In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-European Union ex-banker and economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, was projected to get 24 percent by the pollster Harris and 23.7 percent by Elabe.
Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration and anti-EU National Front, was given 22 percent by both institutes. Three further pollsters all projected broadly similar results.
If the first-round result is confirmed, it would put the 39-year-old pro-Europe Macron within striking distance of the presidency.
Macron on Sunday welcomed projections showing him reaching the runoff of the country's presidential election together with far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
"The French have expressed their desire for change," Macron said. "We're clearly turning a page in French political history."
He is on course to face eurosceptic, anti-immigration Le Pen in the May 7 vote seen as vital for the future of the ailing European Union.
Defated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon said Sunday the left had suffered a "historic drubbing" in the first round of France's presidential election.
While vowing that the "left is not dead", Hamon, who came in fifth according to projections, urged his supporters to vote for first-placed centrist Emmanuel Macron in a May 7 run-off, in order to block the election of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished second.
Harris gave both Fillon and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon 20 percent, which will mean their elimination from the race.
Fillon had consistently been polling third in surveys leading up to the election. French senator and key Fillon supporter Roger Karoutchi told reporters: "The first indications are not good."
The result, if confirmed, will mean a face-off between politicians with radically contrasting economic visions for a country whose economy lags that of its neighbors and where a quarter of young people are unemployed.
That in turn reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain's vote last June to quit the EU and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.
Early indications from Reuters data showed the euro currency EUR= jumping to a four-week high around $1.09 in response to the early projections, from $1.0726.
Macron favors gradual deregulation measures that will be welcomed by global financial markets, while Le Pen wants to ditch the euro currency and possibly pull out of the EU.
Whatever the outcome on May 7, it will mean a redrawing of France's political landscape, which has been dominated for 60 years by mainstream groupings from the center-left and center-right, both of whose candidates faded.
Macron ally Gerard Collomb said the defeat of the mainstream center-left Socialists and the center-right Republicans showed a "deep malaise" in French society.
The final outcome on May 7 will influence France's standing in Europe and the world as a nuclear-armed, veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and founding member of the organization that transformed itself into the European Union.