9 timeless French movies

Whether you’re headed for a wine-tasting trip to Bordeaux, a surf weekend in Biarritz, a ski excursion to Annecy or a midnight run to the épicerie, you’re likely to encounter some French people along the way.

If not, something’s not right and you may still be in Wisconsin.

In any case, if you want to earn yourself some Gaulish groupies, you’re going to have to brush up on your French. Have a look at this sweet list of 9 French films we’ve especially created for you. Warning: films not actually created just for you. If you’re still feeling frisky, check out our additional post on 10 great movies to learn French.

1) Astérix et Obélix, mission Cléopâtre (2002)

Astérix et Obélix, mission Cléopâtre is adapted from the comic book Astérix and Cleopatra, part of the classic Franco-Belgian series Astérix, created in 1959 by René Goscinny (1926 – 1977) and Albert Uderzo (1927 – ).

The adventures of Astérix (and Obélix), two lovable if chauvinistic Gauls have been a worldwide success with more than 350 million comic albums sold around the world, including numerous film adaptations. Humor, parody and an emphasis on the contemporary stereotypes of French society, but especially non-French society, are all part of its long-lasting recipe for success.

2) Le père Noël est une ordure (1982)

How to learn French easily? With Le père Noël est une ordure of course.The movie was adapted from the burlesque play of the same name, directed by Jean-Marie Poiré (Les Visiteurs, Papy fait de la résistance…) in 1982. It tells the story of an odd Christmas eve in the offices of a distress hotline in Paris. Among the incidents reported are a thief dressed as Santa Claus, a neighbor stuck in the elevator, and a depressed transvestite, with each catastrophe more bizarre than the last.

Le Père Noël est une ordure has become a cult classic in France, and is broadcast every year during the Christmas season. However, when it was released in cinemas in 1982, it wasn’t successful. The posters advertising the film were even banned in the metro due to the provocative title.

In this clip, Mme Musquin (played by Josiane Balasko), spends Christmas eve stuck in a broken elevator. Added to the film despite not being in the theater production, the character of Mme Musquin is a central figure in the movie, and delivers the oft-repeated line “Je ne vous jette pas la pierre, Pierre !” (“I’m not throwing stones, Pierre”).

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3) Les Trois Frères (1995)

Les Trois Frères is a 1995 movie directed by Didier Bourdon and Bernard Campan. The movie stars the comic trio known as Les Inconnus (Bourdon, Campan and Pascal Legitimus) playing three brothers who learn of each other’s existence only after the death of their mother, from whom each believes he will inherit money.

In this scene, Pascal, who works in a hip Parisian ad agency, is visited by his brother Bernard, a homeless, failed actor. Bernard discovers the contemporary artwork which his brother has bought, including “an immobile by Kundelich” and “a Whiteman monochrome”.

4) L’Aile ou la Cuisse (1976)

Foodies, this one’s for you. L’Aile ou la Cuisse (literally “The wing or the thigh”) has been a French cult classic since 1976.

Louis de Funès (1914-1983) plays the lead in the film, a food critic and editor of a gastronomic guide book. In order to test restaurants anonymously, he disguises himself. The movie was shot immediately following de Funès’s double bypass surgery, necessitating the presence of a team of paramedics on set, as well as an ambulance at the ready.

Claude Zidi (1934- ) – French director and screenwriter, is responsible for a number of hit movies, notably Les Ripoux, Les Sous-doués and Les Bidasses en folie. L’Aile ou la cuisse was written during the 1970s at a time when restaurants were popping up alongside French highways. The film is a critique of fast food and the industrialization of the restaurant industry.

5) Le Dîner de cons (1998)

Le Dîner de cons is a wildly successful French film written and directed by French director Francis Veber (1937-) and released in 1998. Director, screenwriter and playwright, Veber made his name with his popular comedies Le Placard, La Doublure and Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire.

Le Dîner de cons was adapted for the screen from Veber’s own stage play. In it, Pierre Brochant (played by Thierry Lhermitte), is a famous French publisher, and organizes a dinner wherein everyone brings un con (an idiot, an imbecile) who is ridiculed throughout the evening without realizing it. With this movie, French won’t seem so hard to learn, we promise.

