12 Best French Movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
A Prophet, or Un Prophete, is an unconventional French film that combines prison drama with the Goodfellas-styled narrative of the rise to criminal power. Shot by the inimitable French director Jacques Audiard, A Prophet is a future classic from the get-go, taking age-old cliches and turning them on their heads. It's not often that a film leaves us giddy with enthusiasm and constantly thinking back to it, but A Prophet is so intense, you won't be able to let it go. Incredible acting, especially by then-newcomer Tahar Rahim, fantastic pacing, a great narrative arc with a brutal and uncompromising take on morality, self-realization, and life on the fringes of society. There are only two, quote unquote, action sequences in this movie and they are as brutal and realistic as they are unexpected. Look past the subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch this film.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adel Bencherif, Antoine Basler, Farid Larbi, Foued Nassah, Frédéric Graziani, Gilles Cohen, Guillaume Verdier, Hichem Yacoubi, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Karim Leklou, Leila Bekhti, Mohamed Makhtoumi, Mourad Frarema, Nathanaël Maïni, Niels Arestrup, Pierre Leccia, Reda Kateb, Serge Onteniente, Slimane Dazi, Tahar Rahim

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime - Marseille. 

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade. 

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this. 

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Dylan Robert, Idir Azougli, Kader Benchoudar, Kenza Fortas, Lisa Amedjout, Nabila Ait Amer, Nabila Bounad, Sofia Bent

Director: Jean-Bernard Marlin

Rating: TV-MA

Two storylines take place in this Parisian animation: one of a Moroccan immigrant who works as a pizza delivery guy, and the other of his hand, somehow no longer part of his body, but also going on a trip around Paris.

The hand storyline is not gory by the way, except for one or two very quick scenes. Mostly, this is a film about loneliness and not being able to find your way back, both as an immigrant who misses how they were raised and as a hand who misses its body.

Sporting some of the most beautiful animation work this year, this movie premiered at Cannes where it became the first-ever animated film (and Netflix film) to win the Nespresso Grand Prize.

Genre: Animation

Actor: Alia Shawkat, Dev Patel, George Wendt, Hakim Faris, Jérémy Clapin, Jérémy Clapin, Patrick d'Assumçao, Patrick d'Assumçao, Patrick d'Assumcao, Victoire Du Bois

Director: Jérémy Clapin, Jérémy Clapin

Rating: TV-MA

From the brilliant minds of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Jano comes a utopian vision for the ages. After having worked together before on the short sci-fi film The Bunker of the Last Gunshots, the duo-turned-longtime-collaborators pick it up a notch in one of the best dark comedies to come out in the 90s. 

In Delicatessen, Jeunet and Jano disguise the wretchedness of modern society in a post-apocalyptic world where food is the global currency, given how scarce it’s become. We follow Louison (Dominique Pinon), an everyday man who falls in love despite all the hubbub and squalor surrounding him. But nothing comes in the way of love, and instead of discovering a salve, he encounters a snag, one that pulls him deeper into society’s most complex ethical dilemmas. 

Many films have already been made about inequality and hierarchies, but none have been quite as darkly funny and unapologetic as Delicatessen.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Anne-Marie Pisani, Chick Ortega, Dominique Pinon, Dominique Zardi, Eric Averlant, Howard Vernon, Jacques Mathou, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Jean-François Perrier, Jean-Luc Caron, Karin Viard, Marc Caro, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Maurice Lamy, Nikky Smedley, Patrick Paroux, Rufus, Silvie Laguna, Ticky Holgado

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro

Rating: R

Certified Copy starts straightforward enough as it follows an unnamed shopkeeper (Juliette Binoche) and a writer (William Shimell) taking a stroll around picturesque Tuscany, debating the merits of authenticity and simplicity. They’re strangers flirting under the guise of an intellectual debate, and for a while, you think you’re watching a film like Before Sunrise, that is until a mysterious, almost magical, shift occurs, and suddenly, you’re witnessing something entirely different. For better or worse, director Abbas Kiarostami never makes it clear what happens, and that very mystery gives you a lot to think about. Are they pretending to be copies or is it the other way around? Neverending questions run through your head as you watch them banter, but whatever actually happens might be beside the point. At the moment, you get deeply felt, wonderfully rendered, as-real-as-can-be performances from Binoche and Shimell, and you can’t help but surrender.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Moore, Agathe Natanson, Andrea Laurenzi, Angelo Barbagallo, Gianna Giachetti, Jean-Claude Carrière, Juliette Binoche, William Shimell

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Rating: NR

In my own wished-for parallel universe, French actors Vincent Cassell and Emanuelle Devos are voted the sexiest actors alive. I find them both transfixing and appealing in every role they’ve performed, and they are quite the pair here. Devos plays Carla, a put-upon assistant at a property management company. While good at her job, there is little room for her to advance her career, as she is one of the only women at her company and also has a hearing deficiency. Into her humdrum life walks ex-convict Paul (Cassell), who Carla hires as a personal assistant. It turns out that what Paul lacks in secretarial skills he makes up for in other ways. The first half of the film plays almost like a dark workplace comedy, before taking a dangerous turn towards psychological crime thriller. Overall, it’s a dark and sexy character study of two mismatched outsiders who turn out to complement each other perfectly.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Bernard Alane, Bô Gaultier de Kermoal, Celine Samie, Chloé Mons, Christophe Van de Velde, Christophe Vandevelde, David Saracino, Emmanuelle Devos, Francois Loriquet, Nathalie Lacroix, Olivia Bonamy, Olivier Gourmet, Olivier Perrier, Pierre Diot, Serge Boutleroff, Serge Onteniente, Vincent Cassel

