Action/Adventure, Best Movies, Classics, Crime/Mystery, Drama

The Best Private Eye And Detective Movies

“What are the best movies about or featuring Private Eyes?” We looked at 136 of the top Detective films and ranked them so we could answer that very question!

The top 40 films, all appearing on 2 or more “Best Private Eye” movie lists, are ranked below by how many times they appear. The remaining 75+ movies, as well as the sources we used, are in alphabetical order on the bottom of the page.

See also – our sister sites list of The Best Noir Books Of All Time !

Happy Scrolling!



Top 40 Best Private Eye Movies



40 .) Blood Simple directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

	Blood Simple

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • The Guardian

The owner of a seedy small-town Texas bar discovers that one of his employees is having an affair with his wife. A chaotic chain of misunderstandings, lies and mischief ensues after he devises a plot to have them murdered.




39 .) Criss Cross (1949) directed by Robert Siodmak

	Criss Cross (1949)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • The Culture Trip

Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, a man who seals his dark fate when he returns to Los Angeles to find his ex-wife Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) eager to rekindle their love against all better judgement. She encourages their affair but then quickly marries mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). To deflect suspicion of the affair, Steve Thompson leads Dundee into a daylight armored-truck robbery.




38 .) Cutter’s Way (1981) directed by Ivan Passer

	Cutter’s Way (1981)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • Slash Film

Richard spots a man dumping a body, and decides to expose the man he thinks is the culprit with his friend Alex Cutter.




37 .) Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) directed by Carl Franklin

	Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Lists It Appears On:

  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine

In late 1940s Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins is an unemployed black World War II veteran with few job prospects. At a bar, Easy meets DeWitt Albright, a mysterious white man looking for someone to investigate the disappearance of a missing white woman named Daphne Monet, who he suspects is hiding out in one of the city’s black jazz clubs. Strapped for money and facing house payments, Easy takes the job, but soon finds himself in over his head.




36 .) Drive (2011) directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

	Drive (2011)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman for criminals discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.




35 .) Fargo (1996) directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

	Fargo (1996)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt… but he’s got a plan. He’s going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It’s going to be a snap and nobody’s going to get hurt… until people start dying. Enter Police Chief Marge, a coffee-drinking, parka-wearing – and extremely pregnant – investigator who’ll stop at nothing to get her man. And if you think her small-time investigative skills will give the crooks a run for their ransom… you betcha!




34 .) Gilda (1946) directed by Charles Vidor

	Gilda (1946)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine

A gambler discovers an old flame while in Argentina, but she’s married to his new boss.




33 .) Gone Baby Gone (2007) directed by Ben Affleck

	Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Joblo

When 4 year old Amanda McCready disappears from her home and the police make little headway in solving the case, the girl’s aunt, Beatrice McCready hires two private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. The detectives freely admit that they have little experience with this type of case, but the family wants them for two reasons – they’re not cops and they know the tough neighborhood in which they all live. As the case progresses, Kenzie and Gennaro face drug dealers, gangs and pedophiles. When they are about to solve the case, they are faced with a moral dilemma that tears them apart.




32 .) Harper (1966) directed by Jack Smight

	Harper (1966)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB

Harper is a cynical private eye in the best tradition of Bogart. He even has Bogie’s Baby hiring him to find her missing husband, getting involved along the way with an assortment of unsavory characters and an illegal-alien smuggling ring.




31 .) In a Lonely Place (1950) directed by Nicholas Ray

	In a Lonely Place (1950)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine

An aspiring actress begins to suspect that her temperamental boyfriend is a murderer.




30 .) Lady in the Lake directed by Robert Montgomery

	Lady in the Lake

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • West World

Private detective Philip Marlowe is asked by a publishing executive, Adrienne Fromsett, to locate the wife of her boss, publisher Derace Kingsby. Earlier she had sent her husband a telegram saying she was heading to Mexico to marry Chris Lavery. However Kingsby had recently seen Lavery in the neighbouring Bay City. Marlowe pursues his investigation at the Kingsby’s lakeside cottage.




