RANKED! The Best Mind-Boggling Murder Mystery Movies
Whodunnits can fall into many categories: action, drama, comedy, and horror. Regardless of the aesthetics, every whodunnit has one thing in common: a murder mystery. One that keeps the audience guessing until that film twist when everything is either explained or the rug gets pulled out from under them. The latter is sometimes so extreme or intense that it prevents normal thought; it’s mind-boggling. That said, great whodunits can curb the intellectual urge to find clues and solve crimes (because the real world is a bit too messy for that). Here are 14 murder mystery movies that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Cover Photo: Columbia Pictures
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14. 'Sleepy Hollow'
Loosely based on Washington Irving's short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow follows police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as he investigates murders committed in the 1799 village of Sleepy Hollow (supposedly) by the Headless Horseman. Sleepy Hollow has an appropriate amount of twists (everyone is a suspect) and charms with Burton's signature brand of gothic horror.
Wes Craven’s Scream is a scary and witty whodunit that subverted expectations and deconstructed the genre. With the help of a ridiculous cast (and we mean that in the best way), the film brought slasher horror to a new generation of fans and made that Ghostface mask as iconic as McDonald’s french fries.
12. 'And Then There Were None'
Based on Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name, And Then There Were None (1945) follows seven strangers invited to an island by a mysterious host. When they get there, a recording accuses each guest of serious offenses before they start being murdered one-by-one. They conclude: one of them must be the killer. And Then There Were None basically invented the murder mystery movie.
11. 'Mystic River'
Sean Penn plays an ex-con, Jimmy Marcus, whose daughter is murdered. With the help of two of his childhood friends, Marcus takes the investigation into his own hands. Mystic River is twisted and devastating, with an ending that will knock you senseless.
10. 'Knives Out'
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out may have resurrected the traditional whodunnit in 2019. Following the suicide of famous author and patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) investigates the family’s involvement. The film starts deceptively simple but becomes delightfully complex as the plot plays out.
9. 'Primal Fear'
Edward Norton plays an altar boy who is accused of brutally murdering the Archbishop of Chicago. Richard Gere plays the attention-seeking lawyer who takes the case, ultimately finding that the Church’s dark secrets (and Norton’s character) are much more dangerous than he expected.
8. 'L.A. Confidential'
This neo-noir mystery follows three police officers (equipped with conflicting motives) investigating corruption and murder in 1950s Los Angeles. Stylish and packed with brilliant performances, L.A. Confidential’s setting and characters are just as compelling as its mysteries.
7. 'Shutter Island'
Leonardo DiCaprio teams up with Martin Scorsese (again) to tell the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate mysterious and terrible things occurring at the remote Ashecliffe Hospital.
2007’s Zodiac follows the true story of the Zodiac Killer in the late '60s and '70s. As the killer taunts authorities, investigators (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) and reporters (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) become obsessed with his (or her?) identity. Although the murders referenced remain unsolved to this day, the film is still as riveting as a murder mystery gets (it is based on real life after all).
5. 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'
David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel arguably channels its subject matter better than the 2009 and 2011 adaptations. The film follows Mikael Blomkvist and brilliant investigator Lisbeth Salander as they investigate a 40-year-old disappearance. As mysteries go, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is as dark and graphic as they come.
4. 'Gone Girl'
Fincher does mysterious and mind-boggling better than anyone. Gone Girl follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. Before this, he and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) appeared to be the perfect couple; however, looks can be deceiving. Spoiler alert: she's straight-up crazy.
Hugh Jackman plays a distraught (understatement) father dealing with his daughter's recent disappearance/murder and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead detective tasked with finding her. Complex, thrilling and disturbing, Prisoners’ Secrets shakes you to the core.
One of the original murder mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a certified classic. Following secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) after stealing $40,000 from her employer and going on the run with her boyfriend, Pyscho introduces the Bates Motel and Norman Bates. The film’s structure allows for one of the most surprising endings in cinematic history; one that has spawned spin-offs, sequels, and a television series.
Seven might have been the film that made David Fincher and Brad Pitt superstars (Morgan Freeman already was) and for good reason. Pitt and Freeman play detectives investigating a series of murders committed by a serial killer inspired by the seven deadly sins. Seven is remembered for “What’s in the box?!” but it’s overall plot is one of the tensest murder mysteries ever put on screen.
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