Paris is one of those cities that has been inspiring generations of artists for centuries. Like a perpetual hub of activity for painters, writers, musicians and filmmakers, it has appeared as a backdrop in books, paintings and films. If you love Paris or dream of visiting, here is a list of my picks for the best movies set in Paris that will transport you to the City of Lights.
Paris is a city of love and romance. It is the city of lights and the city of fashion. Paris is a place where people go to escape their own realities. To live in the moment and to experience life to its fullest. Whether it’s a romance, drama, comedy or thriller, there are many Paris movies to love. To make this list manageable, I decided to focus on films set in Paris filmed after 2000. I think the classics deserve a separate post.
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11 Movies set in Paris to watch before you go
Find the perfect movies to watch with this list of movies set in Paris.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
A screenwriter and an aspiring novelist Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), comes to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. While Gil has a sentimental and romanticized view of Paris, especially in the rain, Inez doesn’t share the sentiment. After a frustrating night out with her family, he opts to walk alone back to the hotel.
As the clock strikes midnight, a vintage car pulls up beside him, and a group of strangers invite him along for a ride. The vehicle transports him back in time to Paris in the 1920s, a time he sees as the ideal place to be. He meets many art and literary icons and an intriguing woman named Adriana. The time with cultural heroes of the past makes him reflect on his relationship with Inez and his dissatisfaction with the present.
Midnight in Paris is one of my favourite movies set in Paris. It features loads of amazing views of the city, and it brings to life one of my greatest fantasies – the ability to travel to the past. The movie is filled with nostalgia and sentiments about Paris, its beauty and how it looks in the rain. What’s not to love?
Amélie is about a shy waitress Amelie (Audrey Tautou), who decides to change the lives of the strangers around her for the better while pursuing her own dreams along the way. It’s quirky, colourful, romantic, and at times, melancholy. In other words, it’s artsy and very French.
Between the many views of Paris (the movie was filmed in over 80 locations across the city) and the cinematography, Amélie is one of the most popular movies set in Paris out there. The creative use of edits, colours, music and CGI creates a visual feast. Whether you’re into Paris or not, this is a feel-good movie that is sure to charm you.
Paris is in the background here. It’s not the main character or even the movie’s subject, but the city still plays a pivotal role that adds charm and beauty to the screen. You don’t have to be a lover of Paris to enjoy this one, and I think that’s what makes it so remarkable.
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Sunset is the second instalment of the Before Trilogy, touted by some as one of the most romantic stories out there. In the first movie (Before Sunrise), Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meet on a train in Vienna. Nine years later, they run into each other in Paris. The movie follows them as they spend an afternoon walking around the city, reminiscing about their past and what could have been.
While the movie isn’t about Paris, the city appears as a charming backdrop in the story. As Celine and Jessie confront their past, you can’t imagine them in any other city. While they are in the City of Love, the storyline instead focuses on their connection that started years earlier in a different place. Placing them in Paris, as they re-examine fate and their decisions, is strategic as it cleverly plays into the romance of the situation.
If you love romance, then this is the movie for you. It combines a romantic story of two people, seemingly brought together by fate, with the setting of one of the most romantic cities in the world. What’s not to love about that?
Moulin Rouge! 2001
You can’t have a list of movies set in Paris without one that features star-crossed lovers, power ballads and the famous Moulin Rouge. When a young Bohemian writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) meets the talented the beautiful courtesan and showgirl Satine (Nicole Kidman), sparks fly.
But, as with many tragic love stories, things don’t work their way. Christian and Satine’s love is thwarted by scheming bad guys set on keeping them apart. Throw in extravagant costumes, theatrical settings and soulful ballads, and you have yourself an award-winning visual spectacle for the senses.
Moulin Rouge the movie brings to life the seductive allure of the famous and legendary cabaret in Paris and transports viewers to a different time. Although the story is fictional, Paris’s magic is there, which is what makes this a great movie to enjoy.
Paris, je t’aime/Paris, I Love You (2006)
The movie is a collection of 18 short stories set in different arrondissements in Paris. Every story is independent, with its own directors, actors and storylines. What they share is the location of where each film takes place – the City of Lights.
Each story takes us through different neighbourhoods in Paris, with a star-studded cast. The stories are charming, sentimental, funny and dark. Like Amélie, this is an artsy portrayal of Paris that wouldn’t suit any other city the same way. No matter what part of Paris is your favourite, you’ll feel like you’re back there to enjoy them all.
You can’t have a list of movies set in Paris without one that is an ode to the city itself. The stories are interesting, the characters pull at your heartstrings and watching them really makes you wish you were back there right now. At least that’s how I feel when I watch it.
When it comes to charming, artsy and quirky movies set in Paris, Ratatouille is an obvious choice. It’s the story of Remy, a dreamer and a culinary connoisseur, who forms an unlikely friendship with Alfredo, the only person who can make those dreams come true. The catch? Remy is a rat, and Alfredo is a clumsy garbage boy who works in a once-famous restaurant.
