Looking for the 5 best French action movies? "Point of No Return," the 1993 Bridget Fonda thriller, was a remake of a French film that most people would consider a top French action movie. While "Nikita," the French original, is a must-see movie, France has produced its share of other very fine action and adventure flicks.
- "District 13" In "District 13," street gangs have turned the Paris of the future into a war zone, not unlike the gritty, hopeless atmosphere of "Escape from New York." The city is walled and the hero has to take on the whole crime organization in order to protect the people who live in his apartment building. This 2004 movie was written and produced by Luc Besson, famous for directing the "Transporter" series staring Jason Statham, along with other popular English-language movies "The Fifth Element," "The Professional," and "Taken." The film has some great sequences of “parkour,” the art of using only the body and the materials around you to get from place to place. The stunt work on rooftops and other urban places makes the movie a must-see, despite the somewhat clichéd plot line.
- "Brotherhood of the Wolf" This 2001 movie was an international success, and it has a little bit of everything. It’s historical, being set during the French revolution; adventurous, as the plot concerns finding and killing a mysterious beast who has been killing people; and partly-factual, based on a book about a series of murders in 18th century France that were attributed to a legendary werewolf-type beast. American musician Joseph DeLuca’s jazz-inspired soundtrack sets the right tone for a movie that is a curious and entertaining mixture of action, adventure, horror, mystery, fantasy and even romance.
- "Nikita" This 1990 film might be the most well-known French film in America because the American remake and TV series were also successful, though definitely not as good. Written and directed by the prolific Besson, the movie involves a fascinating and unemotional female hero who is recruited against her will to work for the French government. Though the movie did not receive rave reviews, the non-stop action coupled with psychological realism and intensity make it a must see. Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars, when other critics were panning it. It’s a thinking man’s action flick.
- "Diva" Another perhaps unlikely movie for a top French action film, the 1981 "Diva" is based on a popular book with one of the main characters being a recording-shy opera star. The hero is a moped-riding postman, but he is not afraid to stir up some trouble, which he does by making a secret recording of the diva, which then becomes part of the plot as he must struggle to keep it from being stolen by violent bootleggers. The film is often noted as the first in using the "cinema du look," a name given for films with young, estranged heroes who have been outcast by society. The movie is based on a short, very readable novel by Delacorta (pseudonym for Daniel Odier), which was the first in a series of novels with a new wave style of writing similar to the film’s jazzy visual theatrics.
- "The Wages of Fear" This 1953 film, starring one of France’s greatest actors. Yves Montand, is considered a dramatic classic, and it is also a great French action film. It is a gritty story about four men paid by an oil company to deliver supplies through the South American jungle. That’s the basic plot, but the action sequences are incredibly heightened by director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s ability to draw out the tension to an almost unreal level. The movie is somewhat comparable to "The Duel," in which Stephen Spielberg made his directorial debut in a basic yet very threatening truck-versus-man chase plot. The extended suspense of driving the trucks full of nitroglycerine and the combative atmosphere between the men combined with the obstacles they encounter along the way makes this a screen gem that would play just as well in movie theaters of today.