The 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time

This week will mark Bastille Day. What better time to honor a country that’s given the world of cinema so many incredible films? In terms of both quality and quantity, I’d stack the history of French film up against any on the world scene. To pay proper homage for Bastille Day, I’ve compiled the 50 greatest French films of all-time. A few notes before we get started:

  • I am not an authority on this. I’m just a Francophile with a DVD player, a Netflix subscription, and a love of movies.
  • As much as I try, I am not a completist. There are a lot of films I simply haven’t seen. I’ve done my best to make it as comprehensive as I could but there’s still a little ways to go before I can feel truly comfortable with this list. Three notable directors whose films I’ll need to tackle before doing this list again in 12 months: Jean Vigo, Claude Chabrol, and Agnes Varda. Please feel free to recommend others, as I am always on the lookout to improve this list. It’s a labor of love for me.
  • There is obviously a lot of personal preference involved. However, I’ve given a lot of weight to aspects like a film’s influence, importance, and creativity.
  • To qualify, the film has to be a French language film. There are non-French directors on this list but every movie is a French language film.

With that out of the way, I present to you  the 50 greatest French films of all-time:

50. Daybreak (1939)
Director: Marcel Carné
Jean Gabin and the Poetic Realist movement make their first appearances on the list, with Gabin playing the tortured soul holed up in his room, avoiding police and neighbors alike. Bonus points are earned for a creative plot structure that lets flashbacks drive the film, hardly the norm for 1939. 

49. L’Age d’Or (1930)
Director: Luis Buñuel
One of Buñuel’s earliest films rails hard against social institutions and relentlessly attacks the viewer with a barrage of surreal images.   

48. The Green Room (1978)
Director: François Truffaut
Although not Truffaut’s most influential film, it cuts deep by pairing an excellent pair of character foils finding their own way to deal with death. In some ways, it’s François Truffaut doing an Ingmar Bergman impersonation. 

47. Belle de Jour (1967) 
Director: Luis Buñuel
Belle de Jour
is one of Luis Buñuel’s most accessible films from late in his career and launched Catherine Deneuve into orbit as the official Most Beautiful Woman in the History of Mankind (source: me). Moreover, Buñuel’s joy at poking sexual conventions in the eye is palpable.   

46. Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)
Director: Luis Buñuel
Before Buñuel poked fun at sexual mores in Belle de Jour, he did the same in Diary of a Chambermaid. And in this case, he combined it with power and class structures. In short, it’s a comedy that only Buñuel could make. 

45. A Woman is a Woman (1961)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
A Woman is a Woman
is one of Godard’s most light-hearted films- a somewhat comical homage to the American musical drowning in the subtext of the French New Wave.  

44. Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
Director: Alain Resnais
Alain Resnais weaves the reality of nuclear fear together with a love story and fractured memory to create an impressive statement film. 

43. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
Director: Robert Bresson
Bresson’s film about a priest whose physical health reflects his own rotting faith had a tremendous influence just a few years later when Ingmar Bergman made Winter Light 

42. The Wages of Fear (1953)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Clouzot’s Hitchcockian thriller works on so many levels- as film noir, as tight suspense, and as a critique of greed and the fallibility of mankind.


41. Forbidden Games (1952)
Director: René Clément
While it’s been done several times since, not many people had made war films from the point of view of children in 1952. In doing so, Clément accented the ancillary damage to war and the fragility of childhood innocence. 

40. Jules and Jim (1962)
Director: François Truffaut
Jules et Jim stands tall as a gutsy film that pushed the boundaries of sexuality while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of accepted film practices. It was, and shall remain, a love triangle for the ages.  

39. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Director: Michael Haneke
Haneke takes mother issues and sexual frustration to a completely different level in his acclaimed and controversial film. Moreover, Isabelle Huppert is tremendous in teleporting us into her horribly uncomfortable, suffocated world.   

38. Army of Shadows (1969)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
The film opens with a haunting shot of a seemingly endless stream of Nazis goose-stepping through the Arc de Triomphe, quietly and ominously establishing the tone for Melville’s gritty and realistic take on the French Resistance.

37. Vampyr (1932)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Dreyer’s mostly silent vampire film, Vampyr, was unconventional. It worked with a deft touch in a fantastical world, presenting one eerie surreal image after another. Despite the lack of conventional vampire fare, Vampyr has left fingerprints on numerous vampire films since and also attains notability through its segue between the world of silent and sound cinema.


