Good French Movies for Action Fans

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm

If you like your car chases and shootouts mixed with a healthy dose of subtitles, then you’ll want to read up on these good French movies for action fans. While Hollywood may have written the book on the action movie genre, our pals in France have definitely torn out a few pages. The films below are just as slick and well-choreographed as anything starring Tom Cruise or Will Smith, and the actual action scenes are usually much better. S’amuser!

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Leon (1994) – Luc Besson directs this tale of Leon (Jean Reno), a lonely hitman in New York who befriends 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after her family is slaughtered by corrupt DEA agents led by the psychotic Norman “Stan” Stansfield (Gary Oldman). As he teaches her the tricks of his trade, Mathilda cleans his house, teaches him how to read, and slowly falls in love with the much older man. Reno projects a quiet intensity, Portman is all kinds of cute, and Oldman is predictably great as a drug-addled villain. While it’s a French film, it was released in the English language (perfect for those of you who are too lazy to read subtitles) and is also known as The Professional.

Nikita (1990) – Another French action film from director Luc Besson, Nikita (released as La Femme Nikita in America) deals with a young heroin addict (Anne Parillaud) who kills a cop and gets sentenced to life in prison. The next thing she knows, her death has been faked and she’s “recruited” into a secret group of assassins working for the French government. Trained to kill without question, Nikita dreams of escaping her new life and starting over. Co-starring Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade and Jean Reno. The inspiration for a TV series on the USA network, Nikita was also given the American remake treatment in Point of No Return (starring Bridget Fonda).

District B13 (2004) – A French ghetto, District 13, is walled off by the government, and it reverts to an almost feudal system controlled by various crime lords. The noble Leito (David Belle) keeps his apartment building free of drugs, but this leads him to a tragic showdown with a ruthless criminal named Taha. Leito finds himself placed in prison, his younger sister abducted and made a slave to Taha. But he gets a chance for revenge six months later, when a dedicated cop, Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) is sent into District 13 to disarm a neutron bomb acquired by Taha and his gang. Since Tomaso needs a man who knows the inside of the ghetto, he and Leito team up in a non-stop action explosion. Fans of parkour will be especially delighted.

District B13: Ultimatum (2009) – Produced and written by Luc Besson, this sequel reunites David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli in another action-packed journey into the most dangerous ghetto in France. This time around, five gang lords are fighting for control of the territory, and Leito and Damien must restore peace before the French government takes more drastic measures. When it comes to good French movies released in the last year, it’s hard to top this nail-biter.

Dobermann (1997) – American audiences will notice a number of familiar faces in this French action/crime film. Vincent Cassel plays Dobermann, a master criminal whose recent bank robbery has drawn the attention of ruthless cop Christini (Tcheky Karyo). Now along with his deaf girlfriend Nat the Gypsy (Monica Bellucci), Dobermann must flee for his life. Luckily, he’s got some awesome pistol grenades to help him along the way. And if you’ve ever seen Kiss of the Dragon, you should know that nobody plays a maniac cop like Tcheky Karyo.

Taxi (1998) – Luc Besson penned the first film in this immensely popular French action series. Samy Naceri stars as Daniel, a taxi driver with aspirations of being a professional racer. He’s particularly efficient, as he uses his souped-up engine to get fares to their destinations quickly and to avoid the cops. But when he’s finally nabbed by the fuzz, Daniel is forced to help a cop catch a gang of German bank robbers. Marion Cotillard co-stars. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t pick up the American remake (starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah) by mistake.

Taxi 2 (2000) – Members of the yakuza abduct the Japanese minister of defense while he’s visiting France, and it’s up to a young cop and the taxi-driving Daniel (Samy Naceri) to save the day. French action whiz Luc Besson once again serves as writer and producer. Even if you hate action movies, you don’t want to miss insanely hot Swedish model Emma Sjoberg as the cop’s abducted girlfriend.

The Nest (2002) – When he’s not doing time in prison for trying to kill people, actor Samy Naceri stars in some entertaining French action films. This time around, he’s part of a group of thieves intent on robbing a warehouse. While their heist is underway, they receive unexpected visitors in the form of an armed convoy escorting an Albanian mob boss. The crime lord’s henchmen have no intention of him standing trial, and so they’ve decided to attack the convoy and free him. Now both the cops and thieves are stranded in the warehouse while armed men surround the perimeter. If you’ve ever seen John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, you’ll be amazed at the similarities.

Kiss of the Dragon (2001) – A French/American co-production, Kiss of the Dragon stars Jet Li as Liu, a Chinese special agent sent to France to assist in an investigation. But when the local cop in charge (Tcheky Karyo) starts killing everyone in sight, Liu finds himself framed and on the run. Bridget Fonda plays a prostitute trying to start a new life, and Karyo’s Inspector Richard is a delicious villain involved in murder, prostitution and drugs. Amazing fight sequences, especially those between Jet Li and Cyril Raffaelli. Not surprisingly, Luc Besson was involved as a producer and writer.

The Transporter (2002) – Luc Besson has appeared on damn near every entry on this list, so why stop now? This one stars Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a former soldier who’s also a driver of unparalleled skill. He takes jobs transporting things from one place to another, keeping his solid reputation by following a strict set of rules. But when one of his packages begins crying for help, Frank breaks his own rules and looks inside. Cue the gunfire and high-speed chases. Former softcore actress Shu Qi co-stars.

If you’ve enjoyed this list of good French movies for action fans, you may want to visit Netflix and rent a few of the titles I’ve mentioned. Yes, we do get a small commission, but that also allows us to keep bringing you helpful posts like the one you’ve just read.

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