For American audiences, the 2000s was the decade of franchise, from superheroes to Harry Potter and the Twilight films. But French audiences were having a very different movie experience with quirky comedies, love stories and – of course – Amelie.
Amelie inspired its own mini tourist industry in Montmatre. Photo: AFP
USA: Cast Away
One of the biggest films at the start of the millennium featured Tom Hanks and a gripping performance by his co-star – a volleyball.
The harrowing and lonesome tale of Chuck Noland and his time on an deserted island introduced a new sense to the idea of being grateful for what you have. Most likely fueled by the Y2K scare, the year was filled with many other movies with a similar theme of confusion and peril with films like the first Final Destination and X-Men.
France: Le Gout Des Autres
While American audiences were trying to figure out how they would survive stranded on an island, French audiences were watching people try to communicate their feelings on screen. Le Gout des Autres follows multiple storylines of people falling in love with each other. This film proves that not even France was immune to the cheesy, yet heartwarming setup of the rom-com, eventually leading this film to win the Cesar award for Best Film.
USA: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
2001 was truly an impactful year for film with the launching of several blockbusters – including the first of eight Harry Potter movies. Adapted from the highly successful books, the Harry Potter movies were widely acclaimed and launched merchandise and amusement parks that made a decent profit for Warner Bros.
France's most popular film of 2001 didn't quite get its own theme park, but it was a hugely popular international hit and also saw the neighborhood of Montmartre in Paris becoming an Amelie-themed tourist site. The movie got a musical adaptation as well.
For movie franchises, 2002 can be marked as the beginning of the Spider-series, with now seasoned actors Tobey MaGuire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco right at the start of it all. Much of the early 2000s were filled with major studios fighting for the top spot with their franchise films, and the beginning of the superhero franchise craze can be set up around this time, with hits like Spider-Man as well as X-Men.
France: 8 Femmes
The defining film of the year for France was 8 Femmes, an exploration into a Hitchcockian murder-mystery featuring an all-star cast of French actresses. Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve are among the big names in this 1950s period film where each person is a possible suspect of an unsettling murder.
USA: The Lizzie McGuire Movie
If you ask any American millennial or Gen Z-er “what dreams are made of,” they are sure to bring up this movie. What every young teen dreams of studying abroad, this movie is the first to pop in everyone’s minds. Set in Rome, Disney favorite Lizzie McGuire goes abroad to discover Rome and gasp, herself!
For France, Chouchou hit the silver screen in 2003 to become a cult classic. The story follows the titular character, gay Maghrebin man who travels up to the big city of Paris to find his nephew and, of course, love.
Romain Duris starred in Les Poupées russes, one of the biggest hits of the decade in France. Photo: AFP
USA: Mean Girls
The high school screenplay, written by Tina Fey, is nothing short of a classic at this point and there are so many who can recite this movie on the spot. Mean Girls is the story of Cady Heron, played by a young Lindsay Lohan, and how she figures out high school and its many pressing dynamics. The movie eventually made its way to becoming a Broadway musical as well.
France: Les Choristes
Though both movies are set in schools, the French film of the same year was quite the opposite stylistically with Les Choristes (The Chorus). The movie follows a group of young boys at a boarding school in the years after Word War II and a music teacher who changes their lives for the better.
USA: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The remake of the hit classic (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder) was led by a cast of relatively new young actors and Johnny Depp. Although it was a film that audiences could laugh at, the film still connected with audiences, showing that the old narrative was still relevant.
France: Les Poupées russes
Les Poupées russe (Russian Dolls) was the hit in France of 2005 and it is the second installment of the now classic Spanish Apartment series.
Starring Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, the film follows Xavier, who while struggling with his writing career, has very little struggle trying to find women who want him. This later coming-of-age story teaches the important lesson of differentiating between relationships of fantasy and reality.
USA: High School Musical
The Disney TV movie, directed by Kenny Ortega, launched the careers of teen heartthrobs Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron. Like many other high school movies, this also idealised the high school experience and most likely also made kids want to join musical theater when they grew up.
France: Ne le dis à personne
Ne le dis à personne, or Tell No One, is quite the opposite in both genre and plot, but it made the waves for French audiences. The Guillaume Canet feature is in a similar vein to Taken and follows Alexandre, played by François Cluzet, as he tries to track down the truth of what happened to his wife, who he previously thought was dead.
The film telling the life story of Edith Piaf was a huge worldwide hit. Photo: AFP
The only instance where both movies of the year were set in France, the films of 2007 sparked a real interest in France and French culture around the world.
The Pixar feature follows Remy, a rat who wants nothing more than to cook beautifully. Emboldened by the spirit of a famous and accepting chef, Remy goes on to realise his dreams in no place other than Paris.
France: La Môme
Somewhat darker, La Môme (or La Vie en Rose as it appeared n the Anglophone world) tells the real story of legendary French singer Edith Piaf, played by Marion Cotillard in a career-defining role.
Although there's plenty of heartwarming moments and, of course, great songs, the film does not shy away from the sadder and more brutal aspects of Piaf's life.
For better or worse, the movie of growing up in the USA in 2008 was Twilight. Setting off so many arguments with this tale of vampire romance, Twilight at this point is iconic for its almost campy dialogue and a plot that doesn’t quite make sense.
Still, it made no less of an impact and went off to inspire audiences everywhere (including the Fifty Shades of Grey series, which started life as Twilight fan fiction).
France: Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis
The comedy Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks) was the 2008 hit for French audiences. The highest-grossing film of the French box offices combines the forms of buddy comedy and slapstick humor to tell this tale of a postman from Provence relocated to the cold north, replete with French regional stereotypes.
Hugely popular, but if you ask anyone now, they will have no real recollection of what happened in the movie.
Something to mention about the film is that though audiences couldn’t really remember anything about the film, they were certain to remember the pop cultural after effects and the multiple parodies that came after the release. Avatar is the pinnacle of the movies in the 2000s, representing a heightened sense of movie technology and a world of franchises.
For French audiences, the movie was LOL, a heartwarming feature by Lisa Azuelos about a teenage daughter and her mother. The movie was later remade for American audiences with Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore.
Yeeseon Chae Lanier works for Lost in Frenchlation, a Paris-based cinema club that screens French films with English subtitles, to open up the word of French cinema to English-speakers. Find out more about their programme here.