From Death on the Nile to The Usual Suspects, here are some of the best mystery movies like Knives Out.
Who doesn’t enjoy a well-made whodunnit mystery? It’s a popular genre that has appealed to readers for centuries. From Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler to Stieg Larsson and Tana French, mystery writers can instantly transport us to a different, darker world with a confounding puzzle at its center. All these darkly fascinating whodunits are also perfectly suited for the cinematic medium. And from the silent-era days, whodunit mysteries have been popular, and in fact the genre never gets old. The remarkably brilliant murder mystery Knives Out led by Rian Johnson is a testament to that.
A renowned and wealthy crime novelist is killed. An eccentric yet a highly talented detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is brought to investigate the case. Naturally, the sinister plan of the murderer is revealed alongside the affluent family’s dark secrets.
The huge box-office success and the strong critical reception ensured plans for another Benoit Blanc mystery. The sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery debuted at Toronto International Film Festival and now a third film in the franchise, which will feature a whole new cast of eccentric murder suspects, is in the works. But there are plenty of other mystery movies like Knives Out out there while you wait for the next Benoit Blanc case:
Movies Like Knives Out
1. The Zoo (1967, Chiriyakhana)
Legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray loved detective fiction. He wrote many popular detective stories featuring his detective hero Feluda. But his first foray into detective fiction in cinema was based on Sharadindu Bandyopadhya’s renowned 1953 novel, which features the famous Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi. Ray later made two more mystery movies, The Golden Fortress (1971) and The Mystery of the Elephant God (1975), based on his own Feluda novels.
The Zoo is set in a farm for ex-convicts known as Golap Colony. The reform community was founded by a retired judge, who feels that these social outcasts can’t find a place in the traditional Indian society. One day, the retired judge visits Byomkesh Bakshi (Uttam Kumar) in his flat with a peculiar request. The judge’s request takes Bakshi to the colony, where he’s challenged with a few mysteries to solve.
2. The Last of Sheila (1973)
Herbert Ross’ The Last of Sheila effectively thwarts the traditional structure of a murder mystery tale. The film’s script was written by two distinct individuals: legendary songwriter Stephen Sondheim and actor Anthony Perkins. Sondheim was a fan of the mystery genre and often threw murder-mystery parties for his friends. Sondheim’s frequent collaborator on such parties is his friend Anthony Perkins. In fact, Sondheim’s connection with the mystery genre pushed director Rian Johnson to score a cameo appearance of the songwriter in Knives Out’s sequel Glass Onion.
The Last of Sheila revolves around wealthy movie producer Clinton, who invites his friends to spend a week on his luxurious yacht. He also arranges for a mystery game, which is designed to make everyone spill their secrets. But what Clinton really wants is to unmask the identity of the person who killed his lover Sheila in a hit-and-run accident.
3. The Inugami Family (1976)
Inugami Family is based on a detective Kosuke Kindaichi novel, a crime fiction series by novelist Seishi Yokomizo. The film was so successful in the Japanese box-office that it led to few other detective Kindaichi movies played by the same actor Koji Ishizaka. It was popular enough to kickstart a series too.
Kon Ichikawa’s film opens with the death of the elderly wealthy patriarch. His sons, daughters, and grandchildren are present, and naturally they harbor a curiosity over who will be in charge of the powerful Inugami pharmaceutical company. However, the will’s main beneficiary surprises as well as shocks the family members. On the other hand, people start dying in the estate under mysterious circumstances. The baffled police bring in the eccentric detective Kindaichi. Like Johnson’s Knives Out, Ichikawa’s whodunit mystery takes place in a world of money and privilege, and pays ample homage to Agatha Christie.
4. Murder by Death (1976)
Robert Moore’s Murder by Death is based on an original script from American playwright Neil Simon. The story is designed as a playful parody of the murder mystery genre. Five famous literary detectives and their sidekicks are invited to the isolated mansion of an eccentric, rich guy Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). Once every guest is received, the host announces that before the stroke of midnight, one of the guests will be murdered. Lionel also promises $1 million to the person who can solve the crime and also survive the night.
The ensemble murder mystery features Peter Falk, Peter Sellers, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Maggie Smith, and Alec Guiness. Though the comedy aspect of the narrative looks a bit dated, it’s the diverse list of A-actors that keeps us invested in the proceedings. The film would make an excellent double feature with Clue (1985).
5. Death on the Nile (1978)
The recent Kenneth Branagh adaptation makes us appreciate John Guillermin’s more enjoyable adaptation of the Hercule Poirot mystery. Death on the Nile is one of the most memorable works of the queen of detective novels herself, Agatha Christie. Peter Ustinov played the fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who rises up to the task of solving the murder of a newlywed heiress. While the previous Poirot mystery was set aboard a train, this one is set on a luxurious cruiser. Can he find the killer before the ship reaches its destination?
