Open main menu

Neo-noir is a modern or contemporary motion picture rendition of film noir. The term film noir (popularized in 1955 by two French critics, Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton) was applied to crime movies of the 1940s and 1950s, most produced in the United States, which have a 1920s/1930s Art Deco visual environment.

Neo-noir, as the term suggests, is contemporary noir. The film directors knowingly refer to 'classic noir' in the use of tilted camera angles, interplay of light and shadows, unbalanced framing; blurring of the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and a motif of revenge, paranoia, and alienation, among other sensibilities.



The term neo-noir is a contraction of the phrase 'new film noir', using the Greek prefix for the word new rendered as neo (from the Greek neo). Noir, when used as an isolated term in film theory and critique, is a short form reference to 'film noir'. As a neologism, neo-noir is defined by Mark Conard as "defining any film coming after the classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility".[1] Another definition simply describes it as later noir that often synthesizes diverse genres while foregrounding the scaffolding of film noir.[2]


The term "film noir" (French for "black film" or "dark film") was coined by critic Nino Frank in 1946, and popularized by French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton in 1955.[3] The term became revived in general use beginning in the 1980s, with a revival of the style.

The classic era of film noir is usually dated to a period between the early 1940s and the late 1950s; the films were often adaptations of American crime novels of the era, which were also described as "hardboiled". Some authors resisted these terms. For example, James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943), is considered to be one of the defining authors of hard-boiled fiction. Both these novels were adapted as crime films, the former more than once. But Cain is quoted as saying, "I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise, and I believe these so-called schools exist mainly in the imagination of critics and have little correspondence in reality anywhere else."[4]

Typically American crime dramas or psychological thrillers, films noir[a] had a number of common themes and plot devices, and many distinctive visual elements. Characters were often conflicted antiheroes, trapped in a difficult situation and making choices out of desperation or nihilistic moral systems. Visual elements included low-key lighting, striking use of light and shadow, and unusual camera placement. There is also the use of sound effects to create the neo noir mood of paranoia and nostalgia.[5]

Although there have been few new major films in the classic film noir genre since the early 1960s, it has had a significant impact on other genres.[citation needed] These films usually incorporate both thematic and visual elements reminiscent of film noir. Both classic and neo-noir films are often produced as independent features.

It was not until after 1970 that film critics took note of "neo-noir" films as a separate genre. Noir and post-noir terminology (such as "hard-boiled", "neo-classic" and the like) are often denied by both critics and practitioners alike.

Robert Arnett stated that "Neo-noir has become so amorphous as a genre/movement, any film featuring a detective or crime qualifies."[6] Screenwriter and director Larry Gross, identifies Alphaville, alongside John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), based on Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel, as neo-noir films. Gross believes that they deviate from the classic noir films in having more of a sociological than a psychological focus.[7] It is also noted that neo noir features characters who commit violent crimes but without the motivations and narrative patterns found in film noir.[2]

Neo noir assumed global character and impact when filmmakers began drawing elements from films in the global market. For instance, Quentin Tarantino's works have been influenced by Ringo Lam's City on Fire.[8] This was particularly the case for the noir-inflected Reservoir Dogs, which was instrumental in getting Tarantino noticed in the filmmaking scene in October 1992.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ In the French from which the term derives, the plural is films noirs. Standard English usage is "films noir", as in "courts martial", "attorneys general" and so on, but "film noirs" is listed in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary in first order of preference.[10]



  • Arnett, Robert (Fall 2006). "Eighties Noir: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan's America". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 34 (3): 123–129.
  • Conrad, Mark T. (2007). The Philosophy of Neo-noir. Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2422-0. The Philosophy of Neo-noir at Google Books.
  • Hirsch, Foster (1999). Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir. New York: Proscenium Publishers. ISBN 0-87910-288-8. Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir at Google Books.
  • Martin, Richard (1997). Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The Legacy of Film Noir in Contemporary American Cinema. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-3337-9.
  • Snee, Brian J. (July 2009). "Soft-boiled Cinema: Joel and Ethan Coens' Neo-classical Neo-noirs". Literature/Film Quarterly. 37 (3).


  1. ^ Mark Conard. The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The Univ of Kentucky Press, 2007, p2.
  2. ^ a b Pettey, Homer B. (2014). International Noir. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780748691104.
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference border was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ O'Brien, Geoffrey (1981). Hardboiled America – The Lurid Years of Paperbacks. New York; Cincinnati: Van Nostrand Reinhold. pp. 71–72. ISBN 0-442-23140-7.
  5. ^ Bould, Mark; Glitre, Kathrina; Tuck, Greg (2009). Neo-Noir. London: Wallflower Press. p. 44. ISBN 9781906660178.
  6. ^ Arnett, Robert (Fall 2006). "Eighties Noir: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan's America". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 34 (3): 123–129.
  7. ^ "Where to begin with neo-noir". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-08-17.
  8. ^ Grant, Barry Keith (2003). Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 525. ISBN 0292701845.
  9. ^ Verevis, Constantine (2006). Film Remakes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0748621865.
  10. ^ "film noir". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2009-02-10. Inflected Form(s): plural film noirs \-'nwär(z)\ or films noir or films noirs \-'nwär\