29 .) Memento (2000) directed by Christopher Nolan

	Memento (2000)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

Leonard Shelby is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife’s killer, however, is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of short-term memory loss. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he’s going, or why.




28 .) Mulholland Drive (2001) directed by David Lynch

	Mulholland Drive (2001)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

Blonde Betty Elms has only just arrived in Hollywood to become a movie star when she meets an enigmatic brunette with amnesia. Meanwhile, as the two set off to solve the second woman’s identity, filmmaker Adam Kesher runs into ominous trouble while casting his latest project.




27 .) Pickup on South Street (1953) directed by Samuel Fuller

	Pickup on South Street (1953)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine

In New York City, an insolent pickpocket, Skip McCoy, inadvertently sets off a chain of events when he targets ex-prostitute Candy and steals her wallet. Unaware that she has been making deliveries of highly classified information to the communists, Candy, who has been trailed by FBI agents for months in hopes of nabbing the spy ringleader, is sent by her ex-boyfriend, Joey, to find Skip and retrieve the valuable microfilm he now holds.




26 .) Sunset Boulevard (1950) directed by Billy Wilder

	Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • The Culture Trip

A hack screenwriter writes a screenplay for a former silent film star who has faded into Hollywood obscurity.




25 .) The Asphalt Jungle (1950) directed by John Huston

	The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • The Culture Trip

Recently paroled from prison, legendary burglar “Doc” Riedenschneider, with funding from Alonzo Emmerich, a crooked lawyer, gathers a small group of veteran criminals together in the Midwest for a big jewel heist.




24 .) The Big Heat directed by Fritz Lang

	The Big Heat

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • West World

Dave Bannion is an upright cop on the trail of a vicious gang he suspects holds power over the police force. Bannion is tipped off after a colleague’s suicide and his fellow officers’ suspicious silence lead him to believe that they are on the gangsters’ payroll. When a bomb meant for him kills his wife instead, Bannion becomes a furious force of vengeance and justice, aided along the way by the gangster’s spurned girlfriend Debbie. As Bannion and Debbie fall further and further into the Gangland’s insidious and brutal trap, they must use any means necessary (including murder) to get to the truth.




23 .) The Last Seduction (1994) directed by John Dahl

	The Last Seduction (1994)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

Looking to escape her unhappy marriage, villainous femme fatale Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) convinces her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), to sell cocaine, then steals the profits and runs out on him. She stops in a small town en route to Chicago, where she ensnares her next conquest, insurance man Mike Swale (Peter Berg). After getting a job at his insurance company, Bridget convinces Mike to run a scam — but things take a deadly turn when she recruits him to help get rid of her husband.




22 .) The Usual Suspects (1995) directed by Bryan Singer

	The Usual Suspects (1995)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • Paste Magazine

Held in an L.A. interrogation room, Verbal Kint attempts to convince the feds that a mythic crime lord, Keyser Soze, not only exists, but was also responsible for drawing him and his four partners into a multi-million dollar heist that ended with an explosion in San Pedro harbor – leaving few survivors. Verbal lures his interrogators with an incredible story of the crime lord’s almost supernatural prowess.




21 .) They Live By Night directed by Nicholas Ray

	They Live By Night

Lists It Appears On:

  • Paste Magazine
  • The Guardian

The story of a petty criminal and his girlfriend who try to escape their gang after a double cross of the thieves.




20 .) Twilight (1998) directed by Robert Benton

	Twilight (1998)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB

A retired ex-cop and private detective gets mixed up in murder when he is asked to deliver blackmail money and walks into a 20 year old case involving the mysterious disappearance of an actress’ former husband.




19 .) Vertigo (1958) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

	Vertigo (1958)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder

A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.




18 .) Zodiac directed by David Fincher

	Zodiac

Lists It Appears On:

  • Joblo
  • Paste Magazine

The true story of the investigation of the “Zodiac Killer”, a serial killer who terrified the San Francisco Bay Area, taunting police with his ciphers and letters. The case becomes an obsession for four men as their lives and careers are built and destroyed by the endless trail of clues.




