Essential Films Noir

FilmsNoir.Net’s list of the 229 essential films noir. The list is in two parts:

  1. The 71 all-time great films noir – rated 5-stars
  2. The 160  runners-up – rated 4 or 4.5 stars

The list is not definitive. There are gaps. Missing are neo-noirs, a few French noirs, and directors such as Hitchcock. There are varied reasons but mostly the gaps are due to my personal predictions, or because some films are not fresh enough in my mind and need to be watched again with their candidacy here in mind.

5 star Noirs Click on the title for the FilmsNoir.Net review

La Nuit du Carrefour 1931France Aka ‘Night at the Crossroads’. Early Jean Renoir poetics. Magically delicious femme-noir and a brilliant car chase at night. Moody and bizarrre!
You Only Live Once 1937 US Fritz Lang and Hollywood kick-start poetic realism! Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney are the doomed lovers on the run.
Hotel du Nord 1938 France Poetic realist melodrama of lives at provincial French hotel. As moody as noir with a darkly absurd resolution.
Port of Shadows 1938 France Aka Le Quai des brumes. Fate a dank existential fog ensnares doomed lovers Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan after one night of happiness.
I Wake Up Screaming 1941 US Early crooked cop psycho-noir. Redolent noir motifs, dark shadows, off-kilter framing and expressionist imagery.
The Maltese Falcon 1941 US Bogart as Sam Spade the quintessential noir protagonist. A loner on the edge of polite society, sorely tempted to transgress but declines and is neither saved nor redeemed.
Ossessione 1942 Italy Demands and rewards multiple viewings. Visconti has taken a hard-boiled story and imbued it with intelligence, polemic, a humanist outrage, and above all, a deep compassion for the human predicament.
Journey Into Fear 1943 US Moody Orson Welles’ noir. Exotic locales, sexy dames, weird villains, politics, wisdom, philosophy, and a wry humor.
The Seventh Victim 1943 US “Despair behind, and death before doth cast”. The terror of an empty existence. Brilliant Lewton gothic melodrama.
Christmas Holiday 1944 US Director Robert Siodmak smashes genre conventions by unleashing a wild expressionist ambience in a bizarre story of obsession and guilt thathas you appalled yet enthralled. Full of bizarre surprises.
Double Indemnity 1944 US All the elements of the archetypal film noir  are distilled into a gothic LA tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.
Laura 1944 US Gene Tierney is an exquisite iridescent angel and Dana Andrews a stolid cop who nails the killer after falling for a dead dame.
Murder, My Sweet 1944 US (Aka Farewell, my Lovely). The most noir fun you will ever have. Raymond Chandler’s prose crackles with moody noir direction from Edward Dmytryk.
The Way You Wanted Me 1944 Finland “Sellaisena kuin sinä minut halusit” (original title). A dark frenzied tale of a fallen woman, The Way You Wanted Me careens across roads of melodrama at the speed of light. Hyper-expressionism and a tragedy played out in dark nights of the soul.
Mildred Pierce 1945 US Joan Crawford in classy melodrama by Michael Curtiz lensed by Ernest Haller. Self-made woman escapes morass of greed.
The Lost Weekend 1945 US ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I can’t take quiet desperation.’ Ray Milland against type on a bender.
Ride the Pink Horse 1946 US Disillusioned WW2 vet arrives in a New Mexico town to blackmail a war racketeer. Imbued with a rare humanity.
Scarlet Street 1946 US Classic noir from Fritz Lang. Unremitting in its pessimism. A dark mood and pervading doom of devastating intensity.
The Big Sleep 1946 US Love’s Vengeance Lost. Darker than Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet. Bogart is tougher, more driven, and morally suspect.
The Killers 1946 US Siodmak’s classic noir. Burt Lancaster’s masterful debut performance in a tragedy of a decent man destroyed by fate.
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 US Fate ensures adulterous lovers who murder the woman’s husband, suffer definite and final retribution.
Body and Soul 1947 US A masterwork. Melodramatic expose of the fight game and a savage indictment of money capitalism. Garfield’s picture.
Brighton Rock 1947 UK Greatest British noir is dark and chilling. A cinematic tour-de-force: from the direction and cinematography to top cast and editing.
Nightmare Alley 1947 US Predatory femme-fatale uses greed not sex to trap her prey in a hell of hangmen at the bottom of an empty gin bottle.
Nora Prentiss 1947 US Doctor is plunged into a dark pool of noir angst in a turbo-charged melodrama of tortured loyalty and thwarted passion.
Odd Man Out 1947 UK Betrayal, avarice, and spirituality are all given a place in this tale of an IRA heist gone wrong. The poetry is in the dark yet glistening visuals as we follow fugitive James Mason on his path through Ulster at night and in the rain.
Out of the Past 1947 US Quintessential film noir. Inspired direction, exquisite expressionist cinematography, and legendary Mitchum and Greer.
The Gangster 1947 US Hell of a b-movie. Very dark noir ‘opera’ brutally critiques the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. Bravado Dalton Trumbo script.
The Lady From Shanghai 1947 US Orson Welles’ brilliant jigsaw noir with a femme-fatale to die for and a script so sharp you relish every scene.
T-Men 1947 US Mann and Alton offer a visionary descent into a noir realm of dark tenements, nightclubs, mobsters, and hellish steam baths.
Act of Violence 1948 US Long-shot and deep focus climax filmed night-for-night on a railway platform: the stuff noirs are made of.
Drunken Angel  1948 Japan Aka ‘Yoidore tenshi’. Kurosawa noir. A loser doctor with soul takes on the fetid moral swamp of Yakuza degradation.
Force of Evil 1948 US Polonsky transcends noir in a tragic allegory on greed and family. Garfield adds signature honesty and gritty complexity .
Hollow Triumph 1948 US Baroque journey to perdition traversing a noir topography redolent with noir archetypes. Audacious and enthralling.
