We all love a good crime drama, and while there are plenty of TV shows out there to scratch that itch, there’s nothing quite like seeing the genre in a full-length movie format. Crime thrillers span a whole range of classic films, from timeless comedies to movies considered among the best ever made. In the age of streaming, there’s no better place to turn than Netflix to scratch that itch. Its library contains a whole host of choices that could fill an entire weekend if you so chose. But because we don’t all have weeks at a time to spare watching movies, we’ve narrowed it down for you.
For the perfect, well-rounded crime story experience, we’ve pulled from a variety of genres and eras of films. Within our list are choices that span every tone and story you could possibly want, so buckle in, kick back, and enjoy!
1. Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
This powerful 2006 documentary, directed by Billy Corben, explores the rise of cocaine and the resulting crime epidemic that swept Miami, Fla., in the 1970s and 1980s. The film features interviews with those involved in all sides of the trade — from law enforcement officials, journalists, and lawyers to former drug smugglers and gang members — in order to provide a first-hand perspective of the Miami drug war. The film is gripping, gritty, and intense and poses some hard questions about the drug trade and its ability to turn a city into a crime-infested war zone.
2. Nightcrawler (2014)
This one’s far more recent, but already finds itself in elite company. Directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is proof that its lead actor can carry a true dramatic role. Gyllenhaal’s hauntingly gaunt features and incredible acting carry a dark, twisted story not for the faint of heart, as we follow an up-and-coming journalist into the underbelly of crime journalism. It offers an intriguing perspective that turns the genre on its head, boasting a trophy case full of awards and accolades.
3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
This follow-up to 2005’s Sin City may not be as acclaimed as the original, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of legendary comic book genius Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez. An all-star cast certainly doesn’t hurt its case either, featuring the likes of Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Powers Boothe, Bruce Willis, and tons more.
4. Hot Fuzz (2007)
The second installment in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, Hot Fuzz is easily one of the talented director’s best comedic works. The story focuses on Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a police officer so good at his job, that he’s reassigned to a lazy country town out of London for making his fellow officers look bad at their jobs. Soon though, Angel stumbles upon a widespread conspiracy that threatens to destroy his new home.
5. Gomorrah (2008)
Director Matteo Garrone weaves five separate stories of people affected by gangsters in this film about organized crime in Naples, Italy. From an haute couture tailor working in a mob-run garment factory, to a family of farmers involved in an illegal toxic chemical dumping operation, Gomorrah shows how organized crime has corrupted all levels of Italian society. Based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah is notable for its realistic and unromantic portrayal of the everyday lives of gangsters and the people they victimize.
“It is not a mob film in the classical vein, because there is no Scarface or central boss figure with whom we are tacitly allowed to become fascinated,” noted The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “There are just scattered villains and victims, filmed with loose, freewheeling energy and attack.” Gomorrah currently has a 92% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Burn After Reading
This dark comedy from the Coen brothers features as all-star cast including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Tilda Swinton. Burn After Reading follows several people in the Washington, D.C. area who are connected by a CD with potentially questionable contents. Though the audience knows the files are only pertinent to those they belong to, various misunderstandings lead to criminal activity, and shocking hilarity ensues.
7. The Imposter (2012)
If you’re looking for a crime story just insane enough to have actually happened, then you need look no further than The Imposter. The chilling documentary follows the exploits of a family whose son disappeared under mysterious circumstances, only to “reappear” years later. The twist (which we won’t spoil here) is incredible, and the film builds tension in a way that has you forgetting you’re even watching a documentary.
8. No Country for Old Men (2007)
There’s a reason No Country for Old Men won so many Oscar accolades the year it came out. Many regard the crime thriller as the best work of the Coen Brothers to date, following the exploits of a man who comes across a pickup truck loaded with heroin and cash, and the violent consequences of his decision to run off with his find.
9. The Third Man (1949)
Orson Welles may be most known as the mastermind behind Citizen Kane, but his starring role in the The Third Man is equally as impressive. The film is widely regarded as one of the best ever made, as a man (Welles) inadvertently falls into a web of murder and deception in Vienna.
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy
Before David Fincher brought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to life for American audiences, we had a trio of Swedish adaptations starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace. The films have since been broken up and extended into 180 minute “episodes,” all of which are available to stream now on Netflix, laying out one of the greatest crime series of the modern era.
Additional reporting by Evie Carrick and Becca Bleznak.
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