Movies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011): “Midnight in Paris” (2011) play out like a daydream of every English major who has studied the Modernist movements in art and literature. Written and directed by Woody Allen, it is a charming ode to the city of love. It follows Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson), a screenwriter struggling to pen down his debut novel, who takes a trip to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (played by Rachel McAdams), and her parents.
While walking home one night, he accidentally boards a cab ride that transports him to the 1920s and thrusts him into the famous Parisian social scene. He is flocked by the whos-who of the early 20th-century art and literature worlds, including the socialite Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Juan Belmonte, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas, and more. However, Gil is quickly attracted to Adriana (played by Marion Cotillard), Picasso’s former mistress, and experiences a disenchantment in his real-life relationship with Inez.
“Midnight in Paris” (2011) is easily one of the most famous time-travel fantasy movies from the previous decade, leaving a deep imprint on millennial minds. Every scene of the film lets you stroll down the streets of the French capital like a flaneur, making you wish you could escape for a coffee and croissant breakfast at a Parisian cafe. However, the movie doesn’t let the daydreaming get to your head. It helps you better understand the problems of immersing yourself in nostalgia, warning you about the sand-like quality of the past.
If you have recently watched or re-watched the film and found yourself longing for an equally wholesome watch, this list of 15 movies like “Midnight in Paris” (2011) is for you. I shall discuss a few time-travel fantasy classics, romances, heartbreaking dramas, and a couple of odd, personal favorites that resonate with the themes of love, nostalgia, the city as a protagonist, and more below. Happy reading!
15. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Directed by Woody Allen, this is probably the easiest pick on this list because it feels like Allen laid down the groundwork for the fantasy-romance genre with this film. It is 1935, and America is experiencing the Great Depression. Cecilia (played by Mia Farrow), a waitress disillusioned in love and life, seeks to escape her reality by watching multiple re-runs of the fictional film “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” One day, Tom Baxter (played by Jeff Daniels), the archaeologist in this fictional movie, breaks the fourth wall and steps into Cecilia’s reality. The line between fiction and reality is blurred as Cecelia must now choose between the character of Tom Baxter and the real-life actor Gil Shepherd, who plays Tom in the fictional movie.
Although there’s no time travel in this movie, like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), Cecilia mirrors the same disillusionment with reality that Gil Pender brings to the screen. While Cecelia is drawn to the glittering charm of reel-life Hollywood, Pender is drawn to the artistic history of Paris during his trip. They both dream of living better, more fulfilling lives, and the city becomes their easel for losing and finding their own selves. In fact, both Cecilia and Pender are left heartbroken in the end, yet they aren’t entirely unhappy with themselves. You never know: this film may have been an inspiration for Allen to craft “Midnight in Paris” (2011).
14. Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
A beautiful Parisian day and an Audrey-Hepburn romance – what’s not to like about them? Directed by Richard Quine, “Paris When It Sizzles” (1964) is a classic rom-com you need to watch now if you haven’t already. Sharing a perturbing similarity with Gil Pender, Richard Benson (played by William Holden) procrastinates on a screenplay. The due date is two days away, and the beautiful Gabrielle Simpson (played by Audrey Hepburn), employed to type the script, arrives at the scene only to realize what a great task they have pending! While Richard and Gabrielle set about weaving the script of “The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower,” their own lives are about to be intertwined in a cheeky romance.
Come for the fairly straightforward romantic comedy and stay for the on-screen reunion of the “Sabrina” (1954) stars. The film-within-the-film technique may be paralleled to the time-travel fantasy that “Midnight in Paris” (2011) engages in. While “Midnight in Paris” (2011) indulges in elaborate conversations about art and artists in the early 1920s, this film finds Hepburn and Holden constantly discussing the Hollywood movies of the 50s and the 60s and their familiar tropes. Ultimately, “Paris When It Sizzles” (1964) has an old-school charm that does enough without ever tipping into hilarity.
13. Modigliani (2004)
Written and directed by Mick Davis, “Modigliani” (2004) is a film of a slightly different taste, especially since it is based on the life of the Italian painter and sculptor known for his modern, surreal reimagining of nudes, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani, who lived in Paris in the early 20th century. The film focuses on Modigliani’s hostility, rivalry, and growing obsession (played by Andy Garcia) with the surrealist painter Pablo Picasso (played by Omid Djalili). Meanwhile, he falls in love and has a child with Jeanne (played by Elsa Zylberstein). To secure their future, he and Picasso entered Paris’s annual art competition to earn a tempting prize of 5000 francs, secure a stable career in art, and prove a point.
