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Private Detective? Check. Femme Fatale? Check. Chiaroscuro lighting? Check. This is Film Noir.

"You need cops, venetian blinds, lots of smoking, hats, sweat, dead-end streets, guys who know all the angles except for the one that ends up sticking out of their backs. Sirens of the automotive and female kind."
James Lileks, The Bleat, "Think You Oughta Drink That"

For added effect, play this, this, or this while reading the article.

Film Noir (literally "black film" in French) is a genre of stylish crime dramas, difficult to define, but the 1940s and 1950s 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 plots 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). It rains most 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.

Film Noir is not really a genre in any sense, rather it reflects a tendency in certain American films of the 40s and 50s where crime and gangster stories are infused with an excessive visual style, a modern urban sensibility and a powerful sense of moral ambiguity. These movies differed from the crime movies of the 30s, the Depression Gangster films such as The Public Enemy or the original Scarface in that criminal behaviour is no longer relegated to gangsters or ethnic ghettos, the plots don't usually revolve around turf wars or police clampdowns. Protagonists in films noir are often normal people who get involved in crime, and the motivations are no longer just social or circumstantial but psychological and personal. The standard noir plot is, in broad terms, best summed up as centring around a protagonist who, usually by pure chance, is placed in a complex and dangerous situation completely beyond their control where they are pitted against an adversary whose identity and motives are not immediately obvious. The system and the law is usually either apathetic to their plight or is even outright working against them, meaning that they will have to take up the fight and make sense of it all by themselves or die trying. As a style and sensibility, Film Noir was flexible to include hybrids such as the Western-Film Noir (The 1947 film Pursued with flashbacks, Dark and Troubled Past, high contrast black and white lighting and weird Freudian themes), and even the film-noir musical (The Man I Love, Love Me and Leave Me) and in the case of Leave Her to Heaven a Film Noir in technicolor.

Trying to explain Film Noir is hard, since it's kind of a mix of European cynicism and post-war American angst. The clash between crude pulp fiction narratives and complex storytelling and characterization, derived from emerging psychology, research in criminal behaviour as well as wider influences in modern art and literature. The term was first used by French critics (hence the name) and it derives from "Serie Noir" the label of French translations of American pulp fiction, and French imitations, which was highly popular in France at the time. The French critics looked at the American crime films from their perspective of post-Occupation France. To some extent they over-exaggerated the doom and gloom of American films by projecting their experiences in their writings of these films. Later, American writers when translating these articles into English brought this into Pop-Cultural Osmosis. The mix of European cynicism with American landscape is also borne out in the fact that several directors of films noir - Billy Wilder (who lost his mother in Auschwitz), Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger - were refugees, exiles and emigres from Nazi Germany, being quite active in 1920s Berlin which in many ways was the closest a real-life city came to being the exaggerated City Noir landscape. The lighting in Film Noir was also strongly influenced by European trends, especially German Expressionism but later after the war, the Italian neorealist films of Roberto Rossellini also influenced it greatly. The period became especially fertile during the post-war years. The subtext of many of these films often dealt with the trauma of the returning Shell-Shocked Veteran (most notably, Act of Violence) and the rising Red Scare and The Hollywood Blacklist which made the working climate in Hollywood highly paranoid and hostile, and this infused the films made in the late '40s.

The standard Noir landscape is a large, oppressive city (filmed in dark and dusky conditions to create a moody atmosphere). 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. It is important to note that the term "Film Noir" was not available to the people who made them in the '40s and '50s. As Robert Mitchum famously stated, "We called them B-Movies." It comes from later audiences and critics who rediscovered these films in revival theaters and clubs and picked up the subtext, visual clues and other Hidden Depths. Many historians feel that the classic Film Noir genre died when it became self-conscious. Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumenton cite the MGM musical The Band Wagon (made in 1952) where the final number featured a technicolor parody of a Mickey Spillane crime setting, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse playing the detective and femme fatale in an obvious send-up. Others feel that Orson Welles' Touch of Evil was the real end since it was made by the director of Citizen Kane (which while not a Noir influenced the lighting and style of several other films noir) and the genre conventions were pretty much stretched inside and outside. They also argue that Noir only worked in a climate of censorship since the crime genre often falling Beneath Suspicion allowed writers and directors more chances to subvert cliches. Once censorship eroded, Film Noir had pretty much served its purpose and achieved its goals.

