The Best Film Noir Movies

That’s a great title, but I can’t back it up.  There is frankly just too much debate about what movie is considered the best film noir movie.  With that being said, I’m going to spend some posts highlighting a few of the top films with some reasoning why film aficionados gave these films such high marks for noir.  So get your popcorn, licorice and soda, sit back and enjoy!

The Maltese Falcon

Remember some of what makes a movie film noir is a morally weak private eye, a femme fatale, dark themes, black-and-white filming, plenty of corruption, and ill-fated relationship and the like.  And does The Maltese Falcon fit this!  This movie was based on the classic novel by Dashiell Hammett and is considered to be the first noir movie.  A piece of trivia that I’ll bet many don’t know, the classic 1941 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor is actually a remake of a 1931 version starring Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez.  Another version (which didn’t include the falcon) was made in 1936, called Satan Met a Lady, with Warren William and a young Bette Davis.

This fabulous story about a cool but cynical San Francisco private eye, Sam Spade (Bogart, of course), and his dealings with three unscrupulous adventurers who are all trying to find a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette is not only considered a great piece of film noir, but one of the best movies ever made.  The cinematography and direction by John Huston, in his directorial debut, are a large part of what makes this such an evocative movie.

Dashiell Hammett’s Detective

Any writer can only hope to create such an iconic character as Sam Spade.  Spade only appears in this novel and a few short stories, but Spade is considered as the figure that shaped the hard-boiled private eye.  Spade is cold, detached, sardonic, and bent on his own brand of justice.  He’s seen the underbelly of the world and is willing to rub elbows with criminals,while at the same time working to bring them to justice.  Spade has some type of morality, although it’s clouded in ambiguity.

Detective fiction would not be the same after The Maltese Falcon was published.  All books in the genre were compared to this classic.  Hammett fused clean prose with sharp dialogue, created memorable characters and a story with plenty of twists and turns.  It’s a great literary work that’s also part thriller, love story, part dark comedy.  Brilliant.

No Humphrey Bogart?

It’s true.  Bogart was not Huston’s original choice to play Sam Spade.  The role was initially offered to George Raft, who rejected it (bet he wished he could change that).  Can you imagine this film with someone other than Bogie playing Spade?  This role gave Bogart huge acclaim and set his onscreen persona in stone.

Bitter Ending

There are plenty of deceitful villains, quirky lowlifes (Peter Lorre), and the lying femme fatale.  And it has a downbeat and bitter ending, typical of noir movies to come.

If you haven’t watched this movie, I encourage you to do so.  It’s highly entertaining, in a dark sort of way.

And, take a look at the poster.  The first person who can tell me what makes this poster unique from others produced for the movie gets a signed copy of This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, my Reed Ferguson mystery that features a healthy dose of film noir in it (HINT: the answer is in Reel Estate Rip-off, the second Reed Ferguson mystery).

UPDATE!  Lekan pointed out differences in the poster correctly, however, it was not the answer I was looking for (I will however honor the answer because it is still correct).  I should’ve been more clear in what I was looking for.  Soooo, if someone answers the difference that is cited in Reel Estate Rip-off, I will send another signed book of This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies.  Good luck!


Don’t forget about the contest for a free Kindle!  Details on my website at  If you have one already, you could use this one for a gift!


About Renee Pawlish

Author of mystery novels, thriller novels, and horror books. Check out Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, the Noah Winter adventure series for young adults, Take Five, a short story collection, and The Sallie House: Exposing the Beast Within. Renee also offers writing lessons and writing strategies in the Writers Workshop. Twitter: Facebook: Blog: Goodreads:
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2 Responses to The Best Film Noir Movies

  1. Lekan says:

    I love this movie, its part of my top 5 Bogart movies. The difference is Bogart is carrying two guns instead of one and it is also usually obvious from other posters that he is wearing a suit, but you can’t tell from this one. He is also not wearing a hat.

  2. That is not the answer I was looking for, but since you are correct with what you point out, I will honor it 🙂 There is one other piece that’s different as well. Send your address to and I will send you the book. And thanks for the comment.

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