It’s not an overstatement to say Paris is a city overflowing with art and beauty. The City of Love is home to the greatest number of museums in the world, including the world’s largest – The Louvre. But it’s not just in museums where you can witness breathtaking works of art. The streets of Paris offer life in technicolour – in fact, some of the best travel memories are made wandering the cobblestone paths in Montmartre or simply people-watching at any one of the chic cafés lining Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
With scenes of beauty at seemingly every corner, it’s no wonder Paris features prominently in countless films across the decades. While international travel is still limited for now, we picked out a few key locations from seven different movies to give you a flavour of Paris and inspire your next visit.
1. River Seine (An American in Paris, 1951)
At 775km long, the Seine is a ubiquitous part of the city, running through the city all the way to the English Channel, and has inspired many artists over the years, including Impressionist painters Renoir and Monet. While this musical comedy film, which swept up seven Academy Awards in 1951 including one for “Best Motion Picture”, is ostensibly about a struggling young artist (played by Gene Kelly) who gets discovered by a wealthy art collector (played by Nina Foch), really, the highlights of the film are the many song-and-dance routines that take place on the streets of Paris. One number, of course, celebrates this iconic waterway – with Gene Kelly serenading the beautiful Leslie Caron as they dance along the River Seine under the romantic moonlight.
2. Champs-Élysées (À bout de souffle, 1960)
Stretching for over 1.9km – from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde – the Champs-Élysées is Paris’ most famous shopping street. Lined with high-end boutiques, luxury hotels and famous restaurants, the Champs-Élysées has always been a popular draw for visitors to the French capital, and this includes fictional characters. In this 1960 crime drama from legendary director Jean-Luc Godard, American student Patricia (Jean Seberg) sells the New York Herald Tribune on the boulevards of Paris – including the Champs-Élysées – while housing her criminal-on-the-run French boyfriend, Michel (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) in her apartment. Breathless (its English title) was Godard’s first full-length feature film and was one of the earliest films that influenced the French New Wave movement.
3. Montmartre (Amelie, 2001)
Also known as the artists’ quarter of Paris, Montmartre has long attracted the creative set – from Picasso and van Gogh to Dali and Matisse. Perhaps this is why director Jean-Pierre Jeunet decided to set his quirky, whimsical film in the heart of this artistic district. Starring Audrey Tautou, Amelie tells the tale of an eccentric waitress who works at the Cafe des Deux Moulins (an actual place you can visit) and sets out on a mission to improve the lives of the people around her. Other filming locations in Montmartre include Cinema 28, one of the oldest picture houses in Paris, and the historic Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
4. Shakespeare and Company Bookstore (Before Sunset, 2004)
In 1995 when Before Sunrise was released, audiences around the world were enamoured by the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American traveller who meets Céline (Julie Delpy) on a train and spends a night walking and talking in Vienna. They had made plans to meet six months later at the same train station… but life got in the way. Nine years later, however, the two have another chance encounter in the famous Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. First opened in 1919, this bookstore, with its distinctive green façade and rickety signage, has seen the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford pass through its hallowed doors. In the sequel Before Sunset, Jesse and Céline once again spend the night talking and the film takes us through a mini tour of Paris, from the Seine to the Coulée Verte René-Dumont, an elevated park above the city.
5. Palace of Versailles (Marie Antoinette, 2006)
Covering a startling 63,000m² and housing over 2,200 rooms, the Palace of Versailles is today a World Heritage Site and museum. This historical drama from Sofia Coppola traces the life of Maria Antonia (played by Kirsten Dunst), the young Archduchess of Austria who travels to France to marry the heir-apparent, the future Louis XVI. Most of the film was filmed within the palace, including the stunning wedding scene in the Baroque-style Hall of Mirrors and the Neoclassical-style Petit Trianon, an on-site chateau where the queen would come to escape the burden of royal responsibilities.
6. The Louvre (The Da Vinci Code, 2006)
Based on Dan Brown’s 2003 bestselling book of the same name, this mystery thriller sees Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, an American professor of art history and symbology, teaming up with French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu to hunt down the Holy Grail. The Louvre Museum, housed within a former royal residence, features prominently in the movie, from the Hall of Napoleon (beneath the glass pyramid entrance) and the staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace to iconic art pieces from Leonardo Da Vinci such as The Virgin of the Rocks, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and of course, the Mona Lisa.
7. Arc de Triomphe (Mission: Impossible – Fallout, 2018)
The Mission: Impossible series has always produced nail-biting action scenes (who can forget Tom Cruise climbing Dubai’s Burg Khalifa in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol or being lowered by rope into a high-security room in CIA headquarters via an air duct in the first Mission: Impossible movie?) In this edition, Agent Ethan Hunt is in Paris and in one death-defying scene, drives against peak-hour traffic at the Arc de Triomphe. And yes, Tom Cruise does his own stunts. While all the cars in the scene were being driven by stuntmen, the Hollywood star was revving at top speed in the opposite direction. When it’s not the setting for adrenaline-pumping action films, this historic commemorative monument is an oft-photographed site for visitors of Paris. There is a small museum at the top of the Arc, which contains large models of the monument and tells its story of its construction.