The 10 Best Detective Movies Of All Time

Feb 22, 2006

The Bottom Line This is a list of the 10 Best Detective Movies of all Time.

There is nothing better than a great movie that involves detectives searching for criminals. It's fun to be able to sit back and watch a story unfold, never being quite sure where it is heading, or what the end result is going to be. Detective films have the perspective of being told by the police detectives themselves, and we get to see what they have to go through every day in order to track down the bad guys. There have a lot of exciting films in the genre, and I decided to come up with my list of what I felt to be the 10 best of all time. So, here is my opinion of what the 10 best detective movies of all time are:

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Being introduced to the character of Sam Spade, is like seeing where the current view of a Private Detective comes from. He is "old school" through and through, and every stereotype you would associate with a detective from the 1940's can be seen within this character. Spade is one of the great film characters in my opinion, and because of the way he is played, leaves a mark on you. Humphrey Bogart is the lead actor, who finds himself under fire when his partner is killed on an assignment. A mysterious woman comes to him for assistance and from there we are off on a mysterious tale of intrigue, where the only thing that Spade can trust is his own "gut." The Maltese Falcon is an extremely good movie, that is so well laid out, you will find yourself wanting to watch it a second time. This film just missed out being on my list of the best overall films of all time.

Chinatown (1974)

Directed by Roman Polanski, Chinatown is the story of a private detective who has been hired on by a woman to investigate her husband. She claims that he is stepping out on her, and wants to get to the bottom of it by attaining proof of what is going on. The detective is played by none other than Jack Nicholson, in what a lot of people consider his best role ever. He is a hard-nosed man who won't roll over when the case gets tough. The woman who approaches him is played by Faye Dunaway, and together these two actors lead us through a story that has so many twists and turns it could make your head spin. Nicholson is stellar in the role of Jake Gittes, and it is very entertaining to watch him work in the film. When he is pondering options, you can see the wheels turning in his mind, and because his emotions are so transparent, it adds to the characters likability factor. Chinatown is one of the best detective movies ever, simply because of Nicholson's portrayal of the main character.

Se7en (1995)

Morgan Freeman plays detective William Somerset, who has been working for years bringing down murderers. The case he is about to face though, will test every ounce of his psyche, as well as all his years of experience on the force. Joining him is a transfer who requested the job to see more action. This new detective, Davis Mills, will be his partner on the case that will change the course of their lives. Brad Pitt was tapped for the role of Mills, and was perfect for the part. The case they are forced to work, is that of a killer using the seven deadly sins as his way of finding victims. He has a message to send, and these two detectives must put a stop to it before he kills again. Se7en is a very dark detective story about sin and redemption, and doesn't try to light up anything but a grim story. It is a very well done movie, with Freeman and Pitt acting at their best. Throw in Kevin Spacey as the killer, and you have the ingredients of a high-powered detective thriller.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential is a throw back to an older time when detectives were the kings of their domain. The film takes it a step further by showing just how far a specific group of them will go for the truth. It boasts one of the biggest "star-power" casts of the 1990's with Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey right before they became Mega-stars this film has all of the makings of a great detective story of the 1930's. Set in 1950's L.A. , Guy Pierce, Spacey, and Crowe play police detectives who must deal with a night club shooting that ends up being more than it appears on the surface. They are all hard-nosed cops with defining styles that help piece together a crime-wave that leads them right back to the department where they work. This is one of those films that will stand the test of time, and 20 years from now, people will still be able to watch it for the first time and enjoy it. All of the actors but in stellar performances, and the movies shines from beginning to end.

The Fugitive (1993)

Harrison Ford's character stands accused of murdering his wife, and after a freak accident while being transported to prison, finds himself on the lamb. This leads to a massive manhunt to track him down led by Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Samuel Gerard. This is where the real intensity of the film comes into play, as Gerard tries to track down Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) and put him back into custody. Of course Kimble has nothing to lose by running, and is attempting to stay one step ahead of Gerard. Gerard must then try to track down the most intelligent "criminal" he has faced, all while trying to find all the information on why Kimble committed the crimes in the first place. Tommy Lee Jones was so good in his role, that he ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His role of Gerard is both cunning and impressively strong, as we get to see him use every detective move in the book to try to track down his man. The film stands up strong, but I think it is because of Ford and Jones that is turned out so well.

