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What Is the Neo-Noir Definition? And What are Some Essential Examples?

You don’t need a detective to figure out the meaning of neo-noir. 

Hollywood exists in movements. We often see movies that are popular come and go or get reinvented when a new generation rises to power. One of those cycles came from noir, a popular genre in the early days of Hollywood that came back in the 70s and 80s as neo-noir

But what’s the definition of neo-noir? And are they still making those kinds of movies today? 

Today, we will go over the meaning, examples, filmmaking lessons, and essential films within the genre. I want to look at its origins, extrapolate meaning, and go over the details that will make you an expert in the movement. 

So gather your detective knowledge, check your social mores at the door, and watch out for femme fatales. It’s noir time. 


‘Brick’Credit: Focus Features

What Is the Neo-Noir Definition? And What Are Some Essential Examples? 

Are you a noir fan?

I remember the first time I saw one of the films from the 30s and how much I loved the low-key lighting, the story twists, and hard-boiled detectives. But as the movies have changed, so has the definition of film noir. 

Neo-Noir Meaning and Origin

You cannot have a neo-noir without film noir.

The term film noir came from the French for “black film” (literal) or “dark film” (closer meaning). French critic Nino Frank coined the term in 1946, but most people didn’t acknowledge it until later. The term is usually identified with a visual style that emphasizes low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions. Noir films usually deal with things outside of the mainstream, like grisly murders, gangsters, and gothic romances. Many times they focus on social problems and can have melodramatic overtones. 

The term film noir was popularized in 1955 by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton. They said it covered crime and gangster films of the 1940s and 1950s produced in the United States (among other places) and adopted 1920s/1930s Art Deco visual stylings.

Film noir ended in 1959. Everything that came after was neo-noir. 


‘Blood Simple’Credit: River Road

Neo-Noir Definition 

Neo-noir is the reimagining of the genre of film noir. 

Neo-noir comes from the Greek “neo,” meaning new. So, “new noir.”

Mark Conard defines neo-noir as “any film coming after the classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility.” It refers to noir films made after the 50s, particularly in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, through today.  

How Can You Identify a Neo-Noir Film? 

One of the most difficult things about noir is that there is no strict definition. You have to see it to understand it. They were black and white detective pictures in the old days, but as the definition evolved, so did the directors and their stories. Some ways to pull out neo-noir films from the crowd are the use of tilted camera angles, the interplay of light and shadows, and obviously unbalanced framing.

You can also rely on violence, sex, moral ambiguity, and criminal activity to be at the center of the story.  

neo noir definition and meaning

‘Blade Runner’Credit: 20th Century Fox

Why Filmmakers Love Neo-Noir

So much of the joy of writing and directing is taking the lessons you may have gleaned from the stories of the past. Writing and directing neo-noir allows filmmakers to pay homage to the greats of the past, while reinventing the genre for themselves, using their own voices to riff on what came before them. 

It also allows them to play in stuff outside the mainstream. They can experiment with film lighting, camera angles, cast against type, dig into dark territories, and talk about social problems that can echo through generations. 

The pioneers of noir are also some of the most famous filmmakers of all time, so you get a chance to walk in their shoes. Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, and many other famous directors made their mark on the industry through this genre. They allowed us to be involved in mysteries and thrillers all juxtaposed with the underbelly of America.  

In neo-noir you get to use a lot of colors as well. It even has broken into its own offshoot, neon-noir, which replaces the black and white or stark images with bright colors and fantastical sets. You can constantly keep inventing and changing the story as you go. 

neo noir definition and meaning

‘Chinatown’Credit: Paramount Pictures

Neo-Noir on Television 

Lest you think movies are the only outlet for neo-noir, we also see it on TV all the time. Shows like True Detective and Mare of Easttown use typical noir plot points to plan out who seasons worth of character arcs and MacGuffins. 

