10 Great 1990s Neo-Noir Films You’ve Probably Never Seen

5. U Turn (1997)


Gritty, twisty, and turny noir, “U Turn” Is a very much of a noir in Oliver Stone style with a type of black humour that you don’t get to see often in such films, but Stone just seemingly didn’t care – in a good way. Sure, “U Turn” may alienate some; it has some of Stone’s photographic MTV real world style that got criticized in his previous “Natural Born Killers” as tiring, but if it works for you and if you don’t care to have a character to root for or anything, “U Turn” is a great ride with hell of a cast.

If you need the basic plot, it’s about a man, portrayed by Sean Penn, heading to Vegas to pay off his gambling debt before the Russian mafia kills him, but he is forced to stop in an Arizona town when his car breaks down. So he goes to this Arizona town but it’s seemingly full of weird people and he starts to experience hell. “Weird” is a good word to describe this crazy film, but it’ll make you feel entertained if you’re in for a ride with this wicked, nasty tale. Russ Meyer’s 1960s soft-porn exploitation films are also an obvious influence, but it works great for the film.


4. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress is based on a 1990 hardboiled mystery novel by Walter Mosley, his first published book. The text centers on the main character, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, and his transformation from a day laborer into a detective. The astonishingly sensitive, well-written and engaging story is combined with a careful, atmospherically dense reconstruction of the living conditions of the black population of Los Angeles in 1948 to create a revealing historical excursion into the origins of social problems in America today.

Noir devices are augmented skillfully and convincingly by the exploration of race relations that had much resonance when the film was made – think of the Rodney King riots in Watts in 1992 – and still do today. Despite being led by Denzel Washington and also featuring a scene-stealing work from Don Cheadle, “Devil in a Blue Dress” was a box office flop. It’s kind of weird considering it had everything it needed to be successful. It uses its classic noir elements in a very capturing and captivating way.


3. Red Rock West (1994)

red rock west (1993)

If you’re making a neo-noir list from the ‘90s, a John Dahl movie has to be here. It’s sad that he doesn’t make movies much anymore and focuses on TV work because his noirs really stood out. We could have gone with “The Last Seduction” here, which is a film as strong and features an iconic turn from Linda Fiorentino, but it seems like “Red Rock West” gets less mentions than that one. So maybe it’s better to remember this film instead, which is a very twisty, very engaging neo-noir with a great cast. It recently also appeared on Nicolas Cage’s underrated films list on here, but it deserved to get its own place on this list as well since once again, a neo-noir list of the ‘90s without Dahl never feels complete.

The initial reception was almost turning it into a direct-to-cable release but when Bill Banning, the owner of a San Francisco movie theater and a huge fan of the film, arranged for a theatrical release, the film was deemed to be somewhat of an arthouse hit but it was still a box office failure. Critics rated it highly, though; it even made top 10 lists from several critics including Gene Siskel and Peter Travers. The movie follows Cage, who plays a drifter who gets mistaken for a hit man at a local bar. He takes the money, doesn’t kill the person he has to, but wants to warn her. Then the real hit man comes and the story goes into unpredictable places.


2. Croupier (1998)

Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is a writer based in London. He’s certain of a contract for a new book, but at the moment he has fewer ideas in mind than money in his pocket. The search for a job for the transition leads directly into the past. Jack is hired at a casino as a croupier, a profession that he is very familiar with from his former home in South Africa. He begins to write a novel about a croupier named Jake.

Mike Hodges is a director that doesn’t always hit the target but when he does, he does it well. “Croupier” is his best film since “Get Carter.” Using interior monologues in the style of many early noir detective films, the movie basically established Owen’s career when the film got strong critical reception in North America. The film is more of a character study and more of an atmosphere piece also rather than a narrative-driven film, but the plot manages to be engaging as well and the realistic depictions of casinos only adds to the film’s success. Nowadays, it’s not a film that often gets a mention, but “Croupier” deserves to be ranked among the very best of its decade when it comes to neo-noir.


1. The Grifters (1990)


Roy Dillon is a 25-year-old con artist living in Los Angeles. One day unexpectedly he gets a visit from his mother, also a con artist who hasn’t seen him in eight years. Her son’s girlfriend Myra also enters the picture soon after and the story takes delicious turns.

Jim Thompson’s noir fiction “The Grifters” was turned into a movie in 1990 with brilliant director Stephen Frears, who got his first Oscar nomination as Best Director. About a decade ago, John Cusack was asked about his own favorite films and he mentioned “The Grifters” among the 10 of his films that he considers to be “good.” The experience was so rich for him that he later turned another one of his favorite books into a movie with Frears – “High Fidelity.” The movie was a very challenging experience for Anjelica Huston as she got shaken by the emotional and rough experiences of some scenes. Martin Scorsese also helped the film to get made; not only does he have a voice cameo, but he also served as an executive producer.

While the film works great in the spirit of 1940s noirs, it also has an existential drama at its center and a lot of emotional games, bitter ironies, and brilliant acting performances from the leading trio of actors that are Cusack, Huston and Annette Bening. With a great atmosphere and sexual tensions, “The Grifters” delivers high quality entertainment for neo-noir fans.