The allure of a killer crime movie is undeniable. From early noir and crime thriller movies to the intricate narratives of Alfred Hitchcock and the luridly-colored Italian giallo horror movie shockers that gave rise to the modern slasher flick, crime finds its way into the hearts and minds of moviegoers everywhere.
This holds as true in the modern century as it did in the earliest days of cinema. From psychological thrillers to neo-noir blood fests, here are the best crime movies from 2001 and beyond. They're sure to get your pulse racing.
1. Infernal Affairs
Remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed, the original is still the superior version of the tale; a lean, beautiful, and tense film about a cat-and-mouse game between a gangland mole within the police department and an undercover cop. Winning seven Hong Kong Film Awards and garnering an Oscar nomination, this smart thriller leans into the emotional and moral consequences of undercover work–and trusts its audience to understand the tale without the heavy lifting that The Departed often fell prey to.
2. A History of Violence
While arguably one of David Cronenberg’s more “approachable” films, A History of Violence stands out from the pack of best crime movies by making the violence in question incredibly uncomfortable, even for viewers long jaded to movie violence. It also contains some of the best uses of sex scenes to establish character you'll ever see on film. Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen would reunite for 2007's chilling Russian gangster flick, Eastern Promises.
4. Good Time
Robert Pattinson embarks on a winding odyssey through the streets of New York City in this striking crime caper by the Safdie brothers. Pattinson plays Connie Nikas who, along with his brother Nick, robs a bank in Queens. Though they secure the cash, the getaway goes south, and Nick is thrown in jail. Now, Connie’s in a race to escape authorities and free his brother.
Based on Roberto Saviano’s unflinching non-fiction crime narrative of the same name, Gomorrah is a stark and authentic portrait of organized crime in southern Italy and the human toll it takes on Italian society. The film wowed critics and audiences with its brutal realism and complex narrative, and was hailed as one of the top crime movies of 2008.
What happens when you take a film noir detective story—complete with archaic dialogue and plenty of slang—and plop it into a modern-day high school? You get Rian Johnson’s spellbinding directorial debut and one of the all time great crime thriller movies. Johnson spent seven years attempting to get the movie made, and eventually was able to finance the film for under $500,000. Brick is a pitch-perfect cult classic, with a thrilling starring turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has had a role in each of Johnson's films to date.
7. Kiss Kiss Bang
Shane Black’s love letter to pulp detective novels and classic film noir also manages to be one of the most razor-sharp crime thriller movies of the modern era and one of the funniest buddy comedies ever made. Based on a Brett Halliday mystery, Black took iconic screenwriter James L. Brooks's advice to imagine Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets in his role in Chinatown. The stars aligned from there: They were able to book Robert Downey, Jr. cheaply after his fall from grace; Black cracked the script; and Val Kilmer's interest in starring in a comedy led to his role as "Gay" Perry.
David Fincher’s masterpiece remains one of the best crime movies based on a true story. Calling to mind the Jodie Foster-helmed The Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac reminds us of the thrilling power of movies (and the price of obsession), while taking us on a mind-bending chase for notorious murderer the Zodiac Killer. Fincher leaned fully into the 70s era, using actual photos from the Zodiac's police files and later complaining that they could have had "more VW bugs" to really nail the period.
9. No Country for Old Men
You can’t really make a list of the top crime movies and not include at least one Coen Brothers title, right? It doesn’t hurt that Javier Bardem made his name playing Anton Chigurgh, one of the all-time great film villains, in this haunting tale. This modern classic is currently available on HBO Max.
Nicolas Winding Refn invites you on a dark joyride through Los Angeles in this hypnotic crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and Oscar Isaac. Gosling plays Driver, a solitary stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for LA criminals. He strikes up a relationship with his neighbor Irene (Mulligan). But things spin out of control when Irene’s criminal husband Standard (Isaac) returns from prison. Hyper-stylized, hyper-violent, and with a killer soundtrack, Drive is a trip worth taking.
