Slant Magazine The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time

Slant Magazine The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time's icon

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Purists will argue that film noir was born in 1941 with the release of John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and died in 1958 with Marlene Dietrich traipsing down a long, dark, lonely road at the end of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil. And while this period contains the quintessence of what Italian-born French film critic Nino Frank originally characterized as film noir, the genre has always been in a constant state of flux, adapting to the different times and cultures out of which these films emerged.

Noir came into its own alongside the ravages of World War II, with the gangster and detective films of the era drastically transforming into something altogether new as the aesthetics of German Expressionism took hold in America, and in large part due to the influx of German expatriates like Fritz Lang. These already dark, hardboiled films suddenly gained a newfound viciousness and sense of ambiguity, their dangers and existential inquiries directed at audiences through canted camera angles and a shroud of smoke and shadows.

As the war reached its end stage, soldiers came home to find a once-unquestioned era of male authority put in the crosshairs of changing cultural norms. And in lockstep, the protagonists of many a noir began to feel as if they were living in a newly vulnerable world, taking cover beneath trench coats and fedoras, adopting cynical, wise-cracking personae, and packing heat at all times while remaining hyper-aware of the feminine dangers that surrounded them. Jean-Luc Godard once said that “all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” and in noir, the latter was often the most dangerous. Indeed, Barbara Stanwyck’s anklet in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Ann Savage’s icy stare in Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour are as deadly as any bullet.

Our list acknowledges the classics of the genre, the big-budget studio noirs and the cheapest of B noirs made on the fringes of the Hollywood studio system. But we’ve also taken a more expansive view of noir, allowing room for supreme examples of the proto-noirs that anticipated the genre and the neo-noirs that resulted from the genre being rebooted in the midst of the Cold War, seemingly absorbing the world’s darkest and deepest fears. Then and now, the best examples of this genre continue to evoke—shrewdly and with the irrepressible passion of the dispossessed—humanity’s eternal fear of social disruption.

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  1. 1 new

    In a Lonely Place

    1950, in 16 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Out of the Past

    1947, in 15 top lists Check
  3. 3 new

    The Big Sleep

    1946, in 20 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    The Third Man

    1949, in 32 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Kiss Me Deadly

    1955, in 19 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    Touch of Evil

    1958, in 29 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    Chinatown

    1974, in 28 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    The Big Heat

    1953, in 17 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    The Long Goodbye

    1973, in 12 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Detour

    1945, in 16 top lists Check
  11. 11 new

    Double Indemnity

    1944, in 32 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    Pickup on South Street

    1953, in 13 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    Scarlet Street

    1945, in 9 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    The Maltese Falcon

    1941, in 25 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    Sweet Smell of Success

    1957, in 20 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    On Dangerous Ground

    1951, in 2 top lists Check
  17. 17 new

    Sunset Blvd.

    1950 — a.k.a. Sunset Boulevard, in 32 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    The Lady from Shanghai

    1947, in 9 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    The Night of the Hunter

    1955, in 30 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    Laura

    1944, in 19 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Tirez sur le pianiste

    1960 — a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player, in 10 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    Le samouraï

    1967 — a.k.a. Le Samouraï, in 18 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    Blue Velvet

    1986, in 24 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

    1976, in 8 top lists Check
  25. 25 new

    Night Moves

    1975, in 6 top lists Check
  26. 26 new

    Blade Runner

    1982, in 32 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    The Wrong Man

    1956, in 7 top lists Check
  28. 28 new

    The Woman in the Window

    1944, in 7 top lists Check
  29. 29 new

    Gilda

    1946, in 12 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    They Live by Night

    1948, in 12 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    The Reckless Moment

    1949, in 7 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    Daisy Kenyon

    1947, in 3 top lists Check
  33. 33 new

    Night and the City

    1950, in 10 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    Ace in the Hole

    1951, in 19 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Odd Man Out

    1947, in 12 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Lost Highway

    1997, in 8 top lists Check
  37. 37 new

    À bout de souffle

    1960 — a.k.a. Breathless, in 27 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    You Only Live Once

    1937, in 7 top lists Check
  39. 39 new

    Mulholland Dr.

    2001 — a.k.a. Mulholland Drive, in 25 top lists Check
  40. 40 new

    Underworld U.S.A.

    1961, in 3 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    Taxi Driver

    1976, in 31 top lists Check
  42. 42 new

    Tengoku to jigoku

    1963 — a.k.a. High and Low, in 15 top lists Check
  43. 43 new

    Murder by Contract

    1958, in 4 top lists Check
  44. 44 new

    The Killing

    1956, in 14 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    The Narrow Margin

    1952, in 7 top lists Check
  46. 46 new

    Moonrise

    1948, in 5 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    Point Blank

    1967, in 14 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Force of Evil

    1948, in 12 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    Femme Fatale

    2002, in 4 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    Act of Violence

    1949, in 3 top lists Check
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Last updated on Apr 17, 2019; source