25 Noir Films That Will Stand the Test of Time: A List by “Noirchaelogist” Eddie Muller

Alain Silver, editor of the Film Noir Reader, dates “the classic era of film noir” to “a fifteen year span from You Only Live Once (1937) to Where Danger Lives (1952).” But films as early as Fritz Lang’s 1931 M are discussed in noir terms, and the aesthetic persists, if only in homage or parody, as in the obvious noir take-off Sin City. Roger Ebert concisely defined the genre in a short list of ten essential features. Despite its French name and stylistically German origins, Ebert called it “the most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.”
Whatever the genre’s boundaries, I think it’s safe to say that film noir‘s history rests in good hands. The Film Noir Foundation has dedicated itself to “rescuing and restoring America’s Film Noir Heritage”; Film Noir Studiesaims to be a critical resource for students, scholars, and fans alike. And perhaps best of all, we have Eddie Muller—self-described “wordslinger, impresario, noirchaelogist”—on the case. A very noir-ish character himself, Muller, a seasoned San Francisco reporter, barfly, boxing enthusiast, and adult film historian, defines film noir as “the flip side of the all-American success story.”
It’s about people who realize that following the program will never get them what they crave. So they cross the line, commit a crime and reap the consequences. Or, they’re tales about seemingly innocent people tortured by paranoia and ass-kicked by Fate. Either way, they depict a world that’s merciless and unforgiving. 
On his site, Muller has compiled a list of “25 noir films that will stand the test of time.” His picks range from acknowledged classics like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard to lesser-known pictures like Raw Deal. Below, I’ve listed his favorites in the reverse order he prefers. Calling his list “Endless Night,” Muller asks us to “take this with a grain of salt” and to “consider the listing a sort of carnival barometer, ranging from INFATUATED to PASSIONATE.”
25. Raw Deal (Eagle-Lion, 1948) – Available on YouTube

24. City that Never Sleeps (Republic, 1952)

23. Touch of Evil (Universal, 1958)

22. Scarlet Street (Universal, 1945) – Available on Open Culture or watch above
21. Detour (PRC, 1945) – Available on Open Culture
20. Tomorrow is Another Day (Warner Bros., 1951)
19. The Prowler (United Artists, 1950)
18. Gun Crazy (United Artists, 1950)
17. Act of Violence (MGM, 1949)
16. Odds Against Tomorrow (United Artists, 1959)
15. The Killing (United Artists, 1956)
14. They Live By Night (RKO, 1949)
13. Thieves’ Highway (20th Century-Fox, 1949)
12. Sweet Smell of Success (United Artists, 1958)
11. The Killers (Universal, 1946)
10. Moonrise (Republic, 1948) – Available on YouTube
9.  Out of the Past (RKO, 1947)
8.  Night and the City (20th Century-Fox, 1950)
7.  Nightmare Alley (20th Century-Fox, 1947)
6.  The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros., 1941)
5.  Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1944)
4.  The Asphalt Jungle (MGM, 1950)
3.  Sunset Boulevard (Paramount, 1950)
2.  Criss Cross (Universal, 1949)
1.  In a Lonely Place (Columbia, 1950—free for U.S. viewers on Crackle

See Muller’s original article for his priceless commentary on each film. And if his list piques your interest, be sure to visit our considerable collection offree online film noir classics, all otherwise found in our collection of 635Free Movies Online.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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