French movies expose you to new vocabulary and new grammatical constructions. Textbooks are great for how French is supposed to be spoken, but watching French movies helps you experience French as it’s actually spoken by real French speakers.
Due to this, French movies are also a great way to learn informal language and jargon that textbooks may not teach but French speakers use all the time.
Further, French movies are a great learning tool because they expose you to specialized vocabulary. For example, the vocabulary used in movies is often themed: crime movies can teach you police and legal vocabulary, romances can teach you vocabulary related to love and relationships. Even comedy movies are French vocabulary gold because they’re often rife with French insults, swearing and informal expressions!
Silence, moteur, action! How to Watch French Movies Online
The Method Behind Watching French Movies Online
While watching movies is good fun, remember, learners, that you’re supposed to be studying. There’s nothing wrong with watching a French movie purely for enjoyment, but if you want to make the most of the experience, I suggest you incorporate the following tips.
- Watch with subtitles, French if possible: While French movies on their own are helpful, French movies that come with subtitles are even more fantastic because they allow you to follow along and understand what’s happening in each scene and the movie as a whole. Watching with French subtitles rather than English is also preferable if they’re available because this allows you to be exposed to written French as well as spoken.
- Pause to look up words you don’t know: Don’t understand a word that you’ve come across in the speech or in the subtitles? Pluck said word from the movie and look it up in a dictionary. I would go so far as to write down the word and its translation. That action 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.
- Watch, watch and 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 their favorite movie over and over again?
- Use FluentU for extra practice (and previews!): Not only will FluentU help give you a method you can apply to learning French with movies, but it’s a great place to find movie trailers and other pop culture references for expanding the range of authentic content you can use for your studies.Check it out with the free trial!
5 Cin-tastic Sites for Watching French Movies Online
Now that you’re psyched to get watching, let’s look at five places where you can watch!
While our first streaming service seems like a given, what a lot of people don’t realize is that Netflix has a number of French films in their collection. Where I live, in Canada, there’s a huge amount of films from France and in French, and there are plenty of French-language offerings on U.S. Netflix as well.
For many of the films on Netflix, you can toggle subtitles on and off. While many films on American Netflix aren’t available with French subtitles, a good number have optional English ones. Again, subtitles in either language will be useful so you can better follow along and so you can find the words that you don’t know and add them to your vocabulary collection.
Further, in some cases, Netflix allows you to 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, already being familiar with the story of the English film even though you’re watching it in French.
To watch a real French film, however, I would suggest, if you haven’t already, trying “Amélie,” that hugely well-known, quirky rom-com. Or my personal favorite, “Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont” (Welcome to Marly-Gomont), on Netflix under “The African Doctor,” a comedy film about a doctor who moves his family from Kinshasa to a small French town. Basic plans with Netflix cost $7.99 a month.
While a smaller streaming hub than Netflix, Fandor specializes in international films, so naturally, there are hundreds of French films to watch. Due to its focus on international films, Fandor has many French classics that are renowned worldwide, but there are also many underrated, lesser-known French films.
As with Netflix, most of the films on Fandor have English subtitles, but some don’t have French subtitles. Also, often these subtitles cannot be turned on and off, and the language of the subtitles cannot be changed, so it’s a good idea to take this into account when considering this site as an option.
If you’re interested, check out “4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle” (Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle) or “F. est un salaud” (F. Is a Bastard). Both films are dramas with a touch of comedy and are sure to satisfy a Friday night movie binge. In order to watch the films, you can subscribe to the streaming service for $10 a month or $90 a year. Try a free 14-day trial now!
Like Fandor, Filmdoo has a huge collection of French films that are available for you 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 many older French films as well as new French films. Again, there are a number of classics to watch, but there are also a surprising number of recent movies (less than 10 years old) that are available for streaming online. Many of these films have English and/or French subtitles, but not all of them.
For starters, I suggest you check out “Gaz de France” (Gas of France), a sci-fi film and a personal favorite, or “Aux yeux du monde” (In the Eyes of the World), a thriller. 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!
While it doesn’t have a huge collection like Netflix, Fandor or Filmdoo, Filmfra is a great way to watch certain French films, as well as certain English-language films dubbed into French, without signing up to a website or paying a subscription fee. Because who doesn’t like free things, am I right?
With Filmfra, you can either download the films to your computer for viewing any time or watch the films right there in your browser. Best of all, each film is in French and has French subtitles embedded in the actual video itself, oftentimes ones that match the French being spoken in the film!
My personal suggestion is “Contact” (Contact), a sci-fi film originally in English that’s dubbed into French. Watching films on this website is free, so click on Regarder gratuit en ligne (watch free online) to watch on your internet browser or Télécharger gratuit HD (Download free HD) to download the movie.
The last place to watch French online happens to be the largest video sharing service on the internet! With the added bonus of being completely free, YouTube has perhaps thousands of French films on it, and the playlist linked above is just a (substantial) taste of what’s out there.
Most films on this list have subtitles either embedded in the video itself or in the video player. To activate the subtitles in the YouTube video player, simply press the subtitles button on the bottom right-hand side. Be aware, however, that unofficial subtitles with the video player can sometimes have errors or transcription issues.
With this YouTube playlist, however, the films are primarily older. That means that there are a few classics hidden in there, but the vocabulary also lacks the current informal lingo and jargon used in French today.
For a more academic viewing experience, I suggest “La révolution française,” a two-part historical drama about, you guessed it, the French Revolution.
Alright, French learner, time you grab some popcorn.
Silence, moteur, action (lights, camera, action)!
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 FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.