A Cinematic Stroll Through the City of Lights: 7 Unmissable Films Set in Paris

28 May 2024
From the bustling streets to the hidden alleyways, Paris isn't just a city; it's a living, breathing work of art. For film enthusiasts, travellers, and Francophiles alike, there's a romance in Paris that transcends the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. It's a city that has inspired countless films, its image etched into the dreamy celluloid of some of cinema's most beloved stories. Today, we're rolling out the red carpet and inviting you to experience Paris through the eyes of the silver screen with seven unmissable films that capture the essence of the City of Lights.
A Cinematic Stroll Through the City of Lights: Twilight in Montmartre © Pexels, Aaron Braitmaier

The Parisian Backdrop: A Cinematic Love Affair

The allure of Paris on film is not merely romantic. It's a canvas of contrasts - ancient and modern, bustling and serene, all intertwined with the city's complex history. Stories set against this backdrop are charged with an urban energy that's impossible to ignore.
In "Amélie," Montmartre is not just a neighbourhood - it's a magical kingdom where the charmingly enigmatic Amélie Poulain orchestrates the small miracles of everyday life. "Before Sunset," the second instalment of Richard Linklater's 'Before Trilogy,' transforms Paris into a transient space where Jesse and Celine explore not just cobbled streets but the complexities of love and identity. And then there’s "Midnight in Paris," which effortlessly weaves between eras, reminding us that beneath the veneer of modern Paris lies a city steeped in artistic fervour and lingering echoes of the past.

Iconic Parisian Films: Must-Sees for Your Watchlist

1. Amélie (2001)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this quirky gem follows the whimsical exploits of a Parisian waitress as she sets out to improve the lives of those around her, leading to a kaleidoscopic tour of Montmartre.

Set against the enchanting backdrop of Paris, Amélie (2001) directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a cinematic love letter to the French capital, capturing its essence and romantic mystique through the eyes of its whimsical protagonist, Amélie Poulain. The film meticulously crafts Paris not merely as a setting but as a vital character that intertwines with Amélie's life, influencing her adventures and encounters.

Montmartre, with its cobblestone streets, quaint cafés, and the iconic Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, provides a picturesque canvas that reflects the film’s fairy-tale ambiance. Jeunet's Paris is imbued with a magical realism that transforms ordinary locales into places of wonder, from the bustling market streets to the serene banks of the Seine, each frame of the film invites viewers to fall in love with Paris's timeless charm. Through Amélie’s interactions and the vibrant cast of characters she encounters, the film paints a layered portrait of Parisian life that is both idiosyncratic and universally appealing, highlighting the city’s capacity to inspire, challenge, and ultimately heal.

Through its enchanting depiction of Paris, Amélie not only celebrates the beauty and complexities of human connections but also pays homage to the enduring spirit of the city itself, making it an unforgettable cinematic experience that captures the heart of Paris.

2. An American in Paris (1951)

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron frolic through the City of Lights in this musical masterpiece that showcases Paris in all its post-war vibrancy.

"An American in Paris" (1951), directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly, is another cinematic masterpiece that elevates the City of Light to a starring role, albeit with a post-World War II vibrancy that contrasts with the subtle whimsy of Amélie. This musical film, celebrated for its groundbreaking choreography and Gershwin's unforgettable score, unfolds the tale of Jerry Mulligan, an American ex-GI turned painter, finding his muse and love in the enchanting streets of Paris.

The film's depiction of Paris is palpably romantic, capturing the city's artistic soul through its lush, Technicolor visions of iconic landmarks and the Seine's picturesque banks. Paris, as portrayed in this film, is not just a backdrop but a living, breathing entity that shapes the destinies of its characters. The quintessentially Parisian scenes, from its lively cafés and open-air markets to the majestic Eiffel Tower and the winding River Seine, are intertwined with dance numbers that blend seamlessly with the city's aesthetic, creating a magical realism that rivals even that of Amélie.

Beyond its artistic achievements, An American in Paris serves as an ode to the city's post-war rebound and the enduring appeal of Paris as a haven for artists and lovers alike. In doing so, it captures a different facet of Paris's personality - optimistic, vibrant, and irresistibly romantic, showcasing the city's unparalleled ability to enchant and captivate those who wander its streets.

3. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

An intense romantic drama directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, offers a raw and unflinching look at desire and solitude in Paris.

Last Tango in Paris (1972), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring Marlon Brando alongside Maria Schneider, stands as one of the most controversial yet profoundly impactful films set against the enigmatic backdrop of Paris. Unlike the whimsically romantic portrayal found in Amélie or the vibrant, artistic celebration in An American in Paris, Last Tango in Paris presents a grittier, more visceral depiction of the city. Paris here is not just a scenic backdrop but a reflection of the tumultuous, raw emotions and the complex, often dark relationship between the film's protagonists, Paul and Jeanne.