17 .) Klute (1971) directed by Alan J. Pakula

	Klute (1971)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Surrey

This acclaimed thriller stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel, a New York City call girl who becomes enmeshed in an investigation into the disappearance of a business executive. Detective John Klute is hired to follow Daniel, and eventually begins a romance with her, but it appears that he hasn’t been the only person on her trail. When it becomes clear that Daniel is being targeted, it’s up to her and Klute to figure out who is after her before it’s too late.




16 .) Night Moves (1975) directed by Arthur Penn

	Night Moves (1975)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine

Private detective and former football player Harry Moseby gets hired on to what seems a standard missing person case, as a former Hollywood actress whose only major roles came thanks to being married to a studio mogul wants Moseby to find and return her daughter. Harry travels to Florida to find her, but he begins to see a connection between the runaway girl, the world of Hollywood stuntmen, and a suspicious mechanic when an unsolved murder comes to light.




15 .) Zero Effect (1998) directed by Jake Kasdan

	Zero Effect (1998)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Slash Film

Daryl Zero is a private investigator. Along with his assistant, Steve Arlo he solves impossible crimes and puzzles. Though a master investigator, when he is not working, Zero doesn’t know what to do with himself. He has no social skills, writes bad music, and drives Arlo crazy. In his latest case, Zero must find out who is blackmailing a rich executive, and when his client won’t tell him, why.




14 .) Angel Heart (1987) directed by Alan Parker

	Angel Heart (1987)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey

The down-and-out private detective Harry Angel is ordered, by a mysterious man named Louis Cyphre, to go on a mission to find a missing person. His routine failure soon leads to a bloody spar with himself as Harry Angel goes on a supernatural journey into his own soul.




13 .) Double Indemnity (1944) directed by Billy Wilder

	Double Indemnity (1944)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine
  • The Culture Trip
  • The Guardian

A rich woman and a calculating insurance agent plot to kill her unsuspecting husband after he signs a double indemnity policy. Against a backdrop of distinctly Californian settings, the partners in crime plan the perfect murder to collect the insurance, which pays double if the death is accidental.




12 .) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) directed by Shane Black

	Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Fandango
  • IMDB
  • Joblo
  • Paste Magazine

A petty thief posing as an actor is brought to Los Angeles for an unlikely audition and finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation along with his high school dream girl and a detective who’s been training him for his upcoming role…




11 .) Murder, My Sweet directed by Edward Dmytryk

	Murder, My Sweet

Lists It Appears On:

  • Bloody Murder
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • West World

Gumshoe Philip Marlowe is hired by the oafish Moose Malloy to track down his former girlfriend. He’s also hired to accompany an effeminate playboy buy back some jewels. When the exchange results in the playboy’s murder, Marlowe can’t leave the case alone, and soon discovers it’s related to Malloy’s. As he gets drawn deeper into a complex web of intrigue by a mysterious blonde, the detective finds his own life in increasing jeopardy.




10 .) The Third Man (1934) directed by Carol Reed

	The Third Man (1934)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder
  • Paste Magazine
  • The Guardian

In postwar Vienna, Austria, Holly Martins, a writer of pulp Westerns, arrives penniless as a guest of his childhood chum Harry Lime, only to learn he has died. Martins develops a conspiracy theory after learning of a “third man” present at the time of Harry’s death, running into interference from British officer Major Calloway, and falling head-over-heels for Harry’s grief-stricken lover, Anna.




9 .) Laura (1944) directed by Otto Preminger

	Laura (1944)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Culture Trip
  • West World

A police detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he’s investigating.




8 .) The Long Goodbye (1973) directed by Robert Altman

	The Long Goodbye (1973)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey

Detective Philip Marlowe tries to help a friend who is accused of murdering his wife.




7 .) Touch of Evil (1958) directed by Orson Welles

	Touch of Evil (1958)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Paste Magazine
  • The Culture Trip
  • The Guardian
  • West World

When a car bomb explodes on the American side of the U.S./Mexico border, Mexican drug enforcement agent Miguel Vargas begins his investigation, along with American police captain Hank Quinlan. When Vargas begins to suspect that Quinlan and his shady partner, Menzies, are planting evidence to frame an innocent man, his investigations into their possible corruption quickly put himself and his new bride, Susie, in jeopardy.




