7 sexy neo-noir movies to stream

Blending crime stories with a moody, carnal energy, here are some of the best neo-noir films you should add to your watchlist.

by Douglas Greenwood
22 September 2021, 2:34pm

Sony Pictures

The neo-noir genre was inspired by the shadowy, crime films of the mid-20th century, where moody stories — often featuring gangs and detectives  — would fight it out in stylish pictures. Today, it’s as much about mood as it is content. If the original noirs were all about blokes in trench coats catching criminals, then neo-noirs take that same framework and flip the perspective somewhat, lacing a slightly more obscure, maybe even carnal element through it too.

Drive remains one of modern cinema’s most respected neo-noir movies, starring Ryan Gosling in a career-best role as a getaway driver embroiled in violent crime and a fairytale love affair in modern-day Los Angeles. Drawing divisive audience reaction and critical adoration on release (a common trait of a neo-noir), this month the film celebrates its 10th anniversary. So without further ado, let’s look back across the greatest, sexiest movies of the neo-noir era to date. It’s worth noting that American neo-noir is often the most sexualised of the bunch, hence why it dominates this particular list.

1. Jackie Brown (1997)

Tarantino’s homage to the Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s was this crime neo-noir headed up by none other than Foxy Brown herself, Pam Grier. Adapted from the 1992 novel Rum Punch, it tells the story of a flight attendant caught in the crossfire of an arms dealer (who she smuggled gun money aboard a plane for) and the police. How better to escape both death and jail than by deceiving both parties? A slinky and smart crime movie with an effusively charming and alluring lead. 

 2. Wild Things (1998)

Starring Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’s Denise Richards and Scream icon Neve Campbell, Wild Things is, according to the late film critic Roger Ebert, “lurid trash”. We disagree. A film with layers and layers of deception, defamation, false allegations and settlement money, it follows two high schoolers, a guidance counsellor and a lawyer and, like all good neo-noirs, knowing less about it before watching it is better. A shining testament to this film’s cult power lies in the fact that it’s spawned not one, but three straight-to-video sequels, and is known for its excessive sex scenes.

3. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Set in the era where noir dramas were all the rage, Devil in a Blue Dress is a hybrid movie of sorts. The story takes place in post WWII America: a Black veteran played by Denzel Washington returns to Los Angeles to find that, despite his service, the country he served is still stacked against him. A chance encounter with a man in a bar leads to him tracking down a missing woman (suspected of hiding out in the jazz clubs of the city), but the clear task at hand gets muddied the deeper he gets into it. 

4. Bound (1996)

Before the Wachowski’s made waves as the makers of The Matrix trilogy, they put out a strange and memorable neo-noir movie as their feature film debut. 1996’s Bound thread a queer narrative through this crime caper: a woman called Violet becomes embroiled in a love affair with another woman after escaping from her mafia ex-boyfriend, together making it their mission to scam the gang Violet has narrowly escaped from out of millions and millions of dollars. 

5. Sea of Love (1989)

Imagine trying to track down a serial killer who’s picking off their victims via the dating ads in a magazine, before realising that one of your main suspects is actually pretty fit. This is the plot of Al Pacino’s Sea of Love: a commercial hit he made his comeback with after a four-year hiatus. The poster screams straight-to-video, but the movie itself is more rewarding than that.

6. Drive (2011)

Up until 2011, Nicolas Winding Refn had achieved moderate success as a Danish director of crime thrillers that arthouse audiences loved. But after a successful premiere at Cannes Film Festival, Drive became his breakout hit. A mysterious, brooding tale of a man known only as Driver, played by Ryan Gosling, who cruises the streets of LA at night as a stuntman-turned-getaway driver. In this specific line of work, he falls in love with Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, who’s stuck in a relationship with a gangster who treats her badly. In order to free her, Driver takes drastic action. 

7. Sin City (2005)

Perhaps the defining cult neo-noir of the 21st century, Sin City catalysed the resurgence of the cool and moody graphic novel or comic book movie. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to create a visual world almost entirely shot in black-and-white with splashes of crimson and colour. Based on a fictional place known as Basin City, but often abbreviated to Sin City on account of its seedy underbelly, it’s an anthological film following strippers, assassins, mobsters and murderous valets. 

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