Raw Deal 1948 US Sublime noir from Anthony Mann and John Alton. Knockout cast in a strong story stunningly rendered as expressionist art.
They Live by Night 1948 US Nicholas Ray’s first feature. A tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions which transcends film noir.
Too Late For Tears 1948 US Preposterous chance event launches wild descent into dark avarice and eroticised violence as relentless as fate.
Bitter Rice 1949 Italy Aka ‘Riso Amaro’. Classic neo-realist socialist melodrama. Homme-fatale destroys a passionate innocent. A bad girl is redeemed and homme-fatale meets a gruesome noir end in an abattoir.
Border Incident 1949 US Subversive expressionist noir from Dir Anthony Mann DP John Alton and writer John C Higgin indicts US agribusiness.
Criss-Cross 1949 US Accomplished noir showcased by Siodmak’s masterful aerial opening shot into parking lot onto a passing car exposing the doomed lovers to thespotlight.
Stray Dog 1949 Japan Aka ‘Nora inu’. Kurosawa’s ying and yang take on reality informs this 5-star noir: the pursuer could as easily have been the pursued.
The Reckless Moment 1949 US Max Ophuls takes a blackmail story and infuses it with a complexity and subtlety rarely matched in film noir.
The Set-Up 1949 US Robert Ryan is great as washed-up boxer in Robert Wise’ sharp expose of the fight game. Brooding and intense noir classic.
The Third Man 1949 UK Sublime. An engaging cavalcade of characters in a human comedy of love, friendship, and the imperatives of conscience.
Thieves’ Highway 1949 US Moody Richard Conte hauling fruit to Frisco. Rich socio-realist melodrama from Jules Dassin and A.I. Bezzerides. AAA.
Une Si Jolie Petite Plage 1949 France Aka ‘Riptide’. Iron in the soul: savage irony, withering subversion, and desolation mark the rain-sodden angst of a young man’s end.
White Heat 1949 US Fission Noir. Taut electric thriller straps you in an emotional strait-jacket released only in the final explosive frames.
Breaking Point 1950 US Great John Garfield vehicle with strong social subtext. Much stronger than from the same source To Have and Have Not.
Caged 1950 US Eleanor Parker leads a great female cast in a dark women’s prison picture with a savage climax and a gutsy downbeat ending.
D.O.A. 1950 US Gritty on-the-street in-your-face melodrama of innocent act a decent man’s un-doing. Edmund O’Brien is intense. The goons rock!
In A Lonely Place 1950 US Nick Ray deftly explores effect of isolation, frustration, and anxiety on the creative psyche as noir entrapment.
Night And the City 1950 US/UK Dassin’s stark existential journey played out in the dark dives of post-war London as a quintessential noir city.
Sunset Boulevard 1950 US Wilder’s sympathetic story of four decent people each sadly complicit in the inevitable doom that will engulf them.
The Asphalt Jungle 1950 US Quintessential heist movie transcends melodrama and noir. A police siren wails: “Sounds like a soul in hell.”
The Sound of Fury 1950 US Great noir! Outdoes Lang’s Fury and brilliantly prefigures Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Climactic mob scenes mesmerise.
On Dangerous Ground 1951 US City cop battling inner demons is sent to ‘Siberia’. A film of dark beauty and haunting characterisations.
The Prowler 1951 US Van Heflin is homme-fatale in Tumbo thriller. Director Losey is unforgiving. Each squalid act is suffocatingly framed.
Ace in the Hole 1952 US A savage critique of a corrupted and corrupting modern mass media. Billy Wilder’s best movie. Kirk Douglas owns it.
Clash By Night 1952 US Cheating wife Stanwyck faces the music. Fritz Lang puts sexual license and existential entitlement on trial and wins.
The Big Heat 1953 US Gloria Grahame as existential hero in Fritz Lang’s brooding socio-realist noir critique.
Crime Wave 1954 US Andre de Toth noir masterwork set on the streets of LA is so authentic it plays for real with each character deeply drawn.
Kiss Me Deadly 1955 US Anti-fascist Hollywood Dada. Aldrich’s surreal noir a totally weird yet compelling exploration of urban paranoia.
Rififi 1955 France Dassin’s classic heist thriller culminating in the terrific final scenes of a car desperately careening through Paris streets.
The Big Combo 1955 US “I live in a maze… a strange blind backward maze’. Obsessed cop hunts down a psychotic crime boss in the best noir of 50s.
Sweet Smell of Success 1957 US DP James Wong Howe’s sharpest picture. As bracing as vinegar and cold as ice. Ambition stripped of all pretense.
Touch of Evil 1958 US Welles’ masterwork is a disconnected emotionally remote study of moral dissipation. Crisp b&w lensing by Russell Metty.
Odds Against Tomorrow 1959 US A work of art from Rober Wise. New York City and its industrial fringe are quasi-protagonists that harbor the angst and desperation of lifeoutside the mainstream – sordid dreams of the last big heist that will fix everything.
Underworld USA 1961 US Fast and furious pulp from Sam Fuller. Revenge finds redemption in death up a back alley the genesis of dark vengeance.
Requiem For A Heavyweight 1962 US Rod Serling’s screenplay is lucid and economical. A washed-up boxer scenario in just under 82 minutes builds a closely realised character study, supported by a cast that delivers soulfully and with a leanness that is rarely matched.
The Pawnbroker 1964 US The screenplay weaves the past and the present by juxtaposition and is economic when words are needed. Rod Steiger’s portrayal of Nazi death-camp survivor is a tour-de-force and his nominations for an Oscar and other accolades richly deserved.
A Colt is My Passport 1967 Japan Aka ‘Koruto wa ore no pasupoto’. Hip acid Nikkatsu noir with surreal spaghetti-western score.
Klute 1971 US Alan J. Pakula’s signature reworking of classic noir motifs in a masterly study of urban paranoia and alienation. Jane Fonda earned an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of articulate b-girl the target of mystery psychopath.

