10 famous French actors your should know

Alain Delon in "The Joy of Living" in 1961 © kinorium.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Alain Delon in "The Joy of Living" in 1961 © kinorium.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Alain Delon in "The Joy of Living" in 1961 © kinorium.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10 famous French actors you should know: Alain Delon, Jean Dujardin, Louis de Funès, ...


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Alain Delon in "The Joy of Living" in 1961 © kinorium.com, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

French cinema has long been a rich and influential part of the global film industry, from the first movie by the Lumière brothers all the way to the fabulous career of Alain Delon, Jean Dujardin, Louis de Funès and many more. Here, we highlight ten iconic French actors whose work you should be familiar with, whether they were the stars of the golden age of French cinema, icon of the New Wave or bankable actors in contemporary Hollywood blockbusters.

- Where to watch French movies in America -

TV5MONDE USA, of course, the only French language entertainment network available in America. TV5MONDE airs hundreds of French movies every year on top of TV shows on French culture, fashion and art-de-vivre. At no extra cost, you can also enjoy the French streaming platform TV5MONDEplus, with its thousands of  movies featuring the best French actors and actresses. 

1. Alain Delon

Alain Delon is one of the most iconic figures in French cinema, known for his striking looks and intense performances. Delon's career took off with his role in "Purple Noon" (Plein Soleil), where he played the enigmatic Tom Ripley. He continued to rise to fame with roles in classics such as "The Leopard" (Il Gattopardo), directed by Luchino Visconti, and "Le Samouraï," where he portrayed a solitary hitman in a cold, minimalist style. His collaboration with director Jean-Pierre Melville in "Le Cercle Rouge", among other thrillers, further cemented his status as a top-tier actor. Delon's suave and brooding presence on screen has made him a lasting icon in both French and international cinema. He won the César award for best actor in 1985 after having been nominated twice in previous years.

If you're a fan of Alain Delon, explore his legacy with featured content such as "Alain Delon: Face au Monde"  and delve into his enigmatic allure in "Alain Delon: La Beauté du Diable et les Femmes".

And if you've seen all of Alain Delon's classics and you're looking to discover his later work, stream now his hit cop TV show Frank Riva now on TV5MONDEplus!

- Read more: Alain Delon: How The French Actor Became a Global Star -

2. Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo was a central figure in the French New Wave, known for his rugged charm and versatility. He gained international fame with Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" (À bout de souffle), where his portrayal of the charismatic and rebellious Michel Poiccard became legendary. Belmondo's career is marked by a mix of high-energy action films and sophisticated dramas, such as "That Man from Rio" (L'Homme de Rio) and "Pierrot le Fou." His ability to seamlessly transition between genres made him a beloved figure in French cinema, celebrated for his daring stunts and magnetic screen presence. He received a lifetime achievement honor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 and a César award in 2011. 

3. Jean Gabin

Jean Gabin is considered one of the greatest actors in French cinema history, known for his commanding presence and gravitas. Gabin's career began in the 1930s, and he quickly became a leading man with films like "Pépé le Moko," where he played a charming gangster. His performances in "La Grande Illusion" and "Le Quai des Brumes" are considered some of the finest in cinema, showcasing his ability to convey deep emotion and complexity. Gabin's later work in "The Sicilian Clan" (Le Clan des Siciliens) and "Le Chat" demonstrated his enduring talent and adaptability across decades.

4. Louis de Funès

Louis de Funès was a comedic genius whose energetic and expressive style made him a beloved figure in French comedy. He starred in some of the most popular French comedies of all time, including the "Gendarme" series, starting with "The Gendarme of Saint-Tropez" (Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez). His role in "La Grande Vadrouille", "Rabbi Jacob" and "La Folie des grandeurs"showcased his comedic timing and physical comedy skills. De Funès' ability to bring laughter and joy to audiences through his zany characters and slapstick humor made him a cherished icon in French cinema.

Stream now the documentary "Louis de Funès, le rire éternel" on TV5MONDEplus

- Read more: Bourvil-De Funès: The French comedic duo that you must know -

5. Jean Reno

Jean Reno is a versatile actor known for his work in both French and international films. He gained widespread recognition for his role as the titular character in "Léon: The Professional" (Léon), where he played a hitman with a soft spot for a young girl, portrayed by Natalie Portman. Reno's performance in "The Big Blue" (Le Grand Bleu) as a free diver further showcased his talent. He has also appeared in Hollywood blockbusters such as "Mission: Impossible", "Godzilla" and "The Da Vinci Code." 

6. Vincent Cassel

Vincent Cassel is known for his intense and often dark characters, bringing a magnetic intensity to his roles. He first gained attention with his role in "La Haine," a gritty film that he co-wroteabout social unrest in the Parisian suburbs. Cassel's performances in "Irreversible" and "Black Swan" demonstrated his ability to tackle challenging and controversial roles. He has also starred in popular French films such as "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (Mesrine: L'Instinct de Mort) and its sequel "Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One" (Mesrine: L'Ennemi Public N°1). Cassel's dynamic range and fearless approach to acting have made him a prominent figure in contemporary cinema.

7. Omar Sy

Omar Sy is a charismatic actor who rose to fame with his role in the heartwarming comedy-drama "The Intouchables" (Intouchables), where he played a caregiver to a wealthy quadriplegic man. The film's success propelled Sy to international stardom, leading to roles in Hollywood films such as "Jurassic World" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past." Sy's performances in the French drama "Samba" and the Netflix series "Lupin" have further solidified his reputation as a talented and versatile actor. His ability to infuse warmth and humor into his characters has endeared him to audiences worldwide.

8. Jean Dujardin

Jean Dujardin achieved global recognition with his role in the silent film "The Artist," which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Dujardin's portrayal of a fading silent film star in this homage to classic Hollywood showcased his expressive acting and charm. Before that, he had been a comedic power in France and starred in many popular French comedies such as "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" (OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions) and its sequel. Dujardin's transition to international films includes roles in "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Monuments Men" although he never really pursued a career in Hollywood. Recently, he's been featured in dramas such as J'accuse and Novembre, two films recognized by César Awards.

9. Yves Montand

Yves Montand was a multi-talented performer known for his singing, acting, and charismatic screen presence. He began his career as a singer before transitioning to film, gaining acclaim for his role in "The Wages of Fear" (Le Salaire de la Peur), where he portrayed a truck driver undertaking a perilous journey. Montand's performances in "Z" and "Jean de Florette" showcased his dramatic range. He also starred in "Let's Make Love" with Marilyn Monroe, bridging the gap between French and American cinema.

- Stream now Étoile sans lumière with Yves Montand and Edith Piaf -

10. Gérard Depardieu

Gérard Depardieu is one of France's most prolific and versatile actors, known for his powerful performances and larger-than-life presence. He gained international fame with his role in "Cyrano de Bergerac," which earned him an Academy Award nomination. Depardieu's extensive filmography includes notable films such as "The Last Metro" (Le Dernier Métro), "Green Card," and "The Man in the Iron Mask." His ability to portray complex and nuanced characters has made him a fixture in French cinema, and his contributions to the art form are widely celebrated.

What about actresses you ask? Check our our article on  the Top 10 female-lead French Movies to stream now, from Juliette Binoche to Brigitte Bardot.

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