Top 10 Movie Detectives

Script written by Max Lett. Put on that deerstalker and start sniffing for clues. Whether they’re your traditional trench-wearing sleuth who walks around with a magnifying glass and a lot of questions, or a less typical investigator who literally talks out of his butt and tries to bring home lost pets, movie detectives sure keep us glued to the screen. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 fictional detectives in film. For this list, we’ve chosen those movie detectives that work as sleuths, private or otherwise. Special thanks to our users Darth Heseinberg, Mukhtaar Ashraf, Norris Vaughn, Freshwater Kid, Shakib Ahmed, stephen salas, BrickBuster2552, Allen Sanchez, Andrew A. Dennison, Aaron Clausen and Zman Jace for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Max Lett.

Top 10 Movie Detectives

Put on that deerstalker and start sniffing for clues. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 fictional detectives in film.

For this list, we’ve chosen those movie detectives that work as sleuths, private or otherwise.

#10: Det. Lt. William Somerset
“Se7en” (1995)

From the outset of this David Fincher flick, viewers get the feeling this hard-boiled detective has seen it all in his line of work – especially in comparison to his new partner. But, Somerset learns that, even days away from retirement, an old dog can learn new tricks and witness fresh levels of hell. While keeping a detached, philosophical outlook, this gritty cop contends with his rookie partner’s brash temperament to get a stark glimpse inside the mind of a psychopath.

#9: Ace Ventura
“Ace Ventura” franchise (1994-95)

Not your typical flat-footed sleuth, Ace is a finder of lost pets, which lands him in many zany situations. His unique sense of style, bird-like coif and wrecked ride mean the local cops don’t pay him much attention. But just cause he’s not the most serious detective doesn’t mean he won’t do anything to solve a case and bring a lovable animal like Snowflake the dolphin home. Plus, his excellent skills of deduction help him solve even the toughest mysteries.

#8: Inspector Jacques Clouseau
“The Pink Panther” franchise (1963-)

For the most part, Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté is a bumbling fiasco of a detective. He’s often accused of being flat-out unintelligent, and he’s constantly causing physical harm to himself and others. But somehow, he always manages to solve the crime, whether intentionally or otherwise. Classy and sophisticated, with a huge ego, over exaggerated accent and enviable mustache, Clouseau may be klutzy – but he gets the job done.

#7: Det. Lt. Edmund Exley
“L.A. Confidential” (1997)

In the neo-noir world of “L.A. Confidential,” it takes a man of morals and determination to fight crime. And Ed Exley is just the cop for the job, with his strict dedication to the rules and his sharp mind. The unsolved murder of his father drives Exley’s never-ending war on crime and pushes him quickly up the ladder of law-enforcement – though it doesn’t make him many friends. Cold and calculating, detective Exley is a perfect example of a film-noir flatfoot.

#6: J.J “Jake” Gittes
“Chinatown” (1974)

Another neo-noir detective, Jake Gittes is a cynical private eye hired and subsequently double-crossed by a series of shady characters. As he strives to solve the mystery of whodunit, we learn that Gittes is not one to be frightened off a case by something as inconsequential as a threat of harm. But unlike many of the other detectives on our list, Jake is not infallible, and is as wrong at least as often as he’s right.

#5: Dick Tracy
“Dick Tracy” (1990)

Ripped from the pages of the 1930s comic strip, this guy is probably one of the first images that pops to mind when you hear the word “detective” – despite his garish outfit. But the bright yellow trench and hat, paired with his hard-hitting attitude, are the perfect accessories for him to take down a crime lord like Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice. Smart, unrelenting and principled, Tracy always puts his work before his personal life. Always.

#4: Hercule Poirot
“Agatha Christie’s Poirot” franchise (1931-)

Easily one of the most recognizable names in detective fiction, this Agatha Christie creation could match wits with Sherlock Holmes. Through his many film and television incarnations, Poirot is typically concerned with comfort or good food – but he’ll commit his “little grey cells” to crime solving when called upon. Almost always immediately aware of the true criminal, the fun of Poirot mysteries is his meticulous collection of evidence to prove his theories – whether on the Nile or the Orient Express.

#3: Harry Callahan
“Dirty Harry” franchise (1971-88)

Though most of the detectives on our list use their intellectual tools and deductive reasoning to solve crimes, this San Francisco copper has another approach: brute force. Dirty Harry’s no stranger to solving problems with his Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, but he’s beset by the laws he strives to uphold. He’s constantly reminded that he can’t go in guns blazing, much less kill suspects and this makes him angry.

#2: Philip Marlowe
Raymond Chandler’s “Philip Marlowe” franchise (1944-)

In the same tradition of film noir detectives like Sam Spade, Marlowe chews up the screen with his fast talking dialogue and classic good looks – whether he’s played by Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell or Humphrey Bogart. In the world of dames and flatfoots, Marlowe has to watch his step when crooks and double-crossers are around every corner. And, while he might like a stiff drink or to crack wise, he’s still a thoughtful guy who’s not easily duped.

Before the clues lead us to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Det. Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle “The French Connection” (1971)
- Clarice Starling “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
- Det. Will Dormer “Insomnia” (2002)
- Nick Charles “The Thin Man” (1934)
- John Klute “Klute” (1971)

#1: Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” franchise (1900-)

There’s no shortage of Sherlock Holmes portrayals on the big or small screens, with actors like Christopher Plummer and Robert Downey, Jr. taking a stab at the iconic detective. With his unique personality, penchant for drugs, and unparalleled talent for deductions, the character offers actors plenty of eccentric characteristics to embellish. Justifiably arrogant due to his brilliance, Holmes – accompanied by his loyal friend and colleague Watson – is by far the most iconic detective to grace the silver screen.

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite movie detective? For more epic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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