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The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1970s

17 April 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Terek Puckett

neonoir 1970s

Film critics, film writers and ardent fans are bound to disagree as to what films should be classified as being part of a particular genre. Arguments over what films should be called horror films or suspense thrillers are commonplace as are disputes over what films should fall into the category of film noir.

Naturally these disputes extend to films in the modern film noir or neo-noir classification. In selecting the best neo-noir films from the very fertile and revered years of the 1970s, We picked the finest crime films that share the same grim preoccupations and the same dark heart found in classic film noir pictures of the 1940s and 1950s such as Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly to name just a few.

As is the nature of genre labeling, it should be noted that a number of films mentioned in this article could also be classified in other genres such as heist film or suspense thriller of moral confrontation. Excluded from consideration were films that take place in a period setting. Sorry, Chinatown fans.

Also excluded were films that are occasionally included in writing about neo-noir films that, despite the presence of modern noir elements, actually fall firmly into the suspense thriller category such as Alan J. Pakula’s excellent political suspense thriller The Parallax View (1974) and William Friedkin’s masterful suspense thriller of place Sorcerer (1977).

Note: The films are in chronological order by release year.

 

1. Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971)

Screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink and Dean Riesner

dirty-harry

One of the quintessential hard-edged crime films of the pivotal cinematic decade of the 1970s, Dirty Harry still holds up remarkably well to this day. One of the keys to the film’s success is the driven performance of Andrew Robinson as the killer Scorpio. Robinson appeared in director Siegel’s great neo-noir Charley Varrick in 1973 and would go on to create one of the great science fiction television characters with his recurring role as Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

 

2. Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971)

Screenplay by Hodges based on the Ted Lewis novel “Jack’s Return Home”

get carter pic

Skip the horrendous 2000 remake and watch the original starring Michael Caine if you haven’t already. One of the all-time great British crime films, this story of a London gangster who travels to Newcastle to investigate his brother’s death is one of the greatest British crime films of all time and features one of Caine’s best early career performances.

 

3. Across 110th Street (Barry Shear, 1972)

Screenplay by Luther Davis based on the Wally Ferris novel

Across 110th Street

An incredibly underrated film about the aftermath of a deadly robbery, Across 110th Street deserves to be talked about like the classic crime film it is. This film features superb acting by leads Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn as pair of very different New York City detectives, Anthony Franciosa as an unbalanced mob enforcer and Paul Benjamin as a machine gun-wielding thief.

 

4. The Mechanic (Michael Winner, 1972)

Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino

The Mechanic

The finest film of Charles Bronson’s lead acting career is unjustly overshadowed by the legendary actor’s highly overrated 1974 collaboration with director Winner Death Wish. The grim tale of a professional assassin and his young protégé, The Mechanic is a better film in every way than Death Wish. An attempt to recreate this film as a Jason Statham action movie was made in 2011.

 

5. Charley Varrick (Don Siegel, 1973)

Screenplay by Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner based on the John Reese novel “The Looters”

Charley Varrick

When people think Don Siegel in the 1970s they think Dirty Harry. They should also think Charley Varrick, the director’s underrated classic about a gang of bank robbers targeted by the mob. In addition to providing crime cinema with the first reference to going to work on someone with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch, the film features all-around great acting, highlighted by a too-often overlooked villainous performance from Joe Don Baker as a mob enforcer.

 

6. Electra Glide in Blue (James William Guerico, 1973)

Screenplay by Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig

Electra Glide in Blue

An Arizona motorcycle cop gets promoted to homicide detective and investigates the murder of a hermit in this too little discussed entry in the world of 1970s crime cinema. In the lead role here, Robert Blake gives one of the best performances on his career.

 

7. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett based on the Raymond Chandler novel

robert-altman-the-long-goodbye-elliott-gould

Director Altman’s quirky take on Raymond Chandler’s legendary detective character Philip Marlowe investigating accusations that his good friend murdered his wife is rightfully considered a classic by followers of neo-noir films. The Long Goodbye is highlighted by great performances from Elliott Gould as Marlowe and Sterling Hayden as an alcoholic novelist.

 

8. Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973)

Screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino

Magnum Force

A great sequel to the legendary Dirty Harry, this film pits the deadly Inspector Callahan against of a group of vigilantes who seem to represent what Callahan himself might have turned into had he chosen a different path. Hal Holbrook gives a great performance here as Callahan’s boss. Sadly, the subsequent Dirty Harry sequels really declined in terms of quality.

 

9. Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973)

Screenplay by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler based on the Peter Maas book

Serpico

Al Pacino turns in one of the finest performances of his early career in this fact-based account of an idealistic cop’s fight against rampant corruption in the New York City Police Department. The film also features Tony Roberts, a great character actor primarily known for his comic roles in a number of Woody Allen films. Director Lumet and Pacino would team up again in 1975 for another dark crime film based on real-life events in Dog Day Afternoon.

