Neo-Noir is a term used to describe films that are more “neo” than classic noir.

The term originated in the 1970s as an attempt to define new detective stories and movies such as Chinatown, which were seen by some critics as being different from the old-fashioned hardboiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

Neo-Noir genre is characterized by its focus on contemporary urban life and social issues, with plots that are often based on crime, corruption, violence, and existentialism.



What Are Neo-Noir Films?

The term neo-noir was coined to describe the trend of using dark themes and imagery as seen in classic noir films.

These neo-noir films are more modern movies that borrow from the older ‘film noir’ themes and tropes.

Neo-noirs are typically set in urban, contemporary settings with a high degree of moral ambiguity. They also often take place at night and, more often than not, involve crime or violence.



What Is Neo-Noir?

Neo-noir is a genre of film characterized by dark themes and low-key lighting. Neo-noir films are often very provocative, with an underlying sense of fatalism.

Noir films were first popularized in the 1940s but have since been remade to fit current times.

Neo-noirs take place in urban areas, with complex characters that face moral ambiguity and existential questions about their actions.

The plots typically revolve around the protagonist’s fight against society or some other antagonist for control over their lives.

These stories are often told from the perspective of criminals or those on the margins of society who struggle to find a balance between what they need and what they want out of life.

Best Neo-Noir Films

Without further ado, let’s jump into our list of the best neo-noir films of all time.

The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye is a moody and introspective piece about a detective character named Phillip Marlowe who trails the disappearance of an ex-convict’s wife in Los Angeles.

This film was not met with the same critical acclaim as his previous films because it lacked the signature elements (humor, satire) that made him so famous.

The Long Goodbye is considered to be one of Altman’s most underrated movies and remains relatively unknown among many cinephiles despite its merits.

It follows the detective protagonist Philip Marlowe through a maze of intrigue and violence as he attempts to solve the murder of his friend Terry Lennox.

The Long Goodbye ( The Long Good bye ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import - France ]
  • The Long Goodbye ( The Long Good bye )
  • The Long Goodbye
  • The Long Good bye
  • Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden (Actors)
  • Robert Altman (Director) - The Long Goodbye ( The Long Good bye ) (Producer)

LA Confidential (1997)

LA Confidential is a film that follows three police officers on the night of October 1, 1949.

What they discover changes their lives and the lives of those around them forever. It’s a story about justice, redemption, love and friendship with just enough twists to keep you guessing until the very end. (Hanson)

Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential is a film that brings the 1950s to life. This film offers an insight into Los Angeles as it was in 1957, its different cultures and many secrets.

The plot tackles corruption in the police force, organized crime syndicates and Hollywood studios with tenacity while also showing how these groups intersected each other at this time.

It is a well-acted, smartly written thriller with twists and turns making for a gripping movie experience.

LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997) is a movie that has been voted as one of the best crime films in cinema history.

L.A. Confidential [Blu-ray]
  • LA Confidential
  • Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn (Actors)
  • Reynaldo Villalobos (Director) - Curtis Hanson (Producer)
  • French, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

Chinatown (1974)

The Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski in 1974 is a film that showcases the life of an individual and their journey through struggles, despair, and hope.

The protagonist, Evelyn (played by Faye Dunaway), is a woman torn between her family obligations and what she desires for herself.

She has to find her way as a Chinese American woman in both China and America during this time period where she has very few rights.

In the film Chinatown, Polanski creates a tone of intrigue and mystery that is engaging to audiences.

The setting in Los Angeles provides an eerie atmosphere for the story to unfold with its many twists and turns.

Shot during the Vietnam War era, this movie reflects upon some of America’s darkest moments while also shining light on the country’s future potential.

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is a 1974 neo-noir thriller film about the search for water rights in Los Angeles.

Chinatown [Blu-ray]
  • Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston (Actors)
  • Roman Polanski (Director)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank is a 1967 British crime drama film directed by John Boorman.

The film stars Lee Marvin as Walker, a criminal who tries to go straight but is forced back into the world of crime when his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) robs and kills their boss Mr. Walker (Arthur O’Connell).

Shot in black-and-white, Point Blank was written by Leo Gordon and Max Ehrlich from the novel A Gun for Sale by pulp writer David Goodis.

Point Blank
  • Jacobs, Alexander (Author)
  • French, Spanish (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Brick (2006)

Brick is a 2006 crime thriller film directed by Rian Johnson. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan Frye, a high school senior in the fictional California suburb of Brick.

His close friend, Michael (Matt O’Leary), commits suicide after being bullied and humiliated by jocks led by “Big” Earl (Lukas Haas).

Brendan’s subsequent investigation, in conjunction with his girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), leads him to discover that he and his friends are under surveillance by unknown persons who want to keep tabs on them.

The boys are usually seen hanging out on their porch, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. They also have a tendency to put themselves in dangerous situations because they don’t know how to handle violence or death.

