The French Connection
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Friedkin
Screenplay byErnest Tidyman
Based onThe French Connection
by Robin Moore
Produced byPhilip D'Antoni
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byGerald B. Greenberg
Music byDon Ellis
  • Philip D'Antoni Productions
  • Schine-Moore Productions
Distributed by20th Century-Fox
Release date
  • October 7, 1971 (1971-10-07) (United States)[1]
Running time
104 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • French
Budget$1.8–2.2 million[3][4]
Box office$75 million (worldwide theatrical rental)[5]

The French Connection is a 1971 American neo-noir[6] action thriller film[7] directed by William Friedkin and starring Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider and Fernando Rey. The screenplay, written by Ernest Tidyman, is based on Robin Moore's 1969 non-fiction book of the same name. It tells the story of fictional NYPD detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo, whose real-life counterparts were narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, in pursuit of wealthy French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier (played by Rey).

At the 44th Academy Awards, the film earned eight nominations and won five for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing. Tidyman also received a Golden Globe Award nomination, a Writers Guild of America Award and an Edgar Award for his screenplay. A sequel, French Connection II, followed in 1975 with Hackman and Rey reprising their roles.

Often considered one of the greatest films ever made, The French Connection appeared in the American Film Institute's list of the best American films in 1998 and again in 2007. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[8][9]


In Marseille, a police detective follows Alain Charnier, who runs a heroin-smuggling syndicate. The policeman is murdered by Charnier's hitman, Pierre Nicoli. Charnier plans to smuggle $32 million worth of heroin into the United States by hiding it in the car of his unsuspecting friend, television personality Henri Devereaux, who is traveling to New York by ship. In New York City, detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Buddy "Cloudy" Russo go out for drinks at the Copacabana. Popeye notices Salvatore "Sal" Boca and his young wife, Angie, entertaining mobsters involved in narcotics. They tail the couple and establish a link between the Bocas and lawyer Joel Weinstock, a buyer in the narcotics underworld. Popeye learns that a shipment of heroin will arrive soon. The detectives convince their supervisor to wiretap the Bocas' phones. Popeye and Cloudy are joined by federal agents Mulderig and Klein.

Devereaux's vehicle arrives in New York City. Boca is anxious to make the purchase while Weinstock urges patience, knowing they are being surveiled. Charnier realizes he is being surveiled as well, identifies Popeye as a detective, and escapes on a departing subway shuttle at Grand Central Station. To evade Popeye, he has Boca meet him in Washington D.C., where Boca asks for a delay to avoid the police. Charnier wants to conclude the deal quickly. On the flight back to New York City, Nicoli offers to kill Popeye, but Charnier knows that Popeye would be replaced by another policeman. Nicoli insists, however, saying they will be back in France before a replacement is assigned. Soon after, Nicoli attempts to shoot Popeye but misses. Popeye chases Nicoli, who boards an elevated train. Popeye shouts to a policeman on the train to catch Nicoli and then commandeers an automobile. He gives chase, crashing into several vehicles on the way.

Realizing he is being pursued, Nicoli shoots the pursuing policeman who tries to intervene, and hijacks the motorman at gunpoint. He forces him to drive through the next station, and shoots the train conductor. The motorman has a heart attack, and they are about to slam into a stationary train when an emergency brake engages, hurling the assassin to the floor. Popeye arrives to see the killer descending from the platform. Nicoli sees Popeye, turns to run, but is shot dead. After a lengthy stakeout, Popeye impounds Devereaux's Lincoln. In a police garage, he and his team tear the car apart piece by piece, searching for the drugs, but seemingly come up empty handed. Then, Cloudy notes that the vehicle's shipping weight is 120 pounds over its listed manufacturer's weight; they realize that the contraband must still be in the car. Finally, they remove the rocker panels and discover the hidden packages of heroin. Because the original car was destroyed during the search, the police substitute a look-alike car and return it to Devereaux who in turn delivers it to Charnier.

