Rian Johnson’s acclaimed whodunit Knives Out is out now in Cineworld. That means it’s time to grab your deerstalker hats and notepads and sink your teeth into a delicious new murder mystery.
When slick sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate the death of wealthy author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), he suspects foul play. So which one of Harlan’s warring family members committed the appalling crime? There’s a fantastic rogues' gallery from which to choose, including Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson and Michael Shannon.
Not yet seen Knives Out? Well, there’s still time to cram in some sleuthing practice of your own. Test those old brain cells with these seven razor-sharp whodunit movies...
1. M (1931)
To begin with, we're heading all the way back to Fritz Lang’s seminal crime classic M. By no means the first mystery movie (that honour goes to Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a short film from 1900), M is nevertheless hailed as one of the greatest of the genre.
When numerous children are kidnapped in Berlin, both the police and criminal underworld seek out the identity of the heinous villain. Despite being almost 90 years old, M still holds up as a tense, provocative, and even frightening thriller, with an unforgettable central performance from Peter Lorre. And the film's deployment of early sound design was revolutionary for a period in which silent cinema dominated.
2. Chinatown (1974)
Directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne and produced by the late Robert Evans, Chinatown stars Jack Nicholson as hard-boiled private investigator J.J. Gittes. He finds himself entangled in a complex web of conspiracy after being hired to investigate the L.A water department, with the woman who hired him showing up dead shortly after.
Winning Towne the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Chinatown both embodies the tropes of classic noir films like The Maltese Falcon, and grafts on a very bleak sense of contemporary disillusionment. This was largely fuelled by Polanski’s own trauma following the murder of his wife Sharon Tate in 1969.
Based on the real-life California Water Wars, Chinatown offers a fascinating portrait of L.A with more twists than we can count. We’ll never forget this one – it’s Chinatown.
3. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Of course, we couldn’t undertake this list without honouring whodunit queen Agatha Christie. A number of her classic novels have been adapted for the big screen, including The Mirror Crack’d, And Then There Were None, and Murder She Said. But our pick for this list goes to the original Murder on the Orient Express (remade by Kenneth Branagh in 2017).
The remarkable ensemble includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Albert Finney as detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot, whom Christie reportedly loved. The mystery begins when a man is found dead on board the luxurious Orient Express train – so who is responsible? As Poirot digs into the seemingly impossible crime, the movie builds towards a deviously clever outcome.
4. Clue (1985)
If you’re looking for a ‘whodunit’ style mystery without all the seriousness, then do we have the perfect film for you.
Based on the board game of the same name (Cluedo for us on this side of the Atlantic), cult classic caper Clue stars the always-glorious Tim Curry as butler Wadsworth, who invites a group of strangers to a dinner party at an isolated mansion. However, a mysterious final guest arrives possessing dark secrets about the others, only to be murdered when the lights go out.
Brimming with plenty of outrageous laughs, Clue (which is name-checked in Knives Out) also came with three different endings. Although all three are incorporated into the film now, originally cinemas were given different endings during the film's original theatrical release. Although other whodunit spoofs like Murder by Death have made us laugh, Clue comes out on top.
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5. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Very loosely based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, this multi Oscar-winning fantasy fuses the hard-boiled characteristics of detective noir with animated characters from the Disney and Warner Bros stables.
A brilliantly imaginative riff on the aforementioned Chinatown, director Robert Zemeckis’s movie occupies a world in which flesh-and-blood humans and toons co-exist. In the movie, dour, alcoholic investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) pairs with the titular toon bunny (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to clear the latter’s name.
Although identifying the villain was never that hard to begin with – their name gives the game away – it's the way their diabolical scheme clicks into place that has us guessing. And it's an opportunity to glimpse a once-in-a-lifetime mash-up of our favourite animated cartoons in a zany adventure.
6. Scream (1996)
The conventions of a traditional whodunit film can also sneak their way into other genres. And with Halloween just around the corner, Wes Craven’s slasher-mystery Scream is the perfect candidate for this list.
This brilliantly self-aware horror hit sees a masked, horror film-obsessed killer (dubbed Ghostface) terrorise a group of teenagers with creepy phone calls – before murdering them. As the bodies pile up, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), her boyfriend Stu (Skeet Ulrich), bumbling cop Dewey (David Arquette) and reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) must unmask the killer before becoming their next victim.
7. Gosford Park (2001)
Set in a lavish country home with an all-star ensemble cast including Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Charles Dance and Michael Gambon, director Robert Altman’s lauded Gosford Park is exactly what we demand from a classic whodunit.
With an Oscar-winning screenplay penned by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park is packed full of intrigue and drama as the host of a high-brow dinner party is found murdered. The events of the night in question are subsequently told from the various perspectives of the upper-class guests and the lower-class servants, keeping us guessing right until the final moments.
Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.