The filming locations of the biggest French box office hits
Titanic (James Cameron – 1997)
With these 20,758,841 spectators, it is the biggest cinematic success in France. James Cameron’s film tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic through the prism of Rose Calvert (Gloria Stuart), a survivor of the tragedy. After seeing a drawing of her on her television screen, she contacted Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), the wreckage excavation coordinator. She then begins to tell him her story and her meeting with Jack Dawson (Leonardo diCaprio).
The engine room
Jeremiah O’Brien, Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
If for the opening scenes of the wreck of the Titanic, James Cameron filmed in a mini submarine at a depth of 3700 m, he had a 1:1 scale replica built for the sequences on the ship.
He also shot some interiors in swimming pools at the Belmont Olympic Pool (4000 E Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, California), in studios as well as on the Jeremiah O’Brien. The engine room of this military ship was used as a set for the Titanic’s engine room.
Welcome to the Ch’tis (Dany Boon – 2008)
Also surpassing 20 million cinema admissions, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was the comedy and film of the year in 2008. Dany Boon recounts the adventures of Philippe Abrams (Kad Merad), an employee of the Post Office, who was forced to leave Marseille for the north of France after his transfer.
The feature film was shot almost exclusively in Bergues, a town in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
The belfry of Bergues
5 Rue Lamartine, 59380 Bergues, France
It is from the top of this Belfry that Antoine (Dany Boon) proposes to Annabelle (Anne Marivin) by playing a musical tune on his organ and unfolding a banner on which is written “Annabelle Je t’m épouse moi biloute”.
The most famous attraction of the city, this belfry was built from the 13th century. It was rebuilt in the 14th and 16th centuries before being listed as a Historic Monument in 1840. The French director wanted to audition candidates for the figuration. The technical teams then saw more than 1,000 inhabitants of the region arrive, much more than they had hoped for.
Untouchables (Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano – 2011)
The second largest French comedy in terms of audience (19,490,688), Intouchables stages the unlikely meeting of two worlds. That of Philippe (François Cluzet), a wealthy quadriplegic businessman, and Driss (Omar Sy), his new assistant.
If some scenes were shot in Cabourg or Les Saisies, most of the story was shot in Paris, as shown in our Fantrippers Paris Guide.
L’hôtel d’Avaray,85 Rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris
The beautiful mansion in which Philippe lives is often hidden behind its imposing wooden portal. Built between 1718 and 1723, the Hôtel d’Avaray has been home to the Dutch Embassy since 1920. The company sometimes rents it out for filming and the funds raised are reinvested in cultural projects. If in the film you can clearly see a plate with the number 143, it is indeed at number 85. It is possible for the general public to visit it once a year, in September during the European Heritage Days.
La grande vadrouille (Gérard Oury – 1966)
Until the theatrical release of Titanic, La grande vadrouille was for a long time number 1 in the box office. For 31 years, no other film ever knocked him off his pedestal. With 17,267,607 entries, he was only dislodged from the podium when Untouchables arrived. If the number of spectators is important, what about the dizzying numbers of television broadcasts? With more than 20 runs, the film attracted 6.3 million viewers when it was rebroadcast in 2017 and more than 5 million in 2020.
The Garnier Opera
Opéra Garnier, 8 Rue Scribe, 75009 Paris, France
The English soldier MacIntosh lands by parachute on the roof of the Opera, whose conductor is Stanislas Lefort (Louis de Funès). The scenes were shot in July, the date of the annual closure of the Opera House so as not to interfere with the operation of the establishment. It was the first time a film was shot at the Opéra Garnier. This was made possible thanks to the special authorisation of the Minister of Culture, André Malraux, and the director at the time, Georges Auric. The latter composed the music for the film.
In order to perfectly embody his character, Louis de Funès rehearsed the conductor’s gestures for three months for perfect credibility. If we see the characters escaping by boat through an underground lake under the building, this would not have been possible in reality. There is, however, a huge water reservoir under the building to combat the pressure of underground infiltration and also serves as a water reserve for the fire brigade.
Once upon a time in the West (Sergio Leone – 1968)
Western par excellence, Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece of the 7th art. Claudia Cardinal, Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards, directed by Sergio Leone and the music of Ennio Morricone, all these ingredients could only make for a mythical film. In France, 14,862,764 spectators came to the cinema to see it. If the casting, the music and the script were top-notch, what about the sets?
Jill’s wooden house
Fort Bravo, 04200 Tabernas, Almería, Spain
Jill (Claudia Cardinal), a former prostitute, lives in a wooden house in Sweetwater, a tiny town not far from Monument Valley. If the scenery seems to be all over this part of the United States, this is not the case. This is Fort Bravo, a place built from scratch in Spain.
Since 1963, Sergio Leone has been a regular visitor to the Tabernas desert 30 km north of Almeria. He and his associates built this village on one of its plateaus. Once upon a time in the West, he turns there For a handful of dollars, And for a few more dollars or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Tabernas Desert, well known to filmmakers since the 1950s, has been used as a backdrop for such films as A Taxi to Tobruk and Lawrence of Arabia (link article). With its 12,000 protected hectares, it offers an infinite number of filming possibilities. Its canyons and low vegetation are very similar to those in Arizona, USA, although they are not as high as those in the United States – only five metres – although camera angles can accentuate their depth. Add to this, a maximum amount of sunshine in the year, and you get a decor worthy of American westerns.
