If Paris has always inspired the greatest filmmakers, it’s undoubtedly because it’s the perfect backdrop to get the audience’s heart racing. Today, we’re taking you to our legendary capital for a tour of the best films set there. Whatever your taste in movies, there’s something for everyone! Camera, rolling and … ACTION!
By Sophia Millman
Fantasy For Kids: The Red Balloon (1956)
Set in the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, Albert Lamorisse’s short movie remains a delight for children and adults. The story is simple: a little boy finds a red balloon tied to a street lamp, and once he frees the balloon, he realizes that it follows him around wherever he goes. The film’s message about loyalty, friendship, and loneliness has moved thousands of viewers and inspired countless filmmakers. Read Brian Selznick’s poignant Criterion Collection essay about the movie here. You can see a map of where the movie was shot here.
If you like this movie, you might also like: The 400 Blows (1959)
Golden Age Musical: Gigi (1958)
Nothing better to cheer you up in the colder months than a good old fashioned musical! ”Gigi” takes place in the city of lights during the Belle Époque and is a true treasure of its time: the film won nine Oscars, starred frenchies Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier and was directed by Vincente Minelli. Listen to the songs, close your eyes and there you are: complaining about Parisians in the Parc Monceau, visiting your wealthy aunt on Avenue Rapp and waltzing at Maxim’s!
If you like this movie, you’ll also like Can-Can (1960), An American in Paris (1951) and Lili (1953).
Classic: Breathless (1961)
One of the most celebrated French films of all time, Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (which can mean “out of breath,” “on your last legs,” or simply “lethargic” and is a great French expression to know) is about an American exchange student in Paris. Jean Seberg happens to have killer outfits in this film and you should watch it not only for wardrobe inspiration, but also for her amazing chemistry with Jean-Paul Belmondo. (We feature the two actors in “The Keys to a French Person’s Heart.”) A lot of the film is shot near the Champs-Élysées, but you also see Notre-Dame, a glimpse of Shakespeare & Company, and much of the Montparnasse quartier. You can find all of the lieux de tournage, or film locations, here.
If you like this movie, you might also like Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) and Jules and Jim (1962)
Mystery: Charade (1963)
If you’re a fan of Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn, then you’ve got to watch (or rewatch) Charade ASAP. The movie’s got it all: a Hitchcock-esque murder mystery, amazing romantic chemistry, a hilarious performance by Walter Matthau, an amazing Givenchy wardrobe, and even this wacky orange game. Paris has never looked better than in this film and we especially love the movie’s climax at the Palais Royal and the Comédie-Française. See all filming locations here.
If you like this movie, you might also like Caché (2005), Funny Face (1957) and How to Steal a Million (1966).
Romance/Coming of Age: Full Moon in Paris (1984)
The only film from the 1980s on our list, Full Moon in Paris perfectly captures the demographic and architectural changes that were taking place in France during this period. Director Éric Rohmer made many films about urban architecture, often focusing on Paris. We recommend checking out some of his other Paris movies here. This one is probably his most famous, and for good reason. It’s got a fabulous ‘80s score that features Elli et Jacno and Pascale Ogier is wonderful in her role as a young woman torn between two men and lifestyles. Watch an interesting video called “Mapping Rohmer” about how the director filmed Paris here.
If you like this movie, you might also like Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) andPlaytime (1967)
Social Portrait: La Haine (1995)
One of the first films about the Parisian housing projects and la banlieue, Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine founded an entire genre, going on to inspire countless other directors, including Ladj Ly. (We really can’t recommend Ly’s Les Misérables enough!) A genius part of this film is the way it alternates between tragic and comic. This cult scene, in which an old man suddenly breaks up the main characters’ fight by telling them an absurd story that seems to have nothing to do with their issues, has become incredibly famous. Check out where La Haine was filmed here! You’ll notice (if you’re an Amélie fan) that Jean-Pierre Jeunet actually pays homage to one of the movie’s scenes in la Gare de l’Est.
If you like this movie, you might also like The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), Girlhood (2014) and BPM (2017)
Romantic Comedy: Amélie (2001)
If you went to college in the 2000s, you probably saw at least one Amélie poster hanging in a dorm room. As this article about the movie’s enduring success explains, Amelie marked the beginning of a new interest in foreign-language films. And here’s a fun fact: in 2000, only 12 English babies were called Amelie, but, in 2007, over a thousand English babies were given the name! But what made so many English and American viewers fall in love with Amélie? The most obvious answer is Audrey Tautou, who plays the film’s innocent, charmingly awkward heroine. But then there’s also the magic of Montmartre: the Sacré-Coeur, the cobblestone streets, the old-fashioned bistros… See a map of every location where the movie was filmed here!
If you like this movie, you might also like Dans Paris (2006) and Paris (2008)
Romantic Drama: Before Sunset (2004)
While Before Sunrise (shot in Vienna) might be the best of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trio, Before Sunset is an excellent sequel. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, who play lovers reunited after nine years, have wonderful chemistry and they visit some of the best, lesser known spots in Paris: la Promenade Plantée, le Village Saint-Paul, la rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine… If there’s one movie that gives you a great walking tour of Paris, it’s this one. Check out the movie’s location map here.
If you like this movie, you might also likeThe Dreamers (2003) and 2 Days in Paris (2007)
Animated: Ratatouille (2007)
Arguably Pixar’s greatest film, this incredibly detailed movie is ideal for getting you in the mood to visit Paris. You’ll see Notre Dame, all sorts of sights along the Seine, and you’ll want to try out the famous Tour d’Argent, an historic restaurant that inspired the movie’s Gusteau. Check out the “Ratatouille film trail” for kids (and adults!) here. And if you’re looking for other movies to get your kids interested in visiting France or learning French, read this.
If you like this movie, you might also likeThe Triplets of Belleville (2003), Hugo (2011) and A monster in Paris (2011)
Dramatic Comedy: The Intouchables (2011)
Calling all Lupin fans! You’ll be able to find Omar Sy in this classic of modern French cinema. This movie tackles themes of handicap and social divides with humor and tenderness without ever giving in to clichés. You’ll catch a glimpse of fancy Paris landmarks: Les Deux – Magots, mythical café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés; the Hôtel d’Avaray, private mansion of the 7th arrondissement; the Boucheron jewelry shop, set up on Place Vendôme since 1893; the Grand Foyer of the Théâtre de Chaillot and so much more!
If you like this movie, you will also like Samba (2014) and All that Glitters (2010).
Feel good: Mrs Harris goes to Paris (2022)
Adapted from Paul Gallico’s novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris”, this heartwarming movie tells the story of a 1950s british cleaning lady who gambles everything to go to Paris after falling in love with a Christian Dior gown. Follow Mrs Harris’ exciting adventure by the Pont Neuf, on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim and even at the legendary House of Dior on Avenue Montaigne.