Attempts to revive this style leads to Neo-Noir, which with some exceptions, tends to Flanderization - The tone and outlook 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 — revolversnote , Colt 1911s, and if they need More Dakka, tommy guns. Also, no self-respecting Film Noir thug will be seen without his brass knuckles. 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 usually features the Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, Villain Protagonist, the ambiguity often rests on questions of trust, leading to an atmosphere of paranoia where Poor Communication Kills regularly. The conclusion may or may not tie up all the loose ends, with the major mystery being the morally ambiguous theme of the story. These factors contribute to the widely-held opinion that Film Noir works are among the best artistic works of all time and contributed greatly to the maturity of cinema as an artform.

Not to be confused with the religious conspiracy anime Noir (although that is an example of the genre).

Characters associated with Film Noir:

Common noir settings:

Common noir eras (both setting and publication):

Visual elements and camera techniques:

Sound elements and music:

Other tropes associated with Film Noir:

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). Fantastic Noir is a sub-genre with fantastic or Science Fiction elements. See also our Write a Film Noir guide.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Noir examples 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Area 51 has a very pronounced chiaroscuro artstyle and a private detective protagonist in a wretched town. Despite those elements though, there's quite a bit of humor. And also lots of monsters, gods, and other fantastical creatures.
  • The Big O
  • Cowboy Bebop, in its more "serious" moments.
  • Ergo Proxy. Especially the first few episodes.
  • Death Note had some noir traits, including the chiaroscuro lighting, moral ambiguity, and dark themes.
  • Ghost in the Shell
    • Especially the second movie Innocence, which even mimics typical designs for cars and buildings from the classic Noir movies.
  • Golgo13
  • Noir
  • 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.
  • The York Shin Arc of Hunter x Hunter has a noir feel to it that gets more prominent as the tone becomes darker.
  • Baccano! and Durarara!!, which are written by the same author, both have definite noir elements, the former focusing on mafia members and the latter focusing on gang members, with plenty of private-eye monologues from multiple characters.
  • Yuureitou is a murder-mystery set in The '50s with this type of setting
  • Lupin III has this vibe sometimes, Depending on the Writer.
  • Detective Conan, being a series about a Great Detective solving murders and fighting a deadly criminal organization, uses plenty of noir tropes.

    Comic Books 
  • 100 Bullets
  • Sin City
  • Batman - many stories are noir at their core. Gotham City is obviously a very noirish setting.
  • The Question. Bonus points for his fedora and trench coat.
  • Dogby Walks Alone - parodied by being placed in a Theme Parks 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 .
  • Many books by Ed Brubaker, especially when he's working with Sean Philips. Criminal and The Fade Out are straight noir. Sleeper and Incognito are superhero/pulp hero noir, and Fatale is noir where the Femme Fatale's supernatural allure actually is supernatural.
  • Brian Michael Bendis's Alias.
  • Also by Bendis, Sam And Twitch, a spin-off from the Spawn series
  • Watchmen contains significant noir elements, particularly Rorschach's sections.
  • The Spirit, particularly the newspaper strip.
  • Stray Bullets
  • Calvin and Hobbes: One of Calvin's Imagine Spots follows the adventures of a very noir-ish private investigator called Tracer Bullet.

