25 Noir Films That Will Stand the Test of Time: A List by “Noirchaelogist” Eddie Muller

Film noir received its name in 1946 when French crit­ic Nino Frank expressed his fas­ci­na­tion with dark Hol­ly­wood melo­dra­mas of the time. But noir as a genre only took shape ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, and the bit­ter argu­ments over what it is con­tin­ue to the present. I’ve always thought of film noir as the off­spring of Ger­man Expres­sion­ism, pulp fic­tion, and the hard-boiled crime nov­els of Ray­mond Chan­dler. Its characters—dangerous seduc­tress­es and “fall­en” women, cyn­i­cal detec­tives, sadis­tic vil­lains and amoral deviants of all kinds—are exag­ger­at­ed out­law mir­rors of the era’s vir­tu­ous every­man pro­tag­o­nists. Most noirs seem express­ly cre­at­ed to defy the Hays Code’s strong sug­ges­tion that “the sym­pa­thy of the audi­ence shall nev­er be thrown to the side of crime, wrong­do­ing, evil or sin.”

Alain Sil­ver, edi­tor of the Film Noir Read­er, dates “the clas­sic era of film noir” to “a fif­teen year span from You Only Live Once (1937) to Where Dan­ger Lives (1952).” But films as ear­ly as Fritz Lang’s 1931 M are dis­cussed in noir terms, and the aes­thet­ic per­sists, if only in homage or par­o­dy, as in the obvi­ous noir take-off Sin City. Roger Ebert con­cise­ly defined the genre in a short list of ten essen­tial fea­tures. Despite its French name and styl­is­ti­cal­ly Ger­man ori­gins, Ebert called it “the most Amer­i­can film genre, because no soci­ety could have cre­at­ed a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betray­al, unless it were essen­tial­ly naive and opti­mistic.”

What­ev­er the genre’s bound­aries, I think it’s safe to say that film noir’s his­to­ry rests in good hands. The Film Noir Foun­da­tion has ded­i­cat­ed itself to “res­cu­ing and restor­ing America’s Film Noir Her­itage”; Film Noir Stud­ies aims to be a crit­i­cal resource for stu­dents, schol­ars, and fans alike. And per­haps best of all, we have Eddie Muller—self-described “word­slinger, impre­sario, noirchaelogist”—on the case. A very noir-ish char­ac­ter him­self, Muller, a sea­soned San Fran­cis­co reporter, barfly, box­ing enthu­si­ast, and adult film his­to­ri­an, defines film noir as “the flip side of the all-Amer­i­can suc­cess sto­ry.”

It’s about peo­ple who real­ize that fol­low­ing the pro­gram will nev­er get them what they crave. So they cross the line, com­mit a crime and reap the con­se­quences. Or, they’re tales about seem­ing­ly inno­cent peo­ple tor­tured by para­noia and ass-kicked by Fate. Either way, they depict a world that’s mer­ci­less and unfor­giv­ing. 

On his site, Muller has com­piled a list of “25 noir films that will stand the test of time.” His picks range from acknowl­edged clas­sics like Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty and Sun­set Boule­vard to less­er-known pic­tures like Raw Deal. Below, I’ve list­ed his favorites in the reverse order he prefers. Call­ing his list “End­less Night,” Muller asks us to “take this with a grain of salt” and to “con­sid­er the list­ing a sort of car­ni­val barom­e­ter, rang­ing from INFATUATED to PASSIONATE.”

25. Raw Deal (Eagle-Lion, 1948) — Avail­able on YouTube
24. City that Nev­er Sleeps (Repub­lic, 1952)
23. Touch of Evil (Uni­ver­sal, 1958)
22. Scar­let Street (Uni­ver­sal, 1945) — Avail­able on Open Cul­ture or watch above
21. Detour (PRC, 1945) — Avail­able on Open Cul­ture
20. Tomor­row is Anoth­er Day (Warn­er Bros., 1951)
19. The Prowler (Unit­ed Artists, 1950)
18. Gun Crazy (Unit­ed Artists, 1950)
17. Act of Vio­lence (MGM, 1949)
16. Odds Against Tomor­row (Unit­ed Artists, 1959)
15. The Killing (Unit­ed Artists, 1956)
14. They Live By Night (RKO, 1949)
13. Thieves’ High­way (20th Cen­tu­ry-Fox, 1949)
12. Sweet Smell of Suc­cess (Unit­ed Artists, 1958)
11. The Killers (Uni­ver­sal, 1946)
10. Moon­rise (Repub­lic, 1948) — Avail­able on YouTube
9.  Out of the Past (RKO, 1947)
8.  Night and the City (20th Cen­tu­ry-Fox, 1950)
7.  Night­mare Alley (20th Cen­tu­ry-Fox, 1947)
6.  The Mal­tese Fal­con (Warn­er Bros., 1941)
5.  Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty (Para­mount, 1944)
4.  The Asphalt Jun­gle (MGM, 1950)
3.  Sun­set Boule­vard (Para­mount, 1950)
2.  Criss Cross (Uni­ver­sal, 1949)
1.  In a Lone­ly Place (Colum­bia, 1950)

