15 Best Film Noir Movies Of All Time


  • 10 Classic Film Noirs That Every Movie Fan Should Watch
  • Double Indemnity (194
  • Directed By Billy Wilder

The darkest, grittiest, and most memorable movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age have come from the film noir genre which produced some of the best movies of all time. Featuring corrupt cops, cunning criminals, darling dames, and frantic femme fatales, film noirs were generally stylistic Hollywood crime dramas with a much darker twist that pushed the boundaries of contemporary filmmaking starting in the 1940s. Led by massive movie stars, such as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, the film noir genre was categorized primarily by black and white movies with dynamic cinematography.

There was no one defining factor that made a movie a film noir, but they all shared a common aesthetic and sense of style. Encompassing a wide range of plot points from private investigators looking into mysterious murders, to law-abiding citizens drawn into complex conspiracies, the best film noirs have left a lasting impact on modern filmmaking. With contributions from iconic directors like Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick, although the genre peaked more than 50 years ago, that did not stop the greatest film noirs from being some of the most important and influential movies ever made.

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15 The Big Heat (1953)

Directed By Fritz Lang

The Big Heat (1953) - Poster CrimeThriller

Director Fritz Lang Release Date October 14, 1953 Studio(s) Columbia Pictures Writers Sydney Boehm Cast Glenn Ford , Gloria Grahame , Lee Marvin , Jeanette Nolan , Alexander Scourby Runtime 89 Minutes Budget 0.0 Expand

The icon of German Expressionism director Fritz Lang, who had already delivered the sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis and film noir crime precursor M, produced a film noir classic with The Big Heat in 1953. Based on a serial (and later a novel) by William P. McGivern, the movie is about a cop who goes to war with a crime syndicate running wild in his city.

The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford (Blackboard Jungle) as Dave Bannion, the homicide detective trying to take down the crime syndicate. It features all the tropes of an iconic film noir, complete with a no-nonsense police officer, femme fatale love interest, and fast-talking, double-crossing murder mysteries.

It was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2011.

A fun and engaging picture of tremendous excitement, The Big Heat stands as one of the great film noirs. The Academy Film Archive preserved the movie in 1997, and it was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2011.

14 Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Directed By Robert Aldrich

Kiss Me Deadly Movie Poster CrimeMystery

Director Robert Aldrich Release Date May 18, 1955 Studio(s) Parklane Pictures Distributor(s) United Artists Writers A.I. Bezzerides Cast Ralph Meeker , Albert Dekker , Paul Stewart , Juano Hernandez Runtime 106 Minutes Budget $410,000 Expand

With a stylish and sinister aesthetic, Kiss My Deadly was a prime example of film noir’s most gritty aspects and acted as a compelling mystery instigated after a detective picked up a female hitchhiker. The movie has a great pedigree, as it is based on the novel of the same name by legendary mystery author Mickey Spillane, and this is one of his iconic Mike Hammer stories. Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, while a young Cloris Leachman also appears in the movie.

Kiss Me Deadly
had a direct influence on Quentin Tarantino’s glowing briefcase in
Pulp Fiction.

Directed by Robert Aldrich, Kiss Me Deadly was an influential film that acted as a metaphor for the paranoia and fear viewers at the time were feeling toward an impending nuclear war with Russia. A nihilistic but frighteningly engaging movie, Kiss Me Deadly had a direct influence on Quentin Tarantino’s glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction (via Far Out).

13 The Long Goodbye (1973)

Directed By Robert Altman

The Long Goodbye RDramaComedyCrime Director Robert Altman Release Date March 8, 1973 Cast Elliott Gould , Sterling Hayden , Henry Gibson , David Arkin Main Genre Drama

The Long Goodbye was a satirical film noir that played with clichés and tropes of the genre and breathed new life into the Raymond Chandler character of Philip Marlowe. The character of Philip Marlowe has appeared in 31 stories by Chandler and 11 different big-screen movies, and this remains one of his most iconic appearances, with Elliott Gould starring as the private detective.

