"France pays homage to an actor who represents the force of American cinema and the power of emotions that he invites us to share on screens throughout the world," Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said as he presented the award to Willis in an ornate salon at the ministry.
Willis, 50, thanked both France and the minister for what he called a "great, great honor."
The actor, who does not speak French, read from a script during his brief speech but still managed to make some grammatical slip-ups.
"I'm nervous. Bonjour Paris," Willis said.
"I am extremely touched by this medal. ... We all belong to the same artistic community."
He concluded by saying, "Vive la France!"
The award is conferred on those who have particularly distinguished themselves in an artistic or literary fields.
Willis was in Paris promoting his latest movie, "Hostage." It is directed by France's Florent-Emilio Siri.