36. Le Samouraï (1967)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Melville fuses together film noir with eastern philosophy, and Alain Delon brings it home perfectly as the film’s anti-hero protagonist. The film earns bonus points for later influencing both Leon: The Professional, and then Hot Fuzz by proxy. 

35. Danton (1983)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
 carries surprising historical importance, functioning as an allegory for the Polish solidarity movement. And it bears profound personal significance for Wajda, coming on the heels of the closing of his studio because of governmental fear of his political beliefs. Last but not least, Gérard Depardieu is fantastic bringing a French national hero to life.  

34. Rififi (1955)
Director: Jules Dassin
Jules Dassin’s film noir thriller is one of the best film noir you’ll find from France, possessing a great deal of realism. Few scenes can match the amazing tension built into the heist scene, which is impossibly long, a clip for the ages. 

33. M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Director: Jacques Tati
The unflappable Monsieur Hulot is iconic and hilarious as a wonderful homage to classic silent American comedians. The character is as lovable as you’ll find in movies and eschews deeper, more philosophical humor for classic slapstick.


32. The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Double Life of Veronique
 is both profound and dream-like, with Irene Jacob taking control of two distinct roles with a similar thread. Not many films from the last 25 years or so will stick with you quite like Kieslowski’s abstract masterpiece. The use of color is phenomenal and the early opera sequence is as memorable as they come. 

31. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
The modern political thriller owes so much to The Battle of Algiers. Pontecorvo’s film is presented with objectivity and merciless realism, giving it a weight that films have rarely possessed either before or since. Moreover, it gave filmgoers one of the very first glances at terrorism.  

30. Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954)
Director: Jacques Becker
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi
 spares no quarter when it comes to violence. And it all works so tremendously well because it latches on to the character of Max le Menteur (Jean Gabin) and his conflict as an aging gangster. It also works by taking the traditional American gangster film and giving it a very distinct French flair. 

29. Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
Director: Louis Malle
Where Elevator to the Gallows makes hay above other French noir films is in the gobs and gobs of “cool” that it possesses, employing a Miles Davis soundtrack and some impressive cinematography that makes it all the more human- one of the most endearing traits of Louis Malle. 

28. Children of Paradise (1945)
Director: Marcel Carné
Children of Paradise
is an exercise in sexual frustration put to film (using clowns!), and it’s had an enduring charm amongst the French, consistently ranking high on French “Best of” lists. Filmed during the Nazi occupation, it’s ripe with allegory wrapped in an early 19th century period piece.

27. Breathless (1960)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Godard’s Breathless is perhaps the most recognizable French New Wave film, and it bears all the marks. It’s also a brilliant film noir placed under the lens of post-modernism. At the end of the day, Breathless helped change the world of movies forever. 

26. The Orphic Trilogy (1930/1950/1959)
Director: Jean Cocteau
Cocteau’s take on the Greek myth of Orpheus is as visually rich as they come. Rather than wax further poetic about this, I present a trailer from the first film in the trilogy, The Blood of a Poet:

25. Mon Oncle (1958)
Director: Jacques Tati
Tati takes his icon, M. Hulot, down the well-worn path of juxtaposing mostly silent comedians with modernity. What ensues is one laugh after another. Mon Oncle also succeeds through light-heartedness and a touching story. Did I mention the humor?

24. Murmur of the Heart (1971)
Director: Louis Malle
Only Louis Malle could make viewers feel sympathetic for an incestuous mother and son. He’s able to do so because of his panache for capturing his characters’ humanity and frailty. In this case, Malle’s introspective camera is fixed upon a pubescent child’s tumultuous trek through the horrifying years of puberty.   

23. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Director: Marcel Ophüls
You won’t find a more thorough look at the Nazi occupation of France than Max Ophüls’ The Sorrow and the Pity. Ophüls siphons raw honesty from his interviewees, which include everyone from Resistance fighters, Nazi soldiers occupying the country, Vichy sympathists, simple townsfolk… Anyone and everyone who played a part in the real-life drama is represented by someone interviewed in the film. 

22. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Director: Louis Malle
Au Revoir Les Enfants
 rips the band-aid off of the Nazi occupation and the Vichy years of France, presenting a wonderful story of childhood constantly jarred loose by the specter of the Nazi presence. The children, of course, are the real story, as is their rather adult nature. It’s a semi-autobiographical work for Malle. 

