5 Great Neo-Noir Movies You Must See

Seedy underbellies, anti-heroes, plot twists and moral corruption: you can’t have a film noir without these can you? These highly-stylised crime dramas, which grew out of the 1940s “classic period”, are still alive today, thanks to some creative directors.

To clear up any misconceptions, neo-noir is contemporary film noir, with updated themes and content, but they have the same dark aesthetic. Without further rambling, let’s take a look at some of the best neo-noir movies since the turn of the century.

Insomnia (2002)


Insomnia, (a remake of the Scandinavian film of the same name) is a good place to start when talking about neo-noir. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dark crime films about homicide detectives. Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer, a veteran cop who is sent to Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenage girl.

It’s a role Pacino can do in his sleep at this point, though his character doesn’t do a whole lot of it, as he suffers from insomnia. Robin Williams gives a sinister performance as the antagonist Walter Finch, who develops an unusual relationship with Dormer.

This is a Christopher Nolan movie, his simplest to date. There’s no dream-within-a-dream, like in Inception or a nonlinear narrative as in The Prestige. It’s a police procedural. That’s it. But it’s very gripping, well acted and excellently shot.

Shutter Island (2010)

DiCaprio in Shutter Island

There are four or five films before The Revenant, that Leonardo DiCaprio deservedly should have won an Oscar for – Shutter Island is one. He plays a US Marshall who is investigating the disappearance of a patient at a psychiatric hospital. It’s classic film noir wrapped up in a modern style.

It’s set in the 1950s so it plays out like a classic film noir would, with two detectives involved in a mystery. The film is very aware of the fact that it’s harking back to classic noir, as can be seen by the good and bad motif, which is central to the narrative. It is a great film and worth seeing twice.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the darkest films out there, regardless of it being part of the neo noir world in general. It’s a strange but ingenious film with Daniel Craig playing Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who is tasked with finding out what happened to a woman who disappeared 40 years prior.

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a young computer hacker joins Martin in the investigation. It’s directed by David Fincher, so like Seven, it involves a serial killer and lots of uncertainty. Although it’s brutal, it has great characters built around a complex plot and the end result is captivating.

Nightcrawler (2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcralwer

Nightcrawler is a spine-chiller, serving as both a straight thriller and a neo-noir. It’s not as clear as a throwback, like the other entries on this list, but it does make for an excellent modern day LA neo-noir and it’s a quality film in general. With Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a freelance journo who sells his recordings of grisly crimes to a news station, the film critiques the relationship between the media and consumer demand.

There’s a lot of dark comedy and off-beat humour. At heart, it’s is about a guy who takes his job too far to the point where it destroys his humanity. The focus is always on Lou Bloom: a sociopathic vigilante that gets more out of control as the story wears on, but we root for him all the way.

The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys

If you need some comedy amidst the darkness, then The Nice Guys is a must-see. I have a lot of love for this movie, which is a mash-up of buddy comedy and neo-noir action. It has all the ingredients for a nerve-wracking mystery, but it just happens to have a mismatched pair of detectives, who scuzzy around trying to crack the case involving the death of a porn star and a missing girl.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play the leads and they’re completely on the money with their performances. If you like weird dialogue and strange, comical situations, you’re in the right place. Channelling that 1970s LA vibe, it’s quite different to a lot of modern films these days. Watch it and you’ll get something unique.


You don’t necessarily have to agree with this list, as it’s my personal opinion, but hey, I’m all ears for disagreements. But all these films received rave reviews from critics when they were released. Of course, there are many more great neo-noir films, but for efficiency sake, I’ve listed a strong five.

So, what do you think of the list? What’s your favourite neo-noir/crime film? Let me know in the comment section!


9 thoughts on “5 Great Neo-Noir Movies You Must See

  1. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive would be my favorite of the new century. That movie was absolutely amazing. I REALLY need to get my shit together and finally watch Dragon Tattoo though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great list. All excellent films but ‘Nightcrawler’ is a bona-fide neo-noir classic and I still cannot believe Jake Gyllenhaal DID NOT get more awards for his performance.

    I love that scene in ‘Insomnia’ where Pacino’s cop – with the sun blazing outside – does not realise it’s nearly midnight.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome list, Liam. Nightcrawler is probably one of my favourite movies of the last 5 years. It also shows Gyllenhaal from a very unusual side since in last years he mostly played minimal and reserved characters. All others are good too.

    But I don’t really agree on “The Girl with…” – the original Swedish version with Noomi Rapace was so brilliant. Just no need for a remake.

    P. S. Did you see the latest dystopia with Noomi Rapace where she’s playing seven characters?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t seen the remake but fair enough if you didn’t like the American version. They often change things up in remakes. I haven’t seen that one, but I read your review, it sounds very interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

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