The 20 Best Murder Mystery Movies For the Detective in You

No matter what genre you’re watching, the best movies always have us playing detective. There’s nothing more exciting than trying to keep one step ahead of a filmmaker’s breadcrumb trail—and, nothing more satisfying than predicting an ending before it happens. (Or, better yet, leaving a theater dumbfounded by a plot twist you’d never expected.)

If you fancy yourself a cinema sleuther, there’s few genres as titillating as the world of murdery mystery. The format seems to turn most thrillers on their head, what with Chekhov’s gun going off in the first act and all. From the age of black-and-white film noirs to modern hits like Knives Out, the murder mystery canon has only continued to grow more cunning, inventive, and entertaining.

And, lucky for you, we’ve done some digging to track down the best murder mystery movies to keep you on your toes and the edge of your seat.

Rear Window

It doesn’t take much investigating into Rear Window’s IMDb to put two-and-two together that this is a certified classic. Direct by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Hollywood heavyweights James Stewart and Gene Kelly, Rear Window provides a masterclass on the psychological thriller. Stewart stars as a newspaper photographer who believes he’s witnessed a murder while spying on his neighbors through his window. Confined to his apartment after an injury, he must get to the bottom of things using the only vantage point he has.

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The Third Man

Many a film major has likely seen this British film noir, often referred to as one of the greatest films in history especially for its striking cinematography. The black-and-white film follows an American in post-war Vienna who, upon arriving to the city to work with his friend, discovers that he has been murdered.

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The Lovebirds

A relationship on the rocks is forced to go on the run after the couple, played by Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, happen to witness a murder. Determined to clear their name after being potentially framed, the duo’s detective skills, and communication skills, are put to the test.

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Charade

A murder mystery that opens with Audrey Hepburn having a love affair with Cary Grant in Aspen before returning home to Paris—can you say glamorous? Well, the glitz stops a bit there as she soon returns home to find her husband dead and herself embroiled in the consequences of his stolen wealth. Charade offers a perfect combination of thrills and rom-com, as well as another stellar soundtrack from renowned composer Henry Mancini.

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Memento

Christopher Nolan’s Memento follows a man who, after being attacked, loses both his wife and his short term memory. Determined to avenge the murder of his wife, he sets out to track down the killers — keeping track of his clues by tattooing them onto his body.

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Knives Out

Director Rian Johnson and his all-star ensemble cast (Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Daniel Craig) revive the Agatha Christie-style murder mystery in this whodunit about a wealthy family whose crime novelist patriarch has suspiciously died. It’s a delightful, winding story combining elements of Succession and Clue, where millions of dollars are at stake and everyone is a suspect.

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Game Night

A murder mystery party quickly turns real when its host, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), is kidnapped. Max (Jason Bateman), Annie (Rachel McAdams), and their friends must follow the clues to save Brooks before it’s too late, embarking on a wild adventure that involves underground fight clubs, Fabergé eggs, and their creepy neighbor, Gary (Jesse Plemons).

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Happy Death Day

Part Groundhog Day time loop, part mystery thriller, Blumhouse hit Happy Death Day is an inventive twist on the classic genre. After a masked killer murders her on her birthday, college student Tree must relive the day again and again until she can find the identity of her killer and save her life.

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Gone Girl

Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, Gone Girl is the kind of film that leaves you utterly stunned once it’s over. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a college professor and writer whose seemingly-perfect marriage with his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), begins to unravel when Amy mysteriously disappears. Nick quickly becomes a suspect, and as perspectives shift throughout the narrative, you won’t know what to believe. It’s a dark and thrilling tale about love, respect, sex, violence, and modern American marriage.

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Scream

The original film in Wes Craven’s iconic 1990s slasher franchise, Scream follows a high school girl, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), and her friends as a masked killer terrorizes their small California town. Clever dialogue and frequent meta-references make Scream more than your garden-variety bloody slasher film. Even dedicated students of the horror movie genre will find themselves falling prey to jump scares and speculation over who could be hiding beneath the ghostface mask.

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The Long Goodbye

Robert Altman’s 1973 take on the Raymond Chandler classic mystery novel is a total Los Angeles ‘stoner-noir’ trip. Private investigator Philip Marlowe does a favor for a friend and finds himself entangled in an intertwining web of suspicious deaths. Featuring a jazzy soundtrack, naked yogi-hippie neighbors, a finicky orange cat, and an early uncredited Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo The Long Goodbye is a worthy addition to your watchlist.

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Brick

Long before Knives Out, Rian Johnson tried his hand at neo-noir in the 2005 cult classic Brick, starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as high school student-turned-detective Brendan. After a troubling call with his terrified ex-girlfriend Emily, Brendan follows a trail of strange clues throughout his suburban California neighborhood to get to the bottom of Emily’s case.

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Se7en

Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as detectives following the twisted trail of a serial killer who targets his victims based on the seven deadly sins. Featuring Pitt in one of his most iconic roles as the short-fused rookie detective, Se7en is a dark, brutal, and exciting crime tale.

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The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s neo-noir comedy thriller follows struggling private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and hired muscle Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) as unlikely partners working together on the case of a missing girl (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley) and the death of a porn star. As everyone involved in the case is killed off one by one, March and Healy realize they may be in over their heads.

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Clue

Based on the board game, this 1985 black comedy follows a group of seven strangers who become suspects after one of them is murdered. As the body count rises, you’re invited to play the game and figure out just who’s responsible—Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick? The film features three different endings, just to keep you on your toes.

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L.A. Confidential

Set in 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential is a neo-noir about three police officers (Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, and Kevin Spacey) whose investigation of a series of murders unravels into a mysterious web of corruption and lies. It all makes for an award-winning film about corrupt cops, the Hollywood scene, and the crime hidden beneath the surface of sunny California.

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Fargo

Frances McDormand gives an Oscar-winning performance as a pregnant Minnesota cop hot on the trail of two murderers in this classic Coen brothers dark comedy. If you don’t immediately think of Fargo when you see a woodchipper or hear “You betcha,” you should give it a watch right now. With its strong cast (Steve Buscemi, William H. Macy) and icy white backdrop, Fargo is an apt movie to cozy up to.

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Zodiac

Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac killer? Maybe. This film doesn’t address it. Nonetheless, director David Fincher’s 2007 film is a gripping take on the story of the infamous serial killer who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s and ’70s, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo.

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The Maltese Falcon

The 1941 film noir stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a private investigator who takes on a case after his partner is murdered. From the dangerous and beautiful femme fatale (Mary Astor) to the a valuable falcon statuette at the center of the mystery, The Maltese Falcon is a Hollywood classic well worth a watch.

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Murder on the Orient Express

In this award-winning adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, Detective Hercule Poirot is on a journey home when a wealthy American businessman is murdered aboard his train. Halted on the track by a snowstorm with an unknown killer hiding aboard in plain sight, every eclectic passenger is a suspect and Poirot must solve the mystery.

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Anna Grace Lee is an editorial fellow at Esquire, where she covers pop culture, music, and entertainment.

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