Neo-noir is a revival of the genre of film noir. The term film noir was popularized in 1955 by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton.[1] It was applied to crime films of the 1940s and 1950s, mostly produced in the United States, which adopted a 1920s/1930s Art Deco visual environment. The English translation is dark movie, indicating something sinister and shadowy, but also expressing a cinematographic style. The film noir genre includes stylish Hollywood crime dramas, often with a twisted dark wit. Neo-noir has a similar style but with updated themes, content, style, visual elements and media.

Neo-noir film directors 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 thematic motifs including revenge, paranoia, and alienation.


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 is a French word that, when used in isolation in discussing film, is a shortcut for 'film noir'. As a neologism, neo-noir is defined by Mark Conard as "any film coming after the classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility".[2] Another definition describes it as later noir that often synthesizes diverse genres while foregrounding the scaffolding of film noir.[3]


"Film noir" was coined by critic Nino Frank in 1946, and popularized by French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton in 1955.[1] The term revived in general use beginning in the 1980s, with a revival of the style.

The classic film noir era is usually dated from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. The films were often adaptations of American crime novels, 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 novels were adapted as crime films, the former more than once. 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 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. Sound effects helped create the noir mood of paranoia and nostalgia.[5]

Few major films in the classic film noir genre have been made since the early 1960s. These films usually incorporated both thematic and visual elements reminiscent of film noir. Both classic and neo-noir films are often produced as independent features.

After 1970 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 rejected by both critics and practitioners.

Robert Arnett stated, "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 classic noir in having more of a sociological than a psychological focus.[7] Neo noir features characters who commit violent crimes, but without the motivations and narrative patterns found in film noir.[3]

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 establishing Tarantino in October 1992.[9]

See also


  1. ^ In the French from which the term derives, the plural is films noir. 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. Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne (2002). A panorama of American film noir (1941-1953). San Francisco: City Lights Books. ISBN 978-0872864122.
  2. Mark Conard. The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The Univ of Kentucky Press, 2007, p2.
  3. Pettey, Homer B. (2014). International Noir. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780748691104.
  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. pp. 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. pp. 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\
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