Best Small Town Crime Movies, Ranked

Crime film has so many neat little subgenres. One of the best is the small town crime movie. The crime genre in small towns is often full of locals who know the past, the present, and some idea of ​​their future. The small-town crime genre gives directors and actors the ability to play with these specific provocations. Whether it’s disparate workers on the economic fringes looking to make a big score or the alarming amount of harm that seeps into their way of life, disrupting the simplicity of a small town, these films often struggle with great moral and ethical questions.



The small town crime genre is full of excellent work from talented directors. Especially the Coen brothers who could have had at least three entries on this list alone: Fargo, Raising Arizonaand single blood,, to name a few. But, at the heart of what makes this genre so fun to talk about are the varied approaches to showing the horrors of brutal violence that seep into more modern society. It’s a collision of lifestyles that very few people can reckon with. As such, here are the best small town crime movies, ranked.

9 A history of violence

Abandoning the provocations of body horror to indulge in true illicit terror in the form of small-town crime, A history of violence is a film that keeps you in suspense. Viggo Mortensen fits Cronenberg’s shoes perfectly as the main protagonist who must fight against the unauthorized violence that roams his family restaurant. After Mortensen becomes a hero for taking out crooks, Cronenberg’s film shows how a generation of violence can seep into everyday life. While also walking on the razor’s edge with the twists and turns of the film.

Related: Best David Cronenberg Movies, Ranked

8 cop lands

In a town full of corrupt police officers, some of whom have retired and come to small New Jersey suburbs for tax breaks, cop lands is a film stacked to the hilt with great actors who are at each other’s throats. Sylvester Stallone plays the morally bound lonely sheriff, whose quiet nature leads him to be a pushover for any corrupt cops. Harvey Keitel leads a troupe at odds with Figgsy (a still intense Ray Liotta) because his former partner was killed, so Figgsy begins to harbor resentment. The film transforms the small town of Jersey into a classic Western. Full of malicious and corrupt cops taking on the law and endlessly undermining it, the film turns into an epic shootout.

seven rolling thunder

In the vein of nasty revenge B movies but with much more in mind thanks to Paul Schrader’s screenplay, rolling thunder plunges into the most unforgiving and desolate American landscape. Disillusioned with reality upon returning from Vietnam, Major Rane (William Devane) tries to readjust after spending years as a prisoner of war. What he finds is a direct path to violence, as ruthless thugs raid his home and take his hand. Directed by Johnny Flynn, the film delves deep into the dirtiest, humblest, small town Americana. The setting offers no salvation to its characters, only judgment at the end of a gun barrel.


6 In the heat of the Night

The swampy reaches of rural life in the 1960s had their nebulous racism and anarchy. In the heat of the Night – a seminal American classic – Norman Jewison uses the trappings of a dark, murderous mystery to show what it’s like to navigate for a person of color. Sidney Poitier’s legendary grace and charisma were perfect for Virgil Tibbs, a big-city homicide detective who finds himself unwittingly ensnared in a murder case because of an altercation with the local chief, played by Rod Steiger. The film has an unsettling and mysterious atmosphere that puts us in Tibbs’ shoes as he must navigate this ugly landscape and continue to do his job uninterrupted. A classic film that won 5 Oscars, including Best Picture.

Related: Best Sidney Poitier Movies, Ranked


5 the hunter’s night

The trappings of a small Christian town are abandoned by the evil that creeps into Charles Laughton’s layered work. The film was of the longtime actor whose only chance to direct was the hunter’s night. Dark for his subject at the time, Robert Mitchum plays the killer preacher for evil fun. With “Love and Hate” tattooed on his fists, the religious allegory becomes physical, manifesting in the duality of a priest savoring hell. Mitchum follows two children he dreams of murdering, overlooking the quaint town where everything is perfect on the surface. But Mitchum dives deep into the carnage to make sure nothing will stay the same.

4 Fargo

The Coen Brothers are the masters of the crime genre, focusing on two-bit tricksters with often a moral decadence and satirical glee that plays off their clear, strong sense of humor. Moving within the confines of small-scale politics and lowly crooks in small corners of America are part of their filmography. Fargo is an early crime masterpiece by the Coens that acts as a savage tale of desperation and lowly criminals who abide by no moral code. Filled with an incredible lead role from Coen muse Frances McDormand, which won her her first Oscar.


3 memories of murder

The film is not just a great crime mystery, but a reminder of the advances in technology that have made the job of the police easier and easier to do their job. memories of murder also shows the possibility of justice being served not as a moral or ethical device, but as a lucid indictment that a crime has been committed and the right person has been convicted. Bong Joon-ho’s film stars the ever-reliable Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung as conflicted detectives trying to catch a serial murderer and rapist in South Korea’s small Gyunggi province. But, even with brilliant detective work, the inability to bring a killer to justice due to lack of funding and technology in this small town proves futile.

2 In cold blood

by Richard Brooks In cold blood is a documentary depiction of a brutal murder that inspired the Truman Capote book of the same name. Based on the 1959 Clutter family murders in a small rural town, Brooks and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall shot much of the film. in actual locations. Giving the film a deeply unsettling tone and an atmosphere of dread. Starring Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, the film almost exclusively follows their motivations. Trapped in the psyches of two criminals driven to murder, the film never spares the details of going unflinchingly at their throats.


1 Badlands

Terrence Malick’s films often adorn the duality between the grace and chaos of the world’s natural beauty. With his impressionist beginnings Badlands, Malick has established himself as an artist to watch. Inspired by Charles Starkweather’s true murder series of the 1950s, Malick showed the beauty of the open road, life in the Midwest, but also how the violent chance of the world collides. With Martin Sheen in the lead as the charismatic devil and a radiant Sissy Spacek as the young lover who follows, Badlands is a gripping, epic and beautiful look at small-town life turned upside down by a searing romance that acts as its own force of nature.

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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