21. La roue (1923)
Director: Abel Gance
Abel Gance’s sweeping silent epic served as a stylistically important film that resonated around the globe, with several prominent early filmmakers citing it as an influence. That list includes G.W. Pabst (who saw it as a deep exploration of human psychology); Sergei Eisenstein, who adopted the brilliant use of montage; Jean Cocteau, who compared Gance’s film to Picasso; and Akira Kurosawa.  

20. La Grande Bouffe (1973)
Director: Marco Ferreri
No less than Luis Buñuel called this film “a hedonistic monument”, and I don’t think you could describe it any better than that. The defining features are hedonism and the satire of the excess of consumer culture. It’s a completely grotesque but also hilarious assault on the human body- on the mouth, on the genitals, on the internal organs (specifically the digestion system and intestines).


19. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Director: Luis Buñuel
The beauty of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is that whatever symbolism the viewer thinks they see… is not there. It’s an elaborate surrealist intellectual prank played by Buñuel, whose only real goal was to take a snide shot across the bow of middle class conventions.

18. Week End (1967)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
No other Godard film has stuck with me quite like Week End, whether it’s the incredible 7 1/2 minute traffic jam; the oddly lurid use of eggs; the pregnant pause in the middle to discuss French politics- directly into the camera; or any other number of things.  

17. Le Corbeau (1943)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Any time you have a film that’s been banned in two countries (France and Germany), you know it’s struck a cord. What kills me about the film is that the most fervent opponents of the movie came from the Resistance, and yet the film lays Vichy France to waste. Obviously, Clouzot’s intentions were thrown into question because his film was produced by Nazi propagandists but the anti-Nazi, anti-occupation, anti-Vichy message of the film could not be more clear. It’s the peak of gutsy filmmaking. 

16. Port of Shadows (1938)
Director: Marcel Carné
Carné’s film is a pitch-perfect combination of fatalism and poetic realism, with Jean Gabin yet again called upon to represent the damned. Equally as impressive, Port of Shadows’ visuals fit neatly into the puzzle linking German expressionism and classic film noir, what with its endlessly rain-soaked foggy streets and long shadows.  

15. Contempt (1963)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Godard’s film about making a film expertly uses color to signify tonal shifts, and gave the director his soapbox to needle the trials and tribulations of the filmmaking process. Fritz Lang as the faux film’s director and Jack Palance as the arrogant abrasive American were particularly inspired casting choices. It’s most likely his most accessible film, and there’s a reason for that- it’s also his best. 

14. Mouchette (1967)
Director: Robert Bresson
If you’d like to know what Robert Bresson’s films are all about, Mouchette is the perfect place to start. The tools of Bresson’s trade are all on display- the non-professional actors taking up important roles; the off-camera sound used to pique the viewer’s interest; religious overtones of martyrdom with a healthy dose of Catholic dogma; etc… It gives a voice to depressed teen and pre-teen girls everywhere in a way that hasn’t been accomplished before or since.  

13. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Director: Agnès Varda
There is so much to love about Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. This includes the brilliant color opening scene (in a black and white movie) where a fortune teller gives viewers the entire plot of the film; the insertion of a silent comedy short directly in the middle; the fact that Jean-Luc Godard stars in said silent comedy short in an homage to Harold Lloyd; the odd, out of left field ending; the subtle nuance of New Wave technique; the stunningly beautiful Corrine Marchand as the title character; and on and on.

12. Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Director: Alain Resnais
Very few films are as divisive amongst viewers as Last Year at Marienbad. Personally, I can’t think of many movies that gripped me in the same way, particularly considering that the dialogue is mostly looped/repeated and none of the characters have names. Resnais demolishes the notion of traditional film narrative and adds flair with a flock of visual oddities. It is dreamlike and compelling, most likely beyond comprehension for viewers, and yet impossible to resist. 

11. Day for Night (1973)
Director: François Truffaut
François Truffaut loved people. And he loved to tell their stories on film. Probably above all else, he loved filmmaking. He put all of this to good use in Day for Night, his somewhat whimsical, fun, fascinating look at what precisely goes into producing a movie while staying true to the ensemble cast of characters. This wonderful montage scene sums it up beautifully:

10. The Fire Within (1963)
Director: Louis Malle
I can’t think of many- any?- films that are as deeply personal as Louis Malle’s The Fire Within, wherein Malle casts Maurice Ronet as his on-screen mirror. He even went as far as to dress Ronet in Malle’s clothing. You’ll also never find a film that deals with suicidal ideation and depression in as brutally honest a fashion as The Fire Within. The filmmaking, and the acting, and the score, and the cinematography is as top-notch as the story is compelling. 

9. Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Director: François Truffaut
Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player is both an effective homage to the American noir as well as a parody of it. The deft touch with which Truffaut breaks film convention is amazing here, alternating between deep focus photography and shallow shots, organic/documentary-style at times and dreamlike in others. He always stays true to his revolutionary roots, and it’s the French New Wave icon of subtlety. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece. 

8. The Grand Illusion (1937)
Director: Jean Renoir

Few films weave cinematic importance and social importance quite like Renoir’s The Grand Illusion. Coming on the cusp of World War II, Renoir used his best film to illustrate that European differences didn’t have to lead to war. The chasm between conflicting groups was not so wide. Cinematically, Renoir used deep focus photography even before Orson Welles popularized it, thereby serving as a ground-breaker on the silver screen. And it helped establish a template for scads of future prisoner-of-war films. 

7. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Director: Luis Buñuel
How influential was Un Chien Andalou? The Buñuel/Dali collaboration showed future filmmakers just how much capability they had to create a dream world for their viewers. It showed future filmmakers that strict plot structure was not at all imperative. It showed future filmmakers that they could take a weighty philosophical subtext and embed it in their films. It showed future filmmakers the great effect with which they could use their special effects. In short, it’s a landmark of filmmaking.


6. Pépé le Moko (1937)
Director: Julien Duvivier
Pépé le Moko
is the essential poetic realist film. All of the characters are at their very best with Jean Gabin leading the way. It’s stylish and a huge forerunner in the noir genre. Perhaps most importantly, the film laid a clear influence on small, somewhat unknown American film. You may have heard of it. It’s called Casablanca.

5. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
The Passion of Joan of Arc
 is a tremendous eye-opener, showing novices precisely what’s capable with silent cinema. Maria Falconetti is transcendent in the title role. On the whole, Dreyer’s masterpiece is a hallmark of expressionism, bringing the national hero’s martyred existence to life in a beautiful, jaw-dropping way.  

4. The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
Director: Luis Buñuel
What goes around comes around. Just as Buñuel started his career with drastic, fascinating improvisation, so did he end his career. The Phantom of Liberty was one of the auteur’s very last films and he demolished any sort of notion that he’d be going quietly into the night. He fuses the film with a surrealist fervor that matched his reputation, all while trotting out his trademarks. What’s most amazing about this movie is that he accomplished something brilliant and enduring, and did so without any sort of linear plot. 

3. The 400 Blows (1959)
Director: François Truffaut
Truffaut’s first major film also plays the role of his most influential, setting off the French New Wave revolution. It is one of the first movies that foreign film novices and film students alike turn to when seeking more knowledge. Like other films on this list, The 400 Blows was extremely personal for Truffaut. It was experimental. And it endures. 

2. Night and Fog (1955)
Director: Alain Resnais
When people use the word “important” as an adjective for movies, this is the perfect example of the kind of film they’re referencing. Just ten years after World War II had ended, the world was gingerly healing itself. Resnais, however, would not let people forget the atrocities of the Holocaust. Night and Fog uses actual Holocaust footage illustrating just how horrifying unfettered aggression can be. It’s only thirty minutes long but it’s thirty minutes of your life that you’ll never forget.   

1. Napoléon (1927)
Director: Abel Gance
possesses anything and everything you could possibly want from a great film. Experimentation? There’s triptych cinematography; handheld/shaky cam; cameras swooping down from the ceiling onto the French Revolution to accentuate the pandemonium; wide shots; split screens; color tinting; and overlapping imagery, just to name a few experimental techniques. Influence? Name one of those techniques that I just listed that hasn’t been duplicated hundreds of times since 1927. Entertainment? The film’s length might seem daunting but it’s fascinating to the core. And as such, I hereby give Abel Gance’s epic the title of “Greatest French Film of All-Time”.

There are several other films that came close but just missed the list. Later this week, I’ll show you numbers 51 through 75.  


Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Louis Malle, Movies, Silent Movies

60 responses to “The 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time

  1. Phil

    I’m impressed. I’ve seen and enjoyed about 1/2 of that list. I always feel like I have trouble with French films, especially Goddard. I’ll have to add a few of those to my ever-growing queue.

    • Thank you! Coming from you, that means a lot because I know you’ve got pretty impressive film tastes.

