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12 of the Best Noir Movies in Cinematic History

Noir films are about more than just a compelling mystery. This genre has so many fans because it’s atmospheric, thought-provoking, suspenseful, dark, gritty, and yes, sometimes a little bit creepy. Noir films challenge viewers to confront the darker sides of humanity and of ourselves. And they’re entertaining too. If you’re looking for more noir movies to watch right now, here are 12 of the best noir movies that are must-watches entries into this dynamic film genre.

 

Double Indemnity_NovelSuspects

Double Indemnity (1944)Double Indemnity is a 1944 film written and directed by Billy Wilder and written by Raymond Chandler, based on the 1943 James M. McCain novel of the same name. In this noir thriller, an insurance representative falls for a married woman who pulls him into a murder/insurance fraud scheme. Upon its release, Double Indemnity was wildly successful, and with many viewers wanting more of this same type of dark, atmospheric noir story, there were many films that tried to imitate it. But none of the imitators can stand up to the original.

Mildred Pierce (1945) —Mildred Pierce, played by Joan Crawford, must find a way to support herself and her daughters after her husband leaves her for another woman. So she opens up a restaurant. But her new business causes troubles in her already strained relationship with her eldest daughter Veda. Crawford’s performance in this iconic film won the actress an Academy Award.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

The Blue Dahlia (1946)The Blue Dahlia is another unforgettable noir movie from the mind of Raymond Chandler. This film was Chandler’s first original screenplay, and the writer was actually nominated for an Oscar for his work on this script. This noir movie stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. In this noir mystery, an ex-bomber pilot is suspected of murdering his wife.

Out of the Past (1947)Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur, is a classic noir mystery movie about what happens when a private eye tries to escape his past, but his past just keeps catching up with him. Jeff Bailey was once a private eye, but he’s left that life behind to run a gas station and live a quiet life. Then Whit Sterling, a notorious gambler, finds Jeff and asks the private eye to track down Kathie, Whit Sterling’s mistress who skipped town with $40,000. And with that, Jeff is thrown back into the dangerous world of PI work.

KeyLargo_NovelSuspects

Key Largo (1948) —In Key Largo, an Oscar-winning film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and Lauren Bacall, Frank McCloud goes to Key Largo to visit an old war buddy’s hotel and pay his respects to his late friend and his family: his friend’s widow Nora and father James. But the hotel is taken over by a mob of gangsters. And as a hurricane approaches, Frank will have to confront the mob leader.

The Third Man (1949) —The British Film Institute has named The Third Man the greatest British film of all time, and Time Out named this movie the second best British film ever. But is it the best or the second best? You’ll have to watch this noir movie and decide for yourself. The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten-Valli, and Trevor Howard, tells the story of Holly Martins, an out-of-work pulp novelist who travels to Vienna in response to a job opportunity offered to him by his friend Harry Lime. One problem? By the time Holly gets there, Harry Lime has died. And because this is a noir movie, you already know the death happened under suspicious circumstances.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) — Even if you’ve never seen Sunset Boulevard, you’re probably familiar with the noir movie’s iconic line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” This unforgettable Academy Award winning film noir was directed and co-written by Billy Wilder and produced and co-written by Charles Brackett. William Holden stars as Joe Gillis, a screenwriter who develops a strange and dangerous relationship with a has-been movie star (Gloria Swanson) who is determined to make a comeback.

The big heat (1953)

The Big Heat (1953) —In The Big Heat, the 1953 film directed by Fritz Lang, Dave Bannion is a tough police officer who takes on a powerful crime syndicate with plenty of political influence. This screenplay was written by Sydney Boehm, a former crime reporter. And the screenwriter’s connection to real crime reporting translates into a gritty, realistic film noir masterpiece.

Kiss Me Deadly (1995)Kiss Me Deadly is one of the most highly influential noir movies of all time. The deeply atmospheric film tells the story of private investigator Mike Hammer, who gets pulled into a complex mystery after picking up a female hitchhiker who has escaped from a psychiatric hospital. The twist ending in this movie is one that’s better if it’s not spoiled for you, so it’s best to go into this one knowing as little as possible and just enjoying the dark, twisted ride.

Sweet smell of success (1957)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Sweet Smell of Success, starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster, is a gripping film noir about Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a man who the most powerful (and least ethical) journalist in New York. Hunsecker is determined to prevent his sister from marrying Steve Dallas, a jazz musician. And so the columnist coerces press agent Sidney Falco into breaking up the engagement, by any means necessary. Sweet Smell of Success wasn’t as wildly successful upon its initial release compared to other movies on this list. Many moviegoers at the time were shocked to see actor Tony Curtis, a man who usually played likable characters, in the role as a despicable and corrupt columnist. But over time, audiences have warmed to this movie, and it’s now regarded as one of the more important noir movies of all time.

The Grifters (1990)The Grifters is a crime thriller film based on the 1963 noir novel by the same name. It was directed by Stephen Frears, produced by Martin Scorcese, and stars John Cusak, Anjelica Huston, and Annette Benning. According to the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, The Grifters is one of the top 10 films of 1990. In this movie, a conman finds himself torn between loyalties to two women: his mother and his new girlfriend, both of them high-stakes grifters. Despite just being a whole lot of fun to watch, this film is significant in that it marked the beginning of a new wave of neo-noir movies in the 1990s.

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) — In Devil in a Blue Dress, the 1995 adaptation of the neo-noir mystery thriller novel of the same name, Denzel Washington stars as Easy Rawlins, a World War II veteran who is in desperate need of a job. And so his friend introduces him to DeWitt Albright, a man looking for a missing woman, Daphne Monet. Rawlins is hired to find the woman, and soon finds himself mixed up in a deadly political scandal.  Devil in a Blue Dress is a notable entry into the film noir canon for many reasons. But one of the main reasons this movie is so significant is that it addresses issues of racism in America using a dark, gritty neo-noir lens.