You typically see this in detective TV shows, but you can also see it in a comedy like Bored to Death, which follows private investigators, or even in the reimagining of old intellectual property, like the remake of Perry Mason

Let me know your favorite noir TV shows in the comments. 

neo noir definition and meaning

‘Bored to Death’Credit: HBO

The 10 Best Neo-Noir Films and Other Examples 

For this section, I want to look at neo-noir films I think are essential to understanding the genre as a whole. I didn’t include many new ones—for those you’ll have to look at the list I’ll add below. But let’s go over what I deem to be the 10 best neo-noir films ever made. 

To start, I have a special love for John Boorman’s Point Blank. It has one of the coolest intercut tracking shots in film history and tells the story of a man just trying to get the money he’s owed after his wife and friend betray him. 

More on the contemporary side, I also love Rian Johnson’s Brick. This movie takes the old-timey speak and then adds it to a contemporary high school, where people are trying to figure out what happened to a classmate. 

I’m also a huge fan of Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat. It is a riff on Double Indemnity and uses the erotic thriller genre to expand on older tropes, allowing the audience to feel sleazy in the best way. 

neo noir definition and meaning

‘Body Heat’Credit: Warner Bros.

I also think Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Body Double should be studied in this list. It is his pastiche of Hitchcock homages, which features the underbelly of Los Angeles film production. Sort of a play on the movies that would come before and after. 

Many great filmmakers get their start in this genre too. The Coen brothers gave us Blood Simple, which also introduced us to Frances McDormand as she played someone trying to get rid of her husband. It also has a darkly hilarious death scene with a shovel. 

Curtis Hanson delivered his masterpiece, L.A. Confidential, in the mid-90s, seemingly reviving the genre once again. It gazed back at Hollywood and its superficiality and fame obsessions. 

I also can’t write this list without mentioning Blade Runner, a movie that took neo-noir into the future, tracking a detective hunting robots. This showed how flexible the genre could be and how filmmakers could truly make it their own. 

Still, 1970s hits like Chinatown also bolstered the roots of the genre as well, showing that the past was also fruitful to talk about the problems of today; greed, aristocracy, and violence. 

The Long Goodbye is the rare neo-noir that is set in that movie’s present, dealing with someone who goes missing again. Robert Altman was able to keep his auteur sensibilities inside the story and still have an entry that is considered one of the best all-time neo-noirs. 

Shane Black broke into the world writing scripts that could be classified as neo-noir, but I love his movie The Nice Guys, and think it belongs on this list because it shows how comedy still have a place within the hardboiled world, something that film noir never could have seen coming in the 1930s. 

That rounds out our top 10, but let’s dig deeper into a much more complete list of these kinds of films. 

neo noir definition and meaning

‘The Nice Guys’Credit: 20th Century Fox

List of 330 Neo-Noir Films

Wikipedia has a massive list of neo-noir titles from the 1960s all the way to today. But I wanted to put together one that you could pull from as a primer for where this story could go. So here are over 300+ neo-noir films for you to see how filmmakers reinvented aspects, tropes, and ideas.