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

A Kurdish-Iraqi immigrant runs into serious immigration problems as he tries to immigrate from France to England in order to be reunited with his girlfriend. Eventually he begins to train in swimming, in an attempt to swim the channel between France and England. Welcome is a gripping tale of tolerance as well as relationships between locals and immigrants. It also gives a great look into the shortcoming of the European immigration system, and will have you crying by the end of it, no question.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Audrey Dana, Behi Djanati Atai, Blandine Pélissier, Bruno Tuchszer, Carine Bouquillon, Derya Ayverdi, Emmanuel Courcol, Éric Herson-Macarel, Firat Ayverdi, Firat Celik, Florence Hebbelynck, Jacques Herlin, Jean-François Fagour, Jean-Paul Comart, Jean-Pol Brissart, Joakim Latzko, Mehmet Selim Akgul, Murat Subasi, Olivier Rabourdin, Patrick Ligardes, Stéphane Butet, Thierry Godard, Vincent Lindon, Vincent Pietton, Yannick Renier

Director: Philippe Lioret

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

A quiet movie about an unpredictable convict who gets enrolled in a wild mustang taming program. These initiatives, common around the country, offer fascinating parallels: both the horses and the inmates are emprisoned, both innately fight against their condition but are actively being made to comply. The central performance by Matthias Schoenaerts is nothing short of a masterpiece. He doesn't speak much and you almost don't want him to: everything else he does communicates so much more than words. Watching this movie just for him is reason enough.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruce Dern, Connie Britton, Gideon Adlon, Heath Hensley, Jasmeet Baduwalia, Jason Mitchell, John Logsdon, Josh Stewart, Kelly Richardson, Kieth Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts, Noel Gugliemi, Santina Muha, Thomas Smittle

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Rating: R

, 2018

This twisted movie is actually two movies, the credits even roll in between. The first half is gorgeous: talented dancers get together for a party and perform beautiful contemporary dance sequences. They introduce themselves through their audition tapes to join the dance group, but also through conversations at the party. The second half is less fun. It turns out someone had laced the sangria they've been drinking with a psychedelic drug. Not for the faint of heart or anyone who didn't like director Gaspar Noé's past movies (Enter the Void, I Stand Alone, etc).

Genre: Drama, Horror, Music

Actor: Adrien Sissoko, Alaia Alsafir, Alexandre Moreau, Alou Sidibé, Ashley Biscette, Claude Gajan Maude, Claude Gajan Maull, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Gaspar Noé, Giselle Palmer, Kendall Mugler, Kiddy Smile, Lakdhar Dridi, Lea Vlamos, Mamadou Bathily, Mounia Nassangar, Romain Guillermic, Sarah Belala, Sharleen Temple, Sofia Boutella, Souheila Yacoub, Strauss Serpent, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schøtt, Thea Carla Schott, Tiphanie Au, Vince Galliot Cumant

Director: Gaspar Noé

Rating: R

A thrilling French movie about a nuclear submarine division that is confronted with a world-ending scenario.

One sonar agent is at the center of the story, his exceptional hearing capabilities are the main resource of the submarine commanders he works for (one of whom is played by the masterful Reda Kateb).

Wolf’s Call tries very hard to be a Hollywood movie, but even if it serves as a reminder that countries like France don’t have to always make arthouse films to be noticed, the visual effects and the writing fall short of that big-budget feel.

Still, if you’re looking for a fun movie that’s full of surprises, solid acting, and a great heroism tale, you’ll love this.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller

Actor: Alexis Michalik, Antonin Baudry, Arthur Choisnet, Bastien Ughetto, Damien Bonnard, Etienne Guillou-Kervern, François Civil, Guillaume Clement, Guillaume Duhesme, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Léopold Bara, Marc Ruchmann, Mathieu Kassovitz, Nicolas Van Beveren, Omar Sy, Paul Granier, Paula Beer, Philippe Maymat, Pierre Cevaer, Reda Kateb, Sébastien Landry, Sebastien Libessart, Stefan Godin

Director: Abel Lanzac, Antonin Baudry

Rating: TV-14

A funny, feel-good French movie about a man who joins a synchronized swim team to get over his depression. Comprised only of other middle-aged men, they decide they want to compete for the world championship. Sounds like an unlikely story? It's actually based on a real-life documentary from Sweden called Men Who Swim. If you get French humor, this will make you laugh (a lot), and if not, you'll surely enjoy the easygoing tone of Sink or Swim.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alban Ivanov, Alexandre Courtes, Anderz Eide, Audrey Quoturi, Benoît Poelvoorde, Benoît Poelvoorde, Caroline Grant, Charlotte Levy, Christian Gazio, Claire Nadeau, Élodie Hesme, Erika Sainte, Félix Moati, Felix Moati, Fiorella Campanella, Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Cloud-Roussel, Ibrahim Koma, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Jonathan Zaccaï, Karim Adda, Leïla Bekhti, Leila Bekhti, Marina Foïs, Marina Fois, Mathieu Amalric, Mathieu Torloting, Maximilien Poullein, Mélanie Doutey, Michèle Clément, Noée Abita, Philippe Katerine, Pierre Pirol, Sam Chemoul, Stéphane Rouabah, Vincent Darmuzey, Virgile Bramly, Virginie Efira, Xavier Alcan

Director: Gilles Lellouche

Rating: N/A