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The 20 Best Crime Movies of The 21st Century

10 March 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Alex Young

best crime movies 21st century

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)

Ong Bak

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)

Filth

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)

Mesrine Pt.II Public Enemy #1

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)

Sin Nombre

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)

A Prophet

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)

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.

 

 

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  • chidambaram

    animal kingdom

    • Naresh Hegde Dodmari

      definitely deserves to b in top 5!!

  • Brian Lussier

    You should have had Mesrine as just one film to make place for another, like American Gangster, for instance. Also, A Prophet is a complete masterpiece and should be higher on the list. Probably #1.

  • Alex Michael Smith

    There Will Be Blood.

    • Joel Zachariah

      master !!

  • Harsha Raman

    Amazing list man! Just amazing! I’m delighted how even unconventional crime movies like, say ‘Mystic River’ and ‘Nightcrawler’ made it into the list. And also, great decision placing ‘Zodiac’ at the top.
    I think ‘Out of the Furnace’ just didn’t deserve this list.

  • Babur Shaikh

    No country for old men???? Isn’t it crime?

    • t-man

      If it had to fit inot a single genre I’d go with western, but definitely see your point

  • Guest

    You could have included the Korean film “Memories of Murder”, it was one of the best of the decade

    • Lucols

      Not only that but it should’ve been at least on the top 5

  • FAS

    You could have included the Korean film “Memories of Murder”, it was one of the best of the decade

    • Brian Lussier

      Oh, give me a break with The Freaking Dark Knight!!! People are trying to cram that film in every list where it remotely has a chance of being! It should not be here!

      • FAS

        Please, give some valid reasons with details to describe your hate for the film. If you give references to superheroes, extreme popularity, action sequences and fanboys in your reasons, then those reasons are purely invalid. The reasons should include detailed looks on the themes of crime, as well as the story and the plot elements.

        • James

          The Batman universe is a fictional one, crime movies are set squarely in this real one.

          • FAS

            So I suppose all crime movies are based on true stories…. isn’t it?

          • James

            A fictional universe and a fictional story are two different things.

          • FAS

            Well, in the Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy there are no fantasy elements that all the other Batman storylines have and it was a crime movie.

          • James

            True, they haven’t, and If they stood alone and there was no other Batman history, I would probably agree with you. But as it stands Batman is part of a huge fantasy universe that doesn’t sit well within the crime movie genre. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree 🙂

        • Brian Lussier

          None of the above. I just get tired that people try to cram the film into every list. It’s like people think it’s the greatest film ever made, which it is far from being! Doesn’t even belong in an all-time Top 250. It does depict crime rather well, I guess you’re right. But I just thought this list was too broad as far as the films included, and I don’t think it needs to be broadened even further. I don’t hate the film, I enjoy it on its own merits, although as far as the Batman universe goes, I prefer the two Tim Burton films. But actually, as far as the plot goes, I think there are serious problems with the screenplay, including overly complicated and convoluted circonvolutions that don’t hold up to analysis if you take a closer look at the film.

          • FAS

            Well, I’ve got no problem if you like the Burton films over the Nolan films. But you shouldn’t have been that mean in the first place. Let me tell you, I mentioned the film because I really think it is one of the best crime films ever made. Why? Mainly due to the fact that to me the movie portrayed the theme of crime and the effect it has on the characters very nicely. I really liked the way how they showed that how troubled the characters became just for the acts of one evil criminal. I really liked the fact that how the bad guy is someone who wants nothing but to hurt others for his own amusement. I really liked the way the film presented the consequences that occurred for a bad guy who just had one evil intention. The film was pretty suspenseful and interesting to me. Also, all the people who laud this film are not fanboys, some people really think of it as one of the best, if not the best, films of all time. Yes, sometimes I do get annoyed by overexposure of specific famous films, not just The Dark Knight. I know that due to these overexposures, some not-so-well-known films get avoided by people. But it was a very well-made film. It is definitely the best superhero film ever made to me because no other superhero films got the depth that this movie has…. my opinion. Yes some people are overexposing this film, but it is one of the best films ever made to me. Also, the truth is “The Shawshank Redemption” is the film that gets recognition as the Best Film Ever Made by most people, not The Dark Knight. I am not saying The Dark Knight is the 4th best film ever made, but the truth is if the fanboys were the only ones voting in IMDb, it wouldn’t be that high on the list. It’s my opinion on the film, but you shouldn’t have criticized others for having different opinions.

