Posted by: steveonfilm | February 9, 2010

Hard Boiled Detective Movies

In this video I catch viewers and readers up on what I’ve been doing lately, but more importantly I try to figure out why I can’t think of any hard boiled detective movies that have come out in the last ten to fifteen years.

Until next time, keep writing!



  1. Hardboiled detective story (emphasis on plot) vs. film noir (emphasis on aesthetics). Do you use the terms interchangeably?

    What about:

    Black Dahlia (2006)

    Hollywoodland (2006)

    Watchmen (2009)

    Brick (2005)

    Shutter Island (2010) may or may not count as “hardboiled detective” given certain narrative elements, but the two main characters are pretty hardboiled-ish.

    Even when setting side franchise (epic) films, the last five to seven years has seen a spike in escapist, uplifting mainstream cinema. Might hardboiled detective films (original or based on books) be too cynical in the 21st century, particularly the post-911 century, to occupy a visible presence in the market now? I don’t necessarily think so, but it’s a plausible explanation.

    There’ve been many heist films and strangers-lives-intertwining pictures in the last decade.

    • I don’t use “hard boiled” and “noir” interchangeably. “Hard boiled” typically will have some sort of detective, or police figure, as the protagonist that is solving some sort of case or mystery. “Noir” is most cases, doesn’t use a police figure, or detective, as the protagonist, and is typically directly related to the crime. The common thread between both of them is an unsentimental view of violence.

      “Dirty Harry” is a hard boiled detective story. “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” is very much noir.

      I saw Black Dhalia, and it is pretty “hard boiled,” though it takes place in the heyday of the hard boiled story, the 40s and 50s.

      Haven’t seen “Hollywoodland,” but have heard great things about it, and it definitely seems like it’ll fall into the “hard boiled” category. Again though, it takes place in the 1950s.

      “Brick” sounds very much like a noir film, and it’s a modern day story, so I’lm definitely going to have to check that out.

      I’m looking forward to “Stutter Island,” but I’m not sure I’d categorize it as “hard boiled” or “noir,” though you’re sport on with the main characters very much following that type of mold.

      Ultimately, I was looking for something that takes places in a more modern time such as the late 80s, 90s, or 2000s. “Brick” looks pretty spot on. But maybe the issue is that these types of stories just don’t lend themselves to the modern era, and it might explain why most of the recent ones made (like “Hollywoodland” and “The Black Dhalia”) are period pieces.

      • Very nice breakdown. I see your 100 but shan’t necessarily raise you another 100. You’ve planted a good foundation for the argument that noir is more mise-en-scene and motif than genre…even if that wasn’t your intention. ^U^

        If I were writing an essay on whether or not I believe film noir is a distinct genre or more about visual design, I’d paraphrase or quote you.

        I’m sort of on the fence about it myself.

        Shutter Island is an excellent audio book too. Very suspenseful!

        • Well… my description more closely follows the traditional novel, or pulp, definitions of “noir” and “hard boiled,” but I think they pretty much adapt the same way when it comes to film.

          I’d give some more leeway on film “noir” being bigger or different genre all together, at least today. The printed version of noir, in it’s traditional sense, was very much a derivative type of genre. However, film doesn’t necessarily follow that tradition, and the visual and story techniques first introduces with “noir” films in the 40s and 50s (which were usually the “non detective” type I summarized) are used quite a bit today.

          • Ah. Gotcha. Feels like I’m back in the film dept talking with classmates in between classes.


  2. When I think of “hard boiled detective movies,” I think of the old black and white films, where the detective does a lot of narrating.

    • You’d be pretty spot on with that description. “Hard boiled” stories were very popular in the 40s and 50s. Lots and lots of movies were made during that time following the “hard boiled” genre layout.

  3. Check out this movie coming out in August:

    Takers (2010)

    A group of bank robbers find their $20 million plan interrupted by a hard-boiled detective.

    • Very heisty. Paul Walker and Zoe Saldana? I’m sold.

      • I’d have to agree. I’m not a huge Walker fan, but I’m starting to dig Saldana. Either way, I’m all about heist flicks.

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