The 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time

It’s time yet again for my favorite feature at TDYLF- my annual list of the 50 greatest French films of all-time. One aspect I’m starting to really enjoy about this list is how organic it is. Each year, movies rise and fall thanks to re-watches, exposure to new films, and new insights. Keeping and maintaining this list throughout the year also serves an important function for me. It motivates me to continue learning, and grow as a French film enthusiast. A few notes before we get started:

  • I am not an authority on this. I’m just a Francophile with a Blu-ray player, Netflix and Facets subscriptions, 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 always room to see more. There are still some relatively glaring omissions. 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 objective aspects like a film’s influence, importance, creativity, and how much they embody the spirit of French cinema and history.
  • 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. 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.

49. 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 (1994), and then Hot Fuzz (2007) by proxy. 

48. 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.

47. Band of Outsiders (1964)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard places the first new film on the list this year with his homage to the American thriller. His immensely original film is loaded with memorable scenes, and features all of Godard’s hallmarks.

46. 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. 

45. Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources (1986)
Director: Claude Berri
Claude Berri’s titans of 1980s French cinema offer a profound statement about xenophobia and mistrust, wrapped in Greek tragedy and vengeance. The cinematography is beautiful, if not groundbreaking, and the pair of films offer a unique view of la vie en Provence.

44. 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.

43. 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. 

42. 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.

41. L’Atalante (1934)
Director: Jean Vigo
Jean Vigo makes his first- but certainly not his last- appearance on the annual list with L’Atalante, one of the keystone films of the Poetic Realist movement. Vigo poured so much of himself into the movie that he died shortly after it screened. The hallucinogenic underwater scene ranks as one of cinema’s most unforgettable, and Vigo combined a penchant for experimentation with straight storytelling to create something magical.

40. 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. 

39. 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.

38. The Italian Straw Hat (1927)
Director René Clair
French film is known for many things. Silent comedy isn’t one of them. And yet, here’s The Italian Straw Hat, René Clair’s spectacular satire of bourgeois conventions that purposely channels early silent film technology and masters the visual gag. It’s skillful comedy at its best.

37. 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.

36. The Red Balloon (1956)
Director: Albert Lamorisse
There are films floating around in the world, much like the balloons that populate The Red Balloon, that are infinitely lovable. Lamorisse created a masterpiece of economy, placing humanity in its purest form on display with little more than a young child, the world around him, and some balloons.

35. 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. 

34. J’Accuse (1919)
Director: Abel Gance
Abel Gance was never one to step down from a challenge, and that trait is on full display in J’Accuse, an epic silent anti-war film. Gance actually filmed several sequences on actual World War I battlefields towards the end of the war, attaining the most realistic war footage imaginable, particularly in that era. And like all Gance films, it’s punctuated with bold effects wizardry. What results is a film that’s as powerful as you’ll find in an anti-war movie.

33. L’Enfance Nue (1968)
Director: Maurice Pialat
Maurice Pialat’s first feature-length non-documentary film certainly possessed the spirit of a documentarian’s soul. Focusing on a troubled youth bouncing through various foster homes, it’s made all the more raw and human by a documentarian’s touch. Moreover, Pialat’s film earned the admiration of both the French New Wave and the old guard, as both Claude Berri and François Truffaut served as producers on the film.

32. 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.

31. The Rules of the Game (1939)
Director: Jean Renoir
Renoir’s film is universally championed as one of the kings of French cinema, thanks to the brilliant combination of high drama, humor, and a cinematographic wizardry that would help define a legendary career.

30. 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:

29. 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?

28. 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. 

Candy (drugs) lead Celine and Julie down the rabbit hole.

27. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
Director: Jacques Rivette
Celine and Julie Go Boating is that rare film that surrealistically violates so many storytelling conventions and yet possesses perfect story symmetry. It also possesses one of the best examples of breaking the fourth wall throughout. Rivette’s film is cheeky, humorous, intellectually sly fun, sort of an echo of the Czech New Wave Daisies (1966)- Rivette has even claimed that Daisies was an influence- and a fitting final curtain call for the French New Wave.

26. Z (1969)
Director: Costa Gavras
Costa Gavras digs deep into political satire with a thinly-veiled re-telling of the events surrounding the assassination of Greek political icon Grigoris Lambrakis. Like so many other films from the late 1960s, Gavras’ film taps the counterculture vibe that permeated the globe.

