From Death on the Nile to The Usual Suspects, here are some of the most binge-worthy 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. Rian Johnson’s brilliant murder mystery Knives Out is a testament to that. A renowned and wealthy crime novelist is killed. An eccentric yet a highly talented detective named 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.
Knives Out had one of the greatest ensemble casts for a Hollywood movie in recent times. Apart from Craig, it includes Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. The huge box-office success and the strong critical reception ensured the plans for a sequel. At the same time, there are plenty of whodunits like Knives Out which we can enjoy watching while waiting for the sequel. Here’s a list of similar whodunits which might thrill you:
1. The Inugami Family (1976)
Kon Ichikawa’s 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.
The Inugami Family 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.
2. Death on the Nile (1978)
The recent Kenneth Branagh adaptation makes us appreciate John Guillermin’s more enjoyable adaptation of the 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 sleuth 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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 are brought in to investigate the murder.
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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Murder on The Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Branagh’s latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s celebrated crime novel is a journey worth taking though it’s not as good as Lumet’s adaptation. 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 mysteriously killed and it’s up to Poirot to 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays the investigating police officer Jatil Yadav, who soon comprehends 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.
Knives Out, apart from offering a good old-fashioned mystery, also surprises us with intriguing socio-political commentary. The privileged classes’ abuse of power, apathy, and hypocrisies often remains as a catalyst to crimes. Ready or Not, 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)