For better or for worse, cinema has always managed to make the crime life look cool–from the cigarette-smoking, shadowy figures of noir films to Tarantino’s cheeseburger-eating suit-clad assassins. Here is a list of the 10 best crime movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Crime Movies of All Time
Goodfellas (1990) is considered to be Martin Scorsese’s best film to date by some film critics. The film is a relentless inside look into the lives of New York’s crime mobs which largely draws from the life story of real-life criminal Henry Hill.
The film is notorious for glamorizing gangster life and mafias. It’s the main character even professes at the beginning of the film:
“I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being president of the United States”.
Nonetheless, the film is praised for its technical aspects like Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing and Michael Ballhaus’s photography which contribute to the film’s enduring overall appeal.
The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) holds the honor of being one of the few ‘untouchable’ films ever. Almost everyone agrees of its status as one of (if not) the greatest films of all time. What more, the entire trilogy, yes including the third film, are some of the best films on crime and its perpetrators.
It was seminal because it’s the first film to take an inside look at a crime family and would later inspire a string of crime films that pay homage to it. What more, almost every aspect of the film perfect, from the screenplay, acting to casting.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Two years after Quentin Tarantino shocked the world with his debut Reservoir Dogs, he hit us with another masterpiece with Pulp Fiction (1994).
Tarantino’s second full-length feature is a crime film featuring multiple storylines told in a jumbled narrative and interjected with numerous pop culture references and Tarantino’s trademark love for violence.
The film is the director’s homage to the films and art that inspired his cinema. Incredibly hip and entirely quotable, the film is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of the 1990s.
An independent production, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Get Carter (1971)
Get Carter (1971) is an honest and brutal piece of British cinema that tells the story of a London gangster’s investigation of his brother’s mysterious death in their hometown.
The film showcases a very believable from its lead star Michael Caine who said he based his acting heavily on the behaviors of criminal friends he had in real life. This worked well with the film’s goal of portraying a grittier and more realistic picture of criminal behavior than what previous British films showed.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Double Indemnity (1944) is a classic noir film praised by modern directors like Cameron Crowe for its ‘flawless filmmaking” and Woody Allen who said it was ‘the greatest movie ever made’.
Although you might dispute Allen’s statement, the film is regarded by critics as the finest film noir of all time despite being made before the genre term was coined. This is also the film where the genre’s visual style inspired by German Expressionist films would be forged so it definitely deserves a spot on 10 best crime movies list.
Akira Kurosawa puts Japan on the film map with his masterpiece on the amorphous nature of truth Rashomon (1950).
It tells a story from multiple perspectives all talking about a single event of rape (or was it?) in a forest. Viewers are presented with differing stories from the perspective of the supposed victim, her husband, the alleged criminal and a bystander who allegedly witnessed the event. Having done this narrative to near perfection, Rashomon has been influential in the innovations on how filmic narrative ought to be and can be done seeing the shift from linear storytelling to more complex ones.
Director Terrence Malick based his directorial debut on a true to life story of a James Deen wannabe teen who went on a murder spree with his girlfriend in the American midwest.
But despite such pulp fiction-like material, the film is notable for its originality and eloquent storytelling and commentary on the romanticization of crime and the process of American myth-making.
Lead actor Martin Sheen perfectly sums up the film as an extremely American period piece that perfectly portrayed the spirit of the times, the people, and culture of the 1950s.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is a classic thriller detective film and an adaptation of the French novel, D’Entre Les Morts. It follows Scottie, played by James Stewart, an acrophobic detective who is hired by an old friend to investigate the latter’s wife. What he doesn’t know is that he is slowly being sucked into an insidious plan unknown to him at the time.
Aside from its merits as a genre film, Vertigo (1958) is also notable for its pioneering camera work attempting to accurately convey the main character’s experience of vertigo as a result of his phobia.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Penned by Orson Welles from the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson, Touch of Evil (1958) is a cinematic and metaphorical film about crossing over. Welles stuck to Masterson’s story but decided to mix up the couple’s races from an American man with a Mexican wife to the other way around. And it proved to be for the better.
This story is about literal and figurative frontiers– the US-Mexican border, interracial sexuality and the descent of a detective to moral decay. It features a star-studded cast including such greats as Marlene Dietrich, Janet Leigh, and Charlton Heston. It’s also considered as one of the last films to be produced in the original film noir genre.
Chinatown (1974) is an almost perfect film noir by director Roman Polanski with Jack Nicholson in the lead role of a private investigator hired to surveil an engineer in Los Angeles.
The film’s plot was inspired by the California Waters Wars, a series of real-life disputes over South California water which took place at the beginning of the 20th century. It is most notable for using features elements of film noir to tell a multi-layered story filled with mystery and psychological drama.
Aside from its cultural significance, the film also brought attention to social issues regarding water disputes in Los Angeles.
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