Brick (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • Joseph Gordon_Levitt, Lukas Haas, Richard Roundtree (Actors)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Body Heat (1981)

This movie is about a detective who sets out to solve the murder of his partner’s ex-wife.

The film stars William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Ted Danson. It was released in 1981 and directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

This mystery/thriller has been praised for its witty dialogue that is both humorous and suspenseful at the same time.

Body Heat is a 1981 film directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It is an American neo-noir crime thriller about a man searching for the truth behind his wife’s death.

The protagonist, Ned Racine (William Hurt), has been framed for murder and he sets out to find the real killer with help from some unlikely allies.

This movie will keep you on your toes as it brilliantly explores themes like lust, greed, and betrayal in small-town America.

Fuego en el Cuerpo [Blu-ray]
  • Spanish, Portuguese (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple is a dark comedy thriller, set in Texas. It follows the story of two businessmen, Abby and Ray who hire ex-cop Marty to help them murder Abby’s husband for his money.

The film was released in 1984 by Joel and Ethan Coen. Blood Simple has been called “a study of human nature under stress” that explores the relationship between greed and violence.

This movie may have been created 30 years ago but its themes are still relevant today.

Blood Simple is a 1984 Coen Brothers film with suspense, dark humor, and violence. It tells the story of a bar owner who hires an unscrupulous private investigator to kill his wife’s lover.

The detective he hires then proceeds to murder him as well in order to cover up what he has done.

Blood Simple (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Frances McDormand, M. Emmet Walsh (Actors)
  • Ethan Coen (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Night Moves (1975)

Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is a quintessential example of 1970s Hollywood cinema, which emphasizes the dark side of life. It presents an image of America where violence and corruption are omnipresent.

The film subtly shows not only these aspects but also the resultant feelings they provoke in its characters with long shots that create distance between viewers and characters, often using light to silhouette figures rather than illuminate them.

This creates a feeling for viewers as though they are observing from afar rather than being a part of the action.

Furthermore, this depiction reinforces how society has changed over time by showing how different people react to similar situations in radically different ways depending on if they are rich or poor, white or black, male or female – all without judgment.

In the film Night Moves, Arthur Penn captures the essence of a man’s struggle to find his identity.

Night Moves [Blu-ray]
  • Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren (Actors)
  • Arthur Penn (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

The Late Show (1977)

The Late Show is a 1977 film noir written and directed by Robert Benton and produced by Robert Altman.

It stars Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy, Eugene Roche, Joanna Cassidy, Austin Pendleton, and John Considine.

The movie was very loosely based on the unpublished novel The Blackbird by Ross Thomas.

The story centers on aging private detective Ira Wells (Art Carney), who learns that he is dying of cancer and decides to take on one last case for a former client’s widow, Margo Sperling (Lily Tomlin).

This case involves a mysterious woman who claims to be the client’s daughter and her cat. At the time of its release, Benton reportedly said that he wrote the script “with Art Carney in mind from the beginning.”

Show Boat (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, Charles Winninger (Actors)
  • James Whale (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Grifters (1990)

The Grifters is a 1990 crime drama film by Stephen Frears, based on the novel of the same name by Jim Thompson.

The film stars Anjelica Huston and John Cusack as con artists Roy Dillon and Myra Langtry who travel to Los Angeles for another big swindle only to have their usual scam turn into something more dangerous.

The movie starts with two crooks: Myra (Anjelica Huston) and Roy (John Cusack), running scams in Phoenix, Arizona.

They make money from various cons like selling fake jewelry or pretending that they’re doctors in order to get people to buy medicines that they don’t need.

The Grifters
  • Annette Bening, Anjelica Huston, John Cusack (Actors)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Common Motifs Of Neo-Noir Movies

Neo-noir is a sub-genre of film that relies on visual aspects and the dark themes which were introduced with Noir films.

Neo-Noirs often focus on the gritty underbelly of society, and are told in an unsettling way.

One major motif present in neo-noirs is violence, as it tends to happen more often than it does in other genres.

However, neo-noirs also tend to be less graphic than their predecessors because there are limitations for what can be shown on screen due to censorship laws.

The neo-noir genre is a film genre marked by black and white cinematography, harsh lighting, and films that are set in urban landscapes.

Neo-noir movies are typically fraught with moody, shadowy characters and themes of revenge.

They often have a gritty or dark feel to them that is mirrored by the urban setting in which they take place.

The protagonist’s quest for justice drives the story forward while also revealing how morally corrupt society has become.

One common motif found within neo-noir films is the femme fatale who tempts the male protagonist into a life of crime.

Noir is a genre of cinematic expression that has been around since the 1940s. Noir movies often use common motifs to create an atmosphere of crime, corruption, and social distrust.

The films usually have a dark mood or ambiance as well as low-key lighting techniques.

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