What better way to prepare for a trip to the City of Light than by watching a few good movies set in Paris? Whether you find these films touching, funny, or inspiring, you'll appreciate the diverse views of the French capital seen through each director's eyes and cinematographer's lenses. We've chosen a selection of classic and more recent flicks for your viewing enjoyment. And even if you can't get to the city anytime soon, sitting back and taking in a few of these can be a great way to experience Paris without leaving your living room.
Of all the movies set in Paris, this classic MGM musical best captures the romance of the post-World War II city, when Americans were beloved for winning the war and a guy could live the good life on just a few centimes. The multi-talented Gene Kelly plays a soldier who trades in his uniform for an artist's smock, paints in a garret and falls in love with Leslie Caron.
See it for its surrealist, dream-like sets of the city and the Seine River, as well as incredible dancing from the headlining stars. The film won six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The exhilarating music was composed by George Gershwin.
In Richard Linklater's earlier film "Before Sunrise", Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke meet on a train in Vienna and instantly connect. They get off at the same station and walk all night, discussing love, romance, politics, and their hopes for the future. They agree to meet up again in Vienna in six months, but don't keep the promise.
Their paths cross again in Paris nine years later, at a book signing set in one of the city's most-iconic English-language bookshops. They pick up the conversation where they left off, bringing one another up to date with what's occurred in their lives since they first met. Tense, chatty, teasing, they traverse Paris and revive their former spark.
Icons of cool, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg play ill-fated lovers in this caper flick that's both a crime drama and one of the films that started the genre known as French New Wave Cinema.
Michel has stolen a car and killed a policeman, and he asks Patricia -- a young American studying in Paris and selling the International Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysées-- to flee to Italy with him. But the police are hot on his trail.
Beyond the plot, this 1960 film set styles for everything from the image of the sophisticated smoking Frenchman to chic, close-cropped hair on women. In addition to showing locations around Paris in black-and-white against a jazzy soundtrack, it includes a long middle scene full of seemingly random, silly conversation.
The film is directed by the innovative Jean-Luc Godard, considered to be an auteur with a distinctive eye and method for blending images and sounds-- to occasionally grating effect.
This romantic comedy is Woody Allen's love letter to Paris, and stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as an engaged couple visiting Paris with McAdams' parents.
The film veers into fantasy on Wilson's long, nightly walks when he enters the Paris of the 1920s populated by the likes of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and other luminaries of the era. Adventures ensue, and soon Wilson's character has a hard time keeping track of past, present and future. It's a trip back in time that questions the wisdom and value of nostalgia for past eras -- and it's among the best film in Allen's later period. See it for its somewhat-idealized nocturnal shots of the capital, set to low lamplight and against Allen's usual jazzy soundtrack.
This 2007 film directed by "Before Sunset" star Julie Delpy is a hilarious look at what happens when one member of a bi-national couple is forced to adapt to the other's culture and home city. It stars Delpy as Marion, a Parisian photographer who now lives in New York, and Adam Goldberg as her boyfriend Jack, who's visiting France for the first time and finds that it casts a new, harsh light on the relationship.
The fast-paced dialogue, amusing encounters between Jack and Marion's bohemian, bawdy parents, and numerous shots of contemporary Paris all make the film worth watching several times. One long, memorable scene has the couple arguing and wandering through crowded streets around Paris' Canal St-Martin, during the annual summer music event known as La Fete de la Musique.
While many critics see Godard's "Breathless" as the reigning masterpiece of French New Wave cinema, this magnificent film from Agnès Varda arguably started the trend towards playful, rambling dialogue, odd use of sound and image and realistic but artful long shots from urban life.
Set in Paris during the early 1960s, the movie follows heroine Cléo, a young aspiring singer, as she moves through her day in Paris. It traces just two hours in her life, from a hat shop to her apartment, from a long drive through the streets of the city, to a hospital and then the Montsouris park near Montparnasse. At the park, she has a chance encounter with a soldier that changes her perspective on life.
This is a gem that more film lovers should take the time to watch. And the shots from '60s Parisian life are simply unforgettable.
Sold in a box set with its hilarious American remake The Birdcage, the earlier French version tells the tale of a same-sex male couple-- a drag performer and a nightclub owner--living in the well-to-do Riviera town of Saint-Tropez.
The drag club owner's son is about to be engaged to the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician, and asks the couple to "pass" as straight to meet his in-laws. Michel Serrault as Albin is uproarious in the original, and it's worth seeing the two films side by side. Despite a plot that wouldn't likely fly in a movie made today, both films evince moments of great tenderness and romance between the men.