Charnier drives to an old factory on Wards Island to meet Weinstock and deliver the drugs. After Charnier has the rocker panel covers removed, Weinstock's chemist tests one of the bags and confirms its quality. Charnier removes the drugs and hides the money, concealing it inside the rocker panels of another car purchased at an auction of junk cars, which he will take back to France. Charnier and Sal drive off in the Lincoln, but hit a roadblock with a large contingent of police led by Popeye. The police chase the Lincoln back to the factory, where Boca is killed during a shootout while most of the other criminals surrender. Charnier escapes into a nearby abandoned bakery with Popeye and Cloudy in pursuit. Popeye sees a shadowy figure in the distance and opens fire too late to heed a warning, killing Mulderig. Undaunted, Popeye tells Cloudy that he will get Charnier. After reloading his gun, Popeye runs into another room and a single gunshot is heard.

Title cards describe the fates of various characters: Weinstock was indicted, but his case was dismissed for "lack of proper evidence"; Angie Boca received a suspended sentence for an unspecified misdemeanor; Lou Boca (Sal's brother, an accessory to the handoff) received a reduced sentence; Devereaux served four years in a federal penitentiary for conspiracy; and Charnier was never caught. Popeye and Cloudy were transferred out of the narcotics division and reassigned.



The film was originally set up at National General Pictures, but they later dropped it, and Richard Zanuck and David Brown offered to make it at Fox with a production budget of $1.5 million.[1] The film came in $300,000 over budget at a total cost of $1.8 million.[3]

In an audio commentary track recorded by Friedkin for the Collector's Edition DVD release of the film, Friedkin notes that the film's documentary-like realism was the direct result of the influence of having seen Z, an Algerian film by Costa-Gavras. Friedkin mentioned the film's influence on him when directing The French Connection:

After I saw Z, I realized how I could shoot The French Connection. Because he shot Z like a documentary. It was a fiction film but it was made like it was actually happening. Like the camera didn't know what was gonna happen next. And that is an induced technique. It looks like he happened upon the scene and captured what was going on as you do in a documentary. My first films were documentaries too. So I understood what he was doing but I never thought you could do that in a feature at that time until I saw Z.[10]

The film was among the earliest to show the World Trade Center: the completed North Tower and the partially completed South Tower are seen in the background of the scenes at the shipyard following Devereaux's arrival in New York.


Though the cast ultimately proved to be one of the film's greatest strengths, Friedkin had problems with casting choices from the start. He was strongly opposed to the choice of Gene Hackman for the lead, and actually first considered Paul Newman (out of the budget range), then Jackie Gleason, Peter Boyle and a New York columnist, Jimmy Breslin, who had never acted before.[11] However, at that time Gleason was considered box-office poison by the studio after his film Gigot had flopped several years before, Boyle declined the role after disapproving of the violent theme of the film, and Breslin refused to get behind the wheel of a car, which was required of Popeye's character for an integral car chase scene. Steve McQueen was also considered, but he did not want to do another police film after Bullitt and, as with Newman, his fee would have exceeded the movie's budget. Tough guy Charles Bronson was also considered for the role. Lee Marvin, James Caan, and Robert Mitchum were also considered; all turned it down.[12][13] Friedkin almost settled for Rod Taylor (who had actively pursued the role, according to Hackman), another choice the studio approved, before he went with Hackman.

The casting of Fernando Rey as the main French heroin smuggler, Alain Charnier (irreverently referred to throughout the film as "Frog One"), resulted from mistaken identity. Friedkin had seen Luis Buñuel's 1967 French film Belle de Jour and had been impressed by the performance of Francisco Rabal, who had a small role in the film. However, Friedkin did not know his name, and remembered only that he was a Spanish actor. He asked his casting director to find the actor, and the casting director instead contacted Rey, a Spanish actor who had appeared in several other films directed by Buñuel. After Rabal was finally reached, they discovered he spoke neither French nor English, and Rey was kept in the film.[11]

Comparison to actual people and events

The plot centers on drug smuggling in the 1960s and early 1970s, when most of the heroin illegally imported into the East Coast came to the United States through France (see French Connection).[14]

On April 26, 1968, a record-setting seizure of 246 lb (111.6 kg) of heroin was made, concealed in a Citroën DS and smuggled to New York on the SS France ocean liner.[15][16][17] The total amount smuggled during the many transatlantic voyages of this DS was 1,606 lb (728.5 kg) according to arrested smuggler Jacques Bousquet.[18]

In addition to the two main protagonists, several of the fictional characters depicted in the film also have real-life counterparts. The Alain Charnier character is based upon Jean Jehan, who was arrested later in Paris for drug trafficking, though he was not extradited since France does not extradite its citizens.[19] Sal Boca is based on Pasquale "Patsy" Fuca, and his brother Anthony. Angie Boca is based on Patsy's wife Barbara, who later wrote a book with Robin Moore detailing her life with Patsy. The Fucas and their uncle were part of a heroin-dealing crew that worked with some of the New York City crime families.[20]