Though not quite as good as Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile is still a fairly competent murder mystery that manages to keep the thrill alive, thanks to an impressive cast. Guillermin’s adaptation largely lacks the grand cinematic qualities of Sidney Lumet. Nevertheless, the mystery and the surprise ending keep us engaged.
Where to Watch: Tubi, Amazon Prime
6. Clue (1985)
It’s always dicey trying to make a movie off an extremely popular board game, but Jonathan Lynn’s Clue makes all the right moves. Featuring every great comedy actor of the day, right from Lesley Ann Warren to Michael McKean, this film’s an absolute laugh riot. The movie starts with six guests all being invited to a palatial mansion for a dinner party. Little do they know the perils that await them. As the night wears on, corpses start to appear as the number of guests starts to dwindle down.
Clue marries mystery and comedy rather effectively, thanks to a witty script. In keeping with the nature of the game, the film interestingly had three different endings which are all equally hilarious. In fact, Clue isn’t about guessing or discovering the murderer, but more about emphasizing on the absurdity of the situations. I don’t think any whodunit mystery can be as insanely funny as this one.
7. Ten Little Indians (1987)
This is one of the least known yet the most faithful adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous 1939 novel And There Were None. Written and directed by Russian filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, the film revolves around ten strangers – of different age, class, and gender – invited to an old grand mansion, situated on an island. They are invited by the mysterious Mr. U.N., but the person is not present in the mansion. However, the guests are served food and entertained, until one person meets his death because of poisoning.
Soon, it becomes clear that everyone is guilty of committing a crime, and that the invisible killer has elaborately planned to kill them all. With a very solid Russian cast and perfect atmospheric setting, Gorvorukhin weaves an engaging claustrophobic thriller. Each death is shot in a shocking manner compared to the previous adaptations of the novel. In fact, the Russian version comes close to beating the magnificent 1945 version by French filmmaker Rene Clair.
8. The Usual Suspects (1995)
One of the most compelling mysteries of our time, The Usual Suspects is a must watch, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. Unlike other films on this list, this film actually begins at the end with the detective certain about his list of suspects, he has rounded up an eye-witness too. Nevertheless, when the timid eye-witness starts his testimony, the story jumps across multiple incidents and gradually we get an idea of the crime — a heist gone wrong.
Christopher McQuarrie’s Oscar-winning script keeps things interesting by jumping across timelines and incidents. But, it’s Kevin Spacey’s performance that really sells the story to us. A storyteller’s point of view and hidden intentions are all the more important in constructing and eventually answering a mystery. The Usual Suspects’s shocking ending makes us realize that. In fact, that ‘greatest trick’ ties all the loose ends together.
9. Gosford Park (2001)
Like Knives Out, Gosford Park is also an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit mystery. But Robert Altman’s movie can’t be simply categorized as a whodunit. It’s also a narrative with rich layers of playfulness and drama. In fact the scriptwriter of the film, Mr. Julian Fellowes went on to create the popular British series Downton Abbey (2010-2015).
The film follows a bunch of Britons who gather for a shooting weekend at Gosford Park. One of them is murdered in cold blood following a dinner party. Inspector Thomson, a bumbling detective, and his fairly competent subordinate lead the murder investigation.
Gosford Park demonstrates what a talented star-cast can do with even the most basic of premises. With Oscar-nominated actors Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith leading the pack, the narrative is full of controlled performances and scathing one-liners. Moreover, unlike a conventional whodunit mystery, Altman leaves us with a brilliant ambiguous ending.
10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
This movie marked the glorious return of Robert Downey Jr as one of the best actors of our times. Downey Jr plays the role of Harry Lockhart, a small-time crook who unintentionally wins a screen test. He then finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation along with a struggling actress and a private detective who’s preparing for his next role.
Shane Black impresses as he blends multiple genres to give us a highly entertaining film. Black is a fan of Raymond Chandler detective novels. The black comedy and razor-sharp dialogues are a testimony to that. And over the course of the narrative, Black makes fun of as well as revises the conventions of the whodunit tales. Furthermore, it is this film that convinced the folks at Marvel Studios to let him direct the third part of the insanely popular Iron Man franchise.
11. The Nice Guys (2016)
Shane Black returned back to hard-boiled detective mystery with The Nice Guys. It tells the story of two detectives, played by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who must overcome their differences to solve a mysterious case of suicide. What initially starts off as a straightforward case turns out to be something much bigger. This mystery will take them through the streets of LA as the detectives scramble to uncover a big conspiracy.
Crowe and Gosling ace their roles and their witty banter is the best part of this film. Particularly, Ryan Gosling strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama. Moreover, the 1970s setting allows Black to channel in the cynicism and dark humor of Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. In The Nice Guys, the heroes do take down the bad guy. But justice really doesn’t get served. It comes across more as a commentary on the cynicism prevailing in post-Watergate America.