11. A Prophet
Director Jacques Audiard crafted one of the best crime movies in recent years with this award-winning French prison drama starring Tahar Rahim. Rahim plays Malik El Djebena, a 19-year-old French petty criminal of Algerian descent who’s sentenced to six years in prison. Vulnerable and alone, Malik is soon conscripted into a Corsican prison gang by its leader, who sees Malik as a useful tool in dealing with the prison’s Muslim population. Malik accepts—he has no choice—and soon transforms into a hardened assassin and drug trafficker.
12. Blue Ruin
Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier strips the revenge thriller down to its bare essentials in this grim and gritty flick starring Macon Blair. Blair plays a drifter named Dwight who returns to Virginia to kill the man convicted of murdering his parents some 20 years ago. Of course, vengeance is never that simple. Saulnier followed Blue Ruin with the 2015 horror thriller Green Room—also worth a watch.
13. In Bruges
By turns hilarious and tragic, Martin McDonagh’s film about two hitmen lying low in Bruges, Belgium isn’t to be missed. It features fantastic performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and a particularly foul-mouthed Ralph Fiennes. Hell might be an eternity spent in Bruges, but heaven might look something like an afternoon with In Bruges.
14. The Raid 2
Sure, The Raid is an action classic, but its sequel keeps all that action intact while opening up the palette to create a sweeping generational epic. Think top crime movies like The Godfather, but with lots of people getting kicked, punched, stabbed, and murdered with hammers. An Indonesian film by way of Welsh director Gareth Evans, The Raid 2 blew away American and international audiences alike.
15. Cold in July
This isn’t Jake Gyllenhaal’s first appearance on this list, and it won't be his last, but it may be his best work. The actor turns in one of the eeriest performances you’re likely to find outside of a horror flick in Nightcrawler, helped along by Dan Gilroy’s portrait of the nighttime world of Los Angeles.
17. American Gangster
Inspired by the rise and fall of real-life Harlem drug trafficker Frank Lucas, Ridley Scott’s 1970s gangster pic stars Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Epic in scale and boasting terrific performances from Washington and Crowe, American Gangster delivers a riveting journey through the criminal underworld of 1970s New York City. Just make sure you’re cozy before queuing it up—this bad boy runs 157 minutes.
18. Free Fire
Ben Wheatley blasts apart the gun stand-off premise in this explosive dark comedy starring Brie Larson, Armie Hamer, and Cillian Murphy. Larson plays Justine, an American businesswoman in 1970s Boston who, along with her associate Ord (Hamer), coordinates a black-market arms deal between an IRA fighter (Murphy) and a weapons dealer from South Africa (Sharlto Copley). But when tensions escalate and shots ring out, the exchange erupts into an all-out shooting spree as everyone opens fire on anything that moves. If you’re looking for a crime film that takes a decidedly more bizarre turn in its final reel, check out Wheatley’s Kill List.
19. End of Watch
We told you he’d be back. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña deliver riveting performances as two young LAPD officers who cross paths with a dangerous drug cartel in this gripping cop drama. End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote the screenplay for Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. The twin flicks make an excellent of police procedural pairing and represent two of the top crime movies around.
20. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore
This Netflix original about a woman and her eccentric neighbor who track down the burglars who broke into her home feels like the orphaned sibling of a Coen Brothers classic.
21. The Nice Guys
Shane Black gets the distinction of being the only director to make this list twice, and while The Nice Guys may not be quite as successful as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s a lot more ambitious to make up for it.
22. Layer Cake
Take the producer of Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, give him a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig (and Michael Gambon, who had been recently cast as Dumbledore’s replacement), and you’ve got one of the best British crime films that most people haven’t seen. A nameless protagonist on his supposed last job discovers (naturally) that there's higher stakes than he expected. Layer Cake elevates its common premise with stylish menace.
23. Baby Driver
A musical in which the characters listen to the songs rather than sing them may not seem the most likely candidate for one of the best crime movies of 2017, but that’s just because you may not have seen Edgar Wright’s infectious caper flick yet.
The list could go on and on. The 21st century has already proven a fertile ground for crime thriller movies, as various directors take the genre's reins and run with it in just about every direction you can imagine, from the humor of Shane Black to elegiac tales like No Country for Old Men.
No matter how many of the best crime movies we list, we're bound to miss some. So tell us your top crime movies of the 21st century in the comment section below!
Featured still from "Sicario" via Lionsgate