If “Midnight in Paris” (2011) has left you curious about the art scene in the wake of the 20th century in France, this movie will help you understand the poverty, rivalry, and melancholy that followed these artists throughout their years. Besides, the movie also name-drops Modigliani as one of two men Adriana was involved in a romantic affair with. Although “Modigliani” (2004) teases and dramatizes the life of a tortured artist, I think you should certainly check this film out because of the intense homosexual energy between the two rivals and because it is one of the better screenplays to come out of the early 2000s biopic.
12. Somewhere in Time (1980)
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc and based on the science fiction novel “Big Time Return” by Richard Matheson, “Somewhere in Time” (1980) is another fantasy film that brews a sad, romantic tale. Richard Collier (played by Cristopher Reeve), a playwright from Chicago, takes some time off work for a staycation at the Grand Hotel. Once there, he is so enthralled by a vintage photograph of Elise McKenna (played by Jane Seymour) that he travels to 1912 and meets her through the power of ‘self-suggestion.’ Soon, the two are swimming in love and making promises to stay together. However, William Robinson (played by Cristopher Plummer), Elise’s manager, and the time-space continuum are against this romance.
There is an odd melancholia about “Somewhere in Time” (1980) that persists till the end credits roll. Like Gil and Adriana from “Midnight in Paris” (2011), this movie takes the time-travel fantasy and weaves a romance that defies the laws of physics. Of course, Gil and Richard are both writers of the entertainment industry who are seen to suffer from a period of creative lull. Its heightened romantic sensibility, no different from walks around the city of Paris, and gorgeous musical score, along with its warm, regal tone, make this a film you will instantly want to plunge into on an idle summer afternoon.
11. Paheli (2005)
Directed by Amol Palekar, “Paheli” (2005), a rom-com fantasy Bollywood movie, could not be more different from “Midnight in Paris” (2011). The story is narrated by two puppets of a young Rajasthani girl, Lachchi (played by Rani Mukherjee), whose husband leaves for work the day after her marriage, and she is devastated when she realizes that he doesn’t even harbor an ounce of affection towards her. However, on the way to her in-laws, a ghost falls in love with her, so it takes the form of Lachchi’s absent husband, Kishan (played by Shah Rukh Khan), and starts living in the house.
There’s no time-travel fantasy here; we don’t get a glimpse of a cosmopolitan city, and there’s no discussion about the 1920s art scene. However, the coy but playful attraction that develops between the lovers in both films seems to be a perfect match. It is a delectable romantic tale straight from the Indian heartland, capturing the colors and the music so perfectly that it makes for a magical movie experience. “Paheli” (2005), like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), allows its setting to bring an important socio-cultural dynamic to the story, making it an important character in the film itself. Watch this to get a flavor of a Shah Rukh Khan romance, if nothing else.
10. Rendezvous in Paris (1995)
A list that seeks to capture the true essence of Paris MUST include a French New Wave director’s work (I don’t make the rules!). “Rendezvous in Paris” (1995) is an anthology film divided into three episodes – “The Rendezvous at 7 p.m.,” “The Benches of Paris,” and “Mother and Child 1907.” Each episode centers on a romantic affair that blooms (and withers) like a flower in the city of love. The first episode concerns a childish, almost silly, relationship between a student and her two-timing boyfriend; the second follows a suburban teacher’s illicit affair around the Parisian art districts and its many parks; and the third focuses on an artist attracted to a stranger. Unitedly, they focus on trysts, chance encounters, and the laid-back life in the French capital.
Apart from the fact that the name of the third episode is a direct reference to a Picasso painting, who appears in all his surrealist glory in “Midnight in Paris” (2011), its theme of meeting and bonding with a complete stranger reflects the brief attraction that Gil shares with Picasso’s lover, Adriana, in the latter. In fact, the second episode also finds the teacher and his lover critiquing the Parisian art scene from the early 90s. Superficially, both these films focus on exploring the neighborhood on foot, making the characters act as flaneurs in the city. Rohmer’s film is a gentle, warm embrace in the form of a charming romantic comedy.
9. Your Name (2016)
If you are craving a gentle, tear-jerking fantasy rom-com after you have finished watching “Midnight in Paris” (2011), do not be afraid to pick up the anime movie “Your Name” (2016), written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. Mitsuha Miyamizu longs to be a Tokyo boy in her next life until one morning when she wakes up to notice that she can switch bodies with Taki Tachibana, a real boy from Tokyo. Together, they set some ground rules and help each other through a set of life situations, only for this arrangement to terminate suddenly. Taki sets out in search of Mitsuha and her village, only to discover that the place has been razed by the comet Tiamat three years ago, and Mitsuha was one of the 500 casualties of the event.