The city, with its muted colours and often overcast skies, mirrors the tumult and emotional turmoil of the characters, serving as a silent witness to their intense, fleeting affair. The apartment in which much of the drama unfolds becomes a microcosm of their isolated existences, set apart from the iconic, bustling city outside its walls. Yet, it is through the stark, often bleak Parisian settings - ranging from the desolate streets to the sparse interiors - that Last Tango in Paris explores themes of loneliness, alienation, and the search for identity.

Bertolucci's Paris is challenging and unforgiving, yet undeniably captivating, showcasing the city's ability to embody and enhance the profound, often painful exploration of human emotion and connection. The film's controversial and explicit content overshadowed its artistic and thematic endeavours at the time of release, yet it undeniably remains a bold narrative woven intricately into the fabric of Paris, portraying the city in a light far removed from the luminous glow of traditional cinematic portrayals, instead opting for a portrayal that is as complex and controversial as the film itself.

4. Before Sunset (2004)

Director Richard Linklater reunites Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in this poignant follow-up to Before Sunrise, where their characters meet again in Paris, reigniting the spark of their previous encounter amidst the city’s fleeting beauty.

Before Sunset (2004), directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, stands out for its intimate and nuanced exploration of love, capturing the fleeting moments of connection against the vibrant and introspective backdrop of Paris. This sequel to "Before Sunrise" reunites the protagonists, Jesse and Celine, after a decade, leveraging the City of Light as not merely a setting but as a catalyst for their rekindled conversation and evolving relationship.

The film unfolds in real-time, taking viewers on a mesmerising walk through Paris's enchanting streets, parks, and cafés, from the quaint bookstores of the Latin Quarter to the scenic quays of the Seine, each locale serving as a poignant backdrop for Jesse and Celine’s explorations of love, life, and the roads not taken. Paris, in all its beauty and historic depth, becomes a third character in the film, a silent observer to the raw, unscripted authenticity of human connection that Linklater captures so elegantly. The setting sun over Paris not only provides a stunning visual metaphor for the passing of time but also reflects the urgency and ephemeral nature of the protagonists’ reunion.

The city’s legendary romantic aura is depicted with a realism that eschews idealised clichés, presenting instead a Paris that is reflective and complex, mirroring the characters' internal landscapes. In Before Sunset, Paris transcends its postcard beauty, becoming a labyrinth of personal discovery and a crucible for the bittersweet, profound dialogue that defines the film. Through its subtle interplay of character and city, the film offers a deeply affecting meditation on love, emphasising the serendipity and poignancy of reconnection in one of the world's most emblematic cities.

5. The Intouchables (2011)

This heartwarming French comedy-drama follows the unlikely friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic and his exuberant young caregiver, played by François Cluzet and Omar Sy, and their Parisian adventures that remind us of the city's ability to heal and bring joy.

This poignant narrative directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano masterfully intertwines humour and emotion, and is set against the backdrop of Paris’ diverse and contrasting landscapes. An uplifting tale of an unlikely friendship between Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic from the city's opulent neighbourhoods, and Driss, a young man from the projects, the film brings to the fore the city's multifaceted persona. Paris, in this film, is more than just a setting; it is a canvas that reflects the characters' journeys, bridging worlds that are socially and economically poles apart.

The film navigates through the lavish streets of Paris’s affluent areas to the bustling, vibrant quarters inhabited by its less fortunate, showcasing the city's architectural and cultural dichotomy. Scenes set in the luxurious mansion overlooking panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower contrast sharply with those in the crowded, spirited neighbourhoods, illustrating Paris as a city of contradictions, where beauty and hardship coexist. It's within this complex urban tapestry that The Intouchables finds its heart, leveraging Paris not just as a picturesque backdrop but as a living, breathing entity that plays a crucial role in the narrative.

The city’s emblematic sites, alongside its lesser-known corners, serve as silent witnesses to the evolving bond between the main characters, illustrating how their lives are inexorably intertwined with the pulse of Paris. The film’s depiction of the city goes beyond the stereotypical, offering viewers a more inclusive, authentic portrayal of Parisian life, highlighting the transformative power of friendship and understanding across the social divides.

6. Ratatouille (2007)

An animated delight set in the culinary capital, telling the story of Remy, a rat with a passion for cooking who dreams of becoming a renowned French chef against all odds.