See Muller’s orig­i­nal arti­cle for his price­less com­men­tary on each film. And if his list piques your inter­est, be sure to vis­it our con­sid­er­able col­lec­tion of free online film noir clas­sics, all oth­er­wise found in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Fritz Lang’s Cen­sored Noir Film, Scar­let Street, Star­ring the Great Edward G. Robin­son (1945)

Detour: The Cheap, Rushed Piece of 1940s Film Noir Nobody Ever For­gets

Watch D.O.A., Rudolph Maté’s “Inno­v­a­tive and Down­right Twist­ed” Noir Film (1950)

The Third Man: Film Noir Clas­sic on YouTube

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (43)
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  • Aaron says:

    How is “Sin City” a ‘take off’? You snob. It is straight up Noir. Just because it’s a com­ic book it can’t be Noir? Such unabashed biased against it throws every­thing else in this arti­cle as ques­tion­able. Poor jour­nal­ism.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks, Tony. Fixed it.

  • Hanoch says:

    Its not of that era, but I would have includ­ed Chi­na­town.

  • justin says:

    @AAron: get a clue ;)

  • Tim Hole says:

    @Aaron, I always con­sid­ered Sin City as a Noir styled film, any­thing after Touch of Evil is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered Neo-Noir, because the style was very much defined by an era.

    I would have picked tpThe Big Com­bo over a few on the list to be fair…

  • Doug says:

    Any such list should include “Blast of Silence” and prob­a­bly “Rifi­fi” too

    • Nancy says:

      Rifi­fi! Yes! Also Les Diaboliques,Therese Raquin, Le Corbeau..or are we ONLY talk­ing Amer­i­can films here? The French real­ly did a great job with this genre.

  • Melody Grell says:

    In a Lone­ly Place! Final­ly a list nails some­thing.

  • Melody Grell says:

    Was Martha Ivers a Noir? If so it was one of the great­est.

  • HBNole says:

    No “The Big Sleep?”

  • John W says:

    I’m sur­prised Kiss Me Dead­ly did­n’t make the list.

  • Craig Rapp says:

    Big Sleep is quin­tes­sen­tial noir

  • Gary Boehm says:

    How about “This Gun for Hire” or 2 more Alan Ladd- Veron­i­ca Lake movies such as “the Glass Key” or ” The Blue Dahlia”?

  • Gary Boehm says:

    We can also add “The Nar­row Mar­gin” with Charles McGraw & Marie Wind­sor

  • Feuhorbe says:

    No Chi­na­town or The Third Man? I am dis­ap­point­ed.

  • kzo says:

    I think it shoud be “noir­chae­ol­o­gist”, with an ‘o’.

  • PR says:

    Nicholas Ray’s ever over­looked mas­ter­piece “On Dan­ger­ous Ground” should’ve been includ­ed.

  • Pedro Marques says:

    A list of the best “noir” movies that does­n’t include THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI or TOUCH OF EVIL is not a list, it’s a draft.

  • Fernando says:

    Ouch… no Night of the Hunter…?? Props on The Killing mak­ing the list…an often over­looked Kubrick film that I find to be one of his best

  • dave says:

    Farewell, My Love­ly, Cry Dan­ger!, The Big Sleep, Dark Pas­sage, They Won’t Believe Me, Pick­up On South Street, Noto­ri­ous, Ride The Pink Horse…

  • Gord Jackson says:

    Would definet­ly have to include “This Gun For Hire”, “The Nar­row Mar­gin” (1952), “Kiss Me Dead­ly” and “The Big Com­bo.” The ques­tion is, what do they replace? It’s nev­er an easy call!

  • dennis says:

    Hey Eddie„,have you ever heard of John Garfield?/…How do you leave at leat 4 of his movies off this list…this guy was the essen­tial Film Noir actor…very dis­ap­point­ed in you…very!!!

  • Spike Owen says:

    It’s a stonk­ing list. When­ev­er noir lists get post­ed there are the usu­al debates et al about what should be on a list, what con­sti­tutes noir etc. I lit­er­al­ly a cou­ple of hours ago did my own 25, but unlike Eddie I have includ­ed French noir, and beyond the date that many argue is a cut off point. I per­son­al­ly don’t con­spire to film noir end­ing at 58/59, it tailed off in Amer­i­ca but the French car­ried it on, mak­ing some absolute clas­sics in the 60s.

    As for Eddie’s list there is not a bad film on there, though I haven’t seen Moon­rise, but only 5 of his list makes my own! Not ranked >

    White Heat 1949
    The Third Man 1949
    Le Trou 1960
    Le monte-charge 1962
    The Night of the Hunter 1955
    The Big Sleep 1946
    Gaslight 1944
    Chair de poule 1963
    Night and the City 1950
    Riot in Cell Block 11 1954
    Night­mare Alley 1947
    Raw Deal 1948
    Brute Force 1947
    Kiss of Death 1947
    Odd Man Out 1947
    High Sier­ra 1941
    Le Samouraï 1967
    Le Cor­beau: The Raven 1943
    Blast of Silence 1961
    Mil­dred Pierce 1945
    The Asphalt Jun­gle 1950
    Gun Crazy 1950
    The Big Com­bo 1955
    They Made Me a Fugi­tive 1947
    Hunt­ed 1952

    As for neo-noir, that’s anoth­er mat­ter… :-)

  • Punk Toad says:

    No Blade Run­ner???

  • emjay says says:

    I recent­ly saw a short noir film called “Such Crea­tures”. And although it was a filmed on a tight bud­get, I found it to be very inter­est­ing. Sort of a dif­fer­ent twist.

  • emjay says says:

    I recent­ly watched a short noir film called: “Such Crea­tures”. And although it was filmed on a tight bud­get it had a cer­tain qual­i­ty of direc­tion and pro­duc­tion to it. Found it on kick­start.

  • Slevin Kelevra says:

    Dark Pas­sage?

  • kapu prabhakara says:

    these lists do not make any sense. because each of us have our own list of favorite film noir.

  • Ms. Brooksowyc says:

    What about Jules Dass­in’s Naked City?

  • George says:

    I’ve only just dis­cov­er­ing this genre so haven’t seen all on the list, but i will! So far my big fav’s are in no par­tic­u­lar order.
    Dou­ble indem­ni­ty
    the killers
    the killing
    Asphalt jun­gle
    odd man out
    the big heat
    were the side­walk ends
    and final­ly one i watched last night hard­ly men­tioned but i loved called ‘The Blue Gar­de­nia’

    Thanks for shar­ing your list.

  • regina says:

    agree; Night of the Hunter is not only one of the best film noir, but per­haps the most ter­ri­fy­ing film ever made

  • brenda chang says:

    May I rec­om­mend MURDER,MY SWEET with Dick Pow­ell in his first non-danc­ing musi­cal. He set the stan­dard for the film noir gumshoe .….based on a Ray­mond Chan­dler nov­el.

  • Bill White says:

    all good pic­tures, but less than ten of them are noirs.

  • Jillet Sam says:

    What about Aki­ra Kuro­sawa’s Stray Dog?

  • John says:

    Con­sid­er­ing the films in ques­tion are all at least 45+ years old, does­n’t this means they’ve already stood the test of time?

  • pavel says:

    Good point,not only the French it was all over Europe.

  • Rennafire says:

    “The Third Man“definitely, and “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946).

  • casey gilson says:

    Mur­der, My Sweet and Out of the PaSt would be on my list, but with all the great noir films, we could could come up with very dif­fer­ent lists, and a case could be made for all of them

  • Dennis says:

    How do you NOT have a John Garfield movie on your list?? The Fall­en Sparrow…Force of Evil…Body and Soul…He Ran All The Way…The break­ing Point…Nobody Lives Forever…Garfield is the ulti­mate Film Noir actor bar none!!!

  • Jay says:

    SIN CITY looks like noir, but it is garbage. Incred­i­bly stu­pid sto­ry.

  • Aaron says:

    This is pret­ty cool thank you! One thing I’m excit­ed about is maybe you can help me find a film that I’ve been look­ing to find for a long time. It’s a noir film with some good humor in it where the main char­ac­ter is teach­ing the love inter­est about the lin­go such as a gun is a “heater”, Etc. She wants to help him in his detec­tive work. Does any­one know what this film is?

  • Billy says:

    Yes it should be

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