Noir films and TV shows place emphasis on styles like shadowy elements, or angles that focus on the impact of visuals – what adds the neo (new) to them is the inclusion of components like ambiguous morality when it comes to protagonists, specific music injected in to create the tone of the movie, and central themes such as revenge or honor.
What/If has been the return of Rene Zellweger to mainstream popularity, and the show has been lauded for its use of the neo-noir genre to sell its anthology story. With the series being released on Netflix (meaning you’ve probably binged the whole thing by now) here are 10 films and shows that present further insight into this genre.
10 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
The first Blade Runner qualifies here, too, but we’ll go with the 2049 since it has more to offer in terms of aesthetic value. The neon lights are ablaze in this story where the action takes a backseat for character insights.
We see the pain the protagonist has over his loneliness, and this is alluded to using the sprawling landscapes where the main character stands on his own. The action itself is also layered with nuances, as every fight scene has a deep meaning attached to it. Even the ending has you appreciating the sight of the protagonist lying in the snow, just as he’s completed his mission.
9 Collateral (2004)
A thriller late at night is what the doctor ordered with Collateral, where the villain has you thinking of the mentality we have when it comes to what constitutes as good or bad. The movie delivers a chilling rendition of the big city, and we see just how seedy things are when the sun goes down.
You’ve got thrilling action in place, as a low-level taxi driver is forced to be the accomplice of a hitman who has a number of targets to go through in a single night. Collateral never lets go of its thrills, and gives us a Tom Cruise in fine form; who plays the antagonist for once.
8 True Detective (2014-present)
Season 2 of this show tried and failed to emulate the formula of the first season, but you can enjoy True Detective in its entirety as well. Like What/If, True Detective is also an anthology series, and you can binge through each season’s arc to your liking.
The first season is the strongest, and the most thought-provoking as well. That season has reflective moments galore, and seeks to go into the human condition as its main theme. Season 3 sticks closest to the neo-noir format, though, with the story flashing here and there to confuse the viewer into thinking over just what’s happening.
7 Fargo (1996)
Neo-noir can go sideways and present you with an uncomfortably bright setting, too. Fargo is the greatest example here, as the film serves a deeply disturbing tale in an upbeat context. The story has a man pull off the kidnapping of his wife by hiring two criminals, and the resultant search that follows.
Even after you’re done watching, you just won’t be able to place your finger on just what was so alluring about Fargo, as it expertly combines thrills with comedy. It’s a very smart film that will have you going back for several repeats, and appreciate the subtle direction that has been placed in each scene. You Betcha!
6 Angel (1999-2004)
Unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel didn’t cater to the teen market, and featured a gritty take on the fantasy genre. It was extremely dark to say the least, and every episode had the protagonists face a new mystery that never guaranteed even the main character’s safety.
The show was filled with dreary filters, rainy streets, and dark places in general that has you feeling something is lurking around the corner. The finale itself ended on a note that left the viewers unsure whether the heroes survived or not; a style that was followed throughout its run.
5 Dexter (2006-2013)
If you want to know just how sinister and shadowy the aesthetic quality is supposed to be onscreen in a neo-noir feature, then you need to watch Dexter. The opening scenes alone complete all the requirements for the genre, as we see Dexter drifting in Miami streets at night time for his victims.
The series sees a blood spatter analyst, who’s really a serial killer that hunts other killers. Dexter has us feeling every kill the main character makes, as the camera pans around to show Dexter in his “Dark Passenger” mode, while zeroing in on every detail, such as blood spilling down Dexter’s knives. The villains are also exclusive to each season, making it a sort of anthological format of its own.
4 Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island is the thinking man’s movie; a film that needs to be watched twice as a minimum. The first time you watch it, the film dives into the noir style by placing the protagonist in strange visions where the music is amped up and the effects do the talking.
Once you see the whole thing, you’ll realize you were played by the noir format the whole time, and then instantly rewind back to the beginning of the film. It’s a Martin Scorsese masterclass we have here, which can only be enjoyed when you open yourself up to things that can’t be imagined.
3 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Rarely do comedies employ noir styles into the genre, but this film did that wonderfully. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is riotously funny but brings in the neon lights to great effect here for a murder mystery that is as high on jokes as it is on style.
The story is a topsy-turvy affair, with one reveal after another taking you by surprise. Bolstered by the performances of its leading cast, the movie never feels like it overstays its welcome. Even the dingy street life is injected with a sense of curiosity in the spirit here, thanks to an effective presentation.
2 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
Speaking of dreary night lives, we have the most extreme of those in the second installment of the John Wick series. The first film could qualify, too, but it lacks the finesse the second movie brought. This one takes you on a journey of twisted reveals and dark places, as John uncovers new secrets behind the deal he has to honor.
Helped by incredible action sequences, John Wick: Chapter Two has viewers on the edge of their seats for its complete run time. It’s not all gunshots, though, as the theme of honor before reason hangs over the film at all times, and the beautiful use of wardrobe and city lights complete the environmental setting that makes you step into another world.
1 Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)
No Batman show or movie has ever captured just how haunting the Caped Crusader is – no show other than The Animated Series, that is. This one gave us Gotham City in all its Gothic glory, as Batman was seen through the eyes of the criminals, and he sure was scary to say the least.
The show defies superhero tropes by making the city the star of the action, with Gotham feeling like a haven for criminal foes, and Batman having to be as pragmatic as he can against these supervillains who seem to know how he ticks. If you want to understand the concept of fear, then the dark streets of Gotham are here to ignite that frightening factor.