    Fan Fiction 

    Fan Works 

    Literature 

    Live Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The latter part of "Postage Due" is a very much film noir influenced, with Miss Brooks providing a Private Eye Monologue.
  • Dragnet: Especially in its first run in the 40's and 50's.
  • Jessica Jones The 2015 Netflix series plays heavily on noir themes; Jessica herself being a gender-swapped, alcoholic, emotionally-detached private detective.
  • Twin Peaks has a heavy noir element to it, with a murder leading to uncovering of the corruption and moral ambiguity of a seemingly idyllic town. Various noir tropes are given their due in the show, from the dark jazz motifs in the score to various character archetypes. This being a David Lynch series, though, it's filled with nice helpings of surrealism, and it's just as much a Soap Opera with heavy doses of the supernatural.
  • Veronica Mars somehow effectively used this style in a San Diego high school setting. And gender swapped.
  • 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 the Hawaii setting and heavy doses of comedy, Magnum, P.I. tends toward this as well, complete with Private Eye Monologue.
  • Kamen Rider Double is based on Noir.
  • Terriers
  • Bored to Death
  • Luther
  • EZ Streets
  • Lost Girl has the chiaroscuro lighting and grand but decaying settings. Interesting twist though that the Femme Fatale also happens to be the Anti-Hero-Private Detective.
  • The BBC two part Drama "Exile"
  • Monk has the Season 5 episode, "Mr. Monk and The Leper," done in a complete homage to Film Noir including an introduction from Tony Shaloub dropping references to Femme Fatale amongst other tropes. A black-and-white then a color version aired back-to-back when the episode premiered. The DVD includes the black-and-white version.
  • Peter Gunn mixed Noir tropes with 1950s cool Jazz.
  • The Shadow Line is heavily inspired by Film Noir, borrowing many plot elements and a very dark and cynical tone.
  • 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.
  • The Castle season 4 episode "The Blue Butterfly" has Castle find the diary of a private eye from 1948, which results in a number of Film Noir-style flashbacks with the regulars taking on various roles in the story - Castle as the detective, Beckett as a nightclub singer, Esposito and Ryan as gangsters and Alexis (!) as a Femme Fatale. We also get Castle doing the monologue and at one point inadvertently swapping the name of the singer for Kate... which results in a Record Needle Scratch drop out of flashback as Beckett looks at him funny.
  • Serangoon Road, set in 1960s Singapore. This might seem odd as a setting until one realises that Singapore in The '60s was more Wretched Hive than Shining City.
  • A 2014 episode of Pretty Little Liars in which Spencer goes into hallucination mode uses this setting.
  • It's in color, but Gotham has a very Noir feel to it with corrupt police, a seedy underworld that can only hint at the real level of nastiness, corrupt and shady politicians, and a brewing mob war.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries looks like your typical Body of the Week show on the surface, but as each episode goes on that veneer is scraped away to something much darker and conspiracy-oriented. The way Phryne loves to pretend to be a Femme Fatale certainly helps.
  • Babylon Berlin: A German TV crime series (based on a book trilogy) set in 1929 Berlin, a city rife with underground pornographers, gangsters, Communists and Fascists.

    Music 
  • K Pop group SECRET's music video for "Poison" is in the style of Film Noir, complete with Lady in Red Femme Fatale.
  • Ultravox's breakthrough hit "Vienna" was heavily influenced by film noir themes. The music video in particular was inspired by The Third Man.

