The 20 Best Neo-Noir Movies of the Past 5 Years

14. Only God Forgives (2013)


Nicolas Winding Refn’s career skyrocketed after the success of Drive and he re-teamed with Ryan Gosling for the 2013 film Only God Forgives. The movie is about Julian (Gosling) an American living in Thailand who runs a Muay Thai club that is actually a front for illegal drug dealing. One day Julian’s brother Billy rapes and murders a young prostitute and is caught by the police. Lieutenant Chang, the policeman on the scene, has the victim’s father kill Billy in revenge.

When Julian hears about the murder of his brother and the circumstances behind it, he accepts it. However, Julian’s mother flies in to Thailand seeking revenge. She wants Julian to kill Lt. Chang, but Julian refuses which leads to her taking matters into her own hands. Things start to spiral out of control as Julian must contend with the actions of his mother.

Only God Forgives is a violent and dark film that has many scenes that are very graphic in nature. Gosling does a terrific job of playing a man who is constantly being manipulated by the whims of his mother. Julian’s life is filled with violence and his family is prone to using brute force to get their way which results in tragic repercussions.


13. Drug War (2012)

drug war

Drug War is a Chinese film about gangsters in Hong Kong. Choi (Louis Koo) is a gangster who is escaping from an explosion at a building where drugs were being made. He crashes his car and is caught by a police officer named Zhang Lei. Choi is scared for his life and volunteers to help the police bring down the drug empire he is a part of. With the help of Choi, Zhang Lei goes undercover as several drug dealers in order to infiltrate the drug supply.

Choi and Zhang Lei are able to set up a sting to capture several major gangsters when things go south. In order to repair the damage, Choi tells Zhang Lei that he can get him the seven top gangsters in Hong Kong. Zhang Lei agrees and Choi is able to get Lei to meet the seven gangster, however, Choi reveals that he has been talking to the police to the gangsters and things go haywire. A gun battle erupts and everyone scrambles to stay alive.

Drug War is a thrilling action film that has a main character who is doing everything to save his own neck no matter the consequences. Choi refuses to give up and works relentlessly to get ahead of everyone.


12. Killing Them Softly (2012)


Over the years, Brad Pitt has continued to take on many interesting roles that have come to show his amazing versatility. Killing Them Softly stars Pitt as Jackie Coogan, a hitman for the mob who is tasked to track down several people who have robbed a poker game fronted by the mob.

Jackie is able to kill one of the robbers, but another hit man is brought into the fold. Mickey (James Gandolfini) is on parole and doesn’t seem to care about anything even getting accomplishing what he has been hired to do. Jackie realizes that it is going to be up to him to complete the job.

Brad Pitt does a great job in his role as Jackie. Jackie is a professional who believes in getting the job done right without any complications. He takes care of business and doesn’t ask questions. The movie ends with Jackie summoning up his worldview on life in America that is very interesting.


11. Too Late (2015)

Too Late (2015)

In Too Late, John Hawkes plays Sampson, a Philip Marlowe-like private detective in Los Angeles. Sampson is a tough no-nonsense sleuth who is caught up in a world of thugs, strippers, and broken women. He is on a case to find a missing woman and is led to many seedy areas of L.A. that has him fighting for his life.

The movie is divided into five different acts that show Sampson and the lives of those involved in the case. John Hawkes brings an edge to Sampson that has you wondering what he is going to do next. L.A. is viewed as a place where the innocent are corrupted and dashed aside by predators. It is classic noir which makes this movie worth checking out.


10. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Ryan Gosling pops up again on this list, but this time in the film The Place Beyond the Pines. This movie stars Gosling as Luke Glanton a motorcycle stuntman who is performing at a fair in upstate New York. He runs into Romina (Eva Mendes) an ex-girlfriend who has had his baby. Luke is shocked to see his son and decides to leave the fair and get a job as a mechanic to provide for Romina and the baby.

Luke is not able to make enough as a mechanic and his boss Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) tells him that they should rob banks. Robin was a bank robber back in the day and sees Luke as a potential partner. The duo set out on a bank robbery spree with Luke speeding through town on his motorcycle.

When Robin decides to stop robbing banks, Luke gets angry and lashes out at him. He attempts to rob a bank on his own, but things go terribly bad. He is chased by police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) and killed when Avery shoots Luke through an open window. Avery is lauded as a hero, but he is uneasy with the honor as he learned that Luke also had a baby boy like him.

Years later, both Avery and Luke’s son are grown up and go to the same high school. The two boys start hanging out and Avery recognizes Luke’s son and forbids his son A.J. from spending time with him, but the boys continue seeing each other. One day, Jason goes to A.J.’s house and sees the a photo of Avery and learns that Avery killed his father. Jason confronts A.J. and they get into a fight. The following day Jason pulls a gun out on A.J. and beats him with it and then waits for Avery to get home. Jason takes Avery hostage and he demands to know the truth about his father’s killing.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a rewarding and moving film about how lives intersect when least expected. Avery cannot escape what he did and his actions show up in the form of Jason who has grown up fatherless and angry at Luke’s death.


9. The Driftless Area (2015)

The Driftless Area (2015)

The 2015 film the Driftless Area is based on the novel by Tom Drury and is a darkly comic film about fantasy and reality. Anton Yelchin stars as Pierre, a young man who moves back to his small town and winds up on the run with the mysterious Stella (Zooey Deschanel) after he gets into trouble with a criminal.

John Hawkes plays Shane a tough but not too smart criminal who is hot on the trail of Pierre who has stolen his cash. The film delves into interesting territory when it discusses the mystical world that the characters may or may not inhabit. Frank Langella plays a mystic who understands Stella’s enigmatic life.

The Driftless Area is a movie that proves to be much more than your simple noir tale. It branches off into fantasy that helps to create a rather interesting movie.


8. Inherent Vice (2014)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has made a career out of fascinating and quirky films and the 2014 film Inherent Vice is both of those things. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a pothead private investigator in 1970. Doc’s ex-girlfriend comes to his place one night and asks him to help stop her new lover from being committed to mental institution by his wife. Doc is going through a mix of emotions as he hasn’t seen Shasta in a while, but he decides to take the case.

However, Doc soon finds that he is way over his head as he stumbles into several cases that ties to Shasta’s including a missing husband and drug smuggling business. All the while, Doc is being hounded by square cop Bigfoot (Josh Brolin).

Inherent Vice is a funny detective story that shows Doc bumbling in and out of danger while coming to terms with his feelings for Shasta. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect in his role and displays various comedic chops that haven’t been shown in his previous films.