1. Charles Aznavour, Shoot the Pianist (1960)
Cast in more than 70 features, Aznavour's most memorable turn is as the lead in François Truffaut's adaptation of the novel by David Goodis, Down There, which screens at the BFI Southbank 3 and 4 February. The son of Armenian immigrants to France, Aznavour's quiet, wounded looks make him an ideal fit, too, for a Simenon adaptation and, sure enough, he starred as Kachoudas in Claude Chabrol's Les fantomes du chapelier (1982).
2. Jacques Dutronc, Van Gogh (1991)
He has appeared alongside Isabelle Huppert in both Jean-Luc Godard's Slow Motion (1980) and Claude Chabrol's Merci pour le chocolat (2000) but his stand-out performance came in Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh. Dutronc, pictured top, won a Best Actor César for his performance of the artist during his final days.
3. Johnny Halliday, L'homme du train (2002)
The Belgian-born giant of French rock music is credited with an early role in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les diaboliques (1955), rising to Jean-Luc Godard's Détective in 1984. His stand-out performance, for which he won the prix Jean Gabin, came in Patrice Leconte's doleful feature as a gangster on the run who finds himself holed up with a retired French teacher, played by Jean Rochefort.
4. Eddy Mitchell, Until the End of the World (1991)
The hulking Mitchell has appeared in Bertrand Tavernier's Coup de Tourchon (1981), an adaptation of a Jim Thompson novel, and Etienne Chatiliez' Le bonheur est dans le pré (1995). He is probably best known to international audiences for his role as a gangster on the run with hapless sidekick Chick Ortega in Wim Wenders' rambling intercontinental road movie.
5. Patrick Bruel, Force majeure (1989)
Bruel topped the bill for this film by Pierre Jolivet alongside François Cluzet (Tell No One); he's also starred with Dutronc in Toutes peines confondues (1992), directed by Michel Deville (La lectrice, Death in a French Garden). Otherwise Bruel tends to be a staple of urban comedy dramas among an ensemble cast, for instance 2009's Le code a changé, with Karin Viard, Dany Boon, Emmanuelle Seigner and Marina Hands. Wiki notes he is also a professional poker player.
Because no round-up of French music is complete without a namecheck for Serge Gainsbourg, I should mention the mindbending videos that accompany his Histoire de Melody Nelson concept album. Gainsbourg's reticence to appear in more features may be explained by his antipathy towards his looks, a hook Joann Sfarr exploited for his recent biopic about the musician, but there's always his lead in the self-directed and self-scripted Charlotte for Ever (1986) as an alcoholic scriptwriter, father to real-life daughter Charlotte.
Related: French actresses with one-word names.