5 of the Best American Detective Films Ever Made

Detective films have always been a staple throughout the history of Hollywood. The reason the subject has always stuck is because many people can relate to it. They symbolize an unlikely hero without superpowers or anything special about them but somehow manage to solve a mystery while battling their own demons. This type of movies falls under the subcategory of mystery/detective films called film noir. These movies have increased in popularity as well.

Detectives are portrayed in numerous ways in films, from sleuths to private eye to law agents looking to find balance in this world. Sherlock Holmes is unarguably one of the most famous fictional detectives out there. His younger counterparts Nancy Drew and even the Hardy Boys have appealed to other generations too. This proves that detective films or stories continue to draw audiences in by representing different aspects of adventure, fear, and even despair.

ExploreTalent has put up a list of movies that feature the most famous detective films that entered the American film industry. Check them out below:

1. Laura (1944)


Before Gone Girl, the world was enamored by the idea of a leading man falling for a femme fatale in the 1944 movie Laura. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) finds himself getting obsessed over a highly successful woman who is the subject of a mysterious murder case. He is later shocked to find out that nothing about Laura (Gene Tierney) is what it appears to be, as she shows up alive and well in her own apartment.

Review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 100% certified fresh rating, and Laura went to become one of the American Film Industry’s 10 Best Mystery Films of all time. It has been adapted numerous times in both radio and television, but failed to be as successful as the original movie.

2. Zodiac (2007)


An ensemble cast can easily bring success to a film, but it takes a great director to develop a true masterpiece. Director David Fincher did just that with Zodiac, which happens to be based on true events involving a mysterious killer that terrorized certain parts of California during the late sixties.

Sticking to the true-to-life events that transpired, audiences never did get full closure on who the Zodiac killer is. But the film centers more on the people who are hopelessly trying to uncover his identity.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist who cracks the encrypted letter that the Zodiac killer had been taunting the police with. Other cast members include a slew of well-known Hollywood actors like Robert Downey Jr., Chloe Sevigny, and Mark Ruffalo.

3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)


Not all detective films have to be based on serious topics to be successful. Sometimes all it takes is the right amount of comedy and even fantasy. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? injected the right amount of screwball comedy to make it one of the most successful movies ever released.

The film is set in the year 1947, where down on his luck detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is forced to partner up with the literally animated Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). The unlikely duo have to work together to clear Roger Rabbit’s name after he is framed for murder.

Witty dialogue, humorous scenes, and not to mention the cameos of other famous cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, and the memorable Jessica Rabbit made this film both a critical and financial success.

4. Dirty Harry (1971)


Dirty Harry is credited as being one of the greatest police films of all time. It was also selected for preservation by the National Film Industry back in 2012. Clint Eastwood takes the role of Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan, a tight-lipped police inspector from San Francisco. He is hot on the heels of a man that goes by the nickname “Scorpio,” a nod to the mysterious Zodiac killer that was mentioned earlier on this list.

The movie did spawn several sequels, with Eastwood still on board to star on them, but it failed to do as well as the first film. After all, with a line as memorable as “Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” there really is no room for anything to top that off.

5. Chinatown (1974)


Sticking to the film noir genre, Chinatown is yet another movie that features a tough-as-nails detective, and this time, it is played by Hollywood actor Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson portrays Jack Gittes who is reeled in by the case of a man that had allegedly drowned. The whole movie is a nod to Greek tragedy, and the numerous twists and turns that film features are enough to draw audiences in.