Jean-Luc Godard once said, “I pity the French cinema because it has no money. I pity the American cinema because it has no ideas.”
But despite the slight huff every Franco-cinéphile makes when discussing “the state of American film,” there’s one little thing they seem to forget — that a lot of American films do extraordinarily well in France. These are the highest-grossing American films to have been adopted warmly by their cousins across the Atlantic.
1. Titanic (1997)
Tickets sold: 20,634,793
James Cameron’s epic, named for “the ship to big to sink,” holds the greatest number of Academy Awards ever given to one film. It was the highest-grossing film of all time until another Cameron film, Avatar, nabbed the title in 2009. But it did spectacularly in France as well, grossing $129,127,181, or $199,662,309 in today’s dollars.
2. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Tickets sold: 18,319,651
Animated Disney films do particularly well in France, likely because they’re easier to dub than live action. But age always comes before beauty, and Walt Disney’s first feature film sold so many tickets upon its release that even by contemporary standards it remains a blockbuster.
3. Gone With The Wind (1939)
Tickets sold: 16,723,795
This 1939 epic historical romance made Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler (played by the ever-fabulous Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable) into two of the most iconic romantic leads in cinematic history. Though World War II delayed its release in France until 1950, it still managed to bring in a second wave of support for the film abroad.
4. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Tickets sold: 14,873,304
The French must have a taste for vintage Americana, because right after Gone With The Wind comes Once Upon A Time In The West, a Spaghetti Western starring Henry Fonda and created by Italian director Sergio Leone. Though technically an Italian-American hybrid, the subject matter and style reek of classic American “good guy with a gun” bravado, and the film became so popular in France that Parisian department stores began stocking up on “les maxis,” otherwise known as dusters.
5. The Jungle Book (1967)
Tickets sold: 14,696,567
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same name, this tale of a feral child befriending wild animals in the jungles of India was the last film Walt Disney produced before his death.
6. Avatar (2009)
Tickets sold: 14,677,888
Another James Cameron super-epic, this 3D sci-fi colossus focused on the colonization of a fictional planet called Pandora, and goes down in the books as the most expensive movie ever made. It’s opening weekend in France grossed $17,436,397 in 2009 (or about $20,479,951 by today’s rates), with a total gross of $175,615,305 (or about $206,269,271 today).
7. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Tickets sold: 14,660,594
Another animal-related Disney classic, this 80-minute film about two dalmatians on a mission to save their pups from a notorious fur junkie explores the whimsical world of pets through a high-stakes heist.
8. Ten Commandments (1956)
Tickets sold: 14,229,563
Though its special effects might seem cringingly outdated nowadays, this cinematic interpretation of the Bible’s Book of Exodus was billed in 1956 as, “The Greatest Event In Motion Picture History!”
9. Ben-Hur (1959)
Tickets sold: 13,853,547
Another religious epic, this tale of Christ did extremely well at the box office, and brought home as many Oscars as Gone With The Wind.
10. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Tickets sold: 13,475,099
British POWs in a Japanese prison camp in Burma struggle to stay alive while building a bridge to connect Bangkok and Rangoon.
11. Cinderella (1950)
Tickets sold: 13,216,631
One of the world’s oldest fairytales, Disney’s Cinderella makes a princess out of a pauper, and all with a wave of a wand and a, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!”
12. The Aristocats (1970)
Tickets sold: 12,541,369
Known in France as Les Aristochats, this jazz-infused story about kittens Berlioz, Marie, and Toulouse is set in early 20th-century Paris, and will be sure to have you singing, “Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat.”
13. The Longest Day (1962)
Tickets sold: 11,933,629
A black-and-white WWII saga shot in the style of a docudrama shows the days leading up to — and the final climactic victory — of D-Day.