Top 10 Film Noirs

Script written by Joe Jatcko. A good detective never sleeps. In this video, WatchMojo.com counts down our picks for the top 10 film noirs. For this list, since experts fail to agree on a standard definition for the genre, we’re limiting our choices to gritty, cynical thrillers and crime dramas from the early-‘40s to late-‘50s that are shot in black-and-white. Special thanks to our users theyakkoman, jkellis, Jaime Enrique Gutierrez Pérez, Vivek Varghese, Max Feldman, Andrew A. Dennison, robozilla94, iSmiTHDawGx, Philip Folta and walkercr3 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Joe Jatcko.

Top 10 Film Noirs


A good detective never sleeps. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 film noirs.

For this list, since experts fail to agree on a standard definition for the genre, we’re limiting our choices to gritty, cynical thrillers and crime dramas from the early-‘40s to late-‘50s that are shot in black-and-white. Sorry, Jimmy.

#10: “Strangers on a Train” (1951)

You never know when you’re going to bump wingtips with the wrong fella. And then don’t ya know it: a little chitchat and a few wild assumptions later, he’s murdering your wife and blackmailing you into taking out his rich father. Alfred Hitchcock’s place in film noir history is the subject of debate, but this is one of a few that meets the criteria according to most. With its sinister story, amoral characters and unspoken secrets, “Strangers on a Train” is a thriller for the ages.

#9: “In a Lonely Place” (1950)

You’ve never seen Humphrey Bogart this creepy. As misanthropic screenwriter Dix Steele – a man who never saw a problem he couldn’t punch or drink his way out of – he finds himself at the center of a murder investigation, and his beautiful bride-to-be must decide whether he’s the real killer, or just…kind of a jerk. Though the murder mystery is at this film’s core, the love story between Bogart’s flawed hero and his equally damaged lady is the true star, making theirs a doomed noir romance.

#8: “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955)

Whether you consider it a classic or a campy B-movie, “Kiss me Deadly”’s influence is undeniable. Quintessential tough guy Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer, a hardened private eye who picks up the wrong hitchhiker: Cloris Leachman wearing not but a trench coat. With a classic movie MacGuffin driving the plot, and inspiring the likes of “Repo Man” and “Pulp Fiction”, this late addition to film noir blends elements of sci-fi and nihilism to produce a genre-defining effort.

#7: “Notorious” (1946)

In one of the most subtle, romantic films of his career, Alfred Hitchcock pairs Cary Grant with Ingrid Bergman as a couple trying to root out Nazis from Brazil. While it combines many of the visual and storytelling aspects central to film noir, experts cannot agree if this spy thriller truly belongs to the genre. One reason for this discrepancy is the film’s “notorious” kiss: while many noirs romanced in the shadows, this one plays out for audiences to enjoy.

#6: “The Third Man” (1949)

One of the all-time classics of the genre, “The Third Man” has a style all its own. With the winding plot twisting its way through Allied-occupied Vienna, the story follows the standard noir characters: the roughhewn, plain-speaking good guy, the shadowy bad guy, and the beautiful femme fatale. Plus, with elements like a mustachioed Inspector Clouseau-esque villain, a grinning Orson Welles, and comical – but unforgettable – score, Carol Reed’s intricate mystery blends comedy, suspense, and ultimately tragedy, with seamless ease.

#5: “Touch of Evil” (1958)

Less than a decade after our previous entry, audiences witnessed the handsomely charming Welles transformed into the ruthlessly corrupt – and seemly twice as large – Police Captain Hank Quinlan. He squares off with Charlton Heston – who is evidently supposed to be Mexican – in what is considered one of the final films in the film noir genre. It’s also one of the best, with its brilliantly directed, serpentine story, rich supporting characters and ominous genre-appropriate atmosphere. Too bad Welles never directed another Hollywood film again.

#4: “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

Hollywood dreams die hard. In one of the greatest – and most meta – films ever, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” features aging former silent movie star, Gloria Swanson, as aging silent movie star, Norma Desmond. An assortment of other Hollywood greats, from director Cecil B. DeMille to Buster Keaton, play themselves or versions of, as William Holden navigates the perks and pitfalls of rubbing elbows with the rich, famous and insane. And somehow, throwing film noir elements into that mix makes this classic bizarrely comical.

#3: “Double Indemnity” (1944)

Oh, how we long for the era when the insurance man came right to your door…and tried to seduce your wife…and possibly plotted to kill you…well, maybe the good ol’ days weren’t so perfect. The product of a collaboration between noir titans, writer Raymond Chandler and director Billy Wilder, and based on a James M. Cain story, “Double Indemnity” is perhaps the most quintessential noir ever, with its rough language and strong sexual undertones. It’s also a reminder to always read the fine print.

#2: “The Big Sleep” (1946)

Based on Chandler’s first book to feature the great noir detective, Phillip Marlowe, and future inspiration for “The Big Lebowski,” this black-and-white Howard Hawks masterwork sees Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the roles they were quote/unquote “born to play” as they navigate a convoluted criminal investigation. With more moving parts than a Swiss watch, Marlowe tries to set the record for having the most guns pointed at him without getting shot…and, you know, he saves the day by staying cool through impossibly stressful situations.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Criss Cross” (1949)
- “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950)
- “Out of the Past” (1947)
- “They Live by Night” (1948)
- “Scarface” (1932)

#1: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

Not only is our top pick widely considered the best Film Noir, it’s also considered by many to be the first. Most amazing of all, it was legendary director John Huston’s first feature, made on a B-movie-sized budget, and based on a book that had already failed twice on the screen. Starring Humphrey Bogart as – get this – a private detective… Okay, well, the premise might not seem revolutionary, but virtually every aspect of filmmaking was, setting Bogie up for his future successes and setting the standard for film noir.

Do you agree with our list? What Noirs make you wish all films could be in black and white? Keep it tuned to WatchMojo.com for more top 10 lists published each day.
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