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The 30 Best Neo-Noir Movies of All Time

02 June 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Terek Puckett

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The classic 1940s/1950s era of film noir produced some true cinematic treasures such as Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947), John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) among others.

After that period passed, the grim heart of the great dark crime films of that era carried over into subsequent decades and continues to live on to this day.

As is the case with the horror genre, arguments will always exist regarding what films should be labeled “neo-film noir”. Suffice it to say that all the crime films considered for this piece contain the same dark core as pictures from the classic film noir era.

This article combines some new material with reprinted and revised material from a number of previous articles I’ve had published on Taste of Cinema that you can check out here.

Please note that films set in a period setting were excluded from consideration for this article so you won’t see pictures like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) , Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) , The Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990) or Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997) here.

Any readers dismayed by the absence of their neo-noir favorites such as William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971), Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects (1995) or Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) are advised to keep in mind that, as I’ve stated in many of my articles, film writing on all levels-from the casual to the academic-is driven by personal taste.

That said, be sure to check out the afterword where I list a number of films that didn’t make the top 30 list but are definitely worth seeking out.

The films are listed 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 (1971)

An uncompromising police officer tries to stop a psychopath’s killing spree in 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 and 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.

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. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett based on the Raymond Chandler novel

The Long Goodbye (1973)

irector 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.

 

4. 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.

 

5. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)

Screenplay by Frank Pierson based on articles by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore

Dog_Day_Afternoon

Director Lumet and star Al Pacino followed up on the success of Serpico with another fact-based crime film, this one the story of a bank robbery that turns into a hostage situation.

Dog Day Afternoon generated multiple Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Pacino and Best Supporting Actor for Chris Sarandon.

The great character actor Lance Henriksen can be seen here in a brief but important role as an FBI agent.

 

6. Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)

Screenplay by Alan Sharp

Night Moves

Gene Hackman plays a private detective who becomes more lost the deeper he delves into a missing persons case.
The grim tone of the film can be summed up by a brilliant exchange between the detective and his wife. When she asks him who is winning the football game he’s watching on television he replies: “Nobody. One side is just losing slower than the other.”

Screenwriter Sharp also wrote the script for Robert Aldrich’s superb 1972 Western Ulzana’s Raid. When people are asked what the late director Penn’s masterpiece is, too many answer with Bonnie & Clyde. The real answer is Night Moves.

 

7. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)

Screenplay by Carpenter

Assault on Precinct 13

Armed with a great score and unnecessarily remade in 2005, this excellent film about a small group trapped in a police station fighting off a heavily armed gang is unjustly excluded from conversations about the great dark crime films of the 1970s for several reasons including the fact that the film was made by a director who is now almost exclusively known for horror and science fiction films.

Also, the film was not a big financial or critical success and was overshadowed by Carpenter’s legendary mega-hit Halloween (1978). Part of Assault’s appeal is the great acting from Austin Stoker and the late Darwin Joston, two performers who deserved far better careers.

 

8. Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, 1977)

Screenplay by Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould

Rolling Thunder

The formidable acting duo of William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones play a pair of Vietnam veterans out to avenge the mutilation of Devane’s character and the murder of his wife and son.

Always an undervalued actor and coming off a great supporting performance in the previous year’s suspense thriller Marathon Man, Devane gives a powerful and subtle lead performance here.

 

9. The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)

Screenplay by Barrie Keefe

The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday is on a short list of the greatest British crime films along with such titles as Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971) and Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2001).

The superb screenplay is brought to life by an outstanding cast led by Bob Hoskins as a crime boss whose world is violently torn apart by unknown assailants. Hoskins’ acting here deserves to be at the very top of any list of the late actor’s notable performances.

 

10. Nighthawks (Bruce Malmuth, 1981)

Screenplay by David Shaber and Paul Sylbert

Nighthawks

Along with Ted Kotcheff’s excellent First Blood (1982), Nighthawks is one of the two best films Sylvester Stallone has ever been involved in.

Stallone stars as a New York cop assigned to an anti-terrorist unit who ends up on a collision course with a ruthless villain played superbly by Rutger Hauer.

Hauer, with highly accomplished performances in this film, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986) was the greatest portrayer of villains in 1980s cinema.

 

 

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  • John Davidsson

    Great list, should add Zodiac and Memories of murder

  • Klaus Dannick

    Several of these are films which I would not call noir at all. Not all crime films are noir. Dirty Harry and Lethal Weapon are certainly not noir films.

  • Ahmed Ali

    Jodie Foster…over-rated in Silence??!?!!? She WAS the film. It’s arguably one of the greatest pairings (Hopkins/Foster) in all of cinematic history.

    Also, yes…crime does not = noir. Noir is a sensibility, a gesture more than a genre. It is hard to pin down, formally. Having said that, some of these titles are unequivocally non-noir. Lethal Weapon, for instance.

