My top 25 films noir by year of release. Ranking them would be arbitrary as there is little if anything between them. For my full listing of essential films noir click here.
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.
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.
Double Indemnity 1944 US
All the elements of the archetypal film noir are distilled into a gothic LA tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.
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 Big Sleep 1946 US
Love’s Vengeance Lost. Darker than Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet. Bogart is tougher, more driven, and morally suspect.
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.
Body and Soul 1947 US
A masterwork. Melodramatic expose of the fight game and a savage indictment of money capitalism. Garfield’s picture.
Out of the Past 1947 US
Quintessential film noir. Inspired direction, exquisite expressionist cinematography, and legendary Mitchum and Greer.
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.
Force of Evil 1948 US
Polonsky transcends noir in a tragic allegory on greed and family. Garfield adds signature honesty and gritty complexity .
Raw Deal 1948 US
Sublime noir from Anthony Mann and John Alton. Knockout cast in a strong story stunningly rendered as expressionist art.
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.
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.
The Asphalt Jungle 1950 US
Quintessential heist movie transcends melodrama and noir. A police siren wails: “Sounds like a soul in hell.”
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 Trumbo thriller. Director Losey is unforgiving. Each squalid act is suffocatingly framed.
The Big Heat 1953 US
Gloria Grahame as existential hero in Fritz Lang’s brooding socio-realist noir critique.
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.
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 life outside the mainstream – sordid dreams of the last big heist that will fix everything.