We’re living in a golden age of true crime content, from documentaries to podcasts to TV shows and books. Which means, no surprise, that the murder mystery film is also seeing a resurgence in popularity. The classic genre has had some major standouts over the last several decades, and the typical whodunit setup—several people in a house, one dies, a detective has to solve the crime—has expanded to include truly unique settings and stories. That’s a good thing: It means that a lot of these mysteries can play with form and framing while still giving you a perfect twist ending. There are horror films, action movies, and dramas on this list (not to mention a couple comedies!). From Alfred Hitchcock to the Coen brothers to David Fincher to Rian Johnson, some of the best directors in history have tried their hand at this iconic genre. The one thing these movies have in common? A killer mystery—pun absolutely intended.
‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ (2018)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, and Chris Hemsworth.
The mystery: In 1959, a man arrives at the El Royale, a hotel on the border between California and Nevada, and hides a bag of money beneath the floorboards of one of the rooms—only to be killed immediately after. Ten years later, a group of strangers arrive at the hotel, each with secrets and mysterious motives of their own. Delightfully star-studded and twisty, it’s a modern take on a Clue-type story.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin, and Nora Zehetner.
The mystery: It’s a neo-noir starring high schoolers, and an absolute cult classic. Rian Johnson pre-Knives Out takes us into the murder of Emily (de Ravin), and the search to determine what happened to her and why. It’s basically like Chinatown but with teenagers.
‘The Lovebirds’ (2020)
Starring: Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, and Kyle Bornheimer.
The mystery: A couple, formerly in love and now on the cusp of a breakup, get roped into a fiasco after a man runs over a bicyclist with their car. On the run and knowing the cops won’t believe them, they set out to solve the mystery for themselves. The narrative really goes in some unanticipated directions, and some of the twists—plural—are truly unexpected. Plus, Rae and Nanjiani totally sell the desperation of trying to clear their own names and failing to avoid the absolute insanity that ensues.
‘The Girl on the Train’ (2016)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, and Lisa Kudrow
The mystery: Alcoholic Rachel aimlessly rides the train to the city from the suburbs every day after losing her job and her marriage. One day Rachel gets off the train and, after a confrontation, wakes up covered in blood and learns that a woman has disappeared. Can she trust her unreliable memory?
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Jorja Fox.
The mystery: This film, Christopher Nolan’s early smash hit, is most well-known for the fact that it plays in reverse order. But core to the conceit is the central question: “Who killed Leonard’s (Pearce) wife? And will he get revenge?” The stakes matter, and the twists, plural, are as shocking as they come.
‘Dark Places’ (2015)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloë Grace Moretz, Tye Sheridan, Sterling Jerins, Corey Stoll, and Christina Hendricks
The mystery: Based on the novel of the same name by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Dark Places focuses on Libby, whose mother and sisters were brutally murdered when she was a child. As a girl, Libby identifies her brother as the murderer to police, but years later starts wondering if there wasn’t more to the story.
‘Knives Out’ (2019)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, and Katherine Langford.
The mystery: Harlan Thrombey, famous author and aging patriarch of a needy, pissed off family, dies by suicide. Or does he? Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is hired to investigate but absolutely everyone in this family has a motive. As the story unwinds, the plot takes…let’s call it an unusual turn that actually, truly, pays off. This is a terrific example of a modern spin on the classic genre. Rian Johnson really gets the murder-mystery.
To read more, click here.