Who doesn’t love a murder mystery? A genre that’s been popularised by the brilliant whodunit novels of Agatha Christie and its many screen adaptations. A whodunit is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story wherein the main focus is the mystery surrounding who committed the crime. Clues and hints are provided from which the perpetrator’s identity can be discovered before the story presents the revelation itself at its climax.
Whodunit films are known for their eclectic ensemble cast, unique setting and a compelling plot that is usually spearheaded by an eccentric, amateur or semi-professional detective, evidently seen in the movies we share below. It’s a highly entertaining genre that is full of twists and turns, lies, secret, deceits, and of course… murder!
For this week’s Must-Watch Movies, we share a list of the greatest murder mysteries in cinematic history. So, put your crime-solving hat on and let’s solve some murder mysteries!
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Released in 1974, Murder on the Orient Express is a mystery thriller film directed by acclaimed American filmmaker, Sidney Lumet, with a screenplay by Paul Dehn. Based on Agatha Christie’s acclaimed 1934 novel of the same name, the film features the fictional character of Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, one of Christie’s most famous and long-running characters from her novels. The film was a critical and commercial success, receiving six nominations at the 47th Academy Awards including Best Actor for Albert Finney, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Supporting Actress for Ingrid Bergman, winning the latter.
The plot follows renowned Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, as he boards the luxurious Orient Express, looking forward on returning to England for a well-deserved and much-needed rest. Poirot encounters a diverse group of high-class passengers aboard the train but when a massive avalanche causes the high-speed locomotive to halt, Poirot must take advantage of the unfortunate event to uncover the mysterious murder of a fellow passenger. Confined in a restricted space where everyone is under suspicion, Poirot must work swiftly and connect the dots to discover the unknown killer before they strike again, as the remaining passengers are linked by an unusual connection.
Featuring a glamorous star-studded ensemble, Murder on the Orient Express is a meticulously crafted whodunit that perfectly utilises murder and intrigue to present a captivating film with a compelling plot and complex characters. The brilliant production value, elevated by Lumet’s stylish direction makes this film one of the best adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work.
Starring: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, Michael York, Colin Blakely, George Coulouris, Denis Quilley, Vernon Dobtcheff, Jeremy Lloyd and John Moffatt.
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay by: Paul Dehn
Based on: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Running time: 128 minutes
Release date: November 21, 1974
Released in 1996, Scream is a comedy slasher film directed by the “Master of Horror”, Wes Craven, with a screenplay by Kevin Williamson. The film satirises the clichés of the horror movie genre by combining black comedy and “whodunit” mystery with the violence of the slasher genre. The film was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing slasher film at the time. Scream was regarded as the film that revived the horror genre in the 90’s, earning cult status as one of the best horror films ever created.
Set in a peaceful town in California, the plot follows the story of teenager Sydney Prescott (Campbell), one year after the death of her mother. When Sydney and her friends begin to experience strange phone calls, they learn that the calls were coming from a masked serial killer. When the killer starts terrorising the town and murdering teenagers, Sydney along with local tabloid news reporter, Gail Weathers (Cox), and Deputy Dwight “Dewey” Riley (Arquette), investigate the murders to uncover the killer behind the ghost mask.
Anchored by a wickedly clever plot that aptly combines irony, self-reference and cynical social commentary with blood and scares, Craven’s subversive interpretation of the genre makes Scream an ingenious, campy and exceptionally compelling slasher film.
Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy, W. Earl Brown, Joseph Whipp, Live Schreiber and Drew Barrymore.
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Running time: 111 minutes
Release date: December 18, 1996
Gosford Park (2001)
Released in 2001, Gosford Park is a British satirical black comedy-mystery film directed by Robert Altman and written by Julian Fellows, famously known as the creator of award-winning TV series, Downton Abbey. The film was developed by Altman, Fellowes and producer, Bob Balaban, who wanted to make an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. The film was a critical and commercial success, garnering seven nominations at the 74th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Original Screenplay, winning the latter.