Led by an extraordinary performance by Gould, The Long Goodbye was a clever movie that paid homage to film noir classics of the past while showcasing the style still had something to offer amid the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. The Long Goodbye was misunderstood when it was first released but has since gone on to achieve a cult following. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2021.

12 The Third Man (1949)

Directed By Carol Reed

The Third Man Movie Poster NoirMysteryThriller

Release Date February 1, 1950 Director Carol Reed Cast Orson Welles , Joseph Cotten , Alida Valli , Trevor Howard , Paul Hörbiger Runtime 93 Minutes Studio(s) London Film Productions Writers Graham Greene , Orson Welles , Alexander Korda Expand

Consistently ranking among the best British films of all time, The Third Man stars Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in an expressionistic murder mystery with exquisite use of lighting, camera angles, and music. Cotton stars as Holly Martins, an author who learns his friend Harry Lime (Welles) has died. When he goes to Vienna to pay his respects, he sees Welles on the streets, alive and well, and sets out to learn the truth about the deception.

The Third Man
even won an Oscar for its cinematography.

A masterpiece of its era, The Third Man captured the ruined society of post-War Europe and the troubled trauma of its inhabitants. A success at the box office, The Third Man was the top film of 1949 in Britain (via The Courier-Mail) and to this day stands as a classic of the film noir genre. The Third Man even won an Oscar for its cinematography, and Carol Reed earned a Best Director nomination.

11 The Killing (1956)

Directed By Stanley Kubrick

ApprovedCrimeDramaFilm Noir Release Date June 6, 1956 Director Stanley Kubrick Cast Sterling Hayden , Coleen Gray , Vince Edwards , Jay C. Flippen , Ted de Corsia , Marie Windsor , Elisha Cook Jr. , Joe Sawyer Runtime 84 Minutes Writers Stanley Kubrick , Jim Thompson , Lionel White

Legendary director Stanley Kubrick showcased his skill for the film noir genre with his first major Hollywood movie The Killing. A stylish story of a crook named Johnny Clay, The Killing followed a criminal group’s plan to execute a daring racetrack robbery that cemented Kubrick’s reputation as a major contemporary director at the time. Kubrick made a choice to mostly keep the scenes in singular locations as the gang planned out the crime, making it a tense and mysterious noir movie.

With a low-budget aesthetic and raw uncompromising vision, The Killing was an underappreciated film noir triumphat the time that had the makings of a classic thanks to compelling characters, daring direction, and a strong script. Quentin Tarantino has said that this movie was what influenced him to make his debut film, Reservoir Dogs (via The Seattle Times).

10 Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)

Directed By Alexander Mackendrick

J.J. and Sidney looking at something in Sweet Smell of Success Cropped

A snarky sense of cynicism was imbued into the film noir Sweet Smell of Success, which showcased the darker side of the newspaper business. The plot follows a newspaper columnist who uses his connections to ruin the life of a man dating his sister. Despite strong lead performances by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, Sweet Smell of Success was a controversial movie as its two stars disappointed audiences by playing against type.

J.J. Hunsecker was listed as one of the AFI’s greatest movie villains.

However, in the years since its release, Sweet Smell of Success has gained a reputation as an acclaimed classic complete with strong performances, witty dialogue, and a compelling story. the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1993 and J.J. Hunsecker was listed as one of the AFI’s greatest movie villains. It was also turned into a musical in 2002.

9 Laura (1944)

Directed By Otto Preminger

A portrait looms over a man from Laura

While the majority of female characters in film noirs usually took a supporting role as an enticing femme fatale, Laura put a woman front and center in an exciting tale of deceit, love, and, of course, murder. Laura featured Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt and Dana Andrews as Mark McPherson, a detective investigating what he believed was Laura’s murder, and was told mostly through flashback as everyone who encountered Laura fell in love with her.

A stylish film full of breathtaking black-and-white cinematography, Laura was a must-watch for any film noir connoisseur. The movie won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and Preminger was nominated as Best Director. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1999. The AFI also named it one of its 10 best mystery movies of all time.

