The Top 10 Detective Films of All Time

Jandy Hardesty

Jandy is especially drawn to classic, off-beat, and foreign film, but loves a good blockbuster action sequence, too. You can find her on Flickchart as faithx5. She also writes at The Frame, and co-hosts the occasional podcast Not at Odds at Row Three.

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9 Responses

  1. The Thin Man series is one of my favorite detective movies of all time. I love the humor but the mysteries also tend to be solid. The first two are probably the best when it comes to the mystery department. Great films with great leads.

    • Jandy Hardesty says:

      I’m right there with you, Naomi! The Thin Man is my #12 movie of all time. I also think Nick and Nora Charles are one of the best and most refreshing married couples on the screen. Simply delightful. And I agree, the first two in the series are both great. They fall off after that, though. I’ve actually never seen the last one, but I should, just to cap it off.

  2. I just want to say how much I adore that “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” made this list. It’s quite different from the original novel, “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” The novel also features no less than Dick Tracy, too, by the way! Ever since I read the book, I’ve wondered whether anyone at Disney lamented that they didn’t include him somehow in the movie. (They did, however, play the Roger Rabbit short “Roller Coaster Rabbit” before the theatrical screenings of “Dick Tracy” in 1990, so there’s that.) Now I’m reminded that I still haven’t gotten around to getting either of those on Blu-ray… :'(

  3. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe Vertigo didn’t make the list. It should be number one. Another favorite of mine that should be up there is Memento. I don’t know if everyone considers it a detective film, but the entire movie centers around the protagonist and a detective finding the guy that murdered the protagonist’s wife.

    • Jandy says:

      Vertigo is #45 globally, so if Flickchart labeled it a detective film, it would indeed be #1 on the list. Memento is #72, so it would’ve hit #3.

      Here’s the definition of “detective film” that Flickchart generally uses:

      “A popular subgenre of the mystery or thriller genre that relies on the search for clues and culminates with the solution to a crime by a private detective (sometimes these investigations are also performed by policemen, journalists, insurance men, or lawyers). Audience involvement, or confusion, is established through plot elements like double crosses, lies, swindles, and often murder, which the protagonist must unravel. Depending on the approach of the filmmakers, the audience either solves the crime with the hero (The Maltese Falcon) or is left to guess at solutions themselves (The Big Sleep).”

      The first half of Vertigo would probably fall into that, but the second half is not even remotely about the mystery or investigation any more. I like your argument for Memento’s inclusion! It’s kind of a grey area, because the detective is not as central as Leonard, who is not a detective, but you’re right in that they’re both trying to unravel a mystery (which is, in fact, unraveled in the end). I suppose you could argue that since it’s told backwards, we actually see the answer right up front and therefore it’s less a search for clues to the mystery than it is clues to understand the solution we already saw. Very interesting thoughts!

    • I defer to you on all things Hitchcock, of course, so if you say Vertigo is only 50% Detective, that’s good enough for me. As for Memento, I feel it fits the spirit of the genre even if it’s adherance to this site’s definition is debatable.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply and clarification Jandy. There are probably disqualifications for these too, but I personally would consider including The Third Man, Double Indemnity, Rear Window, Touch of Evil, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, Silence of the Lambs, Heat, L.A. Confidential, and The Departed. Of course all of them couldn’t make the top 10, but they’d all be candidates based on my criteria for detective films. Good list nonetheless.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Too bad one of my favourites ‘Murder, My Sweet’ (1944) isn’t on the list, but I guess three Marlowe flicks would be pushing it. Plus I don’t think enough people have heard of it. Also it strikes me as odd that The Maltese Falcon would’ve started film noir, given that there is a 1931 version of it (very much worth watching). I believe it is Stranger on the Third Floor that usually gets the credit for being the start of film noir, although I’ll agree that this is the first big classic within the genre.

    • Jandy Hardesty says:

      Fair point about Stranger on the Third Floor. That is often cited as well. Obviously for a “genre” as loose as noir, lots of different people define a different starting point – some people even go as far back as Fritz Lang’s M! I don’t personally think The Maltese Falcon is as definitive a noir as some later ones would be. I love bringing up that 1931 version whenever people start complaining about remakes – the definitive version of The Maltese Falcon was the third time the story was filmed (also 1936’s Satan Met a Lady).

      I do agree that Murder, My Sweet should be higher-ranked – it’s #1227 globally right now (#26 on the Detective Film list), which isn’t bad, but it’s only been ranked by 310 people! Definitely a hidden gem worth checking out.