“Your Name” (2016) only shares the spirit of time-travel fantasy as a rom-com with our focal film in conversation. Even the landscape and medium of cinema are completely different. Yet, the two films couldn’t be more similar in their treatment of romantic attachments across the boundaries of time and space. Both films also focus on the desire for a completely different kind of life, only for their protagonists to conclude that their lives are governed by their realities and there’s little that they can do by holding on to the past. This film is a profound experience!
8. Last Night in Soho (2021)
We are shifting from our choice of the cosmopolitan city in focus to London, the English capital, for “Last Night in Soho“ (2021), an Edgar Wright film. This is a watershed suggestion to help cleanse your palate after almost seven comedies that have come before and shall come after. Eloise (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is obsessed with the Swinging Sixties, so much so that when she moves to London to study fashion, she starts to experience vivid dreams that transport her to the period in time and give her a scope to peep into the burgeoning relationship between Sandie (played by Anya Taylor Joy) and Jack (played by Matt Smith). Slowly and gradually, as her dreams fuse into her reality, she realizes that a grim secret goes to bed with her every night at her rented bedsit.
While there is no direct time-traveling in “Last Night in Soho” (2021), it gives a dark, psychological spin to the generic time-travel fantasy trope. In both movies, the protagonists are left deeply impacted in a life-changing way due to their interactions with the past. Unlike “Midnight in Paris” (2011), which draws us into the decadent lives of some of the early 20th century’s greatest literature and art persona, this movie does not glorify the glittering world of cinema but the dark corridors behind the big screen where crime, punishment and foul play ran at their peak.
7. Stuck in Love (2012)
If you thought I had gone overboard with the city of Paris and cheesy rom-com, here’s one that reflects more complex romantic attachments and is set across the Atlantic. Written and directed by Josh Bonne, “Stuck in Love” (2012) highlights the life of Bill Borgens (played by Greg Kinnear), who still deeply misses his wife, Erica (played by Jennifer Connelly), who separated from him two years ago for her lover, Martin. His children, Rusty (played by Nat Wolff) and Sam (played by Lily Collins), are on their own unique trajectories of romance as the former is secretly smitten by his classmate, and the latter only derives pleasure from one-night stands. As the Thanksgiving festivities commence, their lives are thrown into a scramble because of where their hearts lead them.
This movie is nothing like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), except in how it manages to tone down the profound realities of life and love and deliver it to the audience simply. Superficially, again, the protagonists are writers who are stuck at varying stages of their creative process, and the films push them to self-realization and help them make better choices in their personal lives. It would be criminal not to end with Raymond Craver’s words from “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” the same words that form the final lines and the central driving force in the film: “I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
6. 2 Days in Paris (2007)
I couldn’t bring myself to add any of the “Before Trilogy” movies to this list because that would mean not giving enough space to the effervescent shades of love that the trilogy deals with. However, “2 Days in Paris” (2007) sees Julie Delpy performing as an actor, director, producer and more. The story follows a couple – Marion (played by Delpy), a photographer, and Jack (played by Adam Goldberg), an interior designer – as they arrive in Paris only to fall out of love. They had initially decided on a Venice trip to rekindle their relationship, but it is Paris, where they are putting up in Marion’s family home, that must witness its ultimate demise.
This is an off-beat film that is not here to enchant you with its profound realizations on love. It is, in fact, quite funny and noticeably well-carpentered. Similar to “Midnight in Paris” (2011), where Gil’s disintegrating relationship with Inez forms a solid secondary plot and gives us a glimpse into Gil’s self-realization, “2 Days in Paris” (2007) brings Marion and Jack’s relationship into the limelight. Marion is also visibly exploring and learning more about herself and her insecurities during this small trip. The sounds of the cracks in both these relationships are well-shrouded by humor, Parisian parties, and a beautiful, laid-back city that throbs in love.
5. The Science of Sleep (2006)
Do you know that this movie is believed to have its origins in a bedtime story? Written and directed by Sam Mounier, “The Science of Sleep” (2006) is surrealist, French, and thought-provoking. Stephane Miroux (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) moves into his childhood home in Paris to live with his mother after the death of his father and starts working at an artistically challenged calendar printing company. His creativity is pushed to the backseat. However, Stephane’s new neighbor, Stephanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), welcomes him into her apartment, and they start working together on small creative projects. The only problem is that we don’t know whether Stephane is actually experiencing Stephanie’s company or dreaming!
If you let your imagination do the work, the time-travel episodes in “Midnight in Paris” (2011) may also be part of an elaborate alcohol-induced dream that Gil indulges in; who even knows if any of these episodes are real? In that, it is similar to “The Science of Sleep” (2006), a movie that completely blurs out the difference between dream and reality. Unlike Gil, Stephane seems to be a product of heterosexual patriarchy who lives inside his head so often that he is casually problematic and concocts a romantic partner to fulfill a romance-shaped hole in his existence. While our film in focus only broaches the idea of surrealism, I think this movie drives home the concept.
