Murder mystery movies have been captivating audiences for decades, offering suspense, intrigue, and a thrilling whodunit storyline that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
From classic film noir to modern-day thrillers, murder mystery movies have a wide range of subgenres and styles that can appeal to many different tastes. Some murder mystery movies are based on true events, while others are entirely fictional.
Whether you’re a fan of detective stories, psychological thrillers, or suspenseful dramas, there is a murder mystery movie out there for you.
Best Murder Mystery Movies
In this article, we will explore some of the best murder mystery movies of all time, including classics like “Psycho” and “Chinatown,” as well as newer releases like “Knives Out” and “Gone Girl.”
1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
“The Silence of the Lambs” is a psychological horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1991.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris and stars Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling.
A young FBI trainee who is tasked with interviewing the incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins), to gain insight into the mind of another serial killer on the loose, nicknamed “Buffalo Bill”.
The film received critical acclaim and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Hopkins, Best Actress for Foster, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film’s success led to several sequels and adaptations, including the television series “Hannibal”.
“The Silence of the Lambs” is known for its chilling and suspenseful atmosphere, masterful performances, and disturbing subject matter. It is considered a classic of the horror and thriller genres and has had a significant influence on popular culture.
2. Se7en (1995)
“Se7en” is a psychological crime thriller movie directed by David Fincher and released in 1995. The movie features Brad Pitt as Detective David Mills and Morgan Freeman as Detective Lieutenant William Somerset.
The plot of the movie revolves around the two detectives as they hunt down a serial killer who murders his victims based on the seven deadly sins. The killer, John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey), leaves cryptic clues and messages for the detectives as he continues his killing spree.
As the detectives get closer to finding John Doe, they realize that he has a much bigger plan and the last two sins he has yet to commit, Wrath and Envy, are directed towards them.
The movie is known for its dark and gritty atmosphere and the tension it builds up as the detectives race against time to stop the killer. The twist ending of the movie is also widely regarded as one of the best in movie history.
3. Minority Report (2002)
“Minority Report” is a science fiction movie directed by Steven Spielberg, released in 2002.
The film is set in Washington D.C. in the year 2054, where a specialized police department called “PreCrime” prevents murders before they occur by using a trio of precognitive humans called “precogs.”
Tom Cruise plays the role of John Anderton, the chief of PreCrime, who finds himself accused of a future murder and goes on the run to clear his name. The movie explores themes such as free will, determinism, and the consequences of technology on society.
The film received critical acclaim for its storytelling, visual effects, and performances. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and won a Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.
“Minority Report” is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick of the same name, and the title refers to the idea that the opinion of the minority can still hold significance, even in a world where technology and the majority rule.
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a 2011 psychological thriller film directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Stieg Larsson.
The film tells the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Craig), who is hired by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet.
As Blomkvist delves deeper into the case, he teams up with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (played by Mara), who has her own dark past and secrets to keep.
Together, the two uncover a web of corruption, abuse, and murder that leads them to confront some of Sweden’s most powerful and dangerous individuals. Along the way, they also develop a bond and rely on each other to survive the threats they face.
The film received critical acclaim for its stylish direction, strong performances, and intense, suspenseful plot. Rooney Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander was particularly praised, earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
5. M (1931)
M is a German film directed by Fritz Lang and released in 1931. The movie is a thriller that tells the story of a child murderer who terrorizes a German city, and the manhunt that ensues as the police and criminal underworld attempt to catch him.
The film is considered a masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema and is often cited as one of the greatest films ever made. It features groundbreaking cinematography, innovative use of sound, and powerful performances by the cast.
M was controversial upon its release due to its subject matter and depiction of the criminal underworld, and was initially banned in some countries. However, it has since become a classic of world cinema and is studied by film students and scholars around the world.
6. Memento (2000)
“Memento” is a neo-noir psychological thriller film released in 2000, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano.
The film follows the story of Leonard Shelby, a man with anterograde amnesia who is on a mission to find and kill the man who raped and murdered his wife.
Due to his condition, Leonard cannot make new memories and can only remember events that happened before his injury. To keep track of his investigation, Leonard takes Polaroid photos and tattoos important information on his body.
As he continues his search, he meets various people who may or may not be helping him and realizes that his memories may not be as reliable as he thought.
The film is told in reverse chronological order, with scenes in black and white taking place in the present, and scenes in color taking place in the past.
The non-linear narrative structure adds to the suspense and mystery of the film and allows the audience to experience Leonard’s confusion and frustration.
“Memento” was critically acclaimed and praised for its innovative storytelling, complex characters, and thought-provoking themes about memory, identity, and revenge. It has since become a cult classic and is often cited as one of the best films of the 21st century.
7. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
“The Maltese Falcon” is a classic murder mystery movie directed by John Huston and released in 1941. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett and stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre.
The story follows private detective Sam Spade (Bogart) as he investigates the murder of his partner and becomes embroiled in a dangerous quest to find a valuable statuette known as the Maltese Falcon.
Along the way, he encounters a cast of suspicious characters, including the seductive Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor), the enigmatic Joel Cairo (Lorre), and the intimidating Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).
The film is known for its dark and moody atmosphere, complex characters, and intricate plot twists. It has become a classic of the film noir genre and is considered one of the greatest detective films of all time.
Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Sam Spade has become iconic, and the film’s twist ending has been imitated in countless other movies.
Overall, “The Maltese Falcon” is a must-see for fans of murder mystery movies and film noir. Its combination of suspense, intrigue, and unforgettable characters makes it a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences to this day.
