A French term literally translating to “black film,” historians will tell you film noir was an unofficial cycle of American films released in the 40s and 50s that usually centered around stories involving crime and anti-heroes. Industry professionals from the era will tell you they were just cheap B-movies: low-budget studio pictures meant to run at the bottom of a double feature. Stylists will tell you that it was an era of unparalleled aesthetic beauty among the classic Hollywood studio system, a time of dazzling chiaroscuro cinematography, trench coat-wearing leading men, shimmering dress-wearing leading women. But what is the truth of film noir? It can best be summarized as America’s long nervous breakdown. Frayed and neurotic from the strain of World War Two and the looming specter of Communism abroad, film noir saw America second-guessing its own cherished Dream, finding nothing but nihilism and existential extinction in the process. To know film noir is to know post-war America. Here are the ten films IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF THEIR FIRST RELEASE that serve as the best entry points into one of the most storied and celebrated of movie genres.