Expats and students and tourists, bonjour!
Paris has long been a point of fascination for people all over the world, and that includes filmmakers.
The City of Light has become its own lively character in movies — its sidewalk cafés, romantic lamplit streets, and iconic landmarks furnishing films with an ideal backdrop for intrigue and romance (especially romance) for decades.
Vincente Minnelli’s classic musical An American in Paris, which stars Gene Kelly as a WWII vet dancing around the romantic town to classic Gershwin tunes, hit theaters on Nov. 11, 1951. The film would go on to win six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Kelly took home an Academy Honorary Award that year for his versatility as a film actor and achievement in onscreen choreography.
In honor of 65 years of An American in Paris, we’ve compiled a list of 10 other movies that shine the spotlight on U.S. expats in the City of Light. If you dream en français or if you’re just craving some vin et fromage, try living vicariously through these big-screen Americans in Paris.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
When we think of U.S. expats in France, the first thing that comes to mind is inevitably the Lost Generation clique — including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein — who lived, wrote, and partied in the city after WWI. Woody Allen breathed new life into the brilliant crew (including Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway, and Kathy Bates as Stein) with his 2011 comedy Midnight in Paris, in which a modern-day American screenwriter (Owen Wilson) visits the City of Light and accidentally finds himself transported back to interwar Paris, where he hangs with his literary heroes.
While one of the most quintessentially French movies probably ever, Jean-Luc Godard’s influential New Wave masterpiece reflects a significant fascination with American culture, all against the backdrop of Paris (in a series of jump-cuts). Our hero, the charismatic criminal Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), models himself after Humphrey Bogart and tries to convince his girlfriend Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American student at the Sorbonne, to run away with him to Italy. Even at over half a century old, Breathless is so eternally cool it still makes us want to run away to Paris ourselves.
Breathless’ Michel chose his idol well in Humphrey Bogart, and nowhere is that more evident than in Michael Curtiz’s iconic Casablanca, in which he plays the jaded American expat Rick, who owns a nightclub in Casablanca during WWII. Rick keeps to himself and maintains the appearance of neutrality until Ilsa, the long-gone love of his life, walks into his bar — of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world. Casablanca may mostly take place in Morocco, but they’ll always have Paris.
The Dreamers (2003)
While Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 erotic drama Last Tango in Paris is probably his more celebrated American-in-Paris film, The Dreamers is worth a watch for its celebration of 1960s Franco-American cinephilia. Set against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris student riots, Michael Pitt stars as Matthew, an American student in Paris who befriends Théo and Isabelle (Louis Garrel and Eva Green), with whom he shares a deep love of cinema and a confusing Jules et Jim-inspired sexual dynamic.
A Little Romance (1979)
Diane Lane made her film debut as an American teenager in Paris in George Roy Hill’s A Little Romance. In the City of Light, she falls for a French boy (who, like the French boys of Breathless and The Dreamers, is obsessed with American movies) and the two of them befriend an eccentric old man (Laurence Olivier) who tells them stories and helps them run away to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs.
Before Sunset (2004)
The second installment in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy picks up nine years after Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) spent that fateful night exploring Vienna together. When Jesse’s novel inspired by their first encounter becomes a bestseller, he embarks on an international book tour — and whom should he run into on its Paris stop but Céline! They wander the city together, waxing philosophical about life, love, and fate, and the film ends with a killer of a romantic cliffhanger.
Funny Face (1957)
In Stanley Donen’s musical Funny Face, an American fashion photographer (Fred Astaire) looking for an inspiring new model stumbles upon an intellectual bookstore clerk who also happens to be shockingly photogenic (Audrey Hepburn). The pair of them head to Paris, where he hopes to capture his new muse in some fabulous French fashion, though she just wants to hang out in cafés and discuss contemporary philosophy. Somehow, they manage to find the time to do both and fall for each other.
Passport to Paris (1999)
This Olsen twins classic stars Mary-Kate and Ashley as boy-crazy twin sisters who visit Paris to stay with their grandfather, the U.S. ambassador to France, over their middle school break. Though at first they are significantly limited by their chaperone, eventually they befriend a supermodel, do some major shopping, and meet a pair of charming French boys. Bienvenue à France!
Le Divorce (2003)
Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts play American sisters in Paris in this Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Diane Johnson’s novel. When Watts’ character’s French husband leaves her for a married woman, the sisters find themselves hit with some serious culture shock over the social, legal, and cultural ramifications of breaking up (not to mention having affairs) in the most romantic city in the world.
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (2000)
Un bébé’s gotta do what un bébé’s gotta do. Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series took to the big screen and took to the French capital in Rugrats in Paris, which sees the whole crew visit EuroReptarland. Chuckie hopes to find a new mother in the City of Light, and all the babies work to thwart the plot of an evil CEO trying to lure in Chuckie’s father.