Have you ever gotten ready for a good old movie night, had the popcorn ready and the lights dimmed but ended up spending way too long scrolling through recent flicks, not being able to find anything of interest? We have a suggestion for the next time you get stuck choosing a movie.
You have probably heard the term 'Film Noir' in the past, even if you didn’t get the chance to really delve into the genre. In fact, the question of whether film noir is a genre or a style is still debated by cinema enthusiasts and critics. The term was first coined by the French film critic Nino Frank in 1946 and is generally used to describe American thriller and detective movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Film noir literally translates into 'black cinema’ or ‘dark cinema’. The ‘darkness’ of these films is rooted in the pessimism and cynicism felt by many Americans after the Great Depression and World War II.
Many of the prototype stories are derived from crime fiction and the common elements used in film noir include an anti-hero protagonist, a femme fatale, and a concise dialogue. The black and white visual style is also a distinct feature of film noir - asymmetrical shots, dramatic use of light and shadow, mysterious silhouettes, and the quintessential striped light filtered through the blinds of a shrewd detective’s office can all be seen throughout noir films.
Although the classic era of film noir ended by the late 1950s, quite a few subgenres emerged later, like neo-noir, post-noir, and tech-noir. So if you are intrigued we have compiled below a list of 10 must-see film noir movies for your next movie night!
1. The Third Man
The Third Man, which was first released in 1949 is a collaboration between three big names in the industry - Graham Greene, director Carol Reed, and Orson Welles in one of the main roles. The film is based on a novella written by Greene (which was published only after the on-screen version was out) and is considered a film noir classic.
The protagonist is an American writer, Holly Martins, who arrives in post-war Vienna to visit his old friend Harry Lime (Welles). On arrival, he learns Harry was killed in a street accident, but also that he was a black marketer wanted by the police. As Martins starts to investigate what truly happened to his friend he learns of a mysterious third man present at the time of Harry’s death…
2. Kiss Me Deadly
This excellent film from 1955 was directed by Robert Aldrich, and the screenplay is based on a 1952 crime novel of the same name written by Mickey Spillane. It all starts on the night private detective Mike Hammer picks up Christina, a hitchhiker who escaped a psychiatric hospital. The two are stopped by strangers down the road, who knock out Mike and murder Christina. Although warned not to investigate by the police, Mike and his girlfriend and assistant Velda set out to do so, and become involved in a dark plot.
3. L.A. Confidential
If you’re looking for a high-quality crime and mystery movie, you should definitely give this one a shot. LA Confidential is a neo-noir film from 1997, directed and co-written by Curtis Hanson, and based on James Elroy’s 1990 novel of the same name. The plot centers around a group of LAPD officers in 1953, and the intersection between police corruption and Hollywood’s glamor. As the detectives investigate multiple homicides, the trail of evidence leads them back to their own department…
4. The Maltese Falcon
This noir classic from 1941, starring Humphrey Bogart, is in fact a remake of a film of the same name released a decade earlier. Both versions are based on a novel by Dashiell Hammet. Detective Sam Spade (Bogart) takes on a case brought to him by a beautiful and secretive woman, Ruth Wonderly. Trouble soon follows as Sam’s partner is murdered, and the detective realizes he's become entangled in a web of crime, in the center of which stands the chase after a mysterious statuette - nicknamed the Maltese Falcon. The movie was nominated for three academy awards.
5. Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile is a British film from 1978 based on Agatha’s Christie’s 1937 novel. The protagonist is a well-known Christie character, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. On a luxurious cruise on the Nile river, a wealthy heiress is murdered. Luckily, the famous sleuth is among the passengers and he immediately starts an investigation. The film is a must-watch for any Agatha Christie fan, and it is worth noting that a new adaptation of it is set to be released in 2020 starring Kenneth Branagh and Gal Gadot.
6. Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil was written and directed by Orson Welles, who also co-stars in it. Released in 1958, Touch of Evil is considered the last film noir masterpiece of the genre’s classic period. The film begins with the tracking of a car containing a ticking bomb, making its way through a Mexican border town, in an unbroken three-minute sequence that is now considered iconic. Following the explosion, an investigation begins on both the American and the Mexican side, trying to get to the bottom of the incident. The screenplay is loosely based on the 1956 novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson.
7. The Big Sleep
Another Film Noir classic starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by Howard Hawks, the 1946 movie is based on Raymond Chandler’s novel from 1939. Private investigator Philip Marlow is hired by the wealthy general Sternwood to help resolve gambling debts of his young daughter Carmen. As people linked to the Sternwood family start getting murdered Marlow realizes the case may be even darker and deeper than he initially thought…
8. Blade Runner
This movie is slightly different than the rest of the list, and it is highly recommended especially to sci-fi fans. Released in 1982, ‘Blade Runner’ is set the futuristic world of 2019 LA, and is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep?’
The protagonist is Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, a special agent with a mission to exterminate a group of violent androids known as replicants, who are on Earth illegally. As he gets deeper into his mission, Deckard starts questioning his own identity. The movie was celebrated by critics and was even declared Best Science Fiction Film of all time by The Guardian. A sequel was released in 2017 under the name ‘Blade Runner 2049’.
9. The Big Heat
This 1953 film-noir release was directed by the famed Fritz Lang. The screenplay was written by Sidney Boehm and was based on a novel of the same year by William P. McGivern. The plot centers on Detective Dave Bannion who investigates the death of a fellow police officer. The investigation leads him to gangster Mike Lagana. Bannion soon finds himself marked for death and his family in mortal danger. ‘The Big Heat’ is considered one of the best post-war film noir movies.
10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The last film on this list is a unique fantastic comedy from 1988, based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ published the previous year. Cartoon producer Maroon hires private investigator Eddie Valiant to look into an adultery scandal involving Jessica Rabbit, the sultry wife of Maroon's biggest star Roger Rabbit. Despite the childlike aesthetic of the film, which features live actors mixed with cartoons, the underlying themes, the noir-ish intrigue and the mystery present in the film are undeniable. It is widely considered a modern classic.