The Stylistic Elements of Film Noir, Explained In One Handy Infographic

Film noir may be one of the most misunderstood genres of film out there.

These days, it seems like anything that is even vaguely dark and moody gets labelled as noir, even though it may have very little in common with the classic films that have come to define the genre. But that begs the question, what is it that actually defines noir? In a epic infographic from the BFIAdam Frost and designer Melanie Patrick break down the story elements and stylistic attributes that make noir such an essential and intriguing part of American cinema history. And as an added bonus, they even created a rubric in order to score the greatest noir films ever made and determine which one is the "noir-est" of all. Check it out:

BFI Film Noir Infographic
By these standards, film noir isn't necessarily something that exists in the modern filmmaking landscape (although the latest season of True Detective checks off a lot of boxes). But in a lot of ways, that's a good thing. Noir films, as they're defined here, are simply a relic of a different time, something that we study and analyze when we're learning about film history and style. Of course, many great contemporary directors like Scorsese and the Coen brothers have taken cues from these films and weaved the stylistic attributes into their own work. And that's what makes noir so fascinating. It may be genre past its prime, but studying it can inform your own understanding of film style and help you create works that are truly unique.

What are your favorite noir films, and how have they influenced your own style of filmmaking? Let us know down in the comments!     

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Love this a whole lot. Film noir is very near and dear to my heart. Also, shameless self-promotion of my own film noir project because I'm gonna be that guy:

August 17, 2015 at 11:05PM, Edited August 17, 11:05PM


Checked out your film and thought it was interesting how it had a similar starting point but very different ending to my film. Maybe you want to take a look, cuz I'm also the self promoting type.

August 17, 2015 at 11:57PM


You shameless me stuff to watch...

I kid. I'll check these out. I got really into watching noir for a bit a few years ago.

August 18, 2015 at 1:15PM

Anne Le Sauvage
Ethusiastic amateur editor

Awesome post!

August 18, 2015 at 10:52AM


One of my favorite "modern" noir films, "The Man Who Wasn't There."

August 18, 2015 at 4:10PM, Edited August 18, 4:11PM

Rob Reiter
Commander Of The Realm

Their Love Was a Flame that Destoryed!??
...otherwise a real keeper.

August 21, 2015 at 8:07PM

Joseph Lippencott
Instrument Designer/Fabricator

I love Film Noir and this article was just great as to what goes into this style.Been wanting to shoot some footage and stills of a noir style film, this breakdown will help in building my shot list.Thanks for posting.

January 20, 2019 at 10:16AM


Thanks so much for compiling this list. It is fantastic the way you put it together based on noir elements and critics reviews and lists. I have used your list a lot in the past 2 months to build my film noir collection and I am waiting on several titles to become available on bluray such as Pickup on South Street, Nightmare Alley, DOA, and Murder by Contract. The one movie I have not seen on your list is Force of Evil because I have read quite a few posts on the internet that said it is the most anti-capitalist movie ever made. I still may go ahead and buy it or catch on TCM because I like John Garfield and really liked him in Nobody Lives Forever. I tried to get through Leave Her to Heaven but after about 20min I just was not interested anymore in this movie.

Thanks again for creating this invaluable list and all the work that went into it. I also love Eddie Muller's top 25 list which I have been using as well and Tony D'Ambra's website at

June 21, 2019 at 10:02AM, Edited June 21, 10:14AM


Glad you posted this!

Some favorites (at least, restricting myself to black-and-white films) are...

Hollywood classic era: Laura, Gun Crazy, Raw Deal, Ace in the Hole, The Set-Up, Act of Violence

UK classic era: Night and the City is an absolute favorite but there are plenty to choose from like They Made Me a Fugitive

France: Quai des Orfèvres, Retour de manivelle, gangster films by Jean-Pierre Melville

Japan: I am Waiting. There are plenty more great examples and I also want to highlight later b+w offshoots like The Most Terrible Time in My Life, Pitfall (Teshigahara 1962, not the 1948 US noir w Lizabeth Scott) and Shura (Pandemonium)

Argentina: Never Open that Door, The Nude Angel, Apenas un Delincuente

I'd consider Cairo Station (Egypt), Death is a Caress (Norway), and Death of a Cyclist (Spain) arguable examples of '50's international noir, seeing that many of the influences and situations that birthed noir in the US were echoed throughout the world.

I made a full noir list on MUBI called "Criminal Chiaroscuro," but I can't post links here yet.

February 13, 2020 at 12:22AM