6 .) Brick (2005) directed by Rian Johnson

	Brick (2005)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder
  • Fandango
  • Joblo
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey

A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.




5 .) Chinatown (1974) directed by Roman Polanski

	Chinatown (1974)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Guardian

Private eye Jake Gittes lives off of the murky moral climate of sunbaked, pre-World War II Southern California. Hired by a beautiful socialite to investigate her husband’s extra-marital affair, Gittes is swept into a maelstrom of double dealings and deadly deceits, uncovering a web of personal and political scandals that come crashing together.




4 .) The Maltese Falcon (1941) directed by John Huston

	The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Culture Trip

A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.




3 .) Kiss Me Deadly (1955) directed by Robert Aldrich

	Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • BFI
  • Bloody Murder
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Guardian
  • West World

One evening, Hammer gives a ride to Christina, an attractive hitchhiker on a lonely country road, who has escaped from the nearby lunatic asylum. Thugs waylay them and force his car to crash. When Hammer returns to semi-consciousness, he hears Christina being tortured until she dies. Hammer, both for vengeance and in hopes that “something big” is behind it all, decides to pursue the case.




2 .) Out of the Past (1947) directed by Jacques Tourneur

	Out of the Past (1947)

Lists It Appears On:

  • BFI
  • Bloody Murder
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Culture Trip
  • The Guardian
  • West World

Jeff Bailey seems to be a mundane gas station owner in remote Bridgeport, CA. He is dating local girl Ann Miller and lives a quiet life. But Jeff has a secret past, and when a mysterious stranger arrives in town, Jeff is forced to return to the dark world he had tried to escape.




1 .) The Big Sleep (1946) directed by Howard Hawks

	The Big Sleep (1946)

Lists It Appears On:

  • AZ Central
  • BFI
  • Bloody Murder
  • IMDB
  • Paste Magazine
  • Surrey
  • The Culture Trip
  • The Guardian
  • West World

Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by wealthy General Sternwood regarding a matter involving his youngest daughter Carmen. Before the complex case is over, Marlowe sees murder, blackmail, deception, and what might be love.