A chance encounter changes both their lives. As Remy steps in as Alfredo’s hidden sous-chef, his inventive recipes soon help Alfredo climbs the ranks at the restaurant. It’s an adorable story that entirely makes sense as an animation. It will make you wish for a talking chef rat of your own.
The movie creatively captures the spirit of Paris and features a healthy dose of stunning views that will make you want to pack your bags and head over there. Paris, after all, is not just the city of love and lights. Its’ also a city of culinary delights, famous restaurants and dreamers.
La vie en rose (2007)
This movie is a biographical musical story of one of the most beloved French singers, Edith Piaf. Named after one of her most famous songs, La vie en rose, the movie offers snapshots of her life and rise to fame. The song that made Edith Piaf a musical icon is one of those tunes you’ve likely heard played on the streets or in one of the many movies set in Paris.
One of France’s most celebrated and most widely-known international singers, Edith had a tragic life that ended much too soon. Her music, often autobiographical style ballads about loss, love and sorrow, made her one of the most iconic and controversial performers of her time. Portrayed by the talented Marion Cotillard, the movie is a nostalgic walk through time.
If you love the history of French music and culture, La vie en rose is a must-see movie for you. It’s also a chance to learn more about Edith Piaf and the city she called home. Drama, after all, is very French in itself.
Many movies set in Paris often feature foreigners searching for something. It’s easy to forget that Parisians are people like the rest of us. They deal with love and heartbreak, navigate their lives and mundane tasks like everyone else. The difference is, their every day is set in Paris.
Paris is a story of a former dancer who finds out he’s dying. Like many people who must face their mortality, he begins to rethink his life as he ponders its meaning. We see his neighbours and strangers go on with their lives through his eyes as he watches them from his window. The views are stirring and beautiful, which contrast with his bleak diagnosis.
The movie weaves stories of different people and their ordinary existence. It’s a story of love, frustration and struggle. It brings out our humanity and reminds us of our limited time on earth. You can ponder your life anywhere, but why not do it in a city like Paris, filled with history and passion?
The Dreamers (2003)
Set against the background of the 1968 student riots in Paris, The Dreamers follows an American exchange student Matthew (Michael Pitt) and his friendship with twins Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green). After the twins’ parents depart on a month-long vacation, they invite Matthew to stay in their apartment.
The three originally bond over their love of cinema and venture into an exploration of the erotic world of fantasy and each other. Charged with emotions and sexual encounters, the steamy relationship, fuelled by the revolutionary fever, only highlights their detachment from the reality of what’s going on around them.
Much like Bernardo Bertolucci’s other movies, this one is racy and sexually charged. While this might not be a movie for everyone, it’s worth adding to the list.
Two days in Paris (2004)
After two weeks in Venice, Marian (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) arrive in Paris to visit her family and pick up their cat. While they are in a city of love, the visit is less about romance and more of a test of their relationship. With an onslaught of meeting her exes, nosy parents and unexpected drama, the two are forced to re-examine their relationship.
Unlike many romantic movies set in Paris, this one plays out almost like anti-romance. It’s proof that things can go wrong in any city, including Paris. As tensions mount between Marian and Jack, we get the pleasure of seeing the city through the everyday lives of the people who live there. Add in Jack’s awkwardness that comes from being an outsider unfamiliar with his surroundings, and you get a very relatable movie.
As it was written, produced and directed by Paris native Julie Delpy, I feel like we get to see real Paris and not a fantasy that is often portrayed in other movies. There is no luxury and glamour rammed down our throats, and that’s what makes this an exciting watch.
Le Weekend (2013)
A long-married British couple, Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg Burrows (Lindsay Duncan), arrive in Paris for their anniversary in an attempt to rekindle their relationship. As they visit the sights and try to recreate their honeymoon, it’s clear that they are unhappy have many challenges in their marriage.
Their trip is filled with arguments and resentment. They have very little in common and have grown tired of each other. When it looks like their marriage might not survive the trip, they run into Nick’s old university buddy, Morgan, who invites them to a dinner party. The outing offers them a chance to take another look at their relationship and its future.
While the movie still uses the trope of Paris as a city of romance and love, it’s through a very different lens. Meg and Nick aren’t a young couple filled with love and optimism. They are jaded, unhappy and resentful of each other. They both seem irritated by the trip meant to rekindle their marriage. It’s not your typical rom-com, and its realistic portrayal of long-term relationships is honest and refreshing.
Movies set in Paris, in conclusion
There are so many movies set in Paris, making it challenging to narrow down. What it proves is that the City of Lights, after so many centuries, still has the power to capture our imaginations and is a popular backdrop in films and television. Perhaps it’s the fact that Paris has been around for centuries that makes it a great setting. Either way, there are many options to choose from.
I purposely didn’t include many older movies to keep it manageable. Audrey Hepburn movies set in Paris could easily become another post on their own. Movies that are partially set in Paris could be another. The list goes on and on. As time goes by, I’m sure there will be many more movies to add to this list. After all, Paris is always a good idea.
What are some of your favourite movies set in Paris not on this list? Let me know.