Avatar (James Cameron – 2009)
In this list of the ten most watched films in cinemas is James Cameron’s second film, Avatar. Adding the admissions of Avatar (14,677,888) to those of Titanic, the director attracted more than 35 million French moviegoers to the cinema. A record in only two films!
It’s hard to find an existing place that was used as a setting for Avatar. Almost the entire film was shot in a studio in Los Angeles or Wellington, New Zealand. Using a revolutionary technical system, James Cameron could then inlay his characters in idyllic locations, made in post-production. By sensors on their costumes, their movements were then integrated into the sets.
For the forest suspended as floating in the air, the feature film teams were inspired by those of the Hallelujah Mountain in ZhangJiaJie, China. This national forest park covers more than 130 km2. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992, it is home to some very rare tree varieties and an immense wildlife, including the endangered long-banded panther.
Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (Alain Chabat – 2002)
For a first, it’s a real success. Alain Chabat has started work on the film adaptation of the Asterix comic strip. And the least we can say is that it is the best declination of the adventures of the irreducible Gauls imagined by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. In fact, the large audience did not make a mistake when they went to see the feature film. There were 14,559,509 of them. Worldwide, more than 24 million people have seen it in the cinema.
Ouarzazate 45000, Morocco
The whole of Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra was filmed in the Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate, Morocco, under a blazing heat. Created in 1983, they hosted the filming of Le Diamant du Nil in 1985, Tuer n’est pas jouer in 1987, La momie in 1999 and Gladiator in 2000. After Alain Chabat’s film, they served as sets for Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, Game of Thrones and Atlantis.
Located three kilometres from the Moroccan city, they can be visited for the sum of 30 dirhams (2.70 €). The film sets are still visible, including Cleopatra’s palace (Monica Bellucci) and the small town where Amonbofis (Gérard Darmon) and Nexusis (Edouard Montoute) meet to prepare their actions against Edifis (Jamel Debbouze), Asterix (Christian Clavier), Obelix (Gérard Depardieu) and Panoramix (Claude Rich).
The 10 Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille – 1956)
It is the oldest of the 10 feature films with the most admissions in France. It was attended by 14,229,745 spectators. Everyone remembers the mythical scene where Moses opens the waters of the Nile, a technical feat for the time.
St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai
South Sinai Governorate, Egypt
Moses would have received the Tables of the Law in this monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Cecil B. DeMille has reconstructed this biblical moment in the very place. The oldest Christian convent in the world, it was built under the order of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. His library contains treasures. It is the oldest in the Christian world and has the second largest collection of illuminated manuscripts in the world.
With a budget of $13 million, a record for the time, The 10 Commandments was shot largely in Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, as well as in Monument Valley, in Red Rock Canyon Park in California, but also in Luxor, Abu Rudeis and Abu Ruwash in Egypt for outside shots. The most lucrative film of 1956 ($122.7 million), Paramount gave the director an almost unlimited budget during its three-year writing period and seven-month shooting period. The film required 100,000 props and 10,000 extras.
Ben Hur (William Wyler – 1960)
Ben Hur is the most seen peplum in France in the cinema with 13,826,124 spectators. William Wyler had chosen Charlton Heston, a well-known actor who had also played in The 10 Commandments four years earlier. The cult sequences of the crucifixion of Christ, the naval battle but especially the tank race marked a whole generation.
The naval battle
Nettuno 00048, Rome, Italy
After saving the life of Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), Judah Ben Hur is set free. He’s no longer a slave. The naval battle of this long sequence was filmed in Nettuno, a city on the Tyrrhenian coast in Lazio near Rome. This seaside town is known for its medieval ramparts as well as its Forte Sangallo dating from 1501.
Ben Hur’s other scenes were shot at the Cinecitta studios in Rome for nine months. Founded in 1937, this vast set of 16 plateaux covers 60 hectares.
The cult tank race sequence required five months of preparation and 78 days of filming! Representing the Cirque d’Antioche, the runway measured 1400 m and its surface area covered 8 hectares. The pilots had to turn around statues 26 m high. The bleachers could accommodate between 6,000 and 15,000 spectators.
Visitors (Jean-Marie Poiré – 1993)
Jacquouille (Christian Clavier) and Godefroy de Montmirail (Jean Reno) had three adventures between 1993 and 2016. The premiere was followed in the cinema by 13,782,991 spectators. It is thus the fifth French film in the box office rankings in our country.
The castle of Montmirail
Ermenonville Castle, 6 Rue Souville, 60950 Ermenonville, France
The château comtal of Carcassonne was used as a set for the sequences in medieval times and the château of Ermenonville was used by film crews for those in contemporary times.
Jean-Marie Poiré and his technical teams also went to other places in France to shoot Les visiteurs (link fanspots of the film), notably at the chapel of the Royal Abbey of Chaalis for the scene where Jacquouille hides the jewels, at the Courtepaille in Cergy for the meeting with Ginette, at the Saint-Martin church in Thoiry for the horseback entrance of Godefroy, at the bowling alley of the stadium of Saint-Gratien for the part between Ginette and Jacquouille, at the Palace of the King of Rome in Rambouillet to shoot the scenes around Ferdinand Eusèbe or 6 rue des vignettes in Thoiry for the house of Béatrice (Valérie Lemercier, winner of the César for best supporting actress in 1994 for her double role as Frénégonde and Béatrice).
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By Anthony Thibault
From the "Casimir generation", Anthony has kept (in addition to a passion for Goldorak) a taste for inventive images, experimentation and curiosity. Passionate about travel and pop culture, he co-founded Fantrippers with Nicolas Albert to share his passion with as many people as possible.