Showcasing the seedier side of American life, the film noir genre relies heavily on dark shadows and shady characters. Since the first noir films were made, the genre has taken on a life of its own and is now widely recognized as a cinematic style with its own cliches.
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From blockbuster hits like The Big Sleep to lesser known gems like The Killing, the film noir genre has a lot to offer viewers. Even though there are many great flicks to choose from, users on Ranker took to the site to vote for their favorite noir films.
10 The Killing (1956)
As one of Stanley Kubrick’s best films, The Killing stands out from the rest of his filmography. Recently released from prison, Johnny Clay plans out a heist at the Lansdowne Racetrack that could score him several million dollars. To execute his plan, he assembles a disparate team of people who all have their own motivations.
The genius of the film is that it cleverly combines several niche genres together to great effect. Coming a decade or more after the true heyday of the noir genre, The Killing adds elements of classic gangster films as well as the heist formula. What results is a beautiful looking, and well performed character study of crime.
9 The Third Man (1949)
One of the most important parts of the noir genre is the impressive visuals, and The Third Man pushed the envelope when it came to beautiful cinematography. A pulp novelist travels to post-war Vienna and quickly finds himself investigating the death of an old friend.
With a slow and methodical pace, The Third Man ushers the viewer into a ghostly world of empty streets and foggy nights. With star making performances from the likes of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, the film is a tour de force of everything that made the noir genre special in the 1940s.
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8 The Killers (1946)
With an evocative titles like The Killers, many noir films put the darker aspects of themselves right out front for viewers to see. When hitmen murder a man under mysterious circumstances, an investigator looks into the victim’s past and it all leads back to one beautiful, and dangerous woman named Kitty.
Though the plot sounds cliche to modern viewers, The Killers was one of the films that helped blaze the trail for the noir genre. Especially when it comes to its classic femme fatale character Kitty, The Killers is a perfect primer for the genre and plays out like a guidebook for what many noir films would emulate in the ensuing decades.
7 The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Film noir puts its focus squarely on the seedier aspects of society, but The Asphalt Jungle found a clever way to show other perspectives as well. When a bank heist goes off according to plan, the only thing that can stop the criminals is double crosses, and a fair amount of police investigation.
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Showing the story from both the side of the criminals and the cops, The Asphalt Jungle plays with its narrative in a way that no noir film had done up to that point. Showing that he could tackle almost any genre, director John Huston turned his keen eye to noir and delivered yet another performance driven classic.
6 In A Lonely Place (1950)
Usually playing hard-boiled detectives and tough guys, Humphrey Bogart’s turn from In a Lonely Place is one of his greatest film noir roles. Dixon Steele is a famous screenwriter with a tremendous temper who becomes the number one suspect in a murder investigation. When his neighbor vouches for him and clears his name, she slowly begins to doubt his innocence the closer she gets to him.
The keyword for In a Lonely Place is suspense, and it is truly one of the most suspenseful films of its era. With slowly rising tension, the film keeps viewers on the edge of their seat as the plot twists and turns to darker and darker places. Anchoring the entire experience is Humphrey Bogart’s tremendous, and eerie performance as Steele.
5 Murder, My Sweet (1944)
Though there were more famous adaptations of his works, Murder, My Sweet was one of the best adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Private detective Phillip Marlowe is hired by an ex-convict to track down his estranged girlfriend. Once on the case, Marlowe finds himself entangled in a web of lies and deceit that could cost him his life.
Though Humphrey Bogart would make the role his own in other films, Dick Powell’s performance as Marlowe is not to be overlooked. By making subtle tweaks to the original story, the film ratchets up the tension and keeps the twists coming at a regular pace. Though it is tame by today’s standards, Murder, My Sweet was a dark vision for the mid-1940s.
4 Laura (1944)
Playing out like many of the gothic horror novels of the past, Laura was a truly unique take on the noir detective story. When a beautiful woman is murdered in cold blood, a detective is assigned to the case who slowly finds that he is falling in love with the dead woman.
With its macabre premise, Laura is as creepy as it is mysterious, and things only get stranger as the story progresses. Lording over the entire film is a haunting portrait of the dead woman that seems to capture the detective’s imagination and spurs him on. Not relying exclusively on its dark set-up, the film’s plot is also well written and plays out to a satisfying conclusion.
3 Out Of The Past (1947)
Out of the Past showed viewers that the hardest thing to escape from is oneself, and the past is never truly dead. To escaped his old life, a P.I settles into a small town to run a gas station and live simply. Unfortunately for him, someone from his past arrives and pulls him back into the seedy world that he was trying to leave behind.
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Director Jacques Tourneur’s unique visual eye is on full display in the film and the camera work is top notch. With Robert Mitchum’s performance anchoring the story, Out of the Past moves at a methodical pace and delivers information to the audience sparingly. This slow unwinding of the truth keeps the viewer engaged as they hang on the next revelation with bated breath.
2 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Maltese Falcon introduced one of Bogart’s most famous detective characters in a film that would define his career. Sam Spade is a no-nonsense P.I who gets wrapped up in a strange scheme involving a pack of criminals and a priceless artifact known as the Maltese Falcon.
Cynicism colors the entire film and it has a very dour disposition throughout. With the loss of his partner, Spade’s entire mindset is altered by his anger fueled grief, and the audience watches as he nearly spirals out of control. Setting the tone for the ensuing decade, The Maltese Falcon showed that there are no happy endings in the noir genre.
1 The Big Sleep (1946)
In a performance that would forever define the legendary Phillip Marlowe character, Bogart truly embodied the role of the private detective. Hired by a wealthy family to find out who is blackmailing their daughter over her gambling debts, Phillip Marlowe gets wrapped up in a strange world of murder and deceit.
With Bogart starring alongside his real life partner Lauren Bacall, the chemistry between the two leads is palpable and nearly leaps off the screen with electricity. Exploring the idea of the haves and have nots in postwar America, The Big Sleep wears its cynicism on its sleeve. Though not gruesome, the film is colored with flashes of violence that keep the story engaging and exciting throughout.
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Dalton is a freelance writer and novelist from Orlando Florida. He currently lives in Los Angeles and pursues writing full time. He is an avid reader and film buff.
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