It wasn't easy to be an artist who happened to also be a woman in turn-of-the-century France, yet acclaimed sculptor Camille Claudel burned with the desire to create. The great Auguste Rodin mentored her, then became her lover. She modeled for him, and they worked together on commissions.
The strain proved too much for her, and she went mad. This isn't the most romantic movie, but the tempestuous relationship between the two is riveting. French actress Isabel Adjani, who played Claudel, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress thanks to the role, and director Bruno Nuytten won a French César award for what was his debut film.
Critics were divided on whether this movie about a whimsical Parisian gamine with an overactive imagination was romantic and charming, or simply unrealistic and saccharine. Either way, it's worth a watch to draw your own conclusions.
Set primarily in the hilly heights of Montmartre, the semi-surrealist film from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet follows Amélie as she tries to unlock a romantic mystery, with the city working as her uncanny partner in the hunt. A lilting soundtrack from Yann Tiersen is now synonymous with the spirit of the city for some, and it can be fun to identify Montmartre landmarks from the movie to visit or revisit.
This landmark 1959 directorial debut from celebrated French filmmaker Francois Truffaut is considered a masterpiece for its portrait of a young, troubled working-class Parisian child who gets himself into all manner of trouble.
It's the first in a long series of films about the fictional protagonist Antoine Doinel, and catapulted the then-child actor Jean-Pierre Léaud into a lifetime of stardom. His interpretation of the delinquent but precocious young Antoine is one of the 20th century's most memorable performances, and the shots of late-1950s Paris are ones you aren't likely to soon forget. The final scene is considered one of French cinema's most-iconic.
Rivaling "An American in Paris" for the title of best Hollywood musical set in the French capital, this 1957 blockbuster from director Stanley Donen starts icons Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson.
The music from masters George and Ira Gershwin add immensely to the joy of watching this classic movie, while Hepburn's portrayal as a shy, bohemian bookstore owner recruited by a fashion photographer (Astaire) is charming and surprisingly modern. The elaborate sets and live shots from Paris show the city through a bright and romantic technicolor lens.
A kaleidoscopic musical by Baz Luhrmann starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge evokes the famous Parisian nightclub at the end of the 20th century, using stunning visuals and anachronistic sound to appeal to modern audiences.
The love story between the poet/duke (McGregor) and the courtesan (Kidman) is sumptuously acted and shot, even though it defies credulity. John Leguizamo as the eccentric Parisian artist and nightlife enthusiast Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is an added delight. Like Amélie, it portrays Paris in a feverish, not-quite-realistic way, and that's precisely what makes it so alluring and easy on the eyes.
Irrespective of whether you're a fan of classic singer Edith Piaf or not, this blockbuster biopic starring Marion Cotillard and directed by Olivier Dahan is mesmerizing for its portrait of the French icon known locally as "Le Mome" (the kid).
Lush cinematography, an uncanny, physically demanding portrayal of Piaf spanning from her younger to later years, and a heart-wrenching plot make this a biopic that feels genuine rather than canned and formulaic. Images of Piaf moving from her working-class youth in Belleville to her legendary performances in packed Parisian theatres are both inspiring and visually arresting.
This 1938 black-and-white movie from French filmmaker Marcel Carné isn't especially well known, except among dedicated cinephiles. Yet it's an extraordinary early instance of movie-makers reconstructing the streets of Paris on set, well before films like "An American in Paris" did the same.
Starring Anabella Arletty and Louis Jouvet, the film is named after a true-to-life hotel of the same name situated on the banks of the Canal St-Martin (one whose bar and restaurant remains a popular nightlife spot to this day). It depicts a couple with a suicide pact and the misadventures that ensue following their agreement. The traditional shipping canal and the streets around it were elaborately reconstructed for the film's set, and remain impressive.
We'd be remiss if we didn't include this beloved animated film from Pixar on our list. It's the story of an extraordinary Parisian sewer rat named Rémy, who finds himself inspired by the kitchens he regularly raids to become a chef himself.
His many incredible exploits-- including making an exquisite plate of a certain French Provencal dish that wins the heart of an infamous food critic-- form the heart of this charming film. See it for the elaborate animated reconstruction of Paris, from the banks of the Seine to the sidewalk cafés. The voice acting is delightfully heartfelt, and often quite funny.