10 Gripping Neo-Noirs You Must See Before You Die

Miserable worldviews and doomed protagonists are the order of the day for this enigmatic movement.

Chinatown Jack Nicholson Faye Dunaway
Paramount Pictures

Like classic film noir before it, the dark and dangerous world of neo-noir is a vast, fascinating genre. Featuring sinister settings and muddied morals, the darkness of the human soul is examined to reveal a host of uncomfortable truths.

However, what exactly constitutes neo-noir can be a little difficult to pin down. The term is bandied about carelessly, being applied to almost any modern crime thriller. Some argue it's simply a stylistic process or an exercise in nostalgia. One plausible description lies in its relationship with classic film noir: whilst the older genre was dark and complex, the Hays Code dictated that good would always triumph, and that no crime would go unpunished.

Neo-noir, free of such shackles, was able to subvert such disingenuous ideals and present works with a bleak, pessimistic outlook. With a more outward-looking lens, the genre has a more sociological bent than its psychologically focused predecessor, performing a graphic autopsy on a rotten world where justice is rarely served.

Since the genre's rise in the 1970s, its own sub-genres have emerged. Blade Runner, a masterpiece which needs no introduction, is considered to have spawned the genre of cyberpunk by virtue of being a neo-noir set in a grim future dystopia. Cyberpunk has, of course, spawned endless derivatives: steampunk, dieselpunk, clockpunk, biopunk, bananapunk - the list is endless.

So with this understanding that neo-noir is an admittedly vague term, let's wade through the murky waters and at least try to dredge up some of the best the genre has to offer.

10. The Long Goodbye

Chinatown Jack Nicholson Faye Dunaway
United Artists

Released just a year before the genre-defining Chinatown, The Long Goodbye could be argued to be more of an anti-noir than a neo-noir. Directed by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman and adapted from Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel of the same name, Altman seems to take great pleasure in tearing down every genre convention and cliché that had become stale in film noir over the last 40 years.

Here, Chandler's iconic gumshoe Phillip Marlowe is reimagined as a man seemingly out of time. A dishevelled, shambling anachronism, he feels like a man of the 1950s exhaustedly navigating a decadent, self-obsessed Hollywood. He's not without his wit and brilliant investigative skills, however, solving what seems like the primary case before the day is out and effortlessly snarking at gangsters and their goons even when he's on the back foot.

Upon the film's release, critics were horrified by what they saw as an attack by Altman on an author and a beloved character. Over time, however, the film has been recognised as a seminal deconstructive work, de-romanticising the detective genre and paving the way for film noir's evolution into neo-noir. Its gorgeous cinematography, blackly comic tone and endearing central performance from Elliott Gould make it an infinitely watchable satire.

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