The 9 Best Film Noir Movies Of All Time

Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep | © Warner Bros
Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep | © Warner Bros
Meaning ‘dark film’ in French, film noir was named for anti-heroic characters, razor-sharp dialogue, and bold mise-en-scene. Some critics argue that true noir films must have been made in the post-World War II 1940s into the 1950s. To that end, this list is comprised of the best films of noir’s classic era.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Based on a novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade who takes on a mysterious client (Mary Astor). Soon, Spade is absorbed in a twisted plot that involves murder, betrayal, and a valuable falcon statuette. The film is widely regarded as the first emblematic film noir.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Fred MacMurray plays insurance agent Walter Neff, who is seduced and recruited into Phillis Dietrichson’s (Barbara Stanwyck) plan to off her husband for a big insurance payday. The two finesse a plan that hinges on Walter’s insider know-how, but unexpected betrayals and other pressures unravel the seemingly perfect plan. Authored by John M. Cain, Double Indemnity is a known classic.

Laura (1944)

Boundary-pushing director Otto Preminger’s hit follows New York City detective Mark McPherson as he investigates the gruesome murder of Laura Hunt, a beautiful and successful advertising executive. In his search through the characters of Laura’s life and her intimate diary, McPherson’s sleuthing turns to obsession.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Adapted for the screen from Raymond Chandler’s crime novel, The Big Sleep marked the debut of beloved recurring character, detective Phillip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). The private investigator is hired by a wealthy family and falls headwards into a plot that involves gambling, blackmail, and murder. Lauren Bacall plays love interest Vivian Rutledge, who helps Marlowe with his investigation.

Out of the Past (1947)

A private investigator evades his past by retreating to a small town, but before long, his past catches up with him. Robert Mitchum is world-weary Jeff Bailey, and Jane Greer is devious Kathie Moffit in Jacques Tourneur’s adaptation of novel Build My Gallows High.

Criss Cross (1949)

Armored truck driver Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) conspires with an unsavory gang to rob his own truck, but an unlikely love triangle changes the name of the game. As the title suggests, trickery and betrayal reign in Robert Siodmak’s adaptation of the Don Tracy novel.

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

A group of men plan a big-time jewel heist, but things don’t quite go according to plan. Among the gang of thieves pops Marilyn Monroe, an unknown at the time, who plays a minor but pivotal role.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Gloria Swanson stars as fading silent film star Norma Desmond, fruitlessly grasping at a comeback with unsuccessful screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden). Named after the famous thoroughfare, the film is considered one of the greatest of all time, and its tragicomical last words reverberate throughout cinema history – referenced, spoofed, and remixed too many times to count.

Touch of Evil (1958)

Orson Welles wrote, directed, and starred in this noir crime thriller based on the Whit Masterson novel Badge of Evil. The story of vengeance takes place in a Mexican border town, where co-stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh play newlyweds who get wrapped into a saga of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption.