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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