We’ve updated last year’s list of the best French shows to watch online to include new series like Netflix’s Lupin as well as a few movie recs. Now is the time to watch (or rewatch) the first two OSS 117 films before the third one (OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire) is released later this year!
By Sophia Millman
Lupin came out earlier this month and everyone has been talking about it in France. Set in Paris, it stars beloved actor Omar Sy (you might know him from The Intouchables) who plays the son of a Senegalese chauffeur unjustly accused of theft. To seek revenge, he concocts a jewel heist based on the stories of gentleman cambrioleur (burglar) Arsène Lupin, the famous fictional creation of Maurice Leblanc. If you’re a fan of Killing Eve, Sherlock or Luther, this series is for you.
Number of seasons/episodes: 1 season, 5 episodes
Episode length: 43 minutes
Stream on Netflix
Dramatic Comedy: ‘Call My Agent’
The New York Times describes this show as the French hybrid of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage,” and “The Office.” “Call My Agent” is about a group of Parisian talent agents who try to juggle the careers of their clients as well as their own complicated love lives. Each episode features real-life stars such as Jean Dujardin, Juliette Binoche or Sigourney Weaver. The show is touching and funny, and an excellent way to discover who the big names in French cinema are at the moment. Season 4 was released on Netflix on January 1st!
Number of seasons/episodes: 4 seasons, 6 episodes per season
Episode length: 52 minutes
Stream on Netflix
Spy Thriller: ‘The Bureau’
The French equivalent of Homeland, The Bureau has repeatedly been voted “Best TV Series” by the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, and has also been acclaimed by critics abroad. While its pace is much slower than that of your typical espionage thriller, the series is always riveting. The show follows members of the DGSE (the French CIA) and stars actor and director Mathieu Kassovitz. Name sounds familiar? You’ve probably seen him in Amelie. Kassovitz plays Guillaume Debailly, a dashing spy who is forced to return to Paris after six years in Damascus. A Coucou favorite!
Number of seasons/episodes: 5 seasons, 10 episodes per season
Episode length: 52 minutes
Stream on Amazon Prime or Sundance Now
Rom-Com: ‘The Hookup Plan’
This series’ stars have terrific chemistry, and the show gives you a real taste of what life is like for twenty-somethings in Paris. Unfortunately, the second season isn’t as good as the first, but we still recommend it! The show is about Elsa (Zita Hanrot) who unwittingly falls in love with a dashing male escort (Marc Ruchmann). Watch this if you were addicted to the first season of Girls or if you need a fix for your romcom craving. Season 3 will be released soon.
Number of seasons/episodes: 2 seasons, 14 episodes per season
Episode length: 29 minutes
Stream on Netflix
More French shows to stream:
- A French Village: The first French period drama to depict French collaboration during World War II. Stream it on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
- Spiral: Often compared to The Wire, Spiral stars Caroline Proust as a tough police captain who must deal with an ever-corrupt criminal justice system. Stream it on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
- Baron Noir: Hailed as the French House of Cards, Baron Noir focuses on the political career of Philippe Rickwaert (International Emmy Award nominee Kad Merad). Stream it on Amazon Prime.
- Black Spot: Fans of Dark, Twin Peaks, or Top of the Lake will love this Franco-Belgian series about the tiny town of Villefranche, where there’s no cell service, it’s always foggy, and the homicide rate is six times higher than the national average. Stream it on Netflix.
- Who Killed Little Gregory: If you liked Casting JonBenet, then you’ll enjoy this documentary about l’affaire du petit Grégory, one of France’s most famous unsolved mysteries. Stream it on Netflix.
- Mythomaniac: The story of an average suburban French family that’s doing ok until Elvira, who’s struggling with stress and depression, tells her husband and children that she has cancer. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t. Stream it on Netflix.
- The Break: If you like dark Nordic thrillers, then you’ll really enjoy this Belgian series about an inspector who moves back to his hometown only to become embroiled in a murder mystery. Stream it on Netflix.