4/4.5 star Noirs

Titles with an  * are reviewed on FilmsNoir.Net – list of reviews here .

All movies have a snap review .

La Chienne 1931 France
*City Streets 1931 US
*Fury 1936 US
*Guele d’Amour (aka Ladykiller) 1937 France
*Pépé le Moko 1937 France
La Bête Humaine 1938 France
*Blind Alley 1939 US
Le Jour se Lève 1939 France
*Macao,L’enfer Du Jeu (aka ‘Gambling Hell’) 1939 France
*Stranger on the 3rd Floor 1940 US
*Blues in the Night 1941 US
*High Sierra 1941 US
*The Face Behind the Mask 1941 US
*This Gun For Hire 1942 US
*The Fallen Sparrow 1943 US
*The Ghost Ship 1943 US
*Betrayed (aka ‘When Strangers Marry’) 1944 US
*Moontide 1944 US
*Phantom Lady 1944 US
The Mask of Dimitrios 1944 US
*The Woman in the Window 1944 US
*Cornered 1945 US
*Detour 1945 US
*Fallen Angel 1945 US
Leave Her to Heaven 1945 US
*My Name Is Julia Ross 1945 US
*Black Angel 1946 US
*Deadline at Dawn 1946 US
*Deception 1946 US
*Decoy 1946 US
*Gilda 1946 US
*High Wall 1946 US
*Night Editor 1946 US
Panique 1946 France
Suspense 1946 US
*The Blue Dahlia 1946 US
*The Chase 1946 US
*The Dark Corner 1946 US
*The Dark Mirror 1946 US
*The House on 92nd Street 1946 US
*Jigsaw 1946 US
*The Locket 1946 US
*The Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946 US
*The Stranger 1946 US
*Born to Kill 1947 US
Brute Force 1947 US
*Dark Passage 1947 US
*Dark 1947 US
*Dead Reckoning 1947 US
*Desperate 1947 US
*Kiss of Death 1947 US
*The Devil Thumbs a Ride 1947 US
Odd Man Out 1947 US
*Railroaded 1947 US
*Shoot To Kill 1947 US
*The Long Night 1947 US
*The Unsuspected 1947 US
*The Woman On the Beach 1947 US
*They Made Me a Fugitive 1947 UK
*Secret Beyond the Door 1948 US
*Blood on the Moon 1948 US
*They Won’t Believe Me 1947 US
*Bob le Flambuer 1956 France
*Call Northside 777 1948 US
Cry of the City 1948 US
*I Love Trouble 1948 US
*I Walk Alone 1948 US
*Key Largo 1948 US
*Kiss the Blood Off My Hands 1948 US
*Moonrise 1948 US
*Night Has a Thousand Eyes 1948 US
*Pitfall 1948 US
*Road House 1948 US
*Ruthless 1948 US
Senza pietà (Aka Without Pity) 1948 Italy
*The Amazing Mr. X 1948 US
*The Big Clock 1948 US
*The Iron Curtain 1948 US
*The Naked City 1948 US
*A Woman’s Secret 1949 US
*Alias Nick Beal 1949 US
*Caught 1949 US
*Follow Me Quietly 1949 US
*I Married a Communist 1949 US
*The Big Steal 1949 US
*The Bribe 1949 US
*The Clay Pigeon 1949 US
*The Man Who Cheated Himself 1949 US
*Salón México 1949 Mexico
*The Window 1949 US
*Whirlpool 1949 US
*Armored Car Robbery 1950 US
*Gambling House 1950 US
*Gun Crazy 1950 US
*Manèges 1950 France
*No Man of Her Own 1950 US
*No Way Out 1950 US
*Panic In the Streets 1950 US
*Side Street 1950 US
*Tension 1950 US
*The File On Thelma Jordan 1950 US
*The Killer That Stalked New York 1950 US
*The Second Woman 1950 US
*The Tattooed Stranger 1950 US
*Union Station 1950 US
*Walk Softly, Stranger 1950 US
*Where Danger Lives 1950 US