      For what it’s worth RE: Godard, I genuinely admire Godard a lot more than I enjoy his films. I’ve seen 10 or so and I feel like with each subsequent one, I’m re-hashing the same movie over and over again.

      • Phil

        Wow, Napoleon is still unavailable on DVD… I figured everything had been released by now. Where did you see it?

        • A friend of mine had an ancient copy on VHS. When he handed it to me, it felt like I was making a drug deal.

          It looks like Facets has it for rental, although it’s on VHS too.

  2. I’m a Bunuel fan, but I haven’t seen L’Age d’Or. This is an awesome list. I’ve seen many of the movies, but I noticed a couple of interesting ones that I need to check out. Thank god for Netflix 🙂

    • And a big big big thank you to the Criterion Collection. So many of these films are Criterion selections. (sorry, I can’t resist singing Criterion’s praises)

  3. Wow. This list is brilliant. I’ve bookmarked it and I’m using it as a checklist, and I’m hoping to get them all ticked off by the end of the year. To clarify, as of now I’ve seen 49, 43, 40, 39, 38, 32, 31, 27, 22, 18, 15, 14, 13, 9, 7, 3 and 1. Still 33 to go. But it’s gonna be fun. I’m off to watch Night and Fog right now, so I can check that off, and I’m watching Murmur of the Heart on Wednesday night. Thanks so much for this list. Incidentally, I have the Region 4 DVD of Napoleon, so that makes me feel like I at least own something slightly rare. Francois Truffaut channelling Bergman has got me interested, so The Green Room is on my queue. Fortunately, most of these aren’t too hard to find. I’ll have to show my girlfriend Ashley this list. She’s big into New Wave and her favourite movie of all time is The Double Life of Veronique. Speaking of which, this list needs more Kieslowski. You must watch his Three Colours trilogy (emphasis on ‘must’), seriously, your jaw will hit the floor by the time you finish the third film. If I was doing this list, Three Colours: Red and especially Dekalog would be very high up (amongst the more modern French films). I’ve been meaning to buy more Criterion DVDs (is The Fire Within on Criterion?) so this’ll be a good excuse, too. Thanks again for the list. I look forward to lists like these more than anything else, though everything you post is gold. Sorry, I’m rambling. I’ll stop now.

    • Ha… thanks! I had a hunch you might enjoy it. The bulk of them are Criterion selections (including The Fire Within), which helps a ton.

      I’ve definitely got the Three Colors trilogy on my road map for the coming year (which is publishing tomorrow), along with a lot more Varda, Chabrol, and Vigo. RE: Dekalog, that’s actually Polish.

      Up next: The 50 Best Guamanian Films of All-Time (ok, actually I’m working on a comedy list).

  4. Pingback: What’s Everyone Watching? 7/11/2011 « Southern Vision: A Blog About Movies

  5. Wowsers John, A Great list!!

    I am afraid and very embarrassed to say I have seen a grand total of ZERO on it!! HAHAHA What an idiot and philistine I have proven myself to be. I am off to shut down my blog…..

    Thanks for sharing John


  6. Ashley

    Oh, wow, what a neat idea! As Tyler mentioned above, my favourite movie is La Double Vie De Veronique, so it’s great to see this one up here. French New Wave is my fav genre so I can pretty much check off all the Godard and Truffaut (well, most of it, not as much Truffaut as I’d like). Well done!

    • Thank you!

      Truffaut was the biggest “mover” on this year’s list. I hadn’t seen too much of his work at this time last year. Then, I saw a lot, and this year’s list is flooded with his movies (#’s 51-75 include a few more).

  7. Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to add these to my list of films to see…I’ve only seen “Un Chien Andalou.”

  8. Geez… it’s lists like this that make me realize how little I’ve seen. I love French films. They have such a knack for naturalistic storytelling. There are some big holes in your list though… The Three Colors trilogy has already been mentioned (truly breathtaking films!). Also, there are quite a few films by Patrice Leconte and Bertrand Tavernier that are good enough for this list. Also, La Haine is a must watch. In retrospect, La Haine may be a bit heavy handed, but it is one of the few modern French films that shows the other side of French society, i.e. the very much maligned immigrant population. Plus, it introduced us to the very talented Vincent Cassel and Matthieu Kassovitz.

    • I had La Haine on last year’s list, and it got bumped… but it still comes in on the 51-75. You’ll have to wait for tomorrow to find out where (suspense!).

