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Neo-noir is a revival of film noir, a genre that had originally flourished during and after World War II in the United States—roughly from 1940 to 1960. During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the term "neo-noir" surged in popularity, fueled by movies such as Sydney Pollack's "Absence of Malice," Brian De Palma's "Blow Out," and Martin Scorsese's "After Hours". The French term film noir[1] translates literally to English as "dark film" or “black film”, because they were quite dark both in lighting and in sinister stories often presented in a shadowy cinematographic style. Neo-noir has a similar style but with updated themes, content, style, and visual elements.


The neologism neo-noir, using the Greek prefix for the word new, is defined by Mark Conard as "any film coming after the classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility".[2] Another definition describes it as later noir that often synthesizes diverse genres while foregrounding the scaffolding of film noir.[3]


"Film noir" was coined by critic Nino Frank in 1946 and popularized by French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton in 1955.[1] The term revived in general use beginning in the 1980s, with a revival of the style.

The classic film noir era is usually dated from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. The films were often adaptations of American crime novels, which were also described as "hardboiled". Some authors resisted these terms. For example, James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1944), is considered to be one of the defining authors of hard-boiled fiction. Both novels were adapted as crime films, the former more than once. Cain is quoted as saying, "I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise, and I believe these so-called schools exist mainly in the imagination of critics, and have little correspondence in reality anywhere else."[4]


Neo-noir film directors refer to 'classic noir' in the use of Dutch angles, interplay of light and shadows, unbalanced framing; blurring of the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and thematic motifs including revenge, paranoia, and alienation.[5]

Typically American crime dramas or psychological thrillers, films noir had common themes and plot devices, and many distinctive visual elements. Characters were often conflicted antiheroes, trapped in a difficult situation and making choices out of desperation or nihilistic moral systems. Visual elements included low-key lighting, striking use of light and shadow, and unusual camera placement. Sound effects helped create the noir mood of paranoia and nostalgia.[6]

Few major films in the classic film noir genre have been made since the early 1960s. These films usually incorporated both thematic and visual elements reminiscent of film noir. Both classic and neo-noir films are often produced as independent features.[citation needed]

After 1970, film critics took note of "neo-noir" films as a separate genre. Noir and post-noir terminology (such as "hard-boiled", "neo-classic" and the like) are often rejected by both critics and practitioners.[citation needed]

Robert Arnett stated, "Neo-noir has become so amorphous as a genre/movement, any film featuring a detective or crime qualifies."[7] Screenwriter and director Larry Gross identifies Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, alongside John Boorman's Point Blank (1967) and Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), based on Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel, as neo-noir films. Gross believes that they deviate from classic noir in having more of a sociological than a psychological focus.[8] Neo noir features characters who commit violent crimes, but without the motivations and narrative patterns found in film noir.[3]

Neo noir assumed global character and impact when filmmakers began drawing elements from films in the global market. For instance, Quentin Tarantino's works have been influenced by Ringo Lam's 1987 classic City on Fire.[9] This was particularly the case for the noir-inflected Reservoir Dogs, which was instrumental in establishing Tarantino in October 1992.[10]

This[clarification needed] was further expanded upon with the John Wick film franchise in the 2010s. Directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski, the series utilizes noir motifs including the use of light and shadow, complex moralities in its hero and villains, and classic noir motives.[11] In the first film the title character is motivated by revenge; in the second he is placed in a difficult situation and branded as a pariah from his community; and in the third and fourth he seeks a path to redemption and exiting his former life. The series also draws inspiration from the hard-boiled genre's theme of an anti-hero attempting to take down a sprawling criminal organization. Though Wick is not an agent of the law, he is depicted as representing the side of retributive justice and moral forthrightness in a setting otherwise populated by criminals. The series also has a heavy emphasis on violent action, particularly with the use of firearms. In this, Stahelski draws inspiration from Hong Kong action cinema and Korean neo-noir, such as Hard Boiled and The Man from Nowhere.[12][13][relevant?discuss]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Borde, Raymond [in French]; Chaumeton, Etienne (2002). A panorama of American film noir (1941–1953). San Francisco: City Lights Books. ISBN 978-0872864122.
  2. ^ Mark Conard. The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The Univ of Kentucky Press, 2007, p2.
  3. ^ a b Pettey, Homer B. (2014). International Noir. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780748691104.
  4. ^ O'Brien, Geoffrey (1981). Hardboiled America – The Lurid Years of Paperbacks. New York; Cincinnati: Van Nostrand Reinhold. pp. 71–72. ISBN 0-442-23140-7.
  5. ^ What is Neo Noir? Definition and Essential Examples – No Film School
  6. ^ Bould, Mark; Glitre, Kathrina; Tuck, Greg (2009). Neo-Noir. London: Wallflower Press. pp. 44. ISBN 9781906660178.
  7. ^ Arnett, Robert (Fall 2006). "Eighties Noir: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan's America". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 34 (3): 123–129. doi:10.3200/JPFT.34.3.123-129. S2CID 190713884.
  8. ^ "Where to begin with neo-noir". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-08-17.
  9. ^ Grant, Barry Keith (2003). Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 525. ISBN 0292701845.
  10. ^ Verevis, Constantine (2006). Film Remakes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 173. ISBN 0748621865.
  11. ^ Collinson, Gary (October 24, 2014). "An interview with Derek Kolstad, screenwriter of John Wick". Flickering Myth. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
  12. ^ "Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, longtime stunt coordinators & performers, founders of 87Eleven Action Design, and the filmmakers responsible for the new Keanu Reeves action-thriller John Wick... Ask us anything!". Reddit. September 30, 2014. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  13. ^ "John Wick Directors Talk World-Building & Not Killing a Dog in the Sequel". PixMovies. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved October 25, 2014.

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