  1. 12 Monkeys
  2. 25th Hour
  3. Aaranya Kaandam
  4. A Bittersweet Life
  5. Affliction
  6. After Dark, My Sweet
  7. A History of Violence
  8. A Kiss Before Dying
  9. Alois Nebel
  10. American Dreamer
  11. American Psycho
  12. A Morass
  13. Anon
  14. Anti Matter
  15. Arlington Road
  16. A Scanner Darkly
  17. A Simple Plan
  18. A Walk Among the Tombstones
  19. Bad Education
  20. Bad Influence
  21. Bad Lieutenant
  22. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
  23. Bad Times at the El Royale
  24. Basic Instinct
  25. Basic Instinct 2
  26. Batman Begins
  27. Batman Returns
  28. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  29. Best Laid Plans
  30. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
  31. Black Coal, Thin Ice
  32. Blade Runner 2049
  33. Blind Shaft
  34. Blink
  35. Blood and Wine
  36. Blue Ruin
  37. Blue Steel
  38. Bound
  39. Brawl in Cell Block 99
  40. Brick
  41. Broken City
  42. Bugsy
  43. Burning
  44. Caché
  45. Cape Fear
  46. Carlito’s Way
  47. China Moon
  48. Circus
  49. Cities of Last Things
  50. City of God
  51. Clockers
  52. Cold in July
  53. Collateral
  54. Cop Land
  55. Croupier
  56. Dark Blue
  57. Dark City
  58. Dark Country
  59. Dead Again
  60. Dead Man’s Shoes
  61. Dead Presidents
  62. Dead Time: Kala
  63. Deceiver
  64. Deception
  65. Deep Cover
  66. Deep Crimson
  67. Deep Crimson
  68. Delusion
  69. Derailed
  70. Desperate Hours
  71. Destroyer
  72. Detour
  73. Devil in a Blue Dress
  74. Diary of a Hitman
  75. Disappearance at Clifton Hill
  76. Donnie Brasco
  77. Dragged Across Concrete
  78. Drive
  79. Duplicity
  80. Earthquake Bird
  81. Eastern Promises
  82. El Aura
  83. El Patrullero
  84. Enough
  85. Ex Machina
  86. Face/Off
  87. Fallen Angels
  88. Fargo
  89. Fear
  90. Femme Fatale
  91. Fight Club
  92. Final Analysis
  93. Flesh and Bone
  94. Following
  95. Foreign Land
  96. Gattaca
  97. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
  98. Gloria
  99. Gone Baby Gone
  100. Gone Girl
  101. Good Time
  102. Guncrazy
  103. Hana-bi
  104. Hand Rolled Cigarette
  105. Hard Boiled
  106. Hard Eight
  107. Heat
  108. Heist
  109. Hell or High Water
  110. Hollywoodland
  111. Homicide
  112. Homicide
  113. Hostage
  114. I, Robot
  115. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead
  116. I’m Your Woman
  117. In Bruges
  118. Inception
  119. Infernal Affairs
  120. Inherent Vice
  121. Inside Man
  122. Insomnia
  123. Internal Affairs
  124. In the Cut
  125. In the Line of Fire
  126. In the Shadow
  127. In the Shadow of the Moon
  128. Jackie Brown
  129. Johnny Gaddaar
  130. John Wick
  131. John Wick: Chapter 2
  132. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
  133. Just Another Love Story
  134. Kill Bill: Volume 1
  135. Kill Bill: Volume 2
  136. Killer Joe
  137. Killing Them Softly
  138. King of New York
  139. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  140. Kiss of Death
  141. Kiss or Kill
  142. Klopka
  143. L.A. Confidential
  144. La Cérémonie
  145. Lady Vengeance
  146. La Femme Nikita
  147. La Haine
  148. Lantana
  149. Last Moment of Clarity
  150. Layer Cake
  151. Léon: The Professional
  152. Lethal Weapon 3
  153. Lethal Weapon 3
  154. Liebestraum
  155. Light Sleeper
  156. Live Flesh
  157. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
  158. Long Day’s Journey into Night
  159. Looper
  160. Lord of Illusions
  161. Lost Highway
  162. Lost River
  163. Love Crimes
  164. Lower City
  165. Lucky Number Slevin
  166. Lust, Caution
  167. Mad Detective
  168. Magical Girl
  169. Malice
  170. Max Payne
  171. Memento
  172. Memories of Murder
  173. Merci pour le chocolat
  174. Miami Blues
  175. Miami Vice
  176. Miller’s Crossing
  177. Million Dollar Baby
  178. Minority Report
  179. Mother
  180. Motherless Brooklyn
  181. Mulholland Drive
  182. Mulholland Falls
  183. Mute
  184. Mystic River
  185. Narc
  186. Narrow Margin
  187. New Jack City
  188. Night and the City
  189. Nightcrawler
  190. Nightmare Alley