The 75+ Additional Best Detective Movies



# Movies Directors Lists
41 A Simple Plan Sam Raimi Paste Magazine
42 Ace in the Hole Billy Wilder Paste Magazine
43 After Dark, My Sweet James Foley Paste Magazine
44 Angel Face Otto Preminger Paste Magazine
45 Angels With Dirty Faces Michael Curtiz Paste Magazine
46 Black Widow Bob Rafelson Paste Magazine
47 Blade Runner Ridley Scott Paste Magazine
48 Blue Velvet David Lynch Paste Magazine
49 Body Heat Lawrence Kasdan Paste Magazine
50 Bound Andy and Lana Wachowski Paste Magazine
51 Broken City (2013) Allen Hughes IMDB
52 Clash By Night Fritz Lang Paste Magazine
53 Collateral (2004)   Fandango
54 Crime Wave André de Toth Paste Magazine
55 Croupier Mike Hodges Paste Magazine
56 D.O.A. Rudolf Maté Paste Magazine
57 Dark City Alex Proyas Paste Magazine
58 Detour Edgar G. Ulmer Paste Magazine
59 Drunken Angel Akira Kurosawa Paste Magazine
60 Elevator to the Gallows Louis Malle Paste Magazine
61 Farewell, My Lovely (1975) Dick Richards IMDB
62 Fletch (1985) Michael Ritchie IMDB
63 Force of Evil Abraham Polonsky Paste Magazine
64 Gaslight George Cukor Paste Magazine
65 GUMSHOE (1971)   Bloody Murder
66 Gun Crazy Joseph H. Lewis Paste Magazine
67 Hard Eight Paul Thomas Anderson Paste Magazine
68 Hickey & Boggs (1972) Robert Culp IMDB
69 HICKEY AND BOGGS (1972)   Bloody Murder
70 HOT FUZZ   Joblo
71 Inherent Vice’   AZ Central
72 Journey Into Fear Orson Welles, Norman Foster Paste Magazine
73 Key Largo John Huston Paste Magazine
74 King of New York Abel Ferrara Paste Magazine
75 Kiss of Death Henry Hathaway Paste Magazine
76 L.A. Confidential Curtis Hanson Paste Magazine
77 Le Doulos Jean-Pierre Melville Paste Magazine
78 Le Samourai Jean-Pierre Melville Paste Magazine
79 Lift to the Scaffold   The Guardian
80 LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN   Joblo
81 Maltese Falcon   West World
82 Mildred Pierce Michael Curtiz Paste Magazine
83 Miller’s Crossing Joel and Ethan Coen Paste Magazine
84 MINORITY REPORT   Joblo
85 Naked City   West World
86 Night and the City Jules Dassin Paste Magazine
87 Night of the Hunter Charles Laughton Paste Magazine
88 Nightmare Alley Edmund Goulding Paste Magazine
89 Obsession Edward Dmytryk Paste Magazine
90 Odd Man Out Carol Reed Paste Magazine
91 Oldboy Park Chan-wook Paste Magazine
92 One False Move Carl Franklin Paste Magazine
93 Raw Deal Anthony Mann Paste Magazine
94 Red Rock West John Dahl Paste Magazine
95 Se7en David Fincher Paste Magazine
96 Sexy Beast Jonathan Glazer Paste Magazine
97 SHERLOCK HOLMES   Joblo
98 Shoot the Piano Player François Truffaut Paste Magazine
99 Small Town Crime (2017) Eshom Nelms IMDB
100 Sorry, Wrong Number Anatole Litvak Paste Magazine
101 State of Grace Phil Joanou Paste Magazine
102 Sweet Smell of Success Alexander Mackendrick Paste Magazine
103 T-Men Anthony Mann Paste Magazine
104 Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese Paste Magazine
105 Tension John Berry Paste Magazine
106 The Big Fix (1978)   Slash Film
107 The Blue Dahlia George Marshall Paste Magazine
108 The City That Never Sleeps   West World
109 The Conversation (1974) Francis Ford Coppola IMDB
110 The Dark Knight (2008)   Fandango
111 The Eye of the Beholder   Surrey
112
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
  Joblo
113 The Grifters Stephen Frears Paste Magazine
114 The Hitch-Hiker Ida Lupino Paste Magazine
115 The Killers Robert Siodmak Paste Magazine
116 The Killing Stanley Kubrick Paste Magazine
117 The Lady From Shanghai Orson Welles Paste Magazine
118 The Lady in the Lake   Surrey
119 The Limey Steven Soderbergh Paste Magazine
120 The Naked City Jules Dassin Paste Magazine
121 The Nice Guys (2016) Shane Black IMDB
122 The Postman Always Rings Twice Tay Garnett Paste Magazine
123
THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
  Bloody Murder
124 The Prowler Joseph Losey Paste Magazine
125 The Reckless Moment (1949)   BFI
126 The Set-Up Robert Wise Paste Magazine
127 The Sound of Fury Cy Enfield Paste Magazine
128 The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers Lewis Milestone Paste Magazine
129 The Stranger   West World
130 The Verdict Don Siegel Paste Magazine
131 The Woman in the Window Fritz Lang Paste Magazine
132 The Wrong Man Alfred Hitchcock Paste Magazine
133 Thieves’ Highway Jules Dassin Paste Magazine
134 TRAINING DAY   Joblo
135 White Heat Raoul Walsh Paste Magazine
136 Who Framed Roger Rabbit’   AZ Central


12 Best Private Eye and Detective Film Sources/Lists



Source Article
AZ Central Top 10 detective movies
BFI 10 great American film noirs
Bloody Murder Top 20: Private Eye movies
Fandango 11 Modern Film Noir Movies You Must See
IMDB The Best Private Investigator Movies
Joblo Top 10 Big Screen Detectives of the 21st Century
Paste Magazine The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time
Slash Film The Best Private Eye Movies You’ve Never Seen
Surrey Ten of the Best Private Eye Movies Ever Made
The Culture Trip The 9 Best Film Noir Movies Of All Time
The Guardian Top 10 film noir
West World The ten best detectives in classic film noir

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