Want to learn more about French movie stars who are household names both locally and internationally? This post will give you a list of the most famous French actors!
When you dive deep into the history of cinema, you’ll easily come across the name Lumière.
That’s because the French film industry was born after the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, invented the revolutionary early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe, in 1895.
In fact, that was the world’s first commercial movie screening, so its easy to say that France was the birth of cinema.
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Since then, France has produced a number of talented actors and actresses. However, today, we take a look at the 21 most famous French actors who have carved a niche for themselves at home (in France), in Hollywood, and elsewhere.
Distinguished and critically acclaimed French actors from the industry are honored with two of the biggest awards — César Awards and the Lumières Award, which are the French equivalents to the Golden Globe and Academy Awards (commonly known as The Oscars). Most of the French film stars in this list have won either or both.
You might have heard of some of the below-mentioned 21 famous French actors on account of their work in Hollywood films and international cinema. Their acting prowess might even give their Hollywood counterparts a run for their money.[lasso ref=”worldnomadstravelinsurance” id=”6330″ link_id=”8458″]
21 Famous French Actors
All of these French movie stars have different backgrounds — some have transitioned from theatre, others acted in films directly, while a couple of them never planned on entering the industry at all.
But regardless of where they started, they’re now fan favorites and are widely considered the most famous French actors of today. Read on to find out who they are!
Born in December 1948, Gérard Depardieu started acting when he was 19 and continues to do so to date.
He is one of the most famous actors from France to have worked across multiple film industries and thrived in them. He is probably most famous for his roles in Going Places, Les Misérables, and Astérix & Obélix.
In his 250+ movies career, he has acted with popular French actresses such as Catherine Deneuve, Marion Cotillard, and Gisèle Casadesus.
In addition, he has also worked with top Hollywood actors such as Robert De Niro, Leonardo di Caprio, Andie Macdowell, Elizabeth Hurley, and Vin Diesel.
He has won the César Award twice — once for The Last Metro (1980) and another for Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). The latter even got him a Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actor, plus nominations for the Academy Award and BAFTA award for Best Actor.
Today, he is the second highest-grossing actor in the history of French cinema just after Louis de Funès.
2. Vincent Cassel
Vincent Cassel is another famous French actor who has gained international recognition over the years.
His acting debut started in advertisements with his first ad being a 1994 Renault Clio which aired in the UK.
After that, he transitioned into movies and gained critical acclaim, along with being nominated for two César Awards for his role as a troubled French Jewish youth in La Haine (1995).
Throughout the 90s, Vincent starred in many French films, including L’Appartement (1996), in which he acted alongside Monica Bellucci whom he later married.
Fast forward to 2018, he won the César Award for his film Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008).
Internationally, he is well-known for his acting in Black Swan, being a voice-over in Ice Age, and his villainous role in Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen which he co-starred with Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.
3. Jean Reno
When counting famous hollywood French actors, Jean Reno born Juan Moreno y Herrera-Jiménez features at the top.
Though he’s not French by birth, his family gained French citizenship after moving to France, after which he even served in the French Army.
When his acting career began, he changed his name to adopt a more French one (from Juan to Jean) and shortened his surname (from Moreno to Reno).
The French will remember his roles in Les Visiteurs (1993), Léon: The Professional (1994), Crimson Rivers (2000), and the voice behind Mufasa in the French-language version of The Lion King (1994).
His notable Hollywood performances include Mission: Impossible (1996), Ronin (1998), Godzilla (1998), The Pink Panther (2006) and its sequel (2009), and The Da Vinci Code (2006).
Among the younger lot of famous male French actors to make it big, Omar Sy is a name that stands out.
Chances are you know him because of his lead role in the Netflix French series Lupin, but this was not his biggest stint.
Omar’s career took off with the show Service après vente des émissions, which he co-hosted with his friend Fred Testot. He was a household name for 7 years throughout the show.
He shot to fame for his role as Driss in The Intouchables (2011), which earned him the César Award for Best Actor, making him the first Black recipient of the award. He also gained popularity in France for playing Clown Chocolat in Chocolat (2016).