      Great tips on Leconte and Tavernier. I think I may have added some Leconte to my Netflix queue recently.

      I can’t say enough good things about French cinema. They throw all caution to the wind and will do anything and everything if they think it’ll make their movie great, or different, or unique. That’s been a common thread going all the way back to Gance; to Vigo and Renoir; to the French New Wave; and even today with Gaspar Noé and some of their brutally shocking horror films.

      • I’ve seen quite a few Leconte films and was sooo impressed. Monsieur Hire, Girls on the Bridge, The Hairdresser’s Husband, Man on the Train. All brilliant and visually stunning. I think I’ve only see Round Midnight by Tavernier. Great film. Coup de Torchon is supposed to be excellent too.

  9. I’m planning to do a French New Wave Week on my blog in the fall, so I may use this list as a reference guide.

    • Excellent! I can’t wait to see that. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

      Eric Rohmer is another New Waver who didn’t get any play on this list. He’s one I plan on tackling more of in the coming year.

  10. Very, very impressive list John. To be honest, I haven’t seen the very vast majority of these films… and I lived in France for many years! You are a fanatic of French filmmaking sir 😉

    • Ah, but the benefit you have is that you’ve probably seen a lot of the more recent films. One of the major gaps in this list is that I haven’t seen much that’s come out of France in the last 35 years or so. I’ve seen some of the alleged high points (Calvaire; La Moustache; La Haine; Amelie; A Christmas Tale; etc…) but there’s so much more out there and I haven’t the foggiest idea what might belong from that era.

      • One movie that I really enjoyed years ago was a comedy called Les Visiteurs which pits two dim-witted men from the middle ages who somehow time travel to present day France. I don’t know how much it holds up now that I’m older but I thought it was pretty hilarious at the time.

  11. rtm

    Wow, you are truly a French cinephile, John! I’m afraid the only one I’ve seen is Le Samouraï, but when I’m in the mood for a French movie, I definitely know where to go 😀 Hey there’s one movie that has the same title as your last name, so I take it part of your heritage is French?

    • You know where’d be a great place to start? With your love of period dramas, “The Story of Adele H.” might not be a bad one. And then there’s the Monsieur Hulot films, which are so light-hearted. If I were guessing, I’d expect you to like one of those.

      And that’s correct, Ruth- I’ve got a lot of different nationalities in my family, but French and German are the two that are best represented. A lot of my family came from Alsace-Lorraine. When I found out that there was a movie with the same name as mine, I started joking that it was “the best movie ever made”… even though I’d never seen it.

  12. Vladdy

    I enjoyed your list, but one correction: you credit Shoot the Piano Player to Malle. (Not in your heading, but in the text.)

    I’ll be surprised if your Chabrol watching makes much of a dent in next year’s list. He doesn’t do a lot for me, although Stephane Audran is great in his movies. And some of the best ones are not available.

    As a lover of Godard, may I recommend trying to watch his films (or the best ones) in the order he made them? Then you start to see why you feel you’re watching the same film over and over, but you also see the development in them, and they are much more interesting. (My favorite, after Contempt, is Band of Outsiders.)

    A couple of random recommendations: Purple Noon, Camille Claudel, Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Betty Blue, Peril, any Max Ophuls…

    • Oh man, thanks for the catch on that. I can’t believe I did that. I 100% know that it’s a Truffaut film, so now I’m completely embarrassed by the gaffe.

      I’ve seen a few of Chabrol’s films and been very “meh” about them. But it’s only two that I’ve seen, and they aren’t necessarily considered his “best”, per se.

      I’ve got a few Max Ophuls that’ll appear on the 51-75 (I think), and I know that Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources is in the 51-75. Umbrellas of Cherbourg is part of my homework for next year. Great tips on Camille Claudel, Betty Blue, and Peril.

  13. martini

    46 out of 50 for me.. i need to get my hands on “napoleon”

    • In some odd way, I’m a little surprised that I’ve seen some that you haven’t.

      • martini

        the green room – danton – the sorrow and the pity – and napoleon are the one’s i need to do. but i gotcha in newer french stuff. you still need to do “mesrine” and a few more that i can’t think of right now

  14. Just watched Night and Fog. Holy fucking shit, I’m depressed.

  15. acadianeire

    While I agree with many of your choices, I must jump in and say that Carl Theodor Dreyer is a Dane, not a Frenchman.

    “Vampyr” is a brilliant film, however.