*Where the Sidewalk Ends 1950 US
*Woman on the Run 1950 US
*Young Man with a Horn 1950 US
*Detective Story 1951 US
*He Ran All the Way 1951 US
His Kind of Woman 1951 US
*I Can Get It for You Wholesale 1951 US
*I was a Communist for the FBI 1951 US
*Roadblock 1951 US
*The Big Night 1951 US
*The Well 1951 US
*Tomorrow Is Another Day 1951 US
*Angel Face 1952 US
Kansas City Confidential 1952 US
*Scandal Sheet 1952 US
*The Narrow Margin 1952 US
*The Sniper 1952 US
*The Thief 1952 US
*99 River Street 1953 US
*Pickup On South Street 1953 US
Split Second 1953 US
*The Blue Gardenia 1953 US
*The Glass Wall 1953 US
*The Hitch-Hiker 1953 US
*Human Desire 1954 US
*Pushover 1954 US
*The Good Die Young 1954 UK
Touchez pas au Grisbi 1954 France
*Witness to Murder 1954 US
*The Burglar 1955 US
*World For Ransom 1955 US
Bob le Flambeur 1956 France
*The Phenix City Story 1955 US
*Patterns 1956 US
People of No Importance (aka ‘Gens san Importance’) 1956 France
*Ubiytsy (‘The Killers’) 1956 USSR
The Wrong Man 1956 US
*The Killing 1956 US
*Voici le temps des assassin (aka ‘Deadlier Than the Male’) 1956 France
While the City Sleeps 1956 US
*Elevator to the Gallows 1958 France
*Endless Desire 1958 Japan
*Tread Softly Stranger 1958 UK
Underworld Beauty (aka ‘Ankokugai no bijo’) 1958 Japan
*The Crimson Kimono 1959 US
The Bad Sleep Well (aka ‘Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru’) 1960 Japan
Shoot the Piano Player 1960 France
Blast of Silence 1961 US
*Le Doulos 1962 France
*High and Low (aka Tengoku to jigok) 1963 Japan
*The Naked Kiss 1964 US
*Memento 2000 US

57 Comments

  1. Thanks DeeDee :)

  2. Thanks for including lesser known and Japanese flicks on the lists.

  3. Thanks for the visit Billy.

  4. joe gideon

    I love that you have included duvivier’s panique, although i think it belongs right at the top. Unless you haven’t seen it already, seek out claude sautet’s ‘max et les ferailleurs’ (max and the junkmen). It’s a little known noir masterpiece, and Michel Picolli’s doomed cop who can’t help himself is on a par with the greatest noir performances. I keep coming back to it…

  5. Thanks for the visit Joe, and for the heads up on Max et les ferailleurs, which I haven’t seen!

  6. Cameron Hamill

    Great list and a great website. I intend watching most of the films on this list along with my Dad. My favourite noir so far is Scarlet Street. Edward G Robinson with Fritz Lang directing, what else can I say? I’ve probably only seen around 15 Noir films in my time. My Dad and I have watched hundreds of Westerns and are now looking to get into noir more.

    Thanks a lot.

  7. Thanks Cameron. Great that you have found the list useful. You have many fascinating movies in front of you – and your Dad :) When I was young my Dad and I watched of lots of Westerns together too!

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