Ratatouille (2007), directed by Brad Bird and produced by Pixar, provides a heartwarming and whimsically creative portrayal of Paris, celebrating the city's culinary prestige and its picturesque beauty from a unique perspective. Unlike the darker, more complex depictions of Paris in films like Last Tango in Paris, (or the Gaspar Noé cult classics Irreversible and I Stand Alone), Ratatouille offers an enchanting, if not idealised, vision of the city, inviting viewers into a world where the passion for food and the joy of cooking are metaphors for living one's dream.

Paris is presented through the eyes of Remy, a determined rat with an extraordinary culinary talent, whose aspirations lead him to the heart of the city's gastronomic scene. The animation vividly captures the quintessential charm of Paris, from the cobbled streets and bustling markets to the iconic skyline marked by the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, rendering the city with a warmth and detail that feels both inviting and grandiose. The film’s Paris is a canvas of opportunity and discovery, embodying the spirit of ambition and the richness of French cuisine.

The detailed, loving portrayal of the kitchens, dining rooms, and the intoxicating allure of food preparation serves as a tribute to the city’s culinary heritage, making Paris not just a backdrop but an integral character in the story. Through the narrative of Remy and his adventures, Ratatouille explores themes of identity, acceptance, and the pursuit of excellence, all within the enchanting and vibrant setting of Paris. This depiction of the city not only underscores its status as a culinary capital but also celebrates the beauty of following one’s passion, making Ratatouille a delightful ode to Paris and its enduring influence on the world of gastronomy.

7. Midnight in Paris (2011)

A captivating journey that blends whimsical fantasy with a heartfelt exploration of nostalgia, as the protagonist time-travels to 1920s Paris and meets iconic cultural figures.

Directed by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris is another cinematic love letter to Paris, albeit through a lens that transcends the confines of time to explore the city's historical and cultural richness. This whimsical film invites audiences into a fantastical Paris where the past and present merge in the blink of an eye. The protagonist, Gil Pender, finds himself mysteriously transported to the 1920s each midnight, thrusting him into the company of legendary figures like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Paris, with its timeless allure, becomes a crossroads of eras, where the glow of the streetlamps seems to whisper secrets of bygone days.

Allen's Paris evokes a vivid sense of nostalgia and enchantment, capturing the city’s ethereal beauty and its capacity to inspire artists, writers, and dreamers across ages. Through Gil's nocturnal adventures, the film pays homage to the Paris of the Lost Generation, with its vibrant literary salons and jazz-filled nightclubs, yet it also lovingly portrays the modern city, suggesting that the magic of Paris is not confined to any single epoch. The picturesque streets, historic landmarks, and the seductive Seine under the moonlight serve as more than mere settings - they are conduits to a world where one's deepest creative longings find echo and encouragement.

Paris, in Midnight in Paris, is depicted as both a haven and a muse, a place where the romance of the past enriches the present, illuminating the city's enduring appeal as a sanctuary for the artistic soul. This film stands as a testament to the timeless fascination and love affair that creatives have with Paris, showcasing the city’s unparalleled capacity to stir the imagination and kindle the flame of inspiration.
The musical Mouline Rouge didn't make the list, but gets an honourable mention © Pexels, Martijn Adegeest

Filming Locations: A Guide for Travellers

Each of these films showcases a unique perspective of Paris, and some have even made specific landmarks and locations into stars. It’s not uncommon for fans to track down these sites once they land in Paris, turning their visit into a real-life movie pilgrimage.

Amélie wouldn't be the same without scenes from Café des 2 Moulins or the classic view from the basilica of Sacré-Cœur. Last Tango in Paris captures the raw intimacy of locations like the Passy viaduct or the Église Saint-Sulpice, while An American in Paris is a scenic love letter to the River Seine and the many bridges that cross its path.

Paris on Screen vs. Reality

The Paris we see in films is often a heightened reality; a filtered version that highlights the most picturesque elements. While iconic landmarks are featured heavily, everyday Parisian life can be just as enchanting but in subtly different ways. It’s important to view the cinematic portrayal of Paris as an artistic interpretation, a jumping-off point for those curious to explore the city's layers.

The films that capture Paris have a lasting influence on the city's perception around the world. They shape our collective imagination, and for many, these works are the closest one can get to a trip to Paris without leaving the comfort of their home.


The best films set in Paris are more than mere narratives; they are love letters to the city itself. Each one offers a unique window into the soul of Paris - its streets, its dreams, and its unbreakable spirit. They are timeless testaments to the idea that, through the lens of cinema, we can fall in love with Paris over and over again.

In the end, whether you're a Paris enthusiast from afar or planning your next big adventure, remember that Paris is truly a city of dreams, no matter the medium used to capture it. Share your love for Paris - and perhaps your own personal favourite films about the city - with us, and make your way to Paris, either via the silver screen or by booking the next flight. Either way, the magic of this incredible city is waiting for you!


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