A packed Stade de France stadium cheered - and jeered - throughout as Les Bleus started their mission for a maiden World Cup.
The French, who made the final three times but have never lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy, proved they will be a force after handing the All Blacks their first pool game defeat in 36 years.
It was far from flawless by the home side with their attack fumbling at times but the boot of sharp-shooter Thomas Ramos, who added 17 points, kept them in front.
New Zealand coach Ian Foster said his team lost their way in the second half but their tournament was still well alive.
Despite the Kiwi loss both teams are expected to finish one-two in pool A and move through to the quarter-finals.
"At half-time both teams were right in it but I thought they squeezed us in that second half and we struggled to really get a lot of momentum," Foster said.
"When we did get down there we created some opportunities but we weren't quite good enough.
"It was a see-sawing game, but you've got to take your hat off to them.
"It doesn't change much for us, we just have to find another way out of this pool."
After an opening ceremony which featured a collapsable Eiffel Tower and was a celebration of French gastronomy, culture and art, the match got underway in sweltering conditions requiring drink breaks in each half.
The All Blacks went into the match without usual skipper Sam Cane, who was a late withdrawal with a back injury.
New Zealand opened the scoring after just two minutes through winger Mark Telea, who collected a perfect cross-field kick into the in-goal from Beauden Barrett.
The All Blacks looked the more threatening of the sides in the first half but three penalty goals by Ramos kept his nervous outfit ahead 9-8 at half-time.
Telea was in again three minutes into the second half although the pass from centre Rieko Ioane looked forward, with the crowd of 78,690 letting referee Jaco Peyper know.
That put the All Blacks ahead 13-9 but France answered through winger Damien Penaud, and after regaining the lead they never looked back.
The All Blacks were rattled by losing Will Jordan to a yellow card in the 58th minute after he collided with an airborne Ramos, who added to his tally in the winger's absence.
Replacement back Melvyn Jaminet then crossed for France in the 78th minute to let the celebrations really begin.
"It was a difficult start but gradually we managed to play more freely," said France captain Antoine Dupont.
"We were under a lot of pressure at the beginning - we couldn't get through our phases and we wanted to play a bit more secure and that was easier for us.
"At half-time and on the field we talked about how we needed to hurry ourselves up,"
France next face Uruguay while the All Blacks play Namibia, with Cane expected to be available.