Set in the 1930s, the plot follows the story of wealthy industrialist Sir William McCordle (Gambon) and the McCordle family who have invited a group of wealthy Britons and an American producer to their old-fashion English country house for a shooting weekend at Gosford Park. Throughout the years, William has become a benefactor to many of his relatives and friends. And as the weekend proceeds, it looks like everyone from both above the stairs and below is eyeing for William’s fortune as secrets are uncovered. But when a murder occurs after a dinner party, each of the characters become a suspect. The film presents the following investigation through the perspective of the servants and the guests.
Altman’s films are known for his spotlight on characters rather than plot, and Gosford Park is a true testament to that. Driven by a diverse and rich set of characters that are brilliantly performed by the all-star cast, Gosford Park is simply a cinematic masterpiece that ranks as one of Altman’s finest works to date. A perceptive social commentary on society, this film doesn’t only utilise the cinematography to beautifully create the period look but uses it to enhance its storyline.
Starring: Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emily Watson.
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Julian Fellowes
Running time: 137 minutes
Release date: November 7, 2001
Mystic River (2003)
Released in 2003, Mystic River is a neo-noir mystery drama film directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay by Brian Helgeland. Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Mystic River was a critical and commercial success. The film received six nominations at the 76th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Sean Penn, Best Supporting Actor for Tim Robbins, Best Supporting Actress for Marcia Gay Harden and Best Screenplay, with Penn and Robbins winning their respective categories.
The plot follows three childhood friends in a close-knit blue-collar neighbourhood in Boston in the mid-‘70s who experience an extremely traumatic experience when one of them is abducted and sexually abused. Cut to nearly three decades later, the three friends – Jimmy (Penn), a reformed criminal; Dave (Robbins), a blue-collar worker and victim of the abuse; and Sean (Bacon), the methodical Massachusetts State Police Detective – are still trying to find happiness in the aftermath of the incident. As if having to deal with their horrific past wasn’t enough, Jimmy’s teenage daughter, Katie (Rossum), was found brutally murdered, and Dave becomes a top suspect in Sean’s investigation. Although he has renounced his former ways, Jimmy once again picks up where he left off, set on uncovering his daughter’s sadistic killer.
Driven by the powerful performances of its flawless cast, notably Penn’s, Mystic River is a haunting and brooding drama that unfolds in layers, revealing the tragedy in its story with slow-burning power. The moving screenplay and Eastwood’s fantastic direction makes Mystic River one of the finest examples of modern cinematic storytelling.
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Tom Guiry, Spencer Treat Clark, Andrew Mackin, Emmy Rossum, Jenny O’Hara, Kevin Chapman, Adam Nelson, Robert Wahlberg, Cayden Boyd, John Doman, Tori Davis, Jonathan Togo, Will Lyman, Ari Graynor, Ken Cheeseman and Michael McGovern.
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by: Brian Helgeland
Based on: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
Running time: 137 minutes
Release date: October 15, 2003
Knives Out (2019)
Released in 2019, Knives Out is a mystery film written and directed by Rian Johnson that features an ensemble cast of A-list actors. The film features an original story by Johnson that was inspired by the popular murder mystery novels of Agatha Christie. Best known for his previous work on movies such as Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Knives Out is regarded as Johnson’s career-defining work, with the movie receiving critical acclaim upon release and earned major box office success. The film garnered three nominations at the 77th Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Musical or Comedy for Daniel Craig, and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for Ana de Armas, as well as Johnson’s first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 92nd Academy Awards.
The plot follows the mystery surrounding the untimely death of renowned crime novelist, Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), who is found dead in his estate shortly after his 85th birthday. When the curious and charming Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is mysteriously called in to solve the case, he must sort through a tangled mess of red herrings and white lies from Harlan’s dysfunctional family and his devoted staff to uncover the truth behind the patriarch’s cryptic death.
Knives Out take on the old murder mystery concept and breathe new life into it with its ingenious story, visionary direction and fantastic performances of its cast. Writer-director Johnson superbly makes use of its stellar ensemble cast to concoct not only an extremely entertaining and crowd-pleasing film but one that tackles socio-political commentary on American society through its Latina heroine played by de Armas against the Caucasian Thrombey family.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, K Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh and Marlene Forte.
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Running time: 130 minutes
Release date: November 27, 2019