International audiences might recognize his roles in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Jurassic World (2015), Inferno (2016), as the voice of Hot Rod in Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), and The Takedown (2022).
5. Jean Dujardin
Jean Dujardin is a stand-up comedian turned actor, who discovered his passion for acting when he was in the military.
His comedic stint started with the comedy troupe Nous Ç Nous but he gained household fame with his comedy sketch series, Un gars, une fille, which aired for nearly 5 years.
The French might recognize him from Brice de Nice (2005) and OSS 117 movies. He has also acted in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Monuments Men (2014) but his breakthrough performance was in the silent black and white French film, The Artist (2011).
This movie won him several accolades like the Cannes Best Actor Award, BAFTA, and even a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. He was nominated for a César award, as well, but lost to Omar Sy (Intouchables).
If there was an award for handsome French movie actors, Alain Delon would have definitely scooped it up as he was highly regarded as a prominent s*x symbol in Europe during the 60s and 70s.
Alain enlisted in the French Navy when he was only 17 years old and served for a couple of years. After his service, on returning home, he did a couple of jobs including being a waiter, and a sales assistant.
It was until when he went with Brigitte Auber to the Cannes music festival that his career in acting started after being noticed by a talent scout.
He acted alongside Jean-Paul Belmondo in his 2nd film, Be Beautiful But Shut Up (1958).
Some of his other critically-acclaimed films are Christine (1958), Plein Soleil/Purple Noon (1960), Le Samouraï (1967), and La Piscine/The Swimming Pool (1969).
He was honored with the titles; Officier of the Ordre national du Mérite in 1995 and Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’honneur in 2005.
Known in equal capacity for his directorial abilities and acting skills, Guillaume Canet is one of those famous actors of France who did not set out to pursue a career in acting.
Coming from a family of horse breeders, he was initially a show jumper, but a riding accident made him switch careers.
He has starred alongside the likes of Leonardo di Caprio in The Beach (2000), Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Eva Mendes in Last Night (2010), and Gérard Depardieu in Vidocq (2001).
He also co-starred with his wife-at-the-time, Diane Kruger, in Joyeux Noël (2005). After his divorce from Diane, he married Marion Cotillard, his co-star in the films, Love Me If You Dare (2003) and The Last Flight (2009).
He has won the César Award for Best Director for his film, Tell No One (2006), which even got nominated for the César Award for Best Film.
8. Lambert Wilson
Lambert Wilson is one of those famous French Hollywood actors who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star since his teens, and he paved his way quite successfully.
Barely 5 years after he starred in his first film, he acted alongside Sean Connery in Five Days One Summer (1982). Although the film did not do well, Lambert caught many an eye.
French audiences may know him for his roles in The Public Woman (1984) and Rendez-vous (1985), while internationally, he is best known for his role as The Merovingian in The Matrix series.
Besides acting, he is also a good singer and has released an album called Musicals in 1989, where he covered songs from popular American musicals.
9. Jean-Paul Belmondo
Despite having a passion for acting, Jean-Paul Belmondo struggled in his initial years because of a lack of faith and support from his peers and mentors.
In the 1950s, he acted in many plays, eventually gaining his first film role alongside Alain Delon in Be Beautiful But Shut Up (1958).
His acting career spanned over 50 decades with notable performances in Breathless (1960), That Man from Rio (1964), and Pierrot le Fou (1965). He even won the César Award in 1989 for his film, Itinéraire d’un enfant gâté.
Jean-Paul received the Palme d’honneur and the César d’honneur, which are both lifetime achievement honors.
He was also made a Commandeur (Commander) of the Ordre National du Mérite in 1994 and Commandeur (Commander) of the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur in 2007.
Known for the huge impact he made on European Cinema, Jean-Paul is truly one of the best French actors of all time and is usually considered a national teasure in France, at least in the film industry.
10. Mathieu Amalric
Mathieu Amalric is one of the most famous actors in France who made quite the name in Hollywood too.
