The detective genre is one of the most exciting and flexible in the industry, as it can adapt to a classic “thriller” like Rian Johnson’s latest Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery or a gritty gangster epic like the iconic Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese. HBO Max is arguably one of the best mainstream streaming services available for this genre, featuring classics and modern hits.
The aforementioned Goodfellas and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction are strong representatives of the platform when it comes to classics, but it also shows the genre’s flexibility with superhero-themed crime dramas, like the revered The Dark. Knight by Christopher Nolan.
Director Martin Scorsese’s films are among the most iconic in the history of the medium. He is famous for his take on mob dramas, with Goodfellas often cited by fans as his biggest overall achievement. The film serves as the biographical story of real-life mobster Henry Hill and key members associated with him, set from 1955 to 1980.
Goodfellas is both ruthless and elegant, with an all-star cast typical of a Scorsese film. Ray Liotta does an exceptional job portraying the titular character’s euphoric dark highs and suitably pitiful lows, Robert De Niro skillfully conveys an intimidating poise, while Joe Pesci’s terrifyingly chaotic performance is certainly Oscar-worthy.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Combining elements of the western genre with noir crime, The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men is one of the most gripping modern thrillers. Based on the book of the same name by author Cormac McCarthy, the film follows three main characters: a Vietnam veteran who stumbles upon a huge amount of cash in the desert, a cold-blooded hitman tasked with recovering it and a police sheriff assigned to this Case.
No Country for Old Men is a masterclass in building tension in such a dark setting, not least through Javier Bardem’s emphatic performance as the antagonist. His performance as Anton Chigurh was transcendent and remains one of the most chilling portrayals of psychopathy on screen.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
A classic from another of the film industry’s most prolific directors, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is arguably one of the most inventive crime films to date. This is largely thanks to the film’s gripping and unconventional narrative structure, with several events depicted in chronological order which, combined with its entertaining dark humor and surreal emphasis on dialogue, provide a unique viewing experience. .
It follows three storylines each with its protagonists and how their stories intertwine, consisting of hitman Vincent Vega, boxer Butch Coolidge, and Vincent’s business partner Jules Winnfield. Pulp Fiction is still widely considered Tarantino’s best film.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Even outside of the Batman adaptations specifically, Nolan’s second entry in his The Dark Knight trilogy has been widely acclaimed as the best superhero movie overall. Where Begins before was the most comedic and Rises was more like a war epic, Knight went deep into gritty, gritty crime drama.
There are plenty of reasons The Dark Knight is as revered as he is – with Heath Ledger’s Joker being one of them – but part of it is how Nolan has expertly balanced his influences from beloved comic books like The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke with Michael. Mann’s Heat for real-world inspiration. They fit together perfectly to show just how masterful Batman stories can be.
The Departed (2006)
It’s a bit embarrassingly rich when it comes to Scorsese’s film catalog, but his 2006 project The Departed is certainly worth shouting about. The Oscar-winning film may also be the director’s finest work this side of the century.
This movie is a crime drama with gripping twists throughout, taking full advantage of its star-studded ensemble (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and more) to tell a complex and unforgiving story surrounding the La Irish mafia. The Departed is fascinating in its most sinister way, using its compelling cast of characters to explore virtually every facet of the moral spectrum.
David Fincher is known for directing some of the most compelling psychological thrillers of all time, with the dark Seven being one of his most memorable. The powerhouse duo of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play a pair of detectives tasked with apprehending a sadistic serial killer who bases his murders on the Seven Deadly Sins of Christian ideology.
Not for the faint-hearted, Seven is an engrossing crime that delves into the depths of evil, bolstered by two powerful leading performances, and a prime example of how to create an atmosphere of intense terror.
The Batman (2022)
It’s hard to keep up with the rich legacy left by Nolan and Christian Bale in the Caped Crusader theatrical space, and while The Dark Knight is still in a class of its own, Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s The Batman is a successful reboot. The film finally works in the “World’s Greatest Detective” element that even Nolan’s trilogy all but ignored, portraying a raw, reclusive Bruce Wayne working to live up to that epithet.
Taking a more sinister spin on the Riddler, The Batman draws inspiration from the hero’s best comics, adds a dash of Fincher’s Seven and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and accomplishes the rare feat of being something that pays homage to the source material and feels refreshing all at once.
Another Nolan movie, Memento was an early entry in his movie catalog. The director is known for his mind-bending narrative elements, and this psychological crime thriller shows off the roots of that style brilliantly. Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a man with a neurological disorder that causes short-term memory loss.
He’s also unable to form any new memories, which all combine for a compelling premise as Leonard tries desperately on the culprits who attacked him and killed his wife. Similar to Pulp Fiction, Memento thrives and captures with its creative non-linear storytelling approach.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Gone Baby Gone was actor Ben Affleck’s first film, starring his brother Casey Affleck. Adapted from author Dennis Lehane’s 1988 novel of the same name, the film follows two Boston private detectives as they attempt to find the kidnapped daughter of a single mother.
The film was released to strong critical reception, with major acclaim for Affleck’s proven eye for dramatic direction. However, Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan’s portrayal of Angie Gennaro was also widely praised, while bringing a fresh Boston-based perspective to a crime thriller.
Training Day (2001)
One of actor Denzel Washington’s most legendary performances, director Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day is a 2000s classic. Alongside Ethan Hawke, the two actors play LAPD narcotics officers as they navigate the gang-dominated neighborhoods of South Central LA for a day.
It’s a tense crime drama fueled by the electric dynamic between Washington and Hawke’s characters, with the former winning an Oscar for his stellar performance as the vile Detective Harris. Training Day tells a hardened story of organized crime and how it can still seep into the roots of law enforcement.