  16. Godard’s “The Weekend” had an incredible effect on me. I talk about those scenes (the traffic jam tracking shot) and the political diatribe, all the time.

  17. Sorry, just thinking out loud here: the only ones that aren’t immediately available for me here in NZ (meaning I will have to really go out of my way to see them, which I’m happy to do): Daybreak, The Green Room, The Wages of Fear, Vampyr, Le Samourai, Danton, The Blood of a Poet, La Roue, Port of Shadows, Day for Night, The Fire Within and The Phantom of Liberty. Every single other film on the list will be seen within two months, hopefully. Phew. This is gonna be harder than I thought.

  18. Oskar

    I must admit I am not as knowledgeable of french cinema as you are, but I still wonder why You left out The RUles of the Game?

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  20. Rebecca

    Thanks for this great list! I will look for these on Netflix. Some additional, more recent films that are also wonderful:

    “Moliere” (2007)

    “Lady Chatterley” (2006)

    The “Jean de Florette/Manon of the Spring” 1980s films (based on Marcel Pagnol’s novels)

    The “My Father’s Glory/My Mother’s Castle” films from c. 1990 (based on the childhood memoirs of Marcel Pagnol)

  21. Pingback: The All-Time Favourites #8: Napoleon (1927) « Southern Vision

  22. Great stuff here! For a minimalist approach concentrating on French cinema, check out Ledauphin’s Top 10 Best French Movies of All Time:

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  24. sam

    great list but you’re missing quite a few: The Dinner Game, Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, The Girl on The bridge and many more

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  26. Very solid list. My personal favourites (off the top of my head right now) are: The Rules of the Game (Renoir), Breathless (JLG), M. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati), 400 Blows (Truffaut), Rififi (Dassin), Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau), Pickpocket (Bresson), The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer), Grand Illusion (Renoir again), Wages of Fear (Clouzot), Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut again), Week-end (Godard again) & Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson again).

    • Just the list of directors you mention there- they’re all great, and they all represent their own unique slice of French film history. Those are some huge names.

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  28. Yoann

    Très intéressant. “Jean de Florette” et “Manon des Sources” ont certainement leur place. Il y a aussi Bertrand Blier et Jacques Audiard, très talentueux. “Les Yeux sans visage” de Georges Franju ou “Le grand pardon” d’Alexandre Arcady pourraient également apparaître. Et bien d’autres encore… Chez Truffaut, avec le temps, je considère “L’enfant Sauvage” et “Le Dernier Métro” comme de très grands films, même si ce ne sont pas les plus connus.

    Excuse me, but my english is quite bad. I hope you can understand what i just wrote.

    • I am flattered that you wrote it in French! I will reply in English, and then find an English to French translation website, and post in French. My French is not very good but a translation site can help me..

      I have seen and enjoyed L’Enfant Sauvage and Le Dernier Métro, as well as Eyes Without a Face. If my list went to 100, all three would be included.

      Je suis flatté de voir que c’est ce que vous avez écrit en français! Je vais répondre en anglais, et ensuite de trouver une traduction de l’anglais vers le français, site web et post en français. Mon français n’est pas très bon.

      J’ai vu et aimé L’enfant Sauvage et Le Dernier Métro, ainsi que les yeux sans visage. Si ma liste est passé à 100, tous les trois seraient inclus.

  29. Desalpages

    Presque tous les films que vous citez sont classés “Art & essai” en France, c’est à dire qu’ils sont pour un public restreint et ne reflètent pas l’opinion générale française. Il existe de nombreux films plus abordables et moins ennuyeux, voici quelques titres : – Que la fête commence – Beaumarchais – Buffet froid – Borsalino – Le père noël est une ordure – Twist again à Moscou – Un drôle de paroissien – Elle fume pas, elle boit pas, elle drague pas, mais elle cause – Bunker palace hôtel – Immortel – Tatie Danielle. Il y en a d’autres. Si un spectateur n’a jamais vu de film français et qu’il commence à voir ceux que vous proposez (surtout en VFST), il ne va pas supporter; Je suis conscient que presque tous les films que j’ai cité sont particulièrement difficiles à traduire en anglais, et de ce fait perdent une grande partie de leur saveur, mais au moins ils distraient, ce que le cinéma doit toujours être.

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  32. Karen T

    Jean Renoir directed Diary of a Chambermaid in 1945

  33. Brad

    L’Atalante? Have you not seen it?

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