25. 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.

24. 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.

23. 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.  

22. 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).  

21. 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.

20. 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.  

19. 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. 

18. 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.  

17. 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.

16. 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.

15. À propos de Nice (1930)
Director: Jean Vigo
À propos de Nice served as my introduction to Vigo, the first of all four of Vigo’s films that I watched in the same evening. There’s a stunning clarity to the images and Vigo–along with photographer Boris Kaufman–truly stretch the limits of their medium. The film begins with an aerial shot and goes on to employ a spinning camera, slow motion, and time-lapse photography, amongst other techniques. It’s breathtaking, quite a sight to behold. The film also comes with a healthy dollop of sexuality and needles the wealthy.

14. 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.

13. Children of Paradise (1945)
Director: Marcel Carné
The final act of Poetic Realism, Children of Paradise is steeped in layer after layer of artifice (kudos to St. Louis Post-Dispatch film critic Joe Williams for pointing this out), with each character functioning as a false-faced archetype of the Nazi occupation of France. It was deeply symbolic and filled the country with national pride at a time when it was sorely needed. It’s humorous, it’s clever, and it bears the drama of the Vichy/Nazi allegory. Children of Paradise endures as a shining achievement of French film. 

12. 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:

11. 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. 

10. 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.

9. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Director: Luis Buñuel
The Buñuel/Dali collaboration led the way for future filmmakers who wanted to create a dream world for their viewers. It showed them that strict plot structure was not at all imperative, and that they could take a weighty philosophical subtext and embed it in their films. In short, it’s a landmark of filmmaking, ripe with iconic imagery.

8. 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.

7. 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.  

6. 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. 

5. 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. 

4. 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.

3. Zéro de Conduite (1933)
Director: Jean Vigo
This is where it all came together for Vigo. It’s the perfect blend of early (and influential) cinematic trickery combined with a strong story. In many ways, it is the quintessential French film. The plot revolves around rebellious school children, which directly influenced Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and any other number of restless youth films that would follow. The optical highjinx bring to mind the work of Jean Cocteau, Luis Buñuel, and Georges Méliès. It’s accompanied by a fantastic subtext about his father, imprisoned as an anarchist at the time. The film is playful and unconventional at all times. It works primarily because Vigo is a young master testing the boundaries of the cinematic medium. It is a work of art.

2. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Director: Georges Méliès
The two most influential newcomers this year are Vigo and Méliès. I’ve only listed A Trip to the Moon from Méliès but you can consider this slot a tip of the cap to all of his films. In A Trip to the Moon, Méliès was arguably at the peak of his creativity. His revolutionary tactics provided a framework for the entire history of cinema. Consider A Trip to the Moon to be cinema’s Big Bang, the moment from which all of the rest began. So many of the technical aspects I’d previously attributed to other filmmakers in fact originated with Méliès. When Georges Méliès started making movies, there was no stop motion trickery, no superimposition, no special effects created by perspective and trap doors, or even movie studios. Méliès holds a very special place in film history.

1. Napoléon (1927)
Director: Abel Gance
Napoléon 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”.

And  that leaves the next bit of house cleaning. What haven’t I seen that may make this list when I make it again in 12 months? Here’s my checklist for the coming year. Please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section. If you don’t see your favorite film, I’ll be posting a quick follow-up tomorrow with numbers 51 through 75 and some notes about the list:

The Mother and the Whore  •  Hotel du Nord  •  Visages d’Enfants  •  Les Misérables (1934)  •  Le Deuxieme Souffle  •  La Ronde  •  Un Coeur en Hiver  •  Les Visiteurs du Soir  •  Le Colonel Chabert  •   Indochine  •    Alphaville  •  Claire’s Knee  •  Hotel du Nord  •   La Vie en Rose  •  Daguerréotypes  •  Story of Women  •  The Golden Coach  •  La Rupture  •  Beethoven  •  La Belle Noiseuse  •  The Bakery Girl of Monceau  •  Love in the Afternoon  •  Stolen Kisses  •  Bed and Board


47 Comments

Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Movies

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

  1. Absolutely brilliant list. As with last year’s list, I’ve bookmarked it for reference. Of the 50 films, I’m proud to say I’ve seen 35 (and it’s about to be 36 since I just rented Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources) and I’m going to make it my mission to reach 50 before the end of the year.

