Top 10 Best Detective Movies of All Time

Ever since the beginning of cinema, moviegoers have been entertained by detective movies. From the dark and smoky film noirs of the 1940s to the present day’s array of mystery films, here are 10 of the best detective movies of all time.

Top 10 Best Detective Movies of All Time

10Chinatown (1974)

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Chinatown (1974) Movie Scene

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. Unexpectedly, he would eventually find himself entangled in the twisted world of Chinatown.

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. Chinatown is one of the 70’s best detective films.

9In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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In the Heat of the Night (1967) Movie Scene

In the Heat of the Night (1967) tells the story of a black detective who was initially accused of murdering a businessman and later on contracted to solve while on a trip to the South. He eventually joins forces to solve the difficult case with a bigoted white sheriff.

The film was a success and spawned two more sequels and a television series based on the same concept. In the Heat of the Night also won an Academy Award for best picture.

8Blade Runner (1982)

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Harrison Ford in Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi film still confuses and intrigues viewers more than 30 years after its release. A sequel, Blade Runner 2049, was even released in 2017.

But what is it about the original film that made it endure over the years? Well, for starters, over seven unique cuts of the film have been released over the years after the original film was shown. This fact alone gives fans a lot of material to speculate on making them think even decades after its release.

7Laura (1944)

The film is about the murder of the titular Laura and the subsequent efforts of a hardened New York investigator solve her death and catch her killer. The investigator becomes so engrossed and obsessed with her case to the point that he seems to have fallen in love with a portrait of Laura herself. However, the entire tone of the story shifts when Laura is found alive in a room.

Infamous for the troubles the film faced in production, it still impressed critics and viewers with acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert listing the film as one of his favorite mystery films.

6Memento (2000)

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Memento (2000) Movie Scene

Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) is a fantastic detective thriller about a man suffering from short-term memory loss trying to solve the brutal rape and killing of his wife.

It stars Guy Pearce as the lead, Leonard, whose unreliable memory and narration drive the film’s plot. Aside from its premise, another interesting thing about the film is how it is presented by two different sequences of scenes: one shot in black and white and another in color.

5The Big Lebowski (1998)

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The Big Lebowski (1998) Movie Scene

The Big Lebowski (1998) is famous for being a slacker comedy film but don’t forget that it’s actually a ‘neo-noir post-western black comedy detective story’ (wow, that was a mouthful).

The Coen Brothers introduce us to The Dude, a Los Angeles slacker, who gets entangled in the affairs of a millionaire namesake when he was falsely identified as him.

The film bombed in the box office but would later on gain a cult following for its interesting characters, unconventional screenplay and a notable soundtrack from Carter Burwell. The Big Lebowski is one of the best detective movies.

4Vertigo (1958)

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Vertigo (1958) Movie Scene

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. Vertigo is one of the best classic detective movies.

3Seven (1995)

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Se7en (1995) Movie Scene

Director David Fincher proves why he’s the heir apparent to Alfred Hitchcock’s throne with the dark stylish suspense film, Seven (1995). It is one of the best detective movies ever.

The film’s premise itself is enough to capture the audience attention to see it through the end. The movie title, Seven refers to the modus operandi of a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as a pattern for killing. It stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as a duo of investigators whose main goal is to capture the elusive serial killer played by Kevin Spacey.

2The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The world is first introduced to the infamous cannibal serial killer with a doctorate, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in Silence of the Lambs (1991).

The movie builds both fear and curiosity upon its viewers through the use of psychology and deduction which Lecter also uses for helping the police solve murders and as a murder weapon against people as well. The viewers are put in the shoes of detective Clarice Starling which is both genius and ironic as we realize how clueless we are of what things will happen next despite having the privilege of knowing more than other characters in the film.

As of latest, the film still holds the honor of being the only horror movie to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. Further proof of its excellence is the other four Oscars it won in the same year, a feat only a few movies have achieved.

1The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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The Maltese Falcon (1941) Movie Scene

This classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart tops our best detective movies list. Based on a novel of the same name, it tells the story of a San Francisco private investigator and three adventurers who are trying to outlast each other to get a small falcon statue encrusted in precious jewels.

The film is credited for pushing Bogart into Hollywood stardom and has the honor being preserved by the Library of Congress due to its cultural significance as a film.

Were you able to guess which film would top our best detective movies list? If not, then you need to brush up your detective skills. Start with marathoning the detective movies on this list. Also, check out the other best movies list.