12. Murder on The Orient Express (2017)
Based on Agatha Christie’s novel, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Murder on The Orient Express is a journey worth taking though it’s not as good as Lumet’s version. Branagh himself plays the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who’s tasked with an intriguing case. One of the passengers aboard the Orient Express is found dead and it’s up to Poirotto determine the murderer(s).
It’s never easy holding the attention of viewers when your entire film is structured around a single setting, but Branagh pulls this off thanks to a superb ensemble cast that comprises the biggest names in Hollywood. There might be a few missteps along the way, but Murder on the Orient Express succeeds in retrofitting a 1930’s story to modern times. The camerawork is expansive and the angles are interestingly unusual. Yet Branagh reveals the deduction process verbally rather than visually. Eventually, Branagh doesn’t bring anything new to the popular tale. But he does keep us entertained.
13. Game Night (2018)
Game Night is a cleverly written dark comedy that keeps you entertained until the very end. The film stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as a competitive couple who find themselves embroiled in a high-stakes game night. The filmmaker duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are aware that some of the plot points are ludicrous but they roll with it without taking themselves too seriously. Moreover, its brilliant self-aware humor and pop culture references keep us hooked.
Through its twists and turns, the film stays true to its inherent goofiness. As the stakes continue to rise, so does the craziness, giving us an outrageously hilarious movie. Unlike many murder-mysteries, Game Night is elevated by its strong and comedic secondary characters. Particularly, Jesse Plemons as the cop neighbor makes the proceedings totally enjoyable. Expert tip: Don’t skip the end credits, there just might be a couple of surprises waiting for you.
14. Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)
Set in a hotel that borders the Nevada-California state line, Bad Times at the El Royale follows a group of strangers all with delicious secrets and intriguing mysteries of their own. The film features a star-studded cast of the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, and Jon Hamm. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Drew Goddard, who serves as both writer and director touches upon ideas of race, religion, music, and culture. The best stretches of the film come when the focus is on the characters and their interactions. Similar to the director’s horror deconstruction narrative The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at El Royale might seem like it’s trying to do a lot at once, but it still works as a crafty, twisty thriller. Moreover, there’s unsettling strangeness and strong moral dilemmas that largely keep afloat this twisted mystery of degenerates.
15. Ready or Not (2019)
Tyler Gillett and Matt-Bettinelli Olpin’s Ready or Not belongs to the horror-comedy genre, whereas Knives Out is categorized as a thriller/mystery. But both films are centered on strong female protagonists who survive the vicious behavior of the rich and the privileged. The narrative revolves around Grace (Samara Weaving), who is recently married to Alex, the scion of the ultra rich Le Demos family. Grace’s eccentric in-laws inform her about their family’s wedding night tradition. At the outset, it seems to be a simple game of hide-and-seek, but soon it turns deadly and fierce.
The vast mansion in Ready or Not conjures many excellent action set-pieces. Weaving offers a fantastic performance in the lead-role as she gradually transforms from a vulnerable bride to a shot-gun wielding survivor. The film offers plenty of scary moments, but there are also rich and memorable portions of black comedy.
16. Raat Akeli Hai (2020)
Honey Trehan’s noirish whodunit starts off with the murder of an elderly rich aristocrat named Raghubeer Yadav in a small-town. Police officer Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who leads the murder investigation soon figures that the key to answering the mystery first lies in understanding the murdered patriarch’s relationship with his large family. Radhika Apte plays Radha, a complete outsider who was about to marry the old patriarch. Over the course of the investigation, Jatil sympathizes with Radha, and develops affection for her too.
Raat Akeli Hai interestingly mixes genres as it takes a conventional whodunit and adds elements of dark comedy, thrill, and romance. Moreover, it perfectly balances social commentary and mystery. While there are few flaws in its narrative structure, the film ends on a high note as it subverts our expectations. Its take on insidious familial abuse eventually offers a pertinent critique on patriarchy.
There we are! These are some great mystery movies like Knives Out. Rian Johnson, apart from offering a good old-fashioned murder mystery, also surprises with his intriguing socio-political commentary. The privileged classes’ abuse of power, apathy, and hypocrisies often remains as a catalyst to crimes. Us, Parasite, and All the Money in the World are some of the recent tales of crime that highlights such social inequalities. Then there are series like Succession and The White Lotus which look at the corrosive nature of the ultra-wealthy. Though these works don’t fit into the murder-mystery framework, they’re all more potent than the final image of Knives Out. Let us know in the comments if we missed out on any of your favorites.
(Additional writing by Arun Kumar)
A self-proclaimed movie buff who swears he's funnier on the Internet than he is in real life. He also constantly makes sitcom references to make sense of a life that is slowly succumbing to entropy.