4. Kate and Leopold (2001)
Directed by James Mangold, this charming rom-com rests on the flight of time-travel fantasy in the unserious fashion that was characteristic of 2000s Hollywood. Leopold (played by Hugh Jackman), the 3rd Duke of Albany from 1876, falls through a time portal accidentally while saving Stuart (played by Liev Schreiber), a 21st-century physicist, from falling off the unfinished Manhattan Bridge. Stuart explains to him that the portal will reopen on coming Monday, and Leopold must find his way back to the past so as not to unsettle the present. However, Leopold finds himself drawn to Kate (played by Meg Ryan), Stuart’s ex-girlfriend who lives downstairs. The clock is ticking, and their romance must end despite the mutual feelings brewing in the air.
Leopold and Kate reflect, to a great extent, the kind of quiet romance that Gil and Adriana from “Midnight in Paris” (2011) would have shared had they not decided to part ways. Both films then draw upon love and attraction as a universal feeling that transcends the boundaries of the time-space continuum. “Kate and Leopold” (2001) is truly a sci-fi rom-com masterpiece that features one of the most swoon-worthy on-screen waltz scenes of all time!
3. About Time (2013)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis, “About Time” (2013) establishes its champagne-like quality as a romantic comedy through time-travel fantasy, much like “Midnight in Paris” (2011). Tim Lake (played by Domhnall Gleeson), a lawyer in London, possesses an extraordinary Y-chromosome-bestowed superpower that runs in the family – he can travel back in time to moments he has lived (and loved) before. His father warns him against using the power to earn money or fame, so Tim generously uses this secret skill to shape his romances and the lives of others he cares about. When Mary (played by Rachel McAdams) comes along, Tim is smitten. They marry and give birth to beautiful babies. No, that’s not where the movie ends.
The charm of “About Time” (2013) lies not in its heartfelt romantic relationship central to the plot of the film. Instead, it stems from the fantastical terms and conditions that Tim’s time travel superpower comes with. It makes you want to regard your everyday existence and the sweet, sweet reality that constructs what we call the ‘present’ with respect. Like our protagonist in “Midnight in Paris” (2011), Tim too must swallow the bitter bill that nostalgia ultimately pales in comparison to the present. It is a movie for the realists and the romantics alike.
2. Groundhog Day (1993)
Directed by Harold Raims, “Groundhog Day” (1993) is such a personal favorite that I sometimes snuggle on my couch and watch it on cold winter afternoons. Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) is a grumpy television weatherman visiting Punxsutawney to report on the Groundhog Day festivities. However, his prediction of an approaching blizzard misses the mark, resulting in a complete shutdown of all travel routes out of the town and forcing Phil to spend the night at the Cherry Street Inn.
On waking up the next morning, he is forced to realize that he is stuck on February 2. He tries to charm his producer, Rita Hansom (played by Andie MacDowell), but first, it is Rita who tries to keep him away, and then, it is the silly time loop. As the day repeats itself, it dawns on Phil that the best out of it would be to stop pushing his luck and accept the time loop (and a few other things in life) as his reality.
Like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), “Groundhog Day” (1993) also relies on the time-travel fantasy element in its storyline to motivate its central male protagonist into self-realization. Owen Wilson comes closest to impersonating the indispensable charm of Murray as the ruminating, cynical Phil Connors. This is simply one of the greatest comedies of all time!
1. An American in Paris (1951)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, “An American in Paris” (1951) is a true Parisian love story and is based on the jazz-influenced symphonic poem that goes by the same name. Jerry Mulligan (played by Gene Kelly) is a struggling artist who finds himself a patron and admirer in Milo Roberts (played by Nina Foch), who ensures that his art reaches the right audience and gets its due recognition. At one of the parties, Jerry meets Lise (played by Leslie Caron), courts her in secrecy, and the two eventually develop feelings for each other, but Lise is proposed to by her long-term boyfriend and Jerry’s friend, Henri (played by Georges Guetary), and she agrees to it out of her respect towards him. Thereafter, the film breaks into some lamentation, singing and dancing, and many romantic and artistic displays of love.
Like “Midnight in Paris” (2011), “An American in Paris” (1951) is also a movie that is entranced by the city’s beauty. They both romanticize it, bring to the fore its budding art scene, and allow the city to shine as a protagonist. I must also point out the courtship walks by the Seine that Jerry and Lise take in this movie directly resemble the walks that Gil and Adriana take in our 2011 film in discussion. In more ways than one, this movie is a perfect double-bill to “Midnight in Paris” (2011).