          • Brian Lussier

            Well, I certainly don’t agree with the labeling of The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest film ever made, I’ll tell you that, and I do think The Dark Knight is far superior to it. You have good arguments to explain why it deserves to be on the list, I’ll grant you that. But I think there are at least three films from the last decade that fill your criteria better than it: Gomorrah, A History Of Violence and especially American Gangster. I didn’t mean to come off like I hated the film, it’s just a truth that many people are trying to cram it in every list, whether it should be there or not. To me, The Dark Knight is great film, but not oneof the best. As a superhero film, yes, it is one of the best. And it is indeed probably a better film than both of Burton’s Batman films, but I prefer Burton’s interpretation because they maintained a perfect balance between gritty realism and whimsical. Nolan did away with the whimsy, and personally, I like my superhero films to have a little bit of it. But that’s me. Still, in its own right it is indeed a fine film. But people calling it a masterpiece irritates me because I think it is far from it. But anyway, I agree it does depict crime and its consequences pretty well, I just think there were better ones excluded.

    • Nameless Paladin

      The Dark Knight is not a crime film, it’s more of terrorism film and there’s a difference.

    • Abhishek

      Gangs of Wasseypur is a masterpiece. Totally agree on that.

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Didn’t like the list. Too many mediocre movies in my opinion. On the other hand – Memento, Pushers 2 and 3 and some of the Cohens are missing. There are no best Korean movies, also. The Drop….

    • FAS

      You’re right, Korean films like “Memories of Murder”, “The Chaser”, “I Saw the Devil”, etc. should’ve been in the list

  • Matthew Benbenek

    I don’t think The Departed deserved to be placed so much higher than infernal affairs, or even if they warranted separate listings. Besides superior acting in the Departed, they are equal movies.

    Also, A History of Violence and No Country For old Men are both better than Out of the Furnace.

    • Brian Lussier

      Personally, I think Infernal Affairs should have been left out entirely, with The Departed remaining on the list, though not at #2. For once, the remake was FAR stronger than the original, and not just for its acting. My opinion , at least…

      • Sasha Kozak

        The remake was one of the few remakes that NA has done that was not a travesty. Better than the original though? That is arguable. I like em both evenly personally, but for different reasons.

  • Nishant

    ong-bak???

    • Araya Srisatsom

      That’s what i’m thinking too.

  • ladyofargonne

    Eastern Promises: that shower scene was simply…simply…I have to leave now.

  • nrvs

    Nice list. Not sure about Ong Bak though. And I’d have Berandal over Redemption.

  • Nameless Paladin

    The Departed??? Mediocre if you ask me. What about No Country for Old Men?

  • The Departed is way, way waayy too high. Otherwise I really enjoyed the diversity of the list in terms of both country and how we’re defining crime film. I would of placed Un Prophet in my top 5 personally.

  • Alex

    There is no way that “The Departed” is better than “Infernal Affairs”, the brilliant film it was based on.

  • Brady Demarest

    I was so glad to see Zodiac take the number one spot. This movie is my favorite and Think it needs a lot more praise and recognition! Truly an amazing film.

  • Miroslav Maric

    City of God is by far the best!

  • Konstantin Belyshev

    Yeah, it’s disappointing to see that Gomorrah and especially Collateral are not included. I know Miami Vice and Public Enemies are not particularly well liked, I love them and it’s hard to deny the aesthetic influence Collateral and Public Enemies have had on many popular movies and TV shows.

  • Pedro Enrique Casique Duran

    Zodiac??????…

  • jvalosik

    Prisoners is a genuinely bad move. From the acting to the art department, it is second rate.

  • t-man

    Where in the hell is Animal Kingdom? It’s better than at least half the movies on this list.

  • Loretta Attwood Lee

    City of God is probably the best movie of ANY genre I’ve seen made in this century.

  • Rod Phillip-Ellsworth Stapleto

    Lets not forget Heat and Reservoir Dogs

    • VChild

      “The 20 Best Crime Movies of The 21st Century”

  • Zodiac is easily in my top ten all time. Love that film!

  • Klaus Dannick

    I’d have included Irreversible.

  • Juan Miguel Carvajal

    Stopped reading when I saw Out of the Furnace.