10 Best American Film Noir Films
The 10 best American film noir films on this list include classics from the 1950s and '60s, as well as a couple of neo-noir films from the 970s and '80s. By definition, film noir (French for "black film") usually refers to melodramatic crime dramas often shot in stylistic black and white and featuring cynical characters driven by lust and/or greed. These American noir films have plenty of lust and greed to go around, just not too many happy endings.
"The Third Man" A 1949 film noir classic set in the dark and mysterious streets of post-World War II Vienna, "The Third Man" tells the story of an out-of-work novelist (Joseph Cotten) looking for an old schoolmate named Harry Lime (Orson Welles), who supposedly died in a car accident shortly after inviting his friend to Vienna.
"Tough of Evil" Welles shows up again in a shady role, this time as a police captain in a Mexican border town rife with corruption and dealing with kidnapping, murder and all kinds of bad stuff. The opening tracking shot through the city is still impressive to see, long after this Welles-directed masterpiece made its debut in 1958.
"Notorious" One of director Alfred Hitchcock's best films, this 1946 film stars Ingrid Bergman as the daughter of a Nazi sympathizer who is coerced into spying on Nazis in South America by a U.S. government agent (Cary Grant). Bergman and Grant are terrific as their characters start to fall for each other as the danger within the little post-war Nazi group is heating up.
"The Big Sleep" Author Raymond Chandler once said even he was confused by the twisting, turning plot of "The Big Sleep." But even beyond the maze-like plot in this 1946 mystery are the performances by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Undoubtedly one of the best American film noir movies ever made.
"The Maltese Falcon" Five years before playing detective Philip Marlowe in "The Big Sleep," Bogart was on the case as Sam Spade in one of the definitive American film noir pictures, "The Maltese Falcon." Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are perfect as the unusual thieves after the mysterious statue.
"Double Indemnity" Often considered the classic example of American film noir, this 1944 film directed by Billy Wilder features the often-duplicated idea of a murder-for-insurance scam with a lying femme fatale at the center of it. A similar storyline was updated in 1981's "Body Heat."
"Body Heat" One of the best of the neo-noir films that started to emerge in the 1970s and 1980s, "Body Heat" featured young stars Kathleen Turner and William Hurt as illicit lovers heading for trouble. Plot twists and Lawrence Kasdan's crackling dialogue make this a fitting homage to the glory days of film noir.
"Strangers on a Train" Another Hitchcock film noir classic featuring two men (Farley Granger and Robert Walker), who meet on a train and wind up discussing how such strangers could get away with murder if they had no apparent motive or connection to the victims. When it goes from the hypothetical conversation stage to an actual murder set-up, the tension is palpable.
"Chinatown" Another neo-noir, Roman Polanski's "Chinatown," scripted by Robert Towne, hits all the right film noir notes: World-weary detective (Jack Nicholson), sexual tension with a mysterious woman, behind-the-scenes corruption and a mystery that gets seamier as it unravels. Brilliant.
"Night and the City" One of the most underrated film noir classics and certainly one of the more underrated movies in American cinema history. Richard Widmark stars as a con man in London whose plan for a big score gets turned upside down. The black-and-white photography underscores the dark side of human nature that is revealed throughout the film.