Paste's 100 Best French Films of All Time

Paste's 100 Best French Films of All Time's icon

Created by Panunzio.

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French language cinema covers vast swathes of history, geography and genre. The best French movies aren’t simply the product of a French person working strictly with a French team, they represent film as entelechy—a century of directors rooting around within the source code of this particular form of storytelling, pushing it into realms equally transcendent and horrifying. For its own sake. Because it is right to do so.

If there is anything unifying the films in the following list—besides the French language—it might be that there exists a current of fundamental innovation throughout the many years surveyed. Auteurist visions care of Belgium, Greece, Poland, Denmark, Taiwan, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Senegal course through and inform the prelapsarian innards of French cinema, transforming the country into a hub for international film. This is foundational stuff.

With the following we’re trying to provide a primer on French language film from an English-speaking perspective, exploring the schools of thought and exotic taxonomies that have defined what French filmmaking has been since George Méliès first set a moon cackling like a creep in 1902, and what it can be, skin-flaying, cannibalistic Grand Guignol nightmares and all. The Nouvelle Vague—both those of the Left Bank (Agnès Varda, her husband Jacques Demy, Alain Resnais and Chris Marker) and the Cahiers du cinéma crew (Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol)—the erotic French thriller, the mind-bending (and bowel-emptying) horror of the New French Extremity, the colorful musical, the social farce, the sprawling crime film, the experimental vérité, the personal and unflinching documentaries: Even as so many films on this list have irrevocably altered our ideas of what filmmaking can mean, what it can do, so do they exist on the fringes, at the limits, willing to test the boundaries of taste, logic and (in the case of Chantal Akerman) time in order to question and then pull apart the systems and expectations that stagnate art and oppress artists.

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  1. 1 new

    La passion de Jeanne d'Arc

    1928 — a.k.a. The Passion of Joan of Arc, in 27 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Les parapluies de Cherbourg

    1964 — a.k.a. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in 16 top lists Check
  3. 3 new

    Jules et Jim

    1962 — a.k.a. Jules and Jim, in 20 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    La jetée

    1962 — a.k.a. La Jetée, in 18 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Shoah

    1985, in 17 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    Au revoir les enfants

    1987 — a.k.a. Au Revoir les Enfants, in 13 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    Cléo de 5 à 7

    1962 — a.k.a. Cleo from 5 to 7, in 12 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    Le salaire de la peur

    1953 — a.k.a. The Wages of Fear, in 24 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    Les yeux sans visage

    1960 — a.k.a. Eyes Without a Face, in 13 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Nuit et brouillard

    1956 — a.k.a. Night and Fog, in 16 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    La règle du jeu

    1939 — a.k.a. The Rules of the Game, in 24 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    Z

    1969, in 17 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Au hasard Balthazar

    1966 — a.k.a. Au Hasard Balthazar, in 16 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Les glaneurs et la glaneuse

    2000 — a.k.a. The Gleaners & I, in 11 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Hiroshima mon amour

    1959 — a.k.a. Hiroshima, My Love, in 16 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    Playtime

    1967, in 19 top lists Check
  17. 17 new

    La nuit américaine

    1973 — a.k.a. Day for Night, in 17 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    Le mépris

    1963 — a.k.a. Contempt, in 16 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080...

    1975 — a.k.a. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, in 9 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    Sans soleil

    1983 — a.k.a. Sans Soleil, in 15 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Trois couleurs: Bleu

    1993 — a.k.a. Three Colors: Blue, in 16 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    Le cercle rouge

    1970 — a.k.a. Le Cercle Rouge, in 9 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    Les diaboliques

    1955 — a.k.a. Diabolique, in 19 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    Lola Montès

    1955, in 12 top lists Check
  25. 25 new

    Histoire(s) du cinéma

    1989, in 8 top lists
    Check
  26. 26 new

    Caché

    2005 — a.k.a. Hidden, in 13 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    Les quatre cents coups

    1959 — a.k.a. The 400 Blows, in 25 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    Le genou de Claire

    1970 — a.k.a. Claire's Knee, in 7 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    Jean de Florette

    1986, in 8 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    L'armée des ombres

    1969 — a.k.a. Army of Shadows, in 17 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    Orphée

    1950 — a.k.a. Orpheus, in 16 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    Out 1, noli me tangere

    1971 — a.k.a. Out 1, in 4 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Trois couleurs: Blanc

    1994 — a.k.a. Three Colors: White, in 11 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    La planète sauvage

    1973 — a.k.a. Fantastic Planet, in 9 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux

    1962 — a.k.a. My Life to Live, in 12 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Belle de jour

    1967 — a.k.a. Belle de Jour, in 20 top lists Check
  37. 37 new

    La noire de...

    1966 — a.k.a. Black Girl, in 7 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    Évolution

    2015 — a.k.a. Evolution, in 1 top list Check
  39. 39 new

    Trouble Every Day

    2001, in 2 top lists Check
  40. 40 new

    La double vie de Véronique

    1991 — a.k.a. The Double Life of Véronique, in 12 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    C'est arrivé près de chez vous

    1992 — a.k.a. Man Bites Dog, in 8 top lists Check
  42. 42 new

    Beau travail

    1999, in 12 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot

    1953 — a.k.a. Mr. Hulot's Holiday, in 21 top lists Check
  44. 44 new

    À bout de souffle

    1960 — a.k.a. Breathless, in 27 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    La belle et la bête

    1946 — a.k.a. Beauty and the Beast, in 24 top lists Check
  46. 46 new

    Bande à part

    1964 — a.k.a. Band of Outsiders, in 12 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    La ronde

    1950 — a.k.a. La Ronde, in 8 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Holy Motors

    2012, in 6 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    Du rififi chez les hommes

    1955 — a.k.a. Rififi, in 17 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    La haine

    1995 — a.k.a. La Haine, in 14 top lists Check
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Last updated on Jan 26, 2019 by Panunzio; source