Paste's The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time

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Since its coining in 1946 by French critic Nino Frank, the term “film noir” has been debated endlessly: Is it a genre? A subgenre? A movement? A trend? A commentary? A style? For the purposes of this introduction, let’s call it a response.

We think of noirs as urban stories, but that’s not always the case—for every L.A. and N.Y.C.-set saga, there’s a small, heartland tragedy. We think of a never-ending, rain-soaked night—sunlight replaced with neon and nocturnal reflections, the optical trickery of mirrors and shadows—but in contrast, the days of noir scorched its characters. We admire its heavily stylized approach—exaggerated camera angles, tension-crafting mise-en-scène, flashbacks, deep focus and trademark shadows—but also its neo-realist and documentary-like experiments.

However (un)conscious a reaction, noir resonates to this day, with several neo-noir cycles beginning with the Cold War era through Gen X and the millennials. And while a healthy share of neo-noirs make our list, the classic period remains the most telling—context is critical. Then there are the sub-classifications within the subgenre: proto-noirs, foreign noirs (like the British “Spiv” cycle), neon noirs, and, of course, neo-noirs.

We’ll start with the following 100 titles. Some 70 years after the term “film noir” was first uttered, take a trip through the screwed-up terrain of the mid-century psyche, with all its sex, lies, and crime scene tape. Let’s get going—don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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  1. 1 new

    The Woman in the Window

    1944, in 7 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    The Big Sleep

    1946, in 20 top lists Check
  3. 3 new

    Double Indemnity

    1944, in 34 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    Chinatown

    1974, in 29 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Touch of Evil

    1958, in 27 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    The Third Man

    1949, in 33 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    Out of the Past

    1947, in 15 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    Kiss Me Deadly

    1955, in 19 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    Laura

    1944, in 19 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Sunset Blvd.

    1950 — a.k.a. Sunset Boulevard, in 33 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    The Maltese Falcon

    1941, in 24 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    The Night of the Hunter

    1955, in 30 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Gilda

    1946, in 12 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Ascenseur pour l'échafaud

    1958 — a.k.a. Elevator to the Gallows, in 8 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Ace in the Hole

    1951, in 18 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    They Live by Night

    1948, in 12 top lists Check
  17. 17 new

    Raw Deal

    1948, in 4 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    Thieves' Highway

    1949, in 5 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    The Killers

    1946, in 14 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    The Lady from Shanghai

    1947, in 9 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Yoidore tenshi

    1948 — a.k.a. Drunken Angel, in 5 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    In a Lonely Place

    1950, in 17 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    The Killing

    1956, in 14 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    The Big Heat

    1953, in 17 top lists Check
  25. 25 new

    The Wrong Man

    1956, in 8 top lists Check
  26. 26 new

    The Postman Always Rings Twice

    1946, in 9 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    Mildred Pierce

    1945, in 15 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    Night and the City

    1950, in 10 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    Blade Runner

    1982, in 33 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    The Set-Up

    1949, in 9 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    Blue Velvet

    1986, in 24 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    Criss Cross

    1949, in 6 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Crime Wave

    1953, in 2 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    Night Moves

    1975, in 6 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Murder, My Sweet

    1944, in 6 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Nightmare Alley

    1947, in 7 top lists Check
  37. 37 new

    Blood Simple

    1984, in 8 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    L.A. Confidential

    1997, in 23 top lists Check
  39. 39 new

    Odd Man Out

    1947, in 11 top lists Check
  40. 40 new

    Pickup on South Street

    1953, in 13 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    White Heat

    1949, in 15 top lists Check
  42. 42 new

    The Hitch-Hiker

    1953, in 6 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    Taxi Driver

    1976, in 31 top lists Check
  44. 44 new

    Body Heat

    1981, in 6 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

    1946, in 3 top lists Check
  46. 46 new

    The Blue Dahlia

    1946, in 3 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    Sorry, Wrong Number

    1948, in 2 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Journey Into Fear

    1943, in 2 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    One False Move

    1992, in 6 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    Le samouraï

    1967 — a.k.a. Le Samouraï, in 19 top lists Check
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Last updated on Apr 28, 2021; source