10 Best Film Noir Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
Directed by David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises is at times brutal—such is the famous Canadian director's trademark—and operates at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge. Starring a tattooed, ruthless, and terrifying Viggo Mortensen as a very convincing Russian strong-arm gangster as well as Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, it features intense psychological drama and a gritty crime story. Midwife Anna (Watts) delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian prostitute, who dies while giving birth, and later learns that she was forced into prostitution by the Mafia. To keep this knowledge from seeping out, she gets entangled deeper into London's criminal underbelly, whose various factions and languages are aptly showcased by Cronenberg. Add to all this a smart script and Mortensen's daring performance and you have yourself an intense auteur thriller in signature Cronenberg style.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandar Mikic, Aleksander Mikic, Alice Henley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Papava, Donald Sumpter, Elisa Lasowski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Josef Altin, Mina E. Mina, Naomi Watts, Raza Jaffrey, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sinead Cusack, Tamer Hassan, Tatiana Maslany, Tereza Srbová, Tony Cook, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

, 2003

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji Dae-han, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Su-hyun, Kwang-rok Oh, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Young-hee, Min-sik Choi, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Park Jae-Woong, Park Myung-shin, Seo Myeong-Seok, Seung-Shin Lee, Syd Lim, Yoo Il-han, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yoon Jin-seo, Yoon Jin-yul

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of "Drive" and "The Network". The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you're the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal's performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Ortiz, Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton, Bill Seward, Carolyn Gilroy, Chris Wolfe, Christina De Leon, Dale Shane, Dan Gilroy, Dig Wayne, Eric Lange, Holly Hannula, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Huang, Jamie McShane, Jonny Coyne, Kathleen York, Kent Shocknek, Kevin Dunigan, Kevin Rahm, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Leah Fredkin, Marco Rodriguez, Merritt Bailey, Michael Hyatt, Michael Papajohn, Myra Turley, Pat Harvey, Price Carson, Rene Russo, Rick Chambers, Rick Garcia, Riz Ahmed, Sharon Tay, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Viviana Chavez

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rating: R

One of The Drop's many strengths is its dark, clever, yet compassionate script. It will take you into the heart of the Brooklyn crime scene through the characters and their respective more or less fragile lifestyles. The extremely good performances, however, soon become the focus and attire of the film. James Gandolfini couldn't be more at home in this context and excels with his usual menace, yet somehow relatable presence. Tom Hardy, however, surprises in unfamiliar grounds, sharply portraying a vulnerable character, whose vulnerability you will keep doubting. The Drop is consistent from start to finish, and with jaw-dropping moments here and there, it is both an interesting and enjoyable film.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Alex Ziwak, Ann Dowd, Chris Sullivan, Danny McCarthy, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Erin Darke, Jack Dimich, James Colby, James Frecheville, James Gandolfini, Jeremy Bobb, Jessica Tate, John Di Benedetto, John Ortiz, Khan Baykal, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michaël R. Roskam, Michael Aronov, Michael Esper, Michael O'Hara, Mike Houston, Morgan Spector, Noomi Rapace, Patricia Squire, Robert Turano, Ross Bickell, Scott Johnsen, Tobias Segal, Tom Hardy

Director: Michael R. Roskam, Michael Roskam

Rating: R

A man returns to a town chasing the memory of a woman he loved years ago.

Poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan coats his idiosyncratic filmmaking with a thick layer of neo-noir in this sumptuous follow up to his remarkable debut Kaili Blues. This time around, Kaili City is a neon-drenched dreamscape dripping in style and calling to mind the work of Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai. 