    I am really happy with the choices. Some of them have moved significantly, but I’m happy to see Napoleon still at number one, as that is a great masterpiece I don’t think should ever move from that spot. It’s surprising but fitting to see A Trip to the Moon in at #2. Zero de Conduite is actually my least favourite Vigo but it’s a nice inclusion at #3. Night and Fog deservingly appears in the top 5 at #4 and The 400 Blows and Phantom of Liberty deserve the spots they’ve grabbed too.

    I’m surprised how far The Fire Within has moved down on the list (the more I watch it, the more I like it, and it’s likely to make an appearance on my top 100 films of all time soon), and also pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Celine and Julie Go Boating, which is a damn fun French flick if ever there were one. I hope you see more Rivette soon.

    Napoleon remains the only Abel Gance film I’ve seen, and since there are now TWO others on this list – La Roue and J’Accuse – I need to find his work ASAP.

    I also love that The Double Life of Veronique is on here though I think the Three Colours trilogy would be more deserving of a spot (infinitesimally tiny nitpick though).

    Congratulations on a really, really great list, my friend. I’ll be coming back to it many times for inspiration and ideas. Heck, I may even do a French film-related list myself, since the country has spawned so much of my favourite cinema.

    Stunning work!

    • Thanks, Tyler. I’m really glad you enjoy it because I know how seriously you take foreign film. I wrestled really hard with Napoleon v. A Trip to the Moon. In the end, I couldn’t move Napoleon down. I’m a little surprised to hear you say that about Zero de Conduite. It’s got a really tremendous anti-establishment vibe to it, and combines the playful effects that he learned in Taris and A Propos de Nice with the storytelling he mastered in L’Atalante. And then there’s the influence, with major impact on movies like “if…” and The 400 Blows. Taris is kind of its own thing. I would’ve had it somewhere on this list, but at 9 minutes, it wouldn’t have felt right. I really didn’t know what to do with it.

      I’m not sure The Fire Within will fall much further. It’s tremendous filmmaking, but it loses points for influence. Other than A Single Man, it hasn’t had much impact. That’s no fault of Malle’s- he made an amazing movie. I have a tiny bit more about it in tomorrow’s article.

      And in fact, you’ve done a great job of setting up lots of things for tomorrow. I also point out how much I like Gance, and address the Three Colours trilogy. Long story short- I liked Blue a lot (it’s in the next 25), I liked White a lot but felt like it wasn’t as artful (which is the consensus amongst critics), and found myself disappointed in Red. A lot of Red felt very forced to me. Sorry, yo- I know how much you like that movie. I’ll definitely revisit it later.

      • I didn’t dislike Zero de Conduite. A Propos de Nice is my favourite Vigo, followed closely by L’Atalante. I found Taris surprisingly thrilling to watch, so it just edges out Zero de Conduite in terms of preference. But since of course influence is a big part of this list, I can see why you put it so high.

        Shame you didn’t like Red. I love that film more than words can say. I think it’s alive and electric with a beautiful sadness few films can attain. Each scene and shot seems so heartbreakingly perfect, the score is magnificent and the nature of the relationship between Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant is beautiful. Their conversation in the theatre toward the end of the film is one of my favourite scenes in all of cinema, and heck, one of the best. Definitely revisit it at some point.

  2. Great list. And I’m glad I can say I’ve seen almost all of these. I still haven’t seen Abel Gance’s Napoleon, unfortunately. I’ll have to check it out soon.

  3. Phil

    Yes, it is a great list. I love the idea of focusing on one type of film. I missed the Napoleon screening last year, but I am planning on seeing A Trip To The Moon in the theater in 10 days.

    • You’re in for such a treat with A Trip to the Moon. It obviously looks corny at times in comparison to modern cinema, but knowing you, I’m sure you won’t have any problem placing it in a proper context.

  4. Cody Morgenstern

    Eyes Without a Face directed by Georges Franju based on Jean Redon’s novel, great horror movie. So damn good. Have you ever seen it?

    • I have, and I owe it a re-watch. Last year, it came in at #64 (in the follow-up entry listing #’s 51-75). I have to admit that it fell out of the top 75, although I sort of address stuff like that a little bit tomorrow. Namely, it’s so hard to make a list like this because so many good movies don’t make it.