The Two Jakes (1990)

Jack Nicholson returns in his role from Chinatown as Jake Gittes. It is a movie that isn't quite as good as its original, but I think the story is strong enough that it is well worth seeing more than once. Of course there is a link to the first movie, and there are similar plot lines, but this story is based on a character that went through a lot of tough times. Jake has been through a lot since his last film, but has become well respected in a manner of speaking as well. When a murder takes place with Jake as a witness, it is up to him to determine what really happened. Many characters are thrown into the mix, including another 'Jake' played by Harvey Keitel. Many subplots revolve around the characters in this story, but if you blink you could end up being confused. There is a lot that doesn't get resolved, and if you compare it to Chinatown, you may be disappointed. All that being said, I think that the story here was strong, the character of Jake was still great, and I really liked the ending of the film. The Two Jakes is a good detective movie to say the least, and I highly recommend at least giving it a chance. If for nothing else, then to see how Jack Nicholson does as a Director.

Bladerunner (1982)

Harrison Ford is Detective Rick Deckard in the year 2019. When a ship is hijacked by human clones, and they get loose in Los Angeles, he is called in to find them and eliminate them before too much damage is caused. The film is a dark version of the future, where human cloning has become an all too real factor in life. Ridley Scott directed this superbly done story about a detective that must set aside a lot of his preconceived notions in order to become a better person. There are a lot of moral and ethical issues that confront the characters of the story, and the audience is pulled into that mental struggle along with everyone else. Ford is at his brilliant best again, and I think this was Ridley Scott's best film of all time. It is a deep, phylosophically challenging film about the rights and wrongs of human evolution, and presents itself in an action oriented fashion that keeps you gripping your chair at the intense moments.

The Silence of The Lambs (1991)

Jodie Foster is a FBI agent in training, that is brought on to a case far above her head. A serial killer is on the loose, and there are no leads as to where they will strike next. Everyone is stumped as to why they are choosing the victims, and ideas are running short. That is until a field supervisor decides that he can use Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as a tool to interview a locked up killer, in order to find out who he thinks could be doing the killings. Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who has been locked up for a series of murders where he actually ate his victims. It is believed that he could have insight into the mind of this new killer, and Starling works with him to try and figure it all out. It is a gripping story of how a new investigator is thrown into the mix of everything, and must discover the truth that everyone else is failing to see. Foster and Hopkins are extremely good in their cat and mouse games, and it ends up making the film that much more dramatic.

Fallen (1998)

One of the most original detective stories you are going to come across, Washington plays Detective John Hobbes, who has served as a witness to the execution of a very evil serial killer. But something happens before the execution, and Washington must race to figure out just what has occurred. It seems that the killer Reese had been possessed by some evil force, which had passed on to someone else before his mortal body was killed. This means that the evil is still out there, and unfortunately for our main characters, it can pass from person to person with a simple touch. Now Hobbes has to not only wrap his mind around what is happening, but prove that he isn't crazy, and put a stop to it all at the same time. John Goodman and Donald Sutherland are outstanding as two other cops in the film, and this is one of freakiest films you will come across with acting talent like this. Washington was great as Hobbes, and this is one of those movies that you actually have to watch a second time to make sure you didn't miss something the first time. Scary at times, this is Washington's best "thriller."

The Big Sleep (1946)

Humphrey Bogart makes my list a second time as Private Detective Philip Marlowe. He stars opposite Lauren Bacall, and is working for a rich family that is trying to discover what has happened to one of his favorite employees. To be more specific, he is working for the dying man of the house, and from Day 1, should have realized that he has bitten off more than he can chew. For each piece of truth that he uncovers, two new mysteries emerge, and the puzzle starts to take shape as he keeps digging further. Marlowe has a lot of hard decisions to make, and he could be having his vision clouded by the people around him. Bogart is great (as he always is) in the lead role, and he helps carry The Big Sleep to being a really good movie. It is one of his roles that has been overlooked due to more successful films like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, but his role as the private detective here is one that no Bogart fan should miss.

Additional Lists:

The 10 Best Movies Of All Time

The 10 Best Clint Eastwood Movies

The Best Science Fiction Films of All Time

Read all comments (7)

About the Author ID:
Member: Ryan
Location: Somewhere near the land of the lost
Reviews written: 1753
Trusted by: 612 members