- Marianne: If you’re a fan of shows like American Horror Story, you’ll love this 8-episode series that’s full of unexpected twists and just the right amount of gore. Stream it on Netflix.
- The Circle France: The show has the same premise as its international counterparts: contestants are confined in separate apartments and can only communicate using social networks. Their goal: increase their online popularity (perhaps via catfishing) in order to win $100,000. Stream it on Netflix.
Romance: ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ (2020)
Céline Sciamma’s exploration of friendship, love, and art is an absolute masterpiece. Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm at Cannes and was praised for its historical accuracy, fantastic screenplay, and breathtaking cinematography. And let’s not forget the music: if you haven’t watched the movie yet, prepare to get chills during the bonfire chanting scene. Set in the 18th century, the movie’s about a young female artist (Noémie Merlant) who is commissioned to paint a portrait on a remote island. Slowly, she gets to know the aloof subject of her portrait (Adèle Haenel) and eventually begins to tutoyer her (that is, address her with the informal pronoun “tu” – see if you notice this critical moment while watching!). Le regard féminin (female gaze) has rarely been so powerfully captured on screen.
Stream on Hulu
Social Drama: ‘Les Misérables’ (2019)
Fans of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking Do The Right Thing and Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine will love Ladj Ly’s gut-wrenching portrait of la banlieue (the suburbs). The film is set in Montfermeil, where Victor Hugo’s famous novel also takes place. But be prepared for a very different depiction of Montfermeil. In his review of the movie, Anthony Lane writes that “Victor Hugo would watch this film and weep.”
Stream on Amazon Prime Video
Absurd and Historical: ‘See You Up There’ (2017)
This film is an adaptation of Pierre Lemaitre’s novel of the same name, which won the Prix Goncourt in 2013. Set at the end of World War I, the movie is about two men who set up a swindling operation. A great introduction to actor, director and screenwriter Albert Dupontel’s films.
Stream on Amazon Prime
Political: ‘BPM’ (2017)
Directed by Robin Campillo, who also made Les Revenants (2004)–the film that inspired the series of the same name–this contemporary classic stars Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois. They play two members of Act-Up, an advocacy group formed at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s. Act-Up France protested against the French government’s inadequate response to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, and the film portrays the heartbreaking plight of the group’s members as they navigate life, love and political activism.
Comedy: ‘OSS 117’ (2006 & 2009)
Michel Hazanavicius is famous in the US for his Oscar award-winning movie The Artist, but the French adore his OSS 117 comedies even more. Starring Jean Dujardin, who plays hapless secret agent 117, the films parody spy flicks and French ‘60s culture. They’re a must-watch for students who want to learn more about modern French cult classics. Now is the time to watch the first two OSS 117 before the third one (OSS 117: Alerte rouge en Afrique noire) is released later this year!!
Stream on Amazon Prime Video
Classic: ‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ (1962)
Director Agnes Varda beautifully captures Paris in the sixties with this portrait of a singer (Corinne Marchand) set adrift in the city as she awaits test results of a biopsy. A chronicle of the minutes of one woman’s life, Cléo from 5 to 7 is a must-see for French cinema fans. It features a score by Michel Legrand (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina.
Stream on Kanopy, HBO Max, and Criterion Channel
More French movies to stream:
- This Is Our Land (2018): An excellent portrait of the contemporary French political landscape. Stream it on Amazon Prime.
- Girlhood (2014): Céline Sciamma’s coming-of-age film follows a young Black teenager as she navigates racial, economic and cultural divides. Stream it on Amazon Prime.
- The Climb (2017): A feel-good, easy-to-watch film about a young man from the banlieues who sets out to climb Mount Everest to impress the woman he loves. Stream it on Netflix.
- Intouchables (2011): The movie that made Omar Sy a household name. In need of a caregiver, a wealthy aristocrat with quadriplegia hires the last person anyone expects: an ex-con with no experience. Based on a true story.