Although we’re only fifteen years into it, so far the twenty-first century has given birth to some of the most original and trailblazing crime films the world has seen to date. Whether you’re looking for a mind-blowing mystery from any corner of the Earth, the global film market is swift to remind us that crime is still able to create some of the most compelling stories on screen.
This list contains contenders from England, France, Thailand, China and more because no matter how dark or violent the centre of a crime story may be, they still contain moments of romance, drama and even comedy. Whether you’re looking to see where your favorites ranked or you’re looking for new titles to captivate your mind, buckle up and prepare to barrel through the greatest crime movies of the twenty-first century so far.
20. Ong-Bak (2003)
Legendary Thai boxer Tony Jaa brings his unparalleled martial arts madness to the screen in his first international hit with the legendary “Ong Bak”. Jaa performs all of his own mind-bending stunts without the aid of any stand-ins, CGI, wires or tightropes and choreographs many of the fight scenes himself that could give The Matrix a run for their money.
Jaa plays the master of underground MMA, Ong Bak, who is a champion in the dark world fighting circuit controlled by organized crime to save a couple of people mixed up with the wrong crowd. When Ong Bak becomes a superstar within the arena but refuses to bow down to the local mob boss that can play both sides of the law, he puts his expert skills to the test in the ultimate fight to survive.
If you’re looking for someone to take up the cinematic mantle of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li, Tony Jaa is very well on his way to being the next worldwide champion of martial arts on film.
19. Filth (2013)
Based on the cynical novel by Irving Welsh (Trainspotting) laced with enough dark humor to have you laugh until you cringe, Filth features James McAvoy as one of the most crooked cops since Bad Lieutenant.
McAvoy plays Detective Bruce Robertson who’s solving a gangland murder, not in the name of truth and justice, but to snag a hotshot promotion so everyone in his department must officially bow down to him. Robertson takes the audience on a perverse drug-fueled and sex crazed tour through the seedy criminal underbelly of Scotland while he attempts to climb the ranks of his local police department.
As Robertson tangos with cross-dressing prostitutes, anarchistic punk rockers and teenage cocaine addicts, he shows everyone that he’s best because he’s not scared to play dirty. While he gets closer to cracking the case, he’s losing his sanity one day at a time and eventually it boils down to whether he’ll catch the killer or kill himself with his filthy habits first.
18. Mesrine Pt.II: Public Enemy #1 (2008)
In the second installment of the gangster epic to Vincent Cassel’s most dynamic performance to date, he takes on the epic role of “The Man of 1,000 Faces” aka the notorious international criminal Jaques Mesrine. Mesrine was on the run longer than James “Whitey” Bulger after escaping Paris, fleeing to Quebec and then sneaking across the border into the US. Not only was he on the run from Interpol, he also had the RCMP and the FBI hot on his trail.
This is all the while he’s still funneling illegal cash to take care of his wife and children. Cassel plays Mesrine on his last legs in this part of the film where you see him seamlessly shifting his appearance in order to continuously escape capture. Whether he’s kidnapping millionaires, taking hostages, shooting cops or breaking out of maximum-security prison,
Mesrine makes John Dillinger look like Mickey Mouse in this film based on a true story. When the stakes are high, it is raining gunfire and every lawman from here to Arizona has your name tattooed on his memory, this is one of the most charismatic villains and unforgettable bad guys on film.
17. Sin Nombre (2009)
Here is a film that takes a deep look at a darkly powerful international criminal organization that’s all too often overlooked by humanity and mass media on a global scale. Sin Nombres are one of the most notorious Spanish criminal gangs on the planet that specialize in drugs, guns, murder and all of the criminal culture that comes with it.
This film is a fictional story that is so true to life it’s chilling to the bone. An ex-gang member hops a train with a bunch of illegal immigrants from Mexico to sneak across the border into the US to start a new life for himself. As the Sin Nombres begin closing in on him.the audience begins to see the emotional mechanics of how these criminal barbarians conduct themselves.
The main character must decide whether to sacrifice his life to allow the immigrants he just met to escape to lead Sin Nombres away from them, or risk running his course to America.
16. A Prophet (2009)
This French film chronicles the rise of a young Arab man Malik as he is sentenced to time in a brutal French prison while he ascends to the upper echelon of an international criminal empire. Malik learns the harsh moral codes and laws of behavior of the various mafia clans behind bars he must obey and protect as he transforms himself from a petty thief into a fearless leader.
Not only does Malik learn to survive within this savage subculture of killers waiting for him at every turn, and he must learn to outsmart them and know when flex muscle to ensure his survival. He does not adapt to become a leader but learn all the tools of his new trade including how to recruit protection, organize hits, launder money, smuggle drugs and run a casino.
The climb to the top always leaves some blood on your hands but Malik proves that it is truly only the strong that survive. This story reveals any salvation for yourself lies within who you are, who you need to be and how you take yourself there to live long enough to see the future.
15. Mystic River (2003)
This classic blue collar Boston crime caper is based on the vivid and powerful novel by Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone) and adapted for the silver screen by maverick director Clint Eastwood.
The story revolves around three best friends that grow up in the same rough neighborhood that grow apart after one of them is abducted and raped as a child. Sean (Kevin Bacon) grows up to be a prodigious detective with a prestigious arrest record that is second to none that is dealing with his recent divorce and trying to locate his wife Norah. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con trying to stay on the straight and narrow while protecting his family in the harsh streets that made him rise to prominence as a local kingpin.
Dave (Tim Robbins) is still recovering from the psychological effects of being abducted as kid while trying to hold down a job, save his collapsing marriage and raise his only son. When Jimmy realizes his daughter Kate disappears and Sean announces she’s been murdered, their initial suspicions point to Dave. All of their lives and the neighborhood begin to unravel as they all try to dig to the bottom of who they are to find the truth.