50 Coolest Movie Detectives

Bud White, Ed Exley and Jack Vincennes

The Detectives: Three for the price of one, as Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey bring vastly different methods of detection to L.A. Confidential (1997).

Why They're Cool: Between Bud's blunt volatility, Ed's fastidious procedure and Jack's pragmatic schmoozing, you have a gestalt detective who will get the job done.

Quintessential Quote: Bud reminds Ed, "The Nite Owl case made you. Do you want to tear all that down?" Exley replies: "With a wrecking ball... You want to help me swing it?"

Frank Bullitt

The Detective: San Francisco PD Lieutenant who uncovers a conspiracy when he's asked to provide protective custody for a dodgy politician (Robert Vaughn).

Why They're Cool: As played by Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) - in a performance modelled on the real-life Dave Tosci (see Zodiac ) - Bullitt is the height of 1960s cool. He's a taciturn, polo neck-wearing, Mustang-driving style icon.

Quintessential Quote: "Time starts now."

Hercule Poirot

The Detective: Agatha Christie's cerebral Belgian sleuth, capable of cracking the most fiendish crimes whether he's played by Albert Finney or Peter Ustinov.

Why They're Cool: Never mind the clue hunting, Poirot's greatest strength is using his avuncular charm to get suspects to drop their guard and talk.

Quintessential Quote: "I have made enough money to satisfy both my needs and my caprices. I take only such cases now as interest me, and to be frank, my interest in your case is, uh... dwindling."

Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle

The Detective: Thoroughly unlikeable New York cop whose obsessive quest to stop Marseilles drug runners offloading their wares in The French Connection (1971) and its sequel nearly broke him.

Why They're Cool: Gene Hackman's Oscar-winning performance established a new kind of screen cop - a realistically scruffy, world-weary working Joe.

Quintessential Quote: "I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie."

Sam Spade

The Detective: Dashiell Hammett's private dick, who defined the look and feel for the breed in two separate screen versions of The Maltese Falcon .

Why They're Cool: Really, we're looking at Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 remake - a star-making performance that revelled in Spade's ambiguous blend of honour and pragmatism.

Quintessential Quote: "I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble."

John McClane

The Detective: NYPD officer played by Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988) and its four sequels, who has the unerring knack of finding trouble, usually in another city or even another country.

Why They're Cool: McClane is eternal proof that the business of thwarting bad guys doesn't stop when you clock off. It's always a Good Day To Die Hard .

Quintessential Quote: "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!"

Clarice Starling

The Detective: A rookie in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), a fully-fledged FBI agent in Hannibal (2001)… but, essentially, the case is the same: Lecter.

Why They're Cool: There's no better experience than learning on the job, and Starling's instincts are honed by early, close proximity to Hannibal.

Quintessential Quote: After hearing that Lecter has escaped - "He won't come after me… he would consider that rude."

'Dirty' Harry Callaghan

The Detective: Borderline-Fascist San Francisco police inspector who decides that the only way to deal with the violent scum of the world is to beat them at their own game.

Why They're Cool: The definitive loose-cannon cop, so popular that Clint Eastwood reprised the role four times after his debut in Dirty Harry (1971).

Quintessential Quote: "I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

Sherlock Holmes

The Detective: You know. Deerstalker. Pipe. Doctor Watson. 221B Baker Street. Incredible deductive reasoning. Terrible people skills.

Why They're Cool: From Basil Rathbone's Nazi-fighting Holmes to Robert Downey Jr's blockbuster incarnation, Holmes is a mainstay of cinema. The only reason he's not #1 is that too many of the great Holmes have appeared on TV rather than in the cinema.

Quintessential Quote: "The game is afoot!"

Philip Marlowe

The Detective: The definitive movie detective, Raymond Chandler's private eye has been played by Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum - and remains a bastion of old-school charm, morality and stoicism in the face of a beating.

Why They're Cool: The joy is in the diversity - Bogart's wisecracking dude in The Big Sleep (1946) defines film noir just as much as Elliott Gould's amiable hippie in The Long Goodbye (1973) symbolises the Hollywood New Wave.

Quintessential Quote: "I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings."