Film Noir is a genre of stylish crime dramas, difficult to define, but the 1940's and 50's were the classic period. Whether works since then can be accurately classed as Noir is a subject of much debate among film critics. Film Noir, and the literature from which it is drawn, is clearly the progenitor of later genres, particularly Cyberpunk.
Common subjects of noir films include murder investigations, heists, con games, and (mostly) innocent men or women Wrongly Accused of crime. The double-cross and cigarette smoking are mandatory. Complicated plots are further convoluted by Flashbacks and Flash Forwards—the narration tying everything together, assuming we can trust him.
Noir, in the classic and stylistic sense, is visually darker than your average gangster picture, playing with light and long, deep shadows instead of bright, documentary-styled camera work. This visual motif is so iconic that homages and parodies are almost universally Deliberately Monochrome, using a transition between colour and black and white where necessary. Scenes are often filmed on location, and night scenes are shot at night. Camera angles are often very creative and unusual, heightening the viewers sense of unease, adding to the atmosphere. The contrast between light and dark is sometimes used in the cinematography to reflect the difference between the villain and the protagonist(s). the combination of brooding sets with convoluted plots and you have the basis of the genre-defining works. It rains every night in Film Noir; filmmakers admit that this is entirely because at night wet pavement looks cooler than dry. Also, the rain makes it plausible that no one else is around.
The Anti-Hero is the most common protagonist of the Noir—a man alienated from society, suffering an existential crisis. Frequently portrayed as a disillusioned, cynical police officer or private-eye and played by a fast-talking actor, the Anti-Hero is no fool and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He faces morally ambiguous decisions and battles with a world that seems like it is out to get him and/or those closest to him.
The setting is often a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere), with Mexico often playing a big role. Familiar haunts include dimly-lit bars, nightclubs filled with questionable clientele (including, the Gayngster) whom the lead may intimidate for information, gambling dens, juke joints and the ubiquitous seedy waterfront warehouse. At night in the big city, you can bet the streets are slick with rain, reflecting streetlights like a Hopper painting. Most of the characters (including the lead) are cynical, misanthropical and hopeless all the way through the film, and never find true redemption.
The tone and outlook of Film Noir must be bleak, defeatist, and pessimistic—it always suggests a sliminess beyond what it can show. Nobody gets what they want, and everyone gets what's coming to them. Characters are often armed -- revolvers, Colt 1911s, and if they need More Dakka, tommy guns. They'll probably wear a Fedora or trilby hat with a trench coat. Frequently the ending will be low-key and leave no one character happy or fulfilled. Commonly, there is also a great deal of sexual tension between the hero and the female lead; Noir stories are quite risqué. The original Film Noir era followed the Hays Code, so the odds of a female lead removing her clothing are minimal. This applies to modern versions; gratuitous nudity or scenes of excessive violence are hinted at rather than portrayed. It is often what is not seen that adds to the mystery and suspense.
Film Noir works are often low on exposition to heighten tension, keeping the audience guessing until the final unraveling. The conclusion takes place in the closing moments, ties up all the loose ends, answers many (if not all) of the major questions and keeps the morally ambiguous theme of the work intact. These factors contribute to the widely-held opinion that Film Noir works are among the best artistic works of all time despite their grim settings and contemptible characters.
Characters and Character Tropes
- Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop
- The Chanteuse
- The Cynic
- Deadpan Snarker
- Detective Animal
- Dirty Cop
- Femme Fatale
- Hardboiled Detective
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Knight in Sour Armor
- The Mafia and other organized crime.
- The Snark Knight
- Deliberately Monochrome
- Dutch Angle
- Emerging From the Shadows
- Everybody Smokes
- Going by the Matchbook
- Gray Rain of Depression
- Private Eye Monologue
- Smoking Is Cool
- Sympathy for the Devil
- Weather Report Narration
A common form of Something Completely Different is the Noir Episode—a work spends a single episode homaging or parodying Film Noir style (or just has everyone wearing trilbies and talking about the rain, in black and white). See also our So You Want To Write a Film Noir guide.
Film, Literature and Western Animation
Frequently Referenced "Classic" Noirs
- Stranger On The Third Floor (1940)
- The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- This Gun For Hire (1942)
- Casablanca (1943)
- Double Indemnity (1944)
- Laura (1944)
- Murder My Sweet (1944)
- Detour (1945)
- The Blue Dahlia (1946)
- The Big Sleep (1946)
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
- The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers (1946)
- Gilda (1946)
- Out Of The Past (1947)
- The Lady From Shanghai (1947)
- Nightmare Alley (1947)
- Key Largo (1948)
- The Third Man (1949)
- White Heat (1949)
- The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
- In a Lonely Place (1950)
- Sunset Boulevard (1950)
- Dead On Arrival (1950)(Source of the above picture)
- The Big Combo (1955)
- Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
- The Killing (1956)
- Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
- The Wrong Man (1957)
- Touch of Evil (1958)
Post-Classic & Neo-Noir
- Breathless (1960)
- Shoot The Piano Player (1960)
- Brainstorm (1965)
- Le Samourai (1967). Anything directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
- Taggart (according to the French)
- Point Blank (1967)
- Bullitt (1968)
- Klute (1971)
- The Long Goodbye (1973)
- Chinatown (1974)
- The Drowning Pool (1975)
- Night Moves (1975)
- Taxi Driver (1976).
- Body Heat (1981)
- Blade Runner (1982), one of the most influential examples of Cyberpunk showing its Noir pedigree.
- Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1983) is an Affectionate Parody of Noir.
- The Element of Crime (1984) is simultaneously a Homage and a Deconstruction of the genre.
- Blood Simple (1985)
- Angel Heart (1987) combines Noir with horror to stunning effect.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
- Miller's Crossing (1990)
- Batman: The Animated Series (1992) and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
- Red Rock West (1992)
- The Last Seduction (1994)
- Se7en (1995)
- The Usual Suspects (1995), whose title comes from a famous line in Casablanca.
- Heat (1995)
- Clive Barker's Lord Of Illusions (1995) combines noir elements with Lovecraftian body horror.
- Bound (1996)
- Mulholland Falls (1996)
- L.A. Confidential (1997)
- The Big Lebowski (1998) is a simultaneous Homage to and parody of Film Noir specific tropes.
- This is known as "Parody of Reaffirmation", like Weird Al parodying music, but at the same time is making music, or Scream parodying horror movies, all the while being a horror movie.
- Following (1998) Christopher Nolan's directorial debut is the British (somewhat subverted) version of the Film Noir standard.
- Dark City (1998)
- The Matrix (1999) hardly pure noir but has strong elements of it. The sequels, much less so.
- The Thirteenth Floor (1999) is noir through and through, right down to the music and the dress styles.
- Payback (1999)
- The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
- Brick (2005), which is interestingly set in a High School. It also uses 1930s slang so thick you might need a translator.
- Sin City (2005), which is the genre's conventions turned Up to Eleven.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) throws in a heavy dose of comedy.
- Renaissance (2006) (Black & white CG movie set in Paris, IN THE FUTURE)
- The Empire State Building Murders (2006) uses Talking Heads and film noir clips to tell its own noir story.
- The Bourne Series (2002-2007) has a heavy neo-noir feel in many scenes
- Fight Club (1999)
- Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008)
- Road to Perdition (2002)
- The Spirit (2008). Oh man, The Spirit.
- Public Enemies (2009)
- Winter's Bone (2010) is an example of Neo-Realist Noir, setting a missing persons case in the isolated and meth-ravaged communities of the Ozarks.
- Drive (2011)
Anime and Manga
- The Big O
- Cowboy Bebop
- Ergo Proxy. Especially the first few episodes.
- Ghost in The Shell
- Darker than Black. It's the real deal, but the character of Gai Kurasawa (a private detective), is used to parody it.
- Speed Grapher is set in a Tokyo which is a City Noir teaming with corruption and has its hero in Intrepid Reporter Saiga who is a good example of a Knight in Sour Armor.
- Monster has some elements of this trope.
- One Hundred Bullets
- Sin City
- Dogby Walks Alone - parodied by being placed in a Theme Park setting.
- The Marvel Noir line. Changes to Wolverine, for example, include his signature claws actually being handheld Japanese weapons. Naturally, there's a different version of Logan on the X-Men. In normal Marvel continuity, such street-level heroes as Daredevil, Moon Knight and the Punisher have all had runs or story arcs that followed many noir conventions.
- Blacksad - An anthropomorphic detective series, that follows the stories of John Blacksad.
- The Damned - A detective cursed to never die working for demonic(literally demons) gang bosses in the midst of a war with a rival organization.
- The third series of X-Factor features Jamie Madrox's attempt at a noir mutant detective agency.
- Criminal by Ed Brubaker.
- Sleeper by Ed Brubaker.
- Incognito by Ed Brubaker.
- Brian Michael Bendis's Alias by Ed Brubaker.
- Watchmen contains significant noir elements.
- The aptly named Coruscant Noir.
- A Dark Knight Over Sin City
- There's an ongoing Homestuck fanfic called Cities in Dust: shit lets be hardboiled that puts the characters in a Noir AU.
- Nights in the Big City
- Dial M For Mutant puts the characters of X-Men: First Class into the noir setting, complete with copious use of 30's/40's slang.
- Calvin and Hobbes The Series sometimes uses this, resulting in an Out-of-Genre Experience.
- Most of Lawrence Block's work, Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries in particular.
- The Garrett P.I. novels by Glen Cook, Nero Wolfe in a gritty fantasy world.
- The novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Jim Thompson.
- The Dresden Files, which is Noir meets Urban Fantasy.
- And The Automatic Detective is Noir meets Raygun Gothic.
- Felidae is a Film Noir WITH CATS.
Live Action TV
- Veronica Mars somehow effectively used this style in a San Diego high school setting.
- Charmed had an episode based around a book taking them to a place with this style.
- An episode of Moonlighting did this well.
- Smallville had a Jimmy centric episode set in a noir dream sequence.
- Other than being set in Hawaii, Magnum, P.I. tended this was as well, complete with Private Eye Monologue.
- Kamen Rider Double is based on Noir.
- The BBC two part Drama "Exile"
- Peter Gunn
- The Shadow Line is heavily inspired by Film Noir, borrowing many plot elements and a very dark and cynical tone.
- Season 5, episode 10 of Monk, "Mr. Monk and the Leper," was filmed as a noir, and there are both color and black and white versions, which were shown back-to-back when the episode premiered (the B&W version aired first).
- Angel was heavily influenced by Film Noir, mostly up to about half way through the third season, but it retained certain Film Noir traits until the very end, such as the moral abiguity. The final scene of the show is in the classic Film Noir setting of rainy alleyway.
- Tex Murphy (1996)
- Grim Fandango (1998)
- The Black Dahlia (1998) - correct setting, period clothes and corny dialogue to boot.
- Discworld Noir (1999) - Exactly What It Says on the Tin
- Max Payne (2001) - Also a movie
- Its sequel even used the tagline "A Film Noir Love Story". Which is somewhat ironic, given that the protagonist is much less cynical jaded in the sequel than in the original.
- Deja Vu
- Jack Orlando: A Graphic Adventure
- Dead Head Fred
- Gabriel Knight Sins of The Fathers Combines Noir with horror much the same way as the film Angel Heart.
- The Thief series (1998- ). Dear God, the Thief series...
- Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2006) and it's sequel, Last Window (2010)
- Heavy Rain (2010)
- The later Hitman games start to veer into this territory by virtue of Growing the Beard and aiming for a more Darker and Edgier feel. Several missions in the third and fourth game (Contracts and Blood Money) have a genuinely noir tone.
- L.A. Noire (2011) fittingly enough.
- The Shivah, by Wadjet Eye Games
- Emerald City Confidential is described by the producer as follows: 'Harsh city streets, grey rainy skies, femmes fatales, tough guys, trenchcoats, fedoras and plot twists. It's Oz, seen through the eyes of Raymond Chandler'.
- Blackwell Legacy uses some elements of the noir (one of the protagonists is a Deadpan Snarker ghost from the 30's). People in Wadjed Eye Games must really like this genre.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution (2011) consists of both Film Noir and Cyberpunk (à la Blade Runner).
- Deus Ex (2000) also heavily borrows from the noir aesthetics and narrative structure. Technically, this is a noir game with government agent and conspirators replacing more common private dick and crooks.
- By virtue of evoking late 80s scifi movies, Mass Effect 2 evokes this in parts, especially on Omega, Ilium and the Citadel. Thane and Samara's loyalty missions are even investigations with much less action than the rest of the game (oddly enough, both characters are stoic badasses with philosophical sides).
- Blade Runner (1997) follows the movie with its distinctive noir feeling mixed with s-f settings.
- Carte Blanche: For a Fistful of Teeth. Bonus points for black-and-white graphics.
- Automata, and it's sequel Blood and Oil; two short stories created by the Penny Arcade duo. 
- A shortlived webcomic placed Lawrence Talbot into a film noir setting. Fridge Brilliance, as Talbot's whole bag has always been existential angst.
- Living with Insanity did this in its most recent arc.
- Two Rooks combines crime noir with a dystopian setting.
- Sin Titulo definitely has noir undertones (and it uses color very sparingly).
- The 2007 Hollywood Portfolio of Vanity Fair magazine set up a faux noir film called "Killers Kill, Dead Men Die" to accompany the series of photos taken, complete with casting and set descriptions in the captions.
Spoofs and Parodies
- Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
- Play It Again, Sam (1972), a Woody Allen film that matches up Allen's "neurotic Jew" character with Humphrey Bogart. Hilarity Ensues.
- Problem Sleuth, at least setting-wise, plays with the genre and its tropes in part. The bulk of the work is an incredibly silly take on the Eastern RPG, but it's decidedly within a Film Noir framework. And when it does noir, oh, it does noir.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an Affectionate Parody with a surprisingly happy ending.
- The Tracer Bullet stories in Calvin and Hobbes.
- Sam and Max Freelance Police, especially with the character Flint Paper.
- In Sam and Max Freelance Police Season 3: Episode 3, Max gets murdered and Sam has an 'embarrassing noirish rampage' that turns the game into a Film Noir spoof for a while, down to the lighting and the camera angles in the cutscenes. Highlights include Sam demonstrating his edgy true-to-life violence by slapping people in the face mid sentence and having a 'Noir' option during conversations which causes him to give a largely incoherent metaphorical description about how amoral and miserable he is.
- Less spoof than reference, but Tyrell Badd of Ace Attorney Investigations is a blatant noir detective down to the stubble, trenchcoat, and tragic past.
- The Black Bird is a film spoof of The Maltese Falcon without much originality.
- Rock Slyde (2009) is a modern film-noir parody starring Patrick Warburton as "Rock Slyde", private-eye and former homosexual-pirate musical-pornstar.
- One of the scenarios in the Artificial Reality machine in Red Dwarf is a film noir setting, complete with monochrome, a Femme Fatale, Al Capone-style outfits and a car from the 30s.