He may wear his influences on his sleeve, but Bi Gan keeps his trademark moves like the bravado long takes and a poetic disregard for past and present, reality and dreams. This leads to an explosive and unforgettable sequence in the second half that while originally intended for 3D loses little of its mind-bending power when watched at home.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Bi Gan, Bi Yanmin, Chen Yongzhong, Chloe Maayan, Duan Chun-hao, Feiyang Luo, Hong-Chi Lee, Huang Jue, Jue Huang, Lee Hong-chi, Ming Dao, Qi Xi, Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei, Tuan Chun-hao, Zeng Meihuizi, 张艾嘉

Director: Bi Gan

Rating: Not Rated

Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alex Kingston, Alexander Morton, Barnaby Kay, Clive Owen, David Hamilton, Eddie Osei, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Nick Reding, Ozzie Yue, Paul Reynolds, Rhona Mitra, Sheila Whitfield

Director: Mike Hodges

Rating: Unrated

Following is the first movie Christopher Nolan ever directed, a mesmerizing low-budget effort that introduced the world to the genius who will later give us Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and many other classics. Shot in "extreme" conditions to quote Nolan himself, for just over £3000, it had to be filmed in the span of a year on Saturdays only and in friends' houses. But almost none of that is visible in the sharp camera work, the magnificent acting (most of it was first or second takes), and the twisted script. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer (The Young Man) who tries to find inspiration in following random people in the street, and doing it via strict rules. One day he follows a man in a suit (Cobb), who catches him and becomes intrigued by him. It turns out that Cobb has his own fascination with people's intimate lives, of criminal nature, which he lets The Young Man into. Using the same non-linear plot technique as in Memento, this movie is halfway between a thriller and a film noir. The inspiration for it came when Nolan's own apartment in London was robbed, and he was fascinated by the act of strangers going through his personal items. If you take into consideration the conditions of its making, this movie is a masterpiece.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Haw, Barbara Stepansky, David Julyan, Dick Bradsell, Emma Thomas, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Jeremy Theobald, John Nolan, Lucy Russell, Nicolas Carlotti, Paul Mason, Rebecca James

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rating: R

In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it's shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, Billy Ray Sharkey, Charles Napier, David Sinaiko, Eddie Jones, Frances Bay, Gailard Sartain, Gregory Sporleder, Henry Jones, Ivette Soler, J.T. Walsh, Jan Munroe, Jeff Perry, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Noonan, John Cusack, Jon Gries, Juliet Landau, Lou Hancock, Martin Scorsese, Michael Laskin, Micole Mercurio, Noelle Harling, Pat Hingle, Paul Adelstein, Richard Holden, Robert Weems, Sandy Baron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Teresa Gilmore, Xander Berkeley

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R

In Marlowe, Liam Neeson joins the lofty lineup of actors who have stepped into the shoes of Raymond Chandler's titular detective, famously played by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and Elliott Gould. These are big boots to fill — and, if you’ve been paying attention to Neeson’s career over the last decade or so, you’ll be aware that he hasn’t exactly been stretching himself, dramatically speaking.

But Marlowe is something of a happy anomaly in Neeson’s filmography, because it has more than just adrenaline-pumping ambitions. Written by director Neil Jordan (of Michael Collins fame) and William Monahan (the screenwriter behind The Departed), the 1930s Hollywood-set plot is steeped in noir’s characteristic cynicism, giving it the seductive pull of that well-loved genre. It’s true that a not insignificant portion of the dialogue is so hard-boiled you can see the cracks — a clunkiness that’s repeated in a couple of the phoned-in supporting performances and the movie’s awkward action sequences. However, with a couple of bright spots in the starry cast, handsome production values, and a labyrinthine plot that just about passes muster as homage and not muddle, there are enough noir trappings here to keep the movie slinking along well enough, even if it ultimately isn't nearly as memorable as Marlowe’s previous screen incarnations.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alan Cumming, Alan Moloney, Colm Meaney, Daniela Melchior, Danny Huston, Darrell D'Silva, Diane Kruger, François Arnaud, Gary Anthony Stennette, Ian Hart, Jessica Lange, Julius Cotter, Kim DeLonghi, Liam Neeson, Mark Schardan, Michael Garvey, Minnie Marx, Mitchell Mullen, Patrick Muldoon, Roberto Peralta, Seána Kerslake, Stella Stocker, Tony Corvillo

Director: Neil Jordan

Rating: R