The absurd concept of the film won acclaim, as did its cast. Thierry Lhermitte (1952-), who is featured in this clip, and Jacques Villeret (1951-2005) play the main roles. Villeret won the César for Best male actor for his performance.

6) Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)

This well-known romcom was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1953-). Jeunet is known for the dreamlike universes in his films, which often include elements of fantasy and the absurd within everyday life. His other films include La Cité des enfants perdus, Delicatessen, Un long dimanche de fiançailles.

The career of actress and model Audrey Tautou (1976-) was launched internationally after starring in this film. She has also appeared in the films L’Auberge espagnole (Cédric Klapisch), Coco avant Chanel (Anne Fontaine) as well as The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard).

Jeunet’s style is characterized by fantastic aesthetics and the childlike wonder he imbues in his films. Beginning in his first full-length movie, Delicatessen (1991), Jeunet received praise and attention from critics. With Amélie Poulain, he achieved the greatest hit of his career, as well as one of the most-viewed French films in history.

The film is an original portrait of life in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre, and is one of the most successful French films internationally, receiving 4 César awards: best film, best director, best set design and best musical score (Yann Tiersen).

7) Les bronzés font du ski (1979)

Les bronzés font du ski is an immensely popular comedy released in French cinemas in 1979 and directed by Patrice Leconte. The actors starring in the film all come from the small café theatre circuit. In the 1970s, they founded the company Splendid which put on a number of theatrical and cinematic comedy performances. Some of the most well-known are Le Père Noël est une ordure (Santa Claus is a Stinker) and Papy fait de la Résistance (Grandpa is in the resistance).

The film was made in the Val-d’Isère ski resort, and was a follow-up to Les Bronzés, a smash hit made the previous year about a seaside holiday resort. In this sequel, the same gang enjoys a skiing holiday, with predictable results. The film is just as popular as it was 40 years ago.

8) Intouchables (2011)

The 2011 hit Intouchables was inspired by a true story and stars François Cluzet (1955-) and Omar Sy (1978-). Sy, a popular actor and comic, is of Senegalese and Mauritian descent and plays one of the leads in Intouchables, for which he earned the César for best actor in 2012. He was also elected as France’s personnalité préférée (favorite character / personality) in December of that year in an Internet poll, obviously an extremely prestigious honor.

This film tells the story of the relationship between a wealthy quadriplegic (Cluzet) and a caregiver (Sy) just released from prison. In this clip, Sy (Driss) employs a series of slang expressions: kiffer, a word of Arabic origin (to dig, to appreciate), C’est chanmé (an inversion of c’est méchant meaning “this is wicked” or “awesome”). Finally, “Putain, sa mère” is on the vulgar side. We’ll let you ask your French friends what it means. A moving, funny film, Intouchables is the highest-grossing French film worldwide in the past 10 years.

9) Le Pari (1997)

Ever thought about quitting smoking? This movie is just what you need. The 1997 French comedy Le Pari stars Didier Bourdon and Bernard Campan playing brothers-in-law who challenge themselves to quit smoking. The line “Le tabac, c’est tabou, on en viendra tous à bout” is an oft-repeated slogan from the film.

The pharmacist in the clip is played by Didier Bourdon, who wrote and produced the movie. Along with co-star Bernard Campan and a third friend, Pascal Légitimus, they formed the comic trio Les Inconnus, extremely popular in the ’80s and ’90s. Many of their sketches achieved cult status, including Les chasseurs and Le commissariat de police, as well as songs like Isabelle a les yeux bleus.

In the end, learning a language isn’t simply memorizing a list of words or a set of rules – language is also culture. If these films leave you wanting more, why not try a 10-day free trial of our online French course Frantastique? Short, fun and personalized lessons to have you learn French in no time! 

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7 thoughts on “9 timeless French movies

  1. Margareta Kock Åqvist

    I do not think I know gymlish or want to learn it. It is hard enough with french and I am not sure about the english language. How can you move Swedish and French together?
    We have a lot of french words in the swedish language but all swedes do not know that..

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