 

10. Busting (Peter Hyams, 1974)

Screenplay by Hyams

Busting

Lead actors Elliott Gould and Robert Blake show real on-screen chemistry in this overlooked film about a pair of vice cops who risk everything in their pursuit of a Los Angeles crime boss. An early example of what would, for better or worse, become known as a “buddy cop” film, Busting could be seen as a more serious version of Richard Rush’s Freebie and the Bean which was also released in 1974 and featured James Caan and Alan Arkin as a pair of detectives in pursuit of a highjacker in San Francisco.

 

 

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  • luke mac

    maybe you can just sneak in “The Long Good Friday” 1980

  • Michael Ritchie

    What an awful list. These, for the most part, are nowhere near being “noir” or “neo-noir.” They’re crime movies, pure and simple. And where is Chinatown, one of the few real noirs of the 70s

    • el douche

      It was incomplete for sure…specifically chinatown, french connection, killer elite, mr majestyk (*if youre going to include mechanic as neonoir), and perhaps one of my favourite all time: the friends of eddie coyle.

      • el douche

        Also…as others have mentioned the use of the term “neo noir” as been taken with gross liberty but, nonetheless, i understand the general “crime/thriller” tag that is generally all a type of action that isnt as over the top as what others may call “crime/action” with its corresponding subgenres too (*with the exceptions of assault on precinct 13, taking of pelham 123, rolling thunder, and magnum force). Those latter films and nightmoves and hardcore shouldnt be on this list, regardless of genre mislabel.

        The long goodbye is truly the only one on this list that could be considered “neonoir”. One on here thats obvoiusly missing is chinatown which shouldnt matter if it is set in past since neonoir is about modern revisioning or rendering of noir, past or present or future. Farewell my lovely isnt even on here either which is also actually neo noir too.

  • Goran Kriz

    It’s seems world toward fascism rise up so everybody likes great cop movies. Sorry to dissapoint you guys, cops are most corrupted world toward nowadays. And only ww3 military lead by purge all that cops fascist. Nice list, must be by Robocop fan. gl ty all

  • Pingback: The 20 Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1980s | Taste of Cinema()

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  • JRQ699

    Serpico is a moving story of a moral protagonist confronting and triumphing over the corruption around him. A good film, but pretty much the opposite of noir. I don’t think the author actually understands what “neo-noir” is.

  • Ted Wolf

    I’m surprised by the absence of the French connection.

  • Daria Leanne

    I disagree with calling most of these noir, but it’s a very nice list of excellent 70s crime films – several I haven’t seen before, so that’s a nice heads-up.

    • Jeff Rittenour

      I agreee. Thanks for the list. Most of the ones people have mentioned NOT being on this list we’ve all seen…many times in some case. This actually is one of the most interesting of these ‘lists’.

  • tom

    I know u said u’d leave out period-pieces i.e. Chinatown but am unclear on your reasoning behind this decision particularly as Chinatown is the defining 70s neo-noir. I am also struck by the failure to include any of the work of Martin Scorsese, particularly Taxi Driver and, as is mentioned below, the exclusion of the French Connection, pretty flawed list overall

  • Darren

    Yea you should really do some more reading on Film Noir

  • Son of Griff

    The crime films of the 70s deserve a genre definition of their own. I don’t think that most of them really qualify as a derivative of noir, as they invoke a different, more naturalistic set of stylistic priorities and a more explicit sense of urban decay, sexual deviance and political paranoia than their 1940s counterparts.

  • Pingback: Taste of Cinema has “The Best Neo-Noir Films Of The 1970s” | everythingnoir()

  • Chinatown, The French Connection, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation, Serpico, Night Moves, Obsession, The Parallax View, The Drowning Pool, The Getaway.

  • dr pseudonoym2

    While this seems to be a list of crime movies instead of neo-noir, Theres a lot of interesting looking movies here and the reason I read these list is to find those.

  • Knuckle

    They rightfully laud two great films in Dog Day Afternoon and The Conversation, yet not even a mention of one of the great actors of that era who starred in both and helped make them great;John Cazale (rip).

  • Will Wuorinen

    I was glad to see “Electra Glide in Blue” get some love. So few have even heard of it.

    • jericho

      I saw it when I was about 13, then again 20-some years later. F’in weird movie.

      • Will Wuorinen

        Same here. I bought the soundtrack after I saw it the first time. I’ve been trying to find it on the streaming services but haven’t had any luck. Guess I may have to buy it.

  • Chris Englund

    Add another with Walter Hill’s “The Driver”!!!

  • jericho

    I really thought HICKEY & BOGGS should get more than honorable mention. That’s a hell of a dark movie. Also, THE SILENT PARTNER…