His role as the lead villain, Dominic Greene, in the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008), is when he gained international fame.
But, he has also acted in Munich (2005), Venus in Fur (2013), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) with celebrated directors.
He has won several César Awards for Best Actor for Ma Vie Sexuelle (1996), Kings and Queens (2004), and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007). The latter two films also got him the Lumières Award for Best Actor.
11. Tahar Rahim
Tahar Rahim is one of the best French actors of recent times, and it helps that he makes 40 look so good!
Tahar’s fame catapulted with his role as a juvenile delinquent in the movie, A Prophet (2010). He won two César Awards for it — Most Promising Actor and Best Actor, and a Lumières Award as the Best Actor too.
His other critically-acclaimed performances in The Mauritanian (2021) and The Serpent (2022) got him nominated for a Golden Globe Award for both and a BAFTA for the latter.
If you’re wondering, The Serpent is a crime drama limited series co-produced by BBC and Netflix in which Tahar portrays the titular role of the serial killer Charles Sobhraj.
12. Louis de Funès
Louis de Funès was five when he learned the piano, later going on to take up a job as a jazz pianist but he switched over to acting when he was 28.
Louis’ career spanned nearly 4 decades, through which he acted in over 150 movies and 100 plays.
He was one of the funniest French movie stars during his time, with his gestures and mimicking skills becoming his trademarks.
Louis and Jean Girault made quite the director-actor pair, given that they churned out 12 hits like Le Gendarme de Saint- Tropez (1964) and Les Grandes Vacances (1967) together.
His final film, before his passing in 1983, was Le Gendarme et les Gendarmettes (1982) from the Gendarme series.
Though there are new actors coming up every now and then, Louis de Funès still remains one of the French famous actors around the world with an exception of English-speaking countries.
13. Gaspard Ulliel
Gaspard Ulliel is one of those famous actors from France who passed away too soon (he was only 37 years old). His good looks and charming smile will be missed dearly.
He won the César Award for Best Actor for his titular role in It’s Only the End of the World (2016).
His other notable performances include playing young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising (2007), fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent in the biopic Saint Laurent (2014), and voicing Jack Frost in the French version of Rise of the Guardians (2012).
In 2015, he was made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters.
His last projects were La Vengeance au Triple Galop opposite Marion Cotillard and the superhero miniseries Moon Knight, in which he played the villain Anton Mogart.
Jean Rochefort is one of the most prolific and best French actors to dominate the 1950s and 60s.
His career spanned nearly six decades, with him acting in over 100 movies. He was a very versatile actor who could play characters in both drama and comedy films.
Although Jean started doing dramas when he was just a teen, his acting had to take a break when he served in the military.
Once he resumed show business, there was no stopping as he churned out many hits like the Angélique series, An Elephant Can Be Extremely Deceptive (1976), The Man on the Train (2002), Tell No One (2006), and the miniseries, Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1998).
He won 2 César Awards — best supporting actor for Que la fête commence (1975), and best actor for his role in Le Crabe-tambour (1977). He was also felicitated with an Honorary César in 1999.
15. Olivier Martinez
Another addition to the attractive and charming French Hollywood actors’ list is Olivier Martinez.
Although his career started in the French film industry with films like Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil (1993) and The Horseman on the Roof (1995), he transitioned to Hollywood films after a decade.
He has acted alongside Hollywood stars like Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp in Before Night Falls (2000), Richard Gere and Diane Lane in Unfaithful (2002), Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, and Kiefer Sutherland in Taking Lives (2004), and Halle Berry in Dark Tide (2012).
Olivier won a César Award for his role in Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil as the most promising actor.
16. Romain Duris
Romain Duris’ passion for the arts began when he was just a teen. He started as a drummer in a band he had formed but joined the film industry when a casting director offered him a role in what would be Romain’s first movie, Le péril jeune (1994).
However, his brush with acting started with the music video for Princess Erika’s pop song Faut qu’j’travaille.