      I promise to do a re-watch before next year because I first saw it long before most of the others on this list. It’d be good to place it on equal footing.

  5. Awesome feature – I’m going to be using this to dip into some of the films I have yet to see

  6. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I am once again appalled that Kurasawa was left off the list of 50 Greatest French films! Some might omit him from such a list just because he was Japanese. I have it on good authority that he sometimes wore a beret and was an asshole to American tourists. He also referred to a Big Mac as Le Royale with Cheese.

  7. goregirl

    I am still working my way through your previious list but I have checked a few off! I am going to have to compare the lists to one another to see what is missing/added! I do notice Vampyr is no longer on the list. I am a sucker for lists generally speaking but they hold a lot more weight when they are courtesy of people whose opinions I actually respect like yourself. My favourite of your recommends thus far has been Elevator to the Gallows which I freaking LOVED!! The only Malle I had seen was My Dinner with Andre and his segment of Spirits of the Dead but I will definitely make a point of seeing others now. Really looking forward to digging into some more of these titles! Très Bien mon ami!

    At some point I will be doing a list of my favourite French horror films. I printed a list from IMDB some time ago, but decided there were a couple of titles I needed to see and a couple that needed to be re-watched before I could compile such a list. I might expand the criteria a little and call it French-language so I could make room for a couple of films that were actually Belgium. I think you can probably guess both of these titles ;)

    • Tomorrow, I’m posting #’s 51-75, and you’ll see that Vampyr didn’t fall far (it’s #51). Thanks for the kind words about my list. This list especially is something I love to do each year. I even have a big spreadsheet that gets updated throughout the year in preparation for it.

      I’m glad you saw more Malle. Honestly, the two you mentioned are my least favorites by quite a bit.

      That French horror list has loads of room to be great fun. I laughed at the Belgium thing because you’re absolutely right- I know exactly which ones you mean. There’s all of the New French Extremity, and then the classics (Eyes Without a Face, Les Diaboliques), the crappy-but-fun Jean Rollin (Zombie Lake!)… There are a lot I haven’t seen, really, so I’m sure I’d snag a lot off of your list.

  8. Sam Fragoso

    If there was ever a list to assist someone in the realm of French cinema, this is it.

    • Thanks, Sam. It’s tough to scrub out personal preference but I do the best I can, focusing instead on objective measures. Or at least, less subjective measures.

  9. impsndcnma

    I think I need to pick up Studio Canal’s version of The Grand Illusion (1937). I’ve always been interested in seeing it and considering it placed so highly on your list I should make an effort to do so.

    • The big thing for me that pushed it that high, in addition to the influential camerawork, was the heavy anti-war message, right on the cusp of World War II. Europe was preparing for war and there was Renoir, making an amazing movie with the message “It doesn’t have to be like this”.

  10. I may have mentioned this before but “Bande Apart” is the first film to feature the Madison, not “Hairspray” as was believed by moi, for so many years.

  11. Wow, that’s quite the impressive list. I’m still very new to most French cinema — I have only seen three from this list — so this will be an excellent reference for later viewings. Nice work, John.

  12. Alex Withrow

    Agree with everyone else’s sentiments here: this is an epic, flawless list of some of the best films ever made. I’m a Francophile (great word) as well. Simply can’t get enough. Loved seeing all of my favorites here. Napoléon at number 1 is perfect, just perfect.

    Well done!

    • Thanks again, Alex. I really do love maintaining this list throughout the year, and it’s a way for me to learn about something that interests me a lot. And the knowledge out there is endless. Each year, I’m sure I’ll have loads of stuff to check off for the next year’s list.

  13. The list of names is stunning enough let alone the accurate short introductions,great job done,John.

    I read the list backwards because I’m too eager to see the top 10 here,shame that I did not see #1,2 and 8 here.My earliest French impression still stays on the Poetic Realism period,and it’s my fave period in the history of French cinema.

    Zéro de Conduite and The Grand Illusion are interesting picks in the top 10,I personally love L’atlante and Rules of the Game much better.The other films I would definitely move ahead in my list are Children of Paradise,Elevator to the Gallows and Army of Shadows,these are all the best work of the director considered by me.

    • Thank you very much, David.