  191. Night Train
  192. Nine Queens
  193. No Country For Old Men
  194. Nocturnal Animals
  195. No Sudden Move
  196. Oldboy
  197. One False Move
  198. Only God Forgives
  199. Out of Sight
  200. Out of Time
  201. Pacific Heights
  202. Palmetto
  203. Panic Room
  204. Paradox
  205. Payback
  206. Phoenix
  207. Pi
  208. Pickings
  209. Pocket Listing
  210. Point Break
  211. Poison Ivy
  212. Poodle Springs
  213. Prisoners
  214. Public Enemies
  215. Pulp Fiction
  216. Pusher
  217. Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands
  218. Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death
  219. Red Rock West
  220. Reindeer Games
  221. Renaissance
  222. Reservoir Dogs
  223. Revenge
  224. Ripley’s Game
  225. Road to Perdition
  226. Romeo Is Bleeding
  227. Rush
  228. Serenity
  229. Set It Off
  230. Seven
  231. Seven
  232. Sexy Beast
  233. Shallow Grave
  234. Shattered
  235. Shinjuku Incident
  236. Shutter Island
  237. Simpatico
  238. Simpatico
  239. Sin City
  240. Sleeping with the Enemy
  241. Sling Blade
  242. Sonatine
  243. Spring Breakers
  244. State of Play
  245. Strange Days
  246. Strangled
  247. Suspect Zero
  248. Suture
  249. Suzhou River
  250. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  251. Taniel
  252. The American
  253. The Assassination of Richard Nixon
  254. The Beat That My Heart Skipped
  255. The Big Lebowski
  256. The Black Dahlia
  257. The Bourne Identity
  258. The Consequences of Love
  259. The Cooler
  260. The Dark Knight
  261. The Dark Knight Rises
  262. The Deep End
  263. The Departed
  264. The Game
  265. The Getaway
  266. The Ghost Writer
  267. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  268. The Glass House
  269. The Glass Shield
  270. The Grifters
  271. The Handmaiden
  272. The Hot Spot
  273. The Kid Detective
  274. The Killer Inside Me
  275. The Kill-Off
  276. The Krays
  277. The Last Seduction
  278. The Limey
  279. The Little Things
  280. The Machinist
  281. The Manchurian Candidate
  282. The Man Who Wasn’t There
  283. The Matrix
  284. The Nice Guys
  285. The Ninth Gate
  286. The Place Beyond the Pines
  287. The Player
  288. The Pledge
  289. The Poison Rose
  290. The Public Eye
  291. The Rapture
  292. The Salton Sea
  293. The Silence of the Lambs
  294. The Spanish Prisoner
  295. The Spirit
  296. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  297. The Temp
  298. The Two Jakes
  299. The Underneath
  300. The Usual Suspects
  301. The Way of the Gun
  302. The Wild Goose Lake
  303. The Yards
  304. Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
  305. This World, Then the Fireworks
  306. Training Day
  307. Trance
  308. Trapped
  309. Trouble Is My Business
  310. True Romance
  311. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
  312. Uncut Gems
  313. Under the Silver Lake
  314. Unlawful Entry
  315. Upgrade
  316. U Turn
  317. Victoria
  318. Walking Too Fast
  319. Watchmen
  320. Where the Day Takes You
  321. Where the Truth Lies
  322. White Sands
  323. Who Killed Cock Robin
  324. Widows
  325. Wild at Heart
  326. Wild Things
  327. Wind River
  328. Winter’s Bone
  329. You Were Never Really Here
  330. Zodiac
neo noir definition and meaning

‘Zodiac’Credit: Paramount Pictures

Summing Up the Definition of Neo-Noir and Examples 

So what did you learn from the breaking down of this genre? I hope it’s that you can use noir elements in anything you write. While you don’t have to make a straightforward neo-noir movie or TV show, you can pick and choose what parts fit your work best. 

The older movies are always there to inspire you as well. Great filmmakers know how to reimagine and repurpose ideas—there’s no shame in taking the key plot points from some of these stories and changing them to fit your needs. 

Also, I hope you found a ton of movies and shows you want to watch in the future. Hollywood needs more neo-noirs. They give this town some meaning. 

Let me know your favorites in the comments.      

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