50 Film Noirs You Can Watch For Free: A Dame with a Past. A Desperate, Doomed Man. A Gun.

Film noir isn’t real­ly a genre. It’s a mood. Its ele­ments are so well known that they bor­der on self-par­o­dy. Neon lights. Inky black shad­ows. An emp­ty bot­tle of whiskey. A gun. A dame with a past. A des­per­ate, doomed man.

Like Ger­man Expres­sion­ism dur­ing the 1930s, it was a cul­tur­al pro­cess­ing of a his­toric trau­ma. Like French Poet­ic Real­ism dur­ing that same decade, film noir is fixed in a par­tic­u­lar cul­ture dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar time. In this case, the cul­ture was the inher­ent­ly opti­mistic one of the Unit­ed States. The time was just after World War II when the foun­da­tions of that opti­mism were severe­ly test­ed. A gen­er­a­tion of men returned from Europe and the Pacif­ic scarred and dazed by the mind-bog­gling car­nage of the war only to dis­cov­er that their women were doing just fine work­ing in fac­to­ries and offices. Is it any won­der then that per­haps the most fre­quent trope in noir is of a man, seem­ing­ly tough but riv­en with weak­ness, undone by a pow­er­ful, sex­u­al­ly-dom­i­nat­ing femme fatale?

Though those gen­der roles were quick­ly reshuf­fled and women were, for a time, ban­ished back to the realm of domes­tic­i­ty, cracks remained in the brit­tle veneer of Amer­i­can mas­culin­i­ty. Add to that exis­ten­tial anx­i­eties over the bomb and the Red Scare’s cor­ro­sive para­noia and you have a whole tox­ic stew of cul­tur­al fears bur­bling out of the Amer­i­can col­lec­tive uncon­scious. And film noir artic­u­lat­ed those fears bet­ter than just about any­thing else.

Of course, the rea­son film noir has proved to be so endur­ing is because of its look. The spare light­ing, the cant­ed angles, the grotesque shad­ows. It’s Ger­man Expres­sion­ism cast through the lens of Orson Welles. Its stark style meld­ed per­fect­ly with noir’s bleak cyn­i­cism. It should come as no sur­prise that some of the best noir direc­tors – Fritz LangRobert Siod­mak and espe­cial­ly Bil­ly Wilder – fled Ger­many for the warmer climes of Hol­ly­wood. The style was also cheap — lots of shad­ows means less mon­ey spent on lights. It was a boon for the scores of inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers who made noirs on a shoe­string.

If you want get into that film noir mood, Open Cul­ture has 50, count ‘em, 50 film noir movies that you can watch right now for free. They include:

  • Detour Free – Edgar Ulmer’s cult clas­sic noir film shot in 6 days. (1945)
  • D.O.A.Free — Rudolph Maté’s clas­sic noir film. Called “one of the most accom­plished, inno­v­a­tive, and down­right twist­ed entrants to the film noir genre.”  (1950)
  • The Hitch-Hik­er —  Free –  The first noir film made by a woman noir direc­tor, Ida Lupino. It appears above. (1953)
  • The Naked Kiss — Free - Con­stance Tow­ers is a pros­ti­tute try­ing to start new life in a small town. Direct­ed by Sam Fuller. (1964)
  • The Stranger — Free – Direct­ed by Orson Welles with Edward G. Robin­son. One of Welles’s major com­mer­cial suc­cess­es. (1946)

Check out the full list of 50 free noir films here, or find them in our larg­er 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)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (3)
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  • Stannous Flouride says:

    A great list, thanks. I’ve already book­marked it.

    But I have to men­tion that the plur­al is ‘films noir’ not ‘film noirs.’

  • Joshua Cody says:

    And the cor­rect verb is ‘boquin-mar­qué.’

  • Joshua Cody says:

    Noun, and ‘bouquin.’

    Auto-cor­rect, ang/fra key­board tog­gling, and a cat on a lap­top!

    But it is extra­or­di­nary that we can watch these films any­where, any­time, with broad­band and lap­top; only min­utes ago, peo­ple went to the­aters — par­tic­u­lar­ly a mas­ter­piece like “Third Man,” which if a paint­ing would be hang­ing in the British Muse­um.

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