      It’s funny you say that about L’Atalante and Rules of the Game- I even sort of addressed that in the follow-up article. They’re definitely much more highly regarded than the two I chose, although all of them are very highly regarded.

      I find that I like Mehlville, but maybe not as much as others do. Children of Paradise is a very tough one to place. I think the world of it, and if the mood had caught me right, I could see moving it up.

      I love Elevator to the Gallows… but I like almost everything Malle has done, with only a few exceptions. It’s hard to say which one of his is the best because they’re all in different genres and/or languages.

  14. Sebastien Camborieux

    Hi,
    I do not see “Les Tontons Flingueurs” mentioned, have watched it? If not, please give it a go, one of my favourites. Lots of good ideas and titles for me to watch this year.
    Thanks
    Seb

  15. RAR

    If you liked La Grande Bouffe, I’d recommend another Marco Ferreri film, Dillinger Is Dead, in case you haven’t seen it. It’s with Michel Piccoli, but it’s an Italian-language film, so it wouldn’t be eligible for this list, but it’s essential viewing in either case. On another note, a film you should certainly seek out that would qualify for your list of French films is another film featuring Michel Piccoli, Claude Sautet’s Les Choses de la Vie. It was a mainstream release in France in its time and wasn’t appreciated by Cahiers du Cinema, which probably explains Sautet’s lack of exposure in the US, but in either case it’s worth watching in my opinion.

    • Wow, GREAT recommendation on both. I’m on it, and especially excited about the Ferreri title.

      I’ve added Les Choses de la Vie on Facets. It looks like it must be rare. They only have it on VHS, and Netflix (not surprisingly) doesn’t have it at all.

  16. Great job! Happy to see a Rivette on the list, and Veronique too. Interesting that that is also the newest film on the list. Not impressed by modern French cinema?

    • Thanks!

      There’s a lot that I like about the newer stuff, but it’s relatively limited. For instance, A Christmas Tale was a really good movie, but it’d be an oddball on a list like this. The Noe films certainly got heavy consideration (I’ve really liked all of those, and I Stand Alone came in at #58). A few more- Amélie and Delicatessen- would have cracked the list if I expanded it to 100, which I feel more and more like I might do for next year.

      • I know you’re not much of a fan of Assayas, but what do you think of Jacques Audiard or Claire Denis, and since you are including non French directors, the Dardenne brothers?

        • I have to plead ignorance to the Dardenne brothers. I have some Denis and Audiard in my Netflix queue, though. They may be a “next year” addition, or at least exploration.

  17. RAR

    Just wondering, why do Bresson and Rohmer not have more of a presence? Mouchette is the highest ranked Bresson, and it seems like a bit of an oddball choice, even if it’s still a great film. Even if they’re not your favorite films, I think any list of the greatest French films is incomplete without at least two of Pickpocket, A Man Escaped, and Au Hasard Balthazar. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it just came across as a glaring ommission. It’s just about striking a balance between favoritism and objectivity. I only say this since you wouldn’t want to lead people to believe Bresson’s other films aren’t worth watching.

    • In the case of Rohmer, it’s merely a lack of exposure, although Ma Nuit Chez Maud just missed the list. It came in at #55 in the French follow-up.

      I had Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest at #60, and I went back and forth on where to put both Pickpocket and A Man Escaped. Both just missed the front 75. I was impressed with them, no doubt. This is really a case of there not being enough space to rank all of these. #s 51-100 are great, too, but didn’t crack the top 50 for various reasons, usually because I was more impressed by what actually did make the list. As for Au Hasard Balthazar, I know this is going to sound controversial (and it’s completely fair to call my subjectivity into question on it), but I think it’s far too bogged down in Catholic dogma, and it’s a detriment to the film. I probably owe it a re-watch, but I will fully admit basically loathing the film for that reason.

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  19. Pierre

    As a Frenchman who is a big fan of both French and US films I am impressed by the overall quality of the movies you’ve selected. Great choices really! That being said, some of my favorite films are missing… so in case you are curious here are few of them:
    Quai des orfevres, Playtime, Le Trou, La Jetée, Compartiment tueur, Le crime de M. Lange, Buffet froid.
    Try them when you get a chance and let me know what you think…

    • Thank you, Pierre! I’ve actually updated the list a few times since then. I’ve seen and enjoyed most of those that you list, especially Playtime and Le Trou.

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