Murder mysteries have long been a part of storytelling and a part of film; as long as there have been films, there have been murder mysteries. It excites audiences to be able to crack the code with, and sometimes even before, the characters in the story. It allows viewers to think and put themselves in the place of the characters, who tend to grow and develop (or are revealed) alongside the story of a great murder mystery that not only surprises them but audiences as well.
However, murder mysteries can get a bit repetitive and predictable. This has caused viewers to veer away from the genre and stop seeking out murder mysteries in general, with all their requisite twists, red herrings, and last-minute reveals. Lurking in the dust of bad murder mysteries, however, there remain certain great ones that can have hooked viewers with their mysteries and amazing characters, reinventing the ole cliché-ridden plots of tired mysteries. Actor-director Kenneth Branagh has recently revived the famed Inspector Poirot character, appearing in the new movie Death on the Nileand the surprisingly massive success of murder mystery Knives Out has paved the way for a highly-anticipated sequel. With this new emphasis on classic mysteries, let’s take a look at some of the best of the genre.
5 Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express may be a remake of a movie, based on a 1934 novel by Agatha Christie, but that does not mean it does not work. In theory, this film perpetuates the idea that Hollywood has no original ideas, but on another level, it is able to bring a classic story to a whole new generation. With murder in the title, it is not hard to assume that Murder on the Orient Express is a murder mystery, and by now most people are probably familiar with its plot. Yet the film is able to create a vast, star-studded cast of characters who all appear to the audience as innocent, but to Detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) as guilty. This allows the audience the space to question their own views of the characters while still trying to solve the murder that has occurred. With an infamous ending some people feel to be a cop-out, this is not the perfect murder mystery (as it is hard to be), but Branagh’s suave, beautifully directed, A-list remake means Murder on the Orient Express is a great mystery for the whole family to solve together.
Fargothe murder mystery that really catapulted the Coen brothers (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen), into fame and a long-standing film career, may reveal its mystery to the audience, but watching its fantastic protagonist figure it all out is just as good. Fargo, set in rural Minnesota, is a forever watchable murder mystery. While the film was released 26 years ago, the critically acclaimed FX series means that people are still discovering this great watch today. The dark comedy that surrounds the story is not only hilarious but a great pairing with the morbid storyline; dark comedy is a hard thing to do, but the Coen brothers are masters of using it to their favor.
Frances McDormand is fabulous in this film, fully bringing the audience into the world she inhabits and along for her journey, one pregnant with nihilistic crime and stunning darkness. She’s also pregnant with a baby, making her polite, pregnant, Midwestern cop one of the most delightful protagonists in mystery history. The killers and kidnapers, also, are not your usual villains. A not-quite-old-school murder mystery, Fargo has stood the test of timeand most likely will continue to do so.
3 Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was a bit outside the Star Wars director’s recent catalog of work, though it circles all the way back to his first film, the mystery Brick. However, with this film, he was able to successfully tackle the overly common “whodunit” trope and create an entirely new way for those films to be written and made. The murder mystery / whodunit genre is as old as film itself, but has only recently gone through a Renaissance of sorts. For many movie fans, Knives Out was and is the poster child for this Renaissance. This is because of the way Johnson handled the story and allowed it to grow and change, blossoming his characters along the way (including the hilariously odd Southern detective played by a surprising Daniel Craig in a role more brilliant than Bond).
The way Knives Out creates characters who build on each other in mysterious, sometimes hilarious ways keeps audiences guessing until the final second. Mystery movies have long been very predictable and easy for viewers to guess the plot twist. However, by creating deep and interesting characters and using revelatory flashbacks, Johnson is able to confuse viewers, keep them invested in the story, and still surprise them with the plot twist. The AV Club sums it up well by saying it “at once revives and daringly subverts the old-school whodunit,” accurately indication how Knives Out truly is one of the few perfect modern mysteries, and fans can not wait to see the second installment coming this Fall to Netflix.
2 The Girl on the Train
As a book adaptation and murder mystery / thriller, The Girl on the Train is often lumped in with other films and not given its own time to shine. While The Girl on the Train may be similar in concept to other adaptations like Gone Girl, the films are actually quite different. The Girl on the Train leans more toward the murder mystery genre, where the main character gets involved in an actual murder that may or may not have been committed by her. Though The Girl on the Train is based on a book, it is not exact to the text with a few key differences making the story fit better on-screen; considering that author Paula Hawkins was involved in the screenplay, fans were mostly okay with the necessary changes. The Girl on the Train reinvents the ‘erotic thriller‘kind of film audiences used to see with work like Basic Instinct and Fatal Attractionbut does so with a modern murder mystery in a dark and chilling way, while retaining its utter sensuousness.
Seven (stylized as Se7en) is one of the most famous movies about a serial killer (probably alongside David Fincher’s other film, Zodiac) but it’s more of a multi-murder mystery. While most murder mysteries follow a single murder that affects all the characters, Se7en follows a single killer who murders multiple people, and detectives must find out why. Not only do the detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) not know who the murderer is, they also do not know why she or he is committing these murders. Pitt and Freeman bring the viewers along on their search, even when it hits a bit close to home.
This is what makes Se7en a perfect multi-murder mystery; the viewers are learning along with the characters. The characters not only exist within compelling narratives of their own personal lives, but strive to put themselves in the shoes and mind of the murderer as well, allowing the viewer to understand everyone’s perspective in this haunting cat-and-mouse chase. The film re-invented the tried-and-true detective story, updating classic rainy film noir to a modern, violent setting; it introduced a level of grim horror that hadn’t been seen in mainstream mysteries at the time. If you have the stomach for it, Se7en has some great murder and some great mystery.
Detective-work does not always have to be grim, as these buddy-cop comedies show how to solve the case of the missing laughter.
About The Author