Henri Devereaux, who takes the fall for importing the film's drug-laden Lincoln into New York City, is based on Jacques Angelvin, a television actor arrested and sentenced to three to six years in a federal penitentiary for his role, serving about four before returning to France and turning to real estate.[21] The Joel Weinstock character is, according to the director's commentary, a composite of several similar drug dealer financiers.[22]

Car chase

The film is often cited as featuring one of the greatest car chase sequences in movie history.[23] The chase involves Popeye commandeering a civilian's car (a 1971 Pontiac LeMans) and then frantically chasing an elevated train, on which a hitman is trying to escape. The action scene, coordinated by Bill Hickman, was filmed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, roughly running under the BMT West End Line (currently the D train, then the B train) which runs on an elevated track above Stillwell Avenue, 86th Street and New Utrecht Avenue in Brooklyn, with the chase ending just north of the 62nd Street station. At that point, the train hits a train stop, but is going too fast to stop in time and collides with the train ahead of it, which has just left the station.[a]

The most famous shot of the chase is made from a front bumper mount and shows a low-angle point-of-view shot of the streets racing. Director of photography Owen Roizman wrote in American Cinematographer magazine in 1972 that the camera was undercranked to 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of speed; this effect can be seen on a car at a red light whose exhaust pipe is pumping smoke at an accelerated rate. Other shots involved stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss hitting the speeding car, but due to errors in timing, accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film.[24] Friedkin said that he used Santana's cover of Peter Green's song "Black Magic Woman" during editing to help shape the chase sequence, though the song does not appear in the film, "it [the chase scene] did have a sort of pre-ordained rhythm to it that came from the music."[25]

The scene concludes with Doyle confronting Nicoli the hitman at the stairs leading to the subway and shooting him as he tries to run back up them, its climax captured as a still shot in a theatrical release movie poster for the film. Many of the police officers acting as advisers for the film objected to the scene on the grounds that shooting a suspect in the back was simply murder, not self-defense, but director Friedkin stood by it, stating that he was "secure in my conviction that that's exactly what Eddie Egan (the model for Doyle) would have done and Eddie was on the set while all of this was being shot."[26][27]

Filming locations

The French Connection was filmed in the following locations:[28][29][30]


Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and ranked it as one of the best films of 1971.[31] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote: The French Connection "is in fact a very good new kind of movie, and that in spite of its being composed of such ancient material as cops and crooks, with thrills and chases, and lots of shoot-'em-up."[32] A review in Variety stated: "So many changes have been made in Robin Moore's taut, factual reprise of one of the biggest narcotics hauls in New York police history that only the skeleton remains, but producer Philip D'Antoni and screenwriter Ernest Tidyman have added enough fictional flesh to provide director William Friedkin and his overall topnotch cast with plenty of material, and they make the most of it."[33] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded a full four stars out of four and raved: "From the moment a street-corner Santa Claus chases a drug pusher thru the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, to the final shootout on deserted Ward's Island, The French Connection is a gutty, flatout thriller, far superior to any caper film of recent vintage."[34][35]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "every bit as entertaining as Bullitt, a slam-bang, suspenseful, plain-spoken, sardonically funny, furiously paced melodrama. But because it has dropped the romance and starry glamor of Steve McQueen and added a strong sociological concern, The French Connection is even more interesting, thought-provoking and reverberating."[36] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "an undeniably sensational movie, a fast, tense, explosively vicious little cops-and-robbers enterprise" with "a deliberately nervewracking, runaway quality ... It's a cheap thrill in the same way that a roller coaster ride is a cheap thrill. It seems altogether appropriate that the showiest sequence intercuts between a runaway train and a recklessly speeding car."[37] In his book Reverse Angle, John Simon wrote: "Friedkin has used New York locations better than anyone to day," "[t]he performances are all good", and "Owen Roizman's cinematography, grainy and grimy, is a brilliant rendering of urban blight."[38]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was generally negative, writing: "It's not what I want not because it fails (it doesn't fail), but because of what it is. It is, I think, what we once feared mass entertainment might become: jolts for jocks. There's nothing in the movie that you enjoy thinking about afterward—nothing especially clever except the timing of the subway-door-and-umbrella sequence. Every other effect of the movie—even the climactic car-versus-runaway-elevated-train chase—is achieved by noise, speed, and brutality."[39] David Pirie of The Monthly Film Bulletin called the film "consistently exciting" and Gene Hackman "extremely convincing as Doyle, trailing his suspects with a shambling determination; but there are times when the film (or at any rate the script) seems to be applauding aspects of his character which are more repulsive than sympathetic. Whereas in The Detective or Bullitt the hero's attention was directed unmistakably towards liberal ends (crooked businessmen, corrupt local officials, etc.) Doyle spends a fair part of his time beating up sullen blacks in alleys and bars. These violent sequences are almost all presented racily and amusingly, stressing Doyle's 'lovable' toughness as he manhandles and arrests petty criminals, usually adding a quip like 'Lock them up and throw away the key.'"[40]