    Pinball 

    Spoofs and Parodies 

     Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • L.A. Noire (2011) fittingly enough.
  • Max Payne (2001) - Also a movie. The second game was even billed with the tagline "A film noir love story".
  • Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) has some elements of this trope.
  • The Bioshock series constantly plays with elements of the genre. A dark-yet-stylized and moody atmosphere (not to mention a setting where you aren't quite sure who to trust—or who the real "bad guy" is) permeates the first two, and the third has you play a private detective. Bonus points for the first Burial At Sea DLC being a straight-up Noir Episode.
  • Blues And Bullets (2015)
  • The Knee Deep (2015) theatrical stage adventure features several noir tropes in its grim Florida setting.
  • 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
    • 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.
  • Blackout, an Adventure Game that combines Noir with Psychological Horror and puppets.
  • Deja Vu
  • Jack Orlando
  • 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.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2006) and it's sequel, Last Window (2010)
  • Hotline Miami Neon Noir, deeply inspired by Drive.
  • Heavy Rain (2010) Shelby's character is homage to Noir while Jayden is homage to its more modern counterparts.
  • 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.
  • Wadjet Eye Games loves this genre, with most of their games so far either belonging fully to this genre or using parts of it. These include:
    • The Shivah, with a Rabbi who's losing faith in the goodness of God as the protagonist.
    • Emerald City Confidential was 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."
    • The Blackwell Series uses some elements of noir (one of the protagonists is a Deadpan Snarker ghost from the 30's).
    • Video Game/Unavowed is mainly Urban Fantasy, but the aesthetic is soaked in the atmosphere of neo-noir featuring constant rain, which of course gives the colored lighting of various businesses the chance to spill on the street, and pretty much each mission sees the player tasked with getting to the bottom of a mystery and then having to make a heavy moral choice at the end.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution which is Cyberpunk so Noir is bound to be there.
  • Deus Ex 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.
  • Killer Is Dead, as well as killer7, from Suda51, features some heavy surreal film noir looks, down to badass assassins in suits, heavy shading and shadows, hypnotic soundtracks and weird characters. They're much more Sci-Fi that film noir, though the influence is clearly there.
  • Halo 3: ODST was developed to evoke a Film Noir atmosphere as a lone soldier investigates an alien-occupied city.
  • 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.
  • Gunpoint plays many of the tropes of Film Noir fairly straight despite it's more humorous atmosphere and incredibly snarky protagonist.
  • Time Splitters 2 (2002) the Chicago level has this in spades, from the opening monologue to the soundtrack for the level.
  • The Witcher (2009) and its sequel are very noir, even though they're set in a fantasy world replete with witches and golems. It has corrupt, drunken authorities, the drug trade, a conspiracy, several femme fatales, and a jaded, sarcastic anti-hero who's primarily concerned with his own goals.
  • The Wolf Among Us is a murder mystery set in 1986 New York, and starring Sheriff Bigby Wolf, a Deadpan Snarker/Hard Boiled Detective type investigating Fairytale characters in a noir setting.
  • Last Case: The Disappearance of Amanda Kane is a mostly black and white crime drama about a private investigator trying to look for a mission person. The protagonist drinks, recently lost his partner, and the game has smooth, somewhat somber accompanying the setting (which seems to take place in the mid to late nineties).
  • Snatcher. Cyberpunk, deeply inspired by (almost to the point of plagiarism) Blade Runner.

    Webcomics 
  • Anti Bunny draws heavily on Film Noir in its visual and storytelling style. As a call out to the visual style in Chapter 5 of The Gritty City Stories Pooky cynically narrates "No one gets film noir these days anyway."
  • Automata, and it's sequel Blood and Oil; two short stories created by the Penny Arcade duo. [1]
  • Blood & Smoke is a black and white comic set in a hellhole of a city, starring a cynical, chain-smoking, fedora and trench-coat wearing police detective that chases a serial killer with a cool sounding name.
  • The Talbot Chronicles placed Lawrence Talbot from the Wolf Man series into a film noir setting. A good fit, as Talbot's whole bag has always been existential angst.
  • Living with Insanity did this in its one arc.
  • Two Rooks combines crime noir with a dystopian setting.
  • Sin Titulo definitely has noir undertones (and it uses color very sparingly).
  • I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space has a bonus story, originally subscribers only, following a Hardboiled Detective who gets hired to find a young woman who went missing from her workplace. Of course he never finds her, because she's been ... you know.
  • Daniel is a vampire horror comic set in the 1930s. It's setting and grayscale color scheme give it a feel very akin to film noir.
  • Riverside Extras is a male gangster vs female gangster comic. It's Deliberately Monochrome except for splashes of red. The main character is the Femme Fatale with a Dark and Troubled Past instead of a detective (who has appeared but is only a minor player compared to the lady gangsters).

    Web Original 
  • Weekend Pussy Hunt, a cartoon parody of the genre made by John Kricfalusi during the late 90's, animated in Adobe Flash.
  • The Deadliest Tag and Deadliest Tag Chapter Two on Vlog Tag.
  • Perri Rhoades' web serial Spectral Shadows has a peculiar planet, Cygnus, that's populated by lots of half-human half animal creatures, with each town having an Intellectual Property Religion (literally — even if sometimes the religion doesn't correctly match the source material). The town of Noire tries its best to fit this trope, even going so far as to use fossil fuels for vehicles while the rest of the world uses solar power — because in the gangster movies, they didn't have solar power.
  • Game Grumps: Parodied in the "Mycaruba" T-shirt ad, complete with Danny as Detective N.S. Grump and Arin as... um... just watch it.

    Western Animation 

    Other 

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