The glittering Eiffel Tower, the moonlight reflecting off of the Seine, the classic cafés - there is no denying that Paris is picturesque. It is a city that inspires the artist that exists in everyone and perhaps that is why so many seek to encapsulate that creativity through film. Paris and its striking beauty have been the backdrop for thousands of movies ranging from small independent creations to big budget musicals and everything in between. We have gathered a list of the best movies set in Paris to fuel your wanderlust and whisk you away, for an afternoon at least. Classic French cinema, modern American masterpieces, and films that are funny, sad, inspiring and magical all have a spot on our list so there is something for every mood and every occasion.
La Vie En Rose
The film that won Marion Cotillard an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a César and le Prix Lumière for best actress, La Vie en Rose is the biographical musical story of the life of Edith Piaf, one of the most beloved singers in France. Piaf is most famous for her song ‘La Vie En Rose’ often heard being played on accordion throughout the streets of Paris. Born the child of a struggling artist and an acrobat during the first World War, Piaf spent much of her childhood in chaos; living with her paternal grandmother (a madame in a brothel in Normandy), joining the traveling circus with her father, and then finally busking in the streets of Montmartre. Edith’s rise to fame is an unlikely one, which makes her story - one riddled with drug addiction, illness and abuse - all the more heartbreaking. Cotillard beautifully embodies ‘the sparrow’ in the gorgeous retelling of the difficult life of a true French icon
A must see for music lovers and fans of Marion Cotillard.
Perhaps one of the most well known French films, Amélie is a true gem. Set in Montmartre, the film follows the whimsical and quirky life of Amélie Poulain, a quiet and peculiar waitress in the Café des Deux Moulins (located on Rue des Martyrs). Upon finding a box of trinkets hidden decades prior in her apartment by a small boy, she decides to return it to him and in so doing, she embarks on a journey to make the lives of those around her more interesting and exciting. She creates an elaborate chain of events in order to bring joy to her father, her reclusive neighbor, a coworker, an abused shop boy and more. The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain is a wonderfully sweet and magical story of how curiosity and good-heartedness mix with playfulness to create a happily ever after.
A must see for lovers of Montmartre and anyone who enjoys whimsical films.
An American in Paris
An Old Hollywood classic, An American in Paris pipped to the post A Streetcar Named Desire as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1951. The inimitable Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a handsome American soldier living in Paris after World War Two, trying to make a living as a painter. He falls in love with a beautiful French girl one evening at a party, not knowing that she is actually the girlfriend of one of his acquaintances and a love triangle ensues. From Mulligan’s laughably small Parisian apartment to dance numbers set in front of the Seine and the many adorable French children that make up the cast, An American in Paris is the perfect light-hearted musical classic.
A must see for Old Hollywood enthusiasts and those who enjoy Gene Kelly dance numbers.
Based on a true tale of friendship, Les Intouchables is the hilarious and poignant story of two men from contrasting worlds who stumble into each other’s lives and develop a deep and transformative bond. Phillippe, played by Francois Cluset, is an extremely wealthy and relatively isolated quadriplegic, actively searching a live-in caregiver. Driss, played by Omar Sy, is uninterested in the job but comes to interview purely so he can continue to receive his social benefits. Philippe chooses to hire Driss despite his criminal record, unconventional methods and indifference towards the job. Streetwise Driss, finding himself in a world in which he is inexperienced, begins to appreciate the finer things in life and in turn, teaches Phillippe how to have a little more fun, despite his disability, and how to truly live his life.
A must-see for French film lovers, and anyone looking for a heartwarming laugh.
The illustrious Château de Versailles and its grounds make the perfect glittering backdrop for this historical post-punk retelling of the life of Marie Antoinette, France’s most controversial queen. Kirsten Dunst plays the Austrian heroine who, at 14, is sent to Versailles and subsequently married off to Jason Schwartzman’s character, the future Louis XVI of France. The film follows their rocky first few years of marriage, their rise to power and ostentatious lifestyle, as well as their ultimate fall from grace. Set against a mostly new wave soundtrack, the film blends the whimsically contemporary with time-period appropriate elements to create a modern and sympathetic retelling of the events that transpired just before the French Revolution.
A must-see for the amazing wardrobe (the film won the Academy Award for best costume design) and decadent shoes created by Manolo Blanhnik and Pompei, and anyone who can’t get enough of the sublime Château de Versailles.
Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire star opposite each other in this charming musical story about a timid philosophical bookshop clerk, who is discovered in Greenwich Village and later whisked off to Paris to be a model for a fashion magazine. Although Hepburn goes to Paris to model, she is secretly hoping to attend a lecture given by one of idols while she is there. A romantic comedy, a musical, and a classic storyline, Funny Face is a perfect example of the Hollywood-in-Paris era. This film contains some of Hepburn’s most quintessential moments; images of her walking along the Seine, singing and dancing with her two co-stars on the balcony of the Eiffel Tower and the ultra-iconic all-black ensemble she dons as she dances in a jazz bar.
A must-see for Hepburn lovers and those searching for classic fashion inspiration.