8 Touch Of Evil (1958)

Directed By Orson Welles

Touch of Evil Movie Poster PG-13NoirThriller

Release Date April 23, 1958 Director Orson Welles Cast Charlton Heston , Janet Leigh , Orson Welles , Joseph Calleia , Akim Tamiroff , Marlene Dietrich , Zsa Zsa Gabor Runtime 111 Minutes

After already starring in the film noir classic The Third Man some years before, Orson Welles took on directing, writing, and acting duties for the iconic film noir masterpiece Touch of Evil. The movie sees a vehicle explode on the United States and Mexico border, and the law enforcement closes in to figure out who the culprit is.

With a complex production history, Touch of Evil was dismissed by film critics when it was first released due to its unconventional editing style, but has since been reappraised as a classic of the genre. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Welles, Touch of Evil was a compelling story of murder, kidnapping, and corruption.

There was some controversy with Heston being cast as a Latino character in the project. That said, eventually the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1993.

7 In A Lonely Place (1950)

Directed By Nicholas Ray

In A Lonely Place (1950) - Poster - Humphery Bogart NRDramaRomanceMysteryCrime

Release Date May 17, 1950 Director Nicholas Ray Cast Humphrey Bogart , Gloria Grahame , Frank Lovejoy , Carl Benton Reid , Art Smith Runtime 94 Minutes Studio(s) Santana Pictures Corporation , Columbia Pictures Writers Andrew Solt Expand

There was a dark, sinister, and foreboding sense of dread hidden just beneath the surface of Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. Starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his best performances, In a Lonely Place followed the troubled and violent screenwriter Dixon Steele as he became worryingly obsessed with the beautiful Laurel Gray, played by Gloria Grahame.

Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place was a complex thriller that was hard to categorize and has grown in reputation over the years due to its mature themes and unusual depth for a film noir of its time. It has since been listed as one of the best in the genre, although it was overshadowed in 1950 by All About Eve, which was released in the same year. In a Lonely Place was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007.

6 Chinatown (1974)

Directed By Roman Polanski


Release Date June 20, 1974 Director Roman Polanski Cast Jack Nicholson , Faye Dunaway , John Huston , Perry Lopez , John Hillerman , Darrell Zwerling Runtime 130 minutes Studio(s) Paramount Pictures Writers Robert Towne , Roman Polanski Budget $6 million Expand

Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, was a classic film noir mystery that was produced with just enough distance from the golden age of film noirs to pay homage to the conventions of the style while simultaneously bringing something new to it. The movie features the visual style, hard-boiled protagonist, and femme fatale archetype of the best film noirs.

has also been listed as one of the greatest screenplays ever written

Chinatown had a cynical and gritty sense of realism as Jake Gittes found himself further embroiled in a criminal conspiracy involving the California water supply. A triumph of filmmaking, Chinatown has regularly been placed among the best films ever made.

Chinatown has also been listed as one of the greatest screenplays ever written (by Robert Towne) and won an Oscar for that while receiving 10 other nominations. The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1991.

5 The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

Directed By Charles Laughton

The Night of the Hunter (1955) CrimeDramaThriller

Release Date July 27, 1955 Director Charles Laughton Cast Robert Mitchum , Shelley Winters , Lillian Gish , James Gleason , Evelyn Varden , Peter Graves , Don Beddoe , Gloria Castillo , Billy Chapin , Sally Jane Bruce Runtime 92 Minutes Studio(s) Paul Gregory Productions Writers Davis Grubb , James Agee , Charles Laughton Budget $500,000 Expand

A suspenseful film noir thriller, The Night of the Hunter told the story of a serial killer pursuing two children in an attempt to steal $10,000 hidden by their late father. The killer, known as “Preacher” Harry Powell (played by Robert Mitchum), terrorized the two young children as he sought the hidden treasure, and ruined both of their lives by the end. An unusually dark story for its time, The Night of the Hunter was such a failure upon release that its director Charles Laughton never made another film after it.

However, it has retrospectively been deemed an undisputed classic of the film noir genre and its slow-building tension, eerie atmosphere, and unforgettable villain made The Night of the Hunter a true cult classic. It was yet another noir film selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1992.