The film has an approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes of 96% based on 90 reviews, with an average rating of 8.80/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Realistic, fast-paced and uncommonly smart, The French Connection is bolstered by stellar performances by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, not to mention William Friedkin's thrilling production."[41] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 94% based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[42]

In 2014, Time Out listed The French Connection as the 31st best action film of all time, according to a poll of several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors.[43]

The French Connection has been described as a neo-noir film by some authors.[44]

The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited The French Connection as one of his favorite films.[45][46]

Director David Fincher cited The French Connection as one of the five films that "had a Profound Impact on my Life"[47] and served as an important influence on the cinematography on his film Seven;[48] Brad Pitt cited The French Connection as a reason he participated in Seven.[49]

Director Steven Spielberg said that he studied The French Connection in preparation for his 2005 historical action thriller film, Munich.[50]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Picture Philip D'Antoni Won [51]
[citation needed]
Best Director William Friedkin Won
Best Actor Gene Hackman Won
Best Supporting Actor Roy Scheider Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Ernest Tidyman Won
Best Cinematography Owen Roizman Nominated
Best Film Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Won
Best Sound Christopher Newman and Theodore Soderberg Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Gerald B. Greenberg Nominated
Belgrade Film Festival Best Film Philip D'Antoni Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Philip D'Antoni Nominated [52]
Best Direction William Friedkin Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Gene Hackman (also for The Poseidon Adventure) Won
Best Film Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Won
Best Sound Christopher Newman and Theodore Soderberg Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Philip D'Antoni Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures William Friedkin Won [53]
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Ernest Tidyman Won [54]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won [55]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Gene Hackman Won
Best Director – Motion Picture William Friedkin Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Ernest Tidyman Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Feature Film Won
Grammy Awards Best Instrumental Arrangement Don Ellis – "Theme from The French Connection" Won [56]
Kansas City Film Circle Critics Awards Best Film Won [57]
Best Actor Gene Hackman Won[b]
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 4th Place [58]
Best Actor Gene Hackman Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Gene Hackman Nominated [59]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Runner-up [60]
Best Actor Gene Hackman Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Honored [61]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama – Adapted from Another Medium Ernest Tidyman Won [62]

The American Film Institute recognizes The French Connection on several of its lists:

In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed the film as the tenth best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.[63]

Home media releases

The French Connection has been issued in a number of home video formats. On September 25, 2001, the film was released on VHS and DVD, with both formats being released in box sets featuring both the film and its sequel, French Connection II.[citation needed] For a 2009 reissue on Blu-ray, William Friedkin controversially altered the film's color timing to give it a "colder" look.[64] Cinematographer Owen Roizman, who was not consulted about the changes, dismissed the new transfer as "atrocious".[65] On March 18, 2012, a new Blu-ray transfer of the movie was released. This time, the color-timing was supervised by both Friedkin and Roizman, and the desaturated and sometimes over-grainy look of the 2009 edition has been corrected.[66][67]

In June 2023, media publications discovered that a version of the film available on digital platforms such as Apple TV and the Criterion Channel had been altered to excise a scene in the film that contains usage of racial slurs.[68][69] The decision received backlash from fans and cineasts, who compared the censorship to vandalism and called out the decision for hiding its historical context. Joseph Wade compared the cut to vandalising a piece of art.[70]

Sequels and adaptations

See also


  1. ^ R42 cars 4572 and 4573 were chosen for the film and had no B subway rollsigns because they were normally assigned to the N subway train. Consequently, they operated during the movie with an N displayed. As of July 2009, these cars were withdrawn from service, but are preserved as part of the New York Transit Museum fleet.[citation needed]
  2. ^ Tied with Walter Matthau for Kotch.