With slightly intertwining and parallel storylines à la Crash or Manhattan, Paris tells the various stories of people living in the French capital; a retired professional dancer with a heart condition played by Romain Duris, his social-worker sister played by Juliette Binoche and the various other people they encounter in their daily lives, such as a baker, a market stall-owner, and their neighbours. The plot of Paris artfully weaves together the sometimes minute details that connect our souls in this modern world and shows us how closely connected we could be to each other. A story of struggle, frustration, love and ultimately everyday humanity - this film makes you step back and think about our finite time on this planet. Where better to do that than in a city as old as Paris?
A must-see for those looking for a fresh start or a new lease on life.
Starring both Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts, Le Divorce is a modern comedy of manners set in Paris that puts the brash and direct culture of the Americans and the blasé and indirect nature of the French, into direct juxtaposition. Naomi Watts plays Roxy, an expatriate poet living in Paris with her French husband who has recently fallen in love with a mistress and asked for a divorce. In the midst of this drama, Isabel, her sister played by Kate Hudson, comes to Paris for a visit. Isabel begins an affair with a married man as Roxy struggles to come to terms with what is happening in her life. Le Divorce is rife with Parisian architecture eye candy and pointed commentary on how two cultures come together...or don’t.
A must-see for anyone familiar with the subtle differences in French and American culture.
A family-friendly favorite, Ratatouille is truly a work of art. Pixar’s 8th film and winner of the 2007 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, is the story of an adorable rat in Paris. Not just any rat, however, but a rat who is a connoisseur of good food, much to the chagrin of his trash-eating family. Remy follows his passion all the way into a once-famed but now disgraced restaurant, where he finds himself making an unlikely friend in a clumsy garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini. With instruction from the only female cook at the restaurant, Colette, and Remy as his hidden sous-chef, Linguini climbs the ranks of the restaurant with new and inventive recipes. This light-hearted film takes place in Paris, and has some spectacular animated views of the city that are sure to inspire your next visit.
A must-see for everyone. Really.
Before Sunset is the second movie in a three-part film series that explores the various epochs of a modern relationship. The couple in the trilogy is the same throughout; Jesse and Celine. One American and one French, they meet as idealistic 20-somethings on a train in the film Before Sunrise. Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna and they spend one night together wandering the streets, before separating. They agree to meet again in the exact same spot in 6 months. In Before Sunset, the couple bumps into each other in Paris, 9 years after having met on the train. The two have gone in separate directions in their lives, Jesse is married with a child and is a successful author, Celine is an environmental advocate and has a boyfriend. The film takes place in real-time as the two walk through the streets of Paris and discuss their lives and choices that led them down the various paths they are each currently on. In similar fashion to the first film, Jesse has a flight that he must catch later that evening, so their time together is fleeting and precious. Filmed over only 15 days on location in Paris and met with wide acclaim, it is a lovely example of artful cinematography with truthful raw communication and dialogue.
A must-see for lovers of Before Sunrise and the ever optimistic romantic.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen makes magic happen in this instant Paris classic starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. Midnight in Paris is an appealing look at how Paris is romanticised and remembered. Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his wealthy and frustrating fiancee Inez, played by McAdams. Gil grows more and more discouraged by her and their company and decides to walk home alone after a night of wine-tasting. At midnight, a vintage car pulls up and strangers in 1920’s style garb beckon for him to come along for a ride. This car transports Gil back in time to the Paris of the Lost Generation, where he meets many of his literary heroes and a lovely Adriana, played by Cotillard. Midnight in Paris is a sentimental and sweet film that questions the very notion of nostalgia and muses on the beauty of Paris, especially in the rain.
A must-see for the aspiring writer and the lover of the Lost Generation.
Famous for his flair for the extravagant, Baz Lurhmann stays perfectly on brand in his musical film Moulin Rouge! Set in the beautiful streets of Montmartre and inside the grandiose red windmill, Moulin Rouge is the story of a penniless writer, Ewan McGregor, who falls in love with a hopeful actress, the courtesan Satine - played by Nicole Kidman. Together with a group of bohemian revolutionaries they write a fantastical and elaborate musical spectacular. Every detail of this film from the costuming, to the set design, music, and cinematography are artfully designed to showcase the folly and wild nature of the famous cabaret. It’s peak Luhrmann and a masterpiece, garnering 8 Academy Award nominations (2 wins), 10 Australian Film Institute Award nominations (5 wins), 12 BAFTA nominations (3 wins), 6 Golden Globe nominations (3 wins), among many others.
A must-see for anyone who loves the theatre, spectacle and power ballads.
Paris, I Love You
Paris, I Love You is an art-project/anthology film that tells 18 separate stories about 18 of the 20 different arrondissements in Paris. Each short film is independent, with its own directors, writers, storyline, and cast, but they all share the common thread: Paris. This unique blending of different techniques showcases the variety and beauty of the different sections of Paris. The cast and direction is star-studded with many famous names such as the Coen Brothers, Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Steve Buscemi, Margo Martindale, Rufus Sewell, Emily Mortimer, Nick Nolte, Gerard Depardieu and more. At the same time ingenious and charming, sentimental and bizarre, funny and dark; it’s a unique film with a structure that will play to the heart of any Paris lover, no matter what your favourite neighbourhood.
A must-see for the Paris enamoured. Bonus if you speak French.
Words by Amanda VanOsdol.