    Thanks for the list anyway.

  • marcel

    First thing that comes in my mind reading this freakin BIG list is: you’re not married! Keep up!

  • Pingback: Taste of Cinema has “The 75 Best Neo-Noir Movies of All Time” | everythingnoir()

  • leemoz1 .

    I think to be classed as neo-noir, the film should not only have core thematic elements of noir, but also have stylistic elements that are a homage, or highly influenced by noir. As a huge noir fan, and a big fan of Leon (The Professional) I can definitely see the nourish elements in the plot, but stylistically it isn’t very noir…

    • André Filipe Fernandes Saramag

      Most of this writers don’t know films that well. Most of this movies I wouldn’t even consider as noir in any way. When you talk about film noir you have to have the stylistic perspective front and center cause it’s a big part of what makes the genre noir… noir…

  • Tom

    Big Lebowski is actually loosely based off the Bogart Noir “The Big Sleep.” The rich sugar daddy. The girl goes missing. Bad guys, crime, intrigue.

  • Ghost of Harry Smith

    Great list with some wonderful titles, many of which are underrated and deserve a larger audience. But to be called neo-noir they need to possess a combination of trad. noir’s visual style, generic conventions (like voiceovers) and narrative structures, not just one or the other.
    So leave Lethal Weapon, Point Break, Sexy Beast etc. on the shelf especially when you haven’t had room for genuine neo-noir classics like Body Heat, House of Games, and (c’mon!) Blade Runner.

  • Still D.R.E.

    LA Confidential The Man That Wasn’t There

  • Alex Nasaudean

    This reviewer’s liberal and downright idiotic use of the concept of noir is maddening. Please don’t take this list seriously and enjoy the movies. Extreme Prejudice mentioned as a noir LOL

  • 75 is at least 50 too many. I’d love to read “the ten best neo noir movies of all time”. I skipped past the list of 75, to post this comment. Curating means making choices, not just throwing up a ridiculously long list.

  • Gord Jackson

    I don’t agree with the exclusion of “LA Confidential”, “Chinatown”, “Blade Runner” et all, but was also disappointed that the very under-rated “Stormy Monday” didn’t get a mention. It’s got some uniformly great performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Melanie Griffith and Sean Bean. It also has an excellent screenplay by director Mike Figgis, excellent cinematography from Roger Deakins and a superb opening that sets the tone for all that follows. Of course it isn’t full of gut-wrenching, overly graphic violence but relies instead on menace, which may in turn be its weakness for some.

  • Jake LaMotta

    Wait,where is Chinatown??How can Chinatown not be a part of this list??Is this for real??

  • Noah Garner

    Le Samourai?
    did i miss it? how was it not there?

  • Noniewiem Ekhm

    Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels

  • Daniel Koehnen

    The Fact that Nikos Nikolaidis SINGAPORE SLING isnt on this list dissapoints me alot, since it contains sooo much reminiscences to Otto Premingers LAURA !

  • Celtique

    maybe 4 out of this list could be considered “Noir”..who ever did this list obviously don’t know what noir is, or what the elements are.

  • Tiago Nunes

    bad list

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Am I missing something here or are many of these not neo noir at all? Isn’t neo noir more films like The Last Seduction, Red Rock West, Romeo Is Bleeding and the like?

  • Patrick Hill

    “wretched science fiction film The Fifth Element”, really?, I guess you don’t get it then. There’s a huge reason it has such a big cult following. As soon as you realize he was using Jean-Paul Gauthier for wardrobe, one should understand. Oh well 😉

  • Klaus Dannick

    A couple of things:

    (1) In the introduction to the article, an afterword of additional titles is mentioned, but I found no such list at the end of the article.

    (2) Perhaps this is my own understanding of the terms, but I tend to distinguish between “modern noir” and “neo-noir”, the former being a post-classic-noir-period crime story (any crime story, really), and the latter being a crime story infused with distinctly post-noir-period (even post-modern) elements, either in technique, visuals, or narrative approach. Most of the films listed fall into something which I’d call modern noir. Neo-noir, to me, is represented by films like Pulp Fiction, Sin City, and Mulholland Dr., among others.

    Incidentally, I was somewhat surprised to see stylistically noir-ish films like Blue Velvet and Memento missing from this list.

  • Alan Douglas Aranda

    Nightcrawler

  • Anton

    I mean, I really love ToC, but this is probably the worst list I have ever seen here. Of these 30 films mentioned, I can’t say I counted 5 of them being neo-noir. Dirty Harry, Carlito’s Way, neo-noirs? Really? There is a definition of neo-noir, and you should probably read it.

  • bahram

    the drop 2014 should be added.