As I’ve mentioned countless times, I’m a massive noir fan and I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a very long time but I never had the guts. Simply because it’s such a massive undertaking and I didn’t want to commit myself like that. However, it’s something that I knew I had to do sooner or later, and since Noirvember is totally a thing, I feel like this is the perfect time to do it. So here they are, my top 20 favorite noirs.
But before that, here are a few things I have to tell you about this list:
- This is my personal list of favorite films noir. I am not claiming these are the 20 best noirs ever and this is NOT an objective list. It’s very subjective and very personal, so please respect my choices.
- I haven’t seen every single film noir ever made (although that is one of my life goals), so obviously this list is open for an update in the future
- For me, there are a few films that I don’t consider to be noirs, even though I acknowledge that they certainly have noir elements, and they will not be included – even if I love them regardless -, such as Johnny Guitar (1954), which is mostly a Western or Rififi (1955), which is mostly a heist movie. The films that made it onto the shortlist and then onto the list are as close to the accepted definition of film noir as possible. Otherwise, every single movie ever made would be up for debate!
- I have seen 46 films noir, so there are 26 that will not be on this list. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it’s just that these are my absolute favorites.
- I also didn’t love/like EVERY noir I’ve seen
- Neo-noirs will not be included, not because I don’t like them – many of them are some of my favorite movies, period, and I actually wrote a film noir screenplay, which if it gets made, it’s inevitably going to be called neo-noir -, but I am just trying to keep the list – and the blog – in the Classic Hollywood era.
- As always, you’re more than welcome to share your thoughts, post your personal favorites and ask me about any film noir that wasn’t on the list. 😀
OK, here we go!
20. The Lady from Shanghai (1948)
Dir. Orson Welles
The Lady from Shanghai screams noir from start to finish. And I love the chemistry between Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.
19. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Dir. John Huston
The best thing for me are the performances. Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are all fantastic, not to mention the awesome Elisha Cook Jr, who just makes any movie better just by being in it.
18. The Third Man (1949)
Dir. Carol Reed
Everything about The Third Man is iconic: Orson Welles’ entrance, the Ferris wheel scene, the cat, the music… you name it.
17. The Naked City (1948)
Dir. Jules Dassin
I often refer to this film as ‘the most influential film that gets mentioned the least’. Every shot in it has been re-created in later films, but somehow it continues to be underrated.
16. The Big Sleep (1946)
Dir. Howard Hawks
I’m not going to lie to you, I also have no idea what goes on in this film. Nobody does. However, it looks great and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall have the best chemistry ever.
15. Mildred Pierce (1945)
Dir. Michael Curtiz
Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning performance (the only one on the entire list) is, to use a cliché, out of this world. And Ann Blyth plays one of the most detestable characters in all of movie history to perfection.
14. Crossfire (1947)
Dir. Edward Dmytryk
One of the tightest screenplays ever. It’s just an incredible murder mystery with a plot twist that transcends noir and turns Crossfire into a ‘film with a message’, if you will.
13. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Dir. Lewis Milestone
There’s something very, very compelling and fascinating about this movie that is hard to explain. It just draws you in all the way.
12. Touch of Evil (1958)
Dir. Orson Welles
As visually impressive as you’d expect from an Orson Welles movie. Often called ‘the last noir’, Touch of Evil is the perfect farewell to an era.
11. Gilda (1946)
Dir. Charles Vidor
First of all, Rita Hayworth should have been nominated for an Oscar. Secondly, Gilda and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have an electrifying love-hate relationship and I honestly this is the sexiest movie ever.
10. The Big Heat (1953)
Dir. Fritz Lang
I find Glenn Ford’s Dave Bannion to be the nicest, most sympathetic main character in any noir. This is the ‘noir with a heart’ in my opinion. Oh and I love Gloria Grahame.
9. Pickup on South Street (1953)
Dir. Samuel Fuller
Dark, gritty and full of shadows. Richard Widmark and Jean Peters have a ridiculously hot chemistry and I so wish they had made more movies together!
8. The Big Combo (1955)
Dir. Joseph H. Lewis
The most underrated movie ever, in my opinion and certainly one of the best noirs, with one of the best performances, Richard Conte as Mr Brown.
7. The Killers (1946)
Dir. Robert Siodmak
I saw this on the big screen and it was quite an experience. It’s an absolutely fantastic movie with the greatest opening sequence of all noirs.
6. Notorious (1946)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Devlin and Alicia’s relationship is the yin to Johnny and Gilda’s yang. Both, to me, are the best love-hate relationships, but this is the sweeter one of the two and it always melts my heart. It’s simultaneously unusual for a noir and for a Hitchcock film. And it works wonderfully.
5. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Dir. Alexander McKendrick
The most quotable movie on the list. Tony Curtis gives one of his best performances as Sidney Falco (great name), who is not the type of character that you’d normally empathize with, but boy, don’t you? I actually feel sorry for him and I know that maybe I’m not supposed to.
4. Laura (1944)
Dir. Otto Preminger
The perfect movie to watch on a rainy day. Amazing story, great performances, and an atmosphere that is so noir-ish, you just want to touch it.
3. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Dir. Billy Wilder
Hands down, one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s often considered a noir, but it is so much more than that. There’s nothing left for me to say about Sunset Blvd.
2. Out of the Past (1947)
Dir. Jacques Tourneur
The noirest of all noirs. In fact, it’s so noir, it almost looks like it was made for the sole purpose of showing an uninformed alien what a film noir is. It’s simply brilliant.
Before I reveal my number 1 film noir, here are some that I love but didn’t quite make the cut: Fallen Angel (1945), Leave her to Heaven (1945), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), In a Lonely Place (1950), D. O. A. (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), among many others.
1. Double Indemnity (1944)
Dir. Billy Wilder
Always. It’s just the best noir for me. It has always been my favorite and it always will be. It set the standard and, in my opinion, no noir has ever touched it.
So there you have it, folks! Hope you enjoyed the list and if you haven’t seen some of these, I obviously recommend them. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!