  1. ^ a b The French Connection at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. ^ "THE FRENCH CONNECTION (18)". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved June 17, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Bart, Peter (August 8, 2011). "'Alien' territory: an economics lesson". Variety. p. 2. Archived from the original on February 15, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  4. ^ "The French Connection". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  5. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 167, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  6. ^ Silver & Ward 1992
  7. ^ "The French Connection (1971) - William Friedkin". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 2019-01-30. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
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  9. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on October 31, 2016. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "William Friedkin's Favorite Films of all Time". Fade In Magazine. Retrieved January 20, 2022 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ a b Friedkin recounts his casting opinions in Making the Connection: The Untold Stories (2001). Extra feature on 2001 Five Star Collection edition of DVD release.
  12. ^ "The Making of the French Connection". 4 February 2014.
  13. ^ "23 Things You Never Knew About 'The French Connection'".
  14. ^ Collins, Larry; Lapierre, Dominique (February 6, 1972). "The French Connection—In Real Life". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  15. ^ "Agents Seize Heroin Worth Record 22M". Daily News. New York. June 27, 1968. Archived from the original on October 24, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  16. ^ Bigart, Homer (June 27, 1968). "$22.4-Million in Heroin Found in Car at City Pier; Narcotics, Secreted in Auto Sent From France, Called Largest Seizure in U.S. $22.4-Million in Heroin Is Found Hidden in a Car at Pier in City". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 21, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
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  18. ^ Cox, Michael (Spring 1991). "Smuggler". The Citroën Quarterly. 9: 11.
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  24. ^ This account of the shooting is described in Making the Connection, supra.
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  26. ^ Director's commentary on DVD
  27. ^ "Making the Connection" and "The Poughkeepsie Shuffle", documentaries on The French Connection available on the deluxe DVD.
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  31. ^ Ebert, Roger (1971). "The French Connection Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 17, 2018. Retrieved June 17, 2018 – via
  32. ^ Greenspun, Roger (October 8, 1971). "Film Festival". The New York Times. p. 35. Archived from the original on July 6, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  33. ^ Frederick, Robert B. (October 6, 1971). "Film Reviews: The French Connection". Variety. p. 16. Archived from the original on June 9, 2021. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  34. ^ Siskel, Gene (November 8, 1971). "French Connection" Archived 2021-06-09 at the Wayback Machine. Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 20 – via Open access icon
  35. ^ "The Movie Reviews". Chicago Tribune. October 15, 1999. Archived from the original on 2020-06-05. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  36. ^ Champlin, Charles (November 3, 1971). "High Adventure in 'Connection'". Los Angeles Times.
  37. ^ Arnold, Gary (November 12, 1971). "'French Connection': Running and Hitting". The Washington Post. p. C1.
  38. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Films. New York: Potter. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-0-517-54697-0.
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  40. ^ Pirie, David (January 1972). "The French Connection". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 39 (456): 7.
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  44. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5
  45. ^ Lee Thomas-Mason (12 January 2021). "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out. Far Out Magazine. Archived from the original on 10 June 2021. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
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  48. ^ Alex Ballinger (October 12, 2004). New Cinematographers. HarperCollins. ISBN 9781856693349. In preparation [for the film, Seven], David [Fincher] showed me Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971) and the French Connection (William Freidkin, 1971) and Seven was inspired by a mixture of the stylised work of the former and the rawness and grittiness of the latter.
  49. ^ Amy Longsdorf (September 16, 1995). "Spotlight on Brad Pitt Golden Boy Turns Gritty In New Film". The Morning Call. Retrieved 20 May 2022. Why, with all his choices, did Pitt settle on "Seven"? "I love movies from the '70s like 'The French Connection' and that's what (director) David Fincher and I talked about during our first meeting. I was looking for something with a documentary feel. I wanted to play a character who has flaws, who has good intentions but makes mistakes. I also wanted to kill the mythic thing -- this, like, larger-than-life thing about me."
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  68. ^ Archer, John. "Apple TV And The Criterion Channel Outrage Film Fans By Censoring Classic Movie". Forbes. Retrieved 2023-06-08.
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