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4 Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Directed By Billy Wilder


Billy Wilder’s hilarious film noir black comedy Sunset Boulevard delivered one of cinema’s most unforgettable quoteswith its closing line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” However, Sunset Boulevard was so much more than one famous sentence and featured a classic Hollywood story of a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) drawn into the world of a fading silent film star, who couldn’t let go of her fame (Gloria Swanson).

It was added to the National Film Registry in 1989 by the Library of Congress, the first group of films ever selected for the honor.

An important and influential film, Sunset Boulevard would act as the final collaboration between Wilder and writer Charles Brackett, who made 16 movies together. The movie earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including one nomination in all four acting categories. It went on to win three awards (none for the actors). It was added to the National Film Registry in 1989 by the Library of Congress, the first group of films ever selected for the honor.

3 The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Directed By John Huston

The Maltese Falcon - Poster - Humphrey Bogart with guns & Mary astor ApprovedCrimeFilm NoirMystery

Release Date October 18, 1941 Director John Huston Cast Humphrey Bogart , Mary Astor , Gladys George , Peter Lorre , Barton MacLane , Lee Patrick Runtime 100 Minutes Writers Dashiell Hammett , John Huston

One of the most important film noirs ever produced, The Maltese Falcon stands as not just one of the defining movies of its genre but also one of the most memorable movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Maltese Falcon is based on the novel by the legendary mystery author Dashiell Hammett as one of his Sam Spade novels. It was actually Sam Spade who influenced Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe, who appeared later.

The movie was one of the first 25 films added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Led by strong performances from Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre, The Maltese Falcon featured just the right mix of compelling characters, an engaging storyline, and a tense entertaining atmosphere. With action, mystery, and humor, The Maltese Falcon truly was the stuff that dreams are made of. The movie was one of the first 25 films added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

2 The Big Sleep (1946)

Directed By Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep - poster - Humphrey Bogart ApprovedCrimeFilm NoirMystery

Release Date August 31, 1946 Director Howard Hawks Cast Humphrey Bogart , Lauren Bacall , John Ridgely , Martha Vickers , Dorothy Malone , Peggy Knudsen , Regis Toomey , Charles Waldron Runtime 114 Minutes Writers William Faulkner , Leigh Brackett , Jules Furthman , Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep was, in many ways, the quintessential film noir movie. Based on a hardboiled crime novel by Raymond Chandler and featuring Humphrey Bogart as Detective Philip Marlowe, The Big Sleep ticked all the boxes of an engaging film noir propped up by iconic performances from Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall.

Starting with blackmail and ending in murder, The Big Sleep was slick, stylish, and substantial and has managed to remain as engaging today as when it was first released in 1946. This was easily the best movie to ever feature Marlowe, and it came from arguably the best book he ever appeared in as well. The AFI named Marlowe as one of the greatest heroes in film history. The movie was also added to the National Film Registry in 1997, the same year the original 1945 cut was rereleased.

1 Double Indemnity (1944)

Directed By Billy Wilder

Double Indemnity 1944 Movie Poster Not RatedCrimeThriller

Release Date July 3, 1944 Director Billy Wilder Cast Fred MacMurray , Barbara Stanwyck , Edward G. Robinson , Porter Hall Runtime 107 Minutes Studio(s) Paramount Pictures Writers Billy Wilder , Raymond Chandler Budget $980,000 Expand

The absolute best film noir has to be Billy Wilder’s unmatched achievement, Double Indemnity. A plot about crime told from the perspective of the criminal, Double Indemnity set the standard for all subsequent film noirs and was groundbreaking for its expert use of cinematography, lighting, and shadows.

Since Double Indemnity, the two most important words in motion pictures are ‘Billy’ and ‘Wilder
’” – Alfred Hitchcock

The enduring power of Double Indemnity and its deepening scheme of insurance fraud was so strong that it impressed director Alfred Hitchcock to the point that he was quoted as stating: “Since Double Indemnity, the two most important words in motion pictures are ‘Billy’ and ‘Wilder’” (via The Independent). The movie earned seven Oscar nominations (though it didn’t win any) and is considered one of Wilder’s best movies on top of its status as the gold standard of film noir movies. The Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry in 1992.

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Sources: Far Out, The Courier-Mail, The Independent

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