Romain’s popularity rose when he played a French exchange student in the Spanish Apartment trilogy, which consisted of L’Auberge Espagnole (2002), Russian Dolls (2005), and Chinese Puzzle (2013).
He has won the Lumières Award twice for his films Peut-être (1999) and The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005).
17. François Cluzet
François Cluzet rounds up the list of the most famous French actors. He has acted in theatricals and films alike, with his premier film being Cocktail Molotov (1980), which garnered him attention.
François then got critical acclaim for his role in Cheval d’orgueil (1980). He has even worked in an ensemble cast featuring stars like Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts, Kim Basinger, Forest Whitaker, and fellow French actor Jean Rochefort for the film Prêt-à-Porter (1994).
His most notable performance is in the movie The Intouchables (2011), which also stars Omar Sy.
18. Timothée Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet, the talented French-American actor started acting in short films and TV series as a teenager before capturing hearts worldwide.
Born in 1995 in New York City to a French father and an American mother, Chalamet’s love for acting sparked in his high school years.
He blossomed in diverse roles, but it was the lead role in Call Me by Your Name (2007) that made him a household name.
His soulful performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor at just 22, making him the youngest Best Actor nominee in almost 80 years.
He also received nominations for Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA Film Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor, and many others.
His versatility shines through in every genre, from romantic dramas like Beautiful Boy (2018) to period films like The King (2019).
Internationally acclaimed, Chalamet has also starred in the Hollywood blockbuster Dune (2021) alongside Zendaya, making him one of the most famous French actors in Hollywood.
19. Pierre Richard
Next on our list of popular French actors is non-other than Pierre Richard who has been in the film industry for over 5 decades, although he only started his acting career in his early 30s. Besides acting, he is also a film director and screenwriter.
But before he became the French famous actor he is today, he was a stage performer conducting comedy shows in Parisian cabarets and music halls with his fellow comedian, Victor Lanoux whom they created a comedy duet.
He is best known for his roles in comedy films and has a talent for making audiences laugh with his impeccably timed physical humor and relatable characters. In fact, he is considered to be one of the most talented French comedy actors of this time.
Pierre stole hearts worldwide as the clumsy yet endearing protagonist in films like The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire in French) (1972) and its sequel.
His international fame was amplified when he teamed up with Gérard Depardieu in the 80s for successful comedies like La Chèvre (1981), and later The Fugitives (Les Fugitifs) (1987).
20. Christian Clavier
Born in 1952, Christian Clavier is a widely respected figure in French cinema. His acting journey began in his 20s, as part of the comedy group, Splendid.
Clavier is known for his comedic roles, particularly the iconic Les Visiteurs (1993), where he played a medieval nobleman stuck in the modern world, a role that shot him to international fame.
But it doesn’t stop there. He’s also acclaimed for his portrayal of Asterix in the Asterix & Obelix series, further solidifying his standing in the industry.
Despite his comedic reputation, Clavier’s talents are far from one-dimensional. His dramatic prowess was showcased in Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu (2014), a film addressing serious societal issues. He also starred in Les Misérables (2000 television version).
On top of being one of the greatest French actors, he is also a director, screenwriter, and film producer.
21. Jean Gabin
Jean Gabin, one of France’s iconic actors was born in 1904 and began his acting career in the 1930s.
Known for his rugged charm and emotive performances, Gabin made a lasting impact on both French and international cinema.
He starred in a broad spectrum of genres but is best remembered for his roles in classic films like La Grande Illusion (1937) and Le Quai des Brumes (1938).
His powerful portrayal of complex, often working-class characters won him global admiration and his acting hiatus during World War II only added to his legendary when he returned to film in the post-war years with hits like La Horse (1970).
Thanks to his contribution to French Cinema, he was awarded Légion d’honneur.
And despite his passing in 1976, his legacy lives on, and he’s still considered one of the greatest and most famous French actors of all time.
Final Thoughts on the Famous Actors from France
Which of these French male actors did you already know about before reading this guide? Have you watched any of their movies? Which ones did you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you like any of these famous actors from France, you can pick a few of their movies to binge-watch over the weekend.
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