The Best French Crime Thriller Movies

Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953) © Duinen, […] van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL , via Wikimedia Commons
Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953) © Duinen, […] van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <>, via Wikimedia Commons
Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953) © Duinen, […] van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <>, via Wikimedia Commons

We delve into the top ten French thrillers.  Directors like Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Jacques Audiard have crafted masterpieces that have set benchmarks in the genre...


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Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953) © Duinen, […] van / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <>, via Wikimedia Commons


French cinema has produced some of the most compelling and influential thrillers in the history of cinema. Directors like Jean-Pierre Melville, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Jacques Audiard have crafted masterpieces that have set benchmarks in the genre. Here, we delve into the top ten French thrillers, showcasing the depth and diversity of French cinema.

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1. The Rap (Rapt) - 2009

Director: Lucas Belvaux

"Rapt" is a gripping thriller directed by Lucas Belvaux that delves into the psychological and emotional turmoil of a high-profile kidnapping. The film stars Yvan Attal as Stanislas Graff, a wealthy industrialist who is abducted and held for ransom. As the kidnapping unfolds, Graff is subjected to physical and psychological torture, while his family and business associates struggle to gather the ransom money.

The film intricately explores the impact of the kidnapping on Graff's personal and professional life, revealing secrets and hidden facets of his character. The performances, especially by Attal, are intense and compelling, making "Rapt" a standout in modern French thrillers. The film's realistic portrayal of a high-stakes kidnapping and its aftermath provides a riveting and thought-provoking experience.

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2. Solo (Solo) - 1970

Director: Jean-Pierre Mocky

"Solo," directed by Jean-Pierre Mocky, is a tense and atmospheric thriller that follows Vincent Cabral, played by Mocky himself, a saxophonist who gets entangled in a deadly conspiracy. Vincent inadvertently becomes involved with a group of revolutionaries planning a high-profile assassination. As he tries to extricate himself, he becomes the target of both the conspirators and the authorities.

The film's suspenseful narrative and Mocky's direction create an unsettling atmosphere, underscored by a haunting musical score. "Solo" is significant for its portrayal of paranoia and the pervasive sense of danger, reflecting the political tensions of the era. Mocky's dual role as director and lead actor adds a personal touch to the film, making it a memorable entry in French thriller cinema.

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3. The Red Circle (Le Cercle Rouge) - 1970

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Cercle Rouge" is a quintessential French heist thriller that brings together a trio of criminals planning an elaborate jewelry store robbery. The film stars Alain Delon as Corey, a recently released convict who teams up with Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), an escaped prisoner, and Jansen (Yves Montand), an ex-police sharpshooter battling personal demons.

Melville's meticulous direction and the film's minimalist style create a tense, almost hypnotic atmosphere. The heist sequence, executed with precision and minimal dialogue, is a masterclass in cinematic storytelling. "Le Cercle Rouge" is celebrated for its exploration of themes like fate, honor, and betrayal, and it remains one of the most influential French thrillers of all time.

Explore the legacy of Alain Delon 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".

4. Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) - 1958

Director: Louis Malle

Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" is a landmark film in French cinema, known for its innovative use of jazz music and its suspenseful narrative. The film stars Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as lovers plotting to kill Moreau's husband. However, their plan goes awry when Ronet's character, Julien, gets trapped in an elevator after the murder.

The film's haunting score by Miles Davis enhances its moody and atmospheric tone. Malle's direction and Moreau's evocative performance capture the despair and tension of the characters' plight. "Elevator to the Gallows" is significant for its stylistic innovations and its role in paving the way for the French New Wave.

5. A Thousand Billion Dollars (Mille milliards de dollars) - 1982

Director: Henri Verneuil

"A Thousand Billion Dollars," directed by Henri Verneuil, is a gripping thriller that tackles corporate corruption and media manipulation. Patrick Dewaere stars as Paul Kerjean, a journalist who uncovers a massive conspiracy involving multinational corporations and political intrigue. As he digs deeper, he faces increasing threats to his life and career.

Verneuil's film is notable for its incisive commentary on the power of the media and the influence of corporate interests. Dewaere's compelling performance and the film's intricate plot make it a standout in the genre. "A Thousand Billion Dollars" is a significant thriller for its exploration of themes that remain relevant in today's world.

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6. The Samurai (Le Samouraï) - 1967

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

"The Samurai" is one of Jean-Pierre Melville's most celebrated films, featuring Alain Delon in one of his most iconic roles. Delon plays Jef Costello, a solitary hitman who meticulously plans and executes his assignments. After a nightclub owner is murdered, Costello becomes the target of both the police and the criminal organization that hired him.

Melville's minimalist style and Delon's cold, enigmatic performance create a haunting and atmospheric film. "The Samurai" is significant for its exploration of existential themes and its influence on both French and international cinema. The film's meticulous attention to detail and its portrayal of a lone, morally ambiguous protagonist have inspired countless filmmakers.

Explore the legacy of Alain Delon 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".

7. An Alibi (Un alibi) - 2022

Director: Orso Miret

Maude, Pierre and Tom, friends of longstanding, meet up for a birthday party at Max and Lucie's. When they arrive they find Max kneeling beside Lucie's body. His guilt seems obvious. His friends, convinced he's innocent, decide to give him an alibi. But will the group withstand the police investigation?

The film's intricate plot and Demolon's intense performance make "Un alibi" a compelling watch. Its exploration of moral ambiguity and the consequences of deceit add depth to the narrative. "Un alibi" is significant for its unique premise and its gripping, suspenseful execution.

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8. Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes) - 1955

Director: Jules Dassin

"Rififi," directed by Jules Dassin, is a seminal heist film that set the standard for the genre. The film follows a group of thieves who meticulously plan and execute a jewelry store robbery. The heist sequence, which is executed in near silence and lasts over thirty minutes, is a masterclass in tension and precision.

Dassin's direction and the film's gritty, realistic portrayal of the criminal underworld make "Rififi" a landmark in French cinema. The film's influence can be seen in countless heist films that followed. "Rififi" is significant for its innovative techniques and its exploration of themes like loyalty, betrayal, and the consequences of crime.

9. The Devils (Les Diaboliques) - 1955

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

"Les Diaboliques," directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, is a classic thriller that blends elements of horror and suspense. The film stars Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot as the wife and mistress of a sadistic school headmaster, who conspire to murder him. However, after they carry out their plan, his body disappears, leading to a series of eerie and suspenseful events.

Clouzot's direction and the film's atmospheric cinematography create a sense of dread and tension. "Les Diaboliques" is significant for its innovative plot twists and its influence on the thriller and horror genres. The film's shocking ending has been widely imitated and remains one of the most memorable .

10. The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon cœur s'est arrêté) - 2005

Director: Jacques Audiard

Jacques Audiard's "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" is a modern thriller that blends elements of crime drama and character study. The film stars Romain Duris as Thomas Seyr, a young man torn between his life of crime and his passion for playing the piano. When he gets an opportunity to audition for a prestigious music school, he struggles to escape his criminal past.

Audiard's direction and Duris' intense performance create a compelling and emotionally charged film. "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" is significant for its exploration of themes like redemption, identity, and the conflict between personal aspirations and inherited roles. The film received critical acclaim and numerous awards, solidifying Audiard's reputation as one of France's leading contemporary directors.

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