8. 12 Angry Men (1957)
“12 Angry Men” is a classic courtroom drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and released in 1957.
The film is based on a teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose and stars Henry Fonda as Juror 8, a man who persuades his fellow jurors to re-examine the evidence and reconsider their initial guilty verdict in the case of a young man on trial for murder.
The film takes place almost entirely in the jury room, as the twelve jurors debate the evidence and the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The tension and conflict between the jurors rise as their different backgrounds, prejudices, and biases are revealed.
“12 Angry Men” received critical acclaim and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing. The film’s success has led to adaptations in various forms, including stage plays, television shows, and films.
The film is considered a classic of the legal drama and has been praised for its masterful direction, sharp writing, and powerful performances by its ensemble cast.
The film’s themes of justice, prejudice, and the role of the jury system in the legal system continue to resonate with audiences today.
9. Chinatown (1974)
“Chinatown” is a neo-noir mystery movie directed by Roman Polanski and released in 1974. The movie stars Jack Nicholson as private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes, Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray, and John Huston as Noah Cross.
The plot of the movie revolves around Gittes as he investigates an alleged affair involving the chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and uncovers a larger conspiracy involving corruption, murder, and the city’s water supply.
As Gittes delves deeper into the case, he discovers a web of deceit and betrayal that involves the powerful and wealthy Cross family, including his client Evelyn Mulwray.
The movie is known for its intricate plot, outstanding performances, and iconic ending. It received 11 Academy Award nominations and won the award for Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne’s screenplay.
“Chinatown” is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 1970s and a classic of the neo-noir genre.
10. Zodiac (2007)
“Zodiac” is a crime thriller movie directed by David Fincher, released in 2007. The film is based on the true story of the Zodiac killer, a serial killer who operated in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with solving the case, and Mark Ruffalo as Dave Toschi, a detective investigating the murders.
The film also features Robert Downey Jr. and Anthony Edwards in supporting roles.
“Zodiac” is known for its meticulous attention to detail and historical accuracy. Fincher employed a documentary-style approach to the film, focusing on the investigation process and the toll it took on those involved.
The film also explores themes such as obsession, the media’s role in crime reporting, and the effect of the Zodiac killer on society.
Although “Zodiac” received critical acclaim for its direction, writing, and performances, it did not perform well at the box office. However, the film has since gained a cult following and is regarded as one of Fincher’s best works.
11. Rear Window (1954)
“Rear Window” is a 1954 American thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The film is based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich called “It Had to Be Murder”.
The movie tells the story of L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (played by Stewart), a photographer who is confined to his apartment in a wheelchair after breaking his leg.
As he passes the time by observing his neighbors through his rear window, he becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder.
With the help of his girlfriend Lisa (played by Kelly) and his nurse Stella (played by Thelma Ritter), Jeff sets out to investigate the crime. As he gathers evidence, he becomes increasingly convinced that his suspicions are correct, but he also becomes the target of the suspected killer.
The film is known for its inventive use of camera angles and its depiction of voyeurism and the ethics of observing others. It was a critical and commercial success and is now considered a classic of the thriller genre.
12. Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo is an American psychological thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1958.
The movie stars James Stewart as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a former police detective who suffers from acrophobia (fear of heights) and becomes obsessed with a woman named Madeleine (played by Kim Novak), whom he is hired to follow by her husband.
As Scottie becomes increasingly infatuated with Madeleine, he becomes embroiled in a web of deception and murder.
The film explores themes of obsession, manipulation, and psychological torment, and features some of Hitchcock’s most iconic and visually stunning sequences, including the famous “vertigo effect” shot.
Upon its release, Vertigo received mixed reviews and was a commercial disappointment, but has since been reevaluated as one of Hitchcock’s greatest films and one of the most significant works in American cinema.
In 2012, the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound poll named it the greatest film of all time, supplanting Citizen Kane, which had held the top spot for 50 years.
13. Dial M for Murder (1954)
“Dial M for Murder” is a 1954 American crime thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on a stage play of the same name by Frederick Knott. The film stars Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings, and tells the story of a man who plots to have his wealthy wife murdered for her money.
The film follows Tony Wendice (Milland), a former professional tennis player who discovers that his wealthy wife, Margot (Kelly), has been having an affair with an American crime novelist named Mark Halliday (Cummings).
Tony decides to hire an old acquaintance to murder Margot and make it look like a burglary gone wrong. However, his plan goes awry when Margot fights back and kills her attacker in self-defense.
Tony then manipulates the evidence to make it seem like Margot planned and executed the murder herself, hoping to frame her for the crime and collect her inheritance. Mark, who still loves Margot, becomes suspicious of Tony’s motives and sets out to prove Margot’s innocence.
“Dial M for Murder” is known for its intricate plot and Hitchcock’s masterful direction, particularly in the way he builds suspense and tension through the use of camera angles and lighting.
The film was also notable for its use of 3D technology, although most audiences saw it in 2D.
The film was a critical and commercial success, earning several Academy Award nominations, and is now considered a classic of the crime thriller genre.
14. Psycho (1960)
“Psycho” is a classic horror-thriller movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1960. The film stars Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Vera Miles and is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.
The story follows Marion Crane (Leigh), a young woman who steals money from her employer and goes on the run.
She stops at the Bates Motel, run by the shy and awkward Norman Bates (Perkins), and is brutally murdered in the infamous shower scene. Marion’s sister and boyfriend then team up to investigate her disappearance, leading to a shocking revelation about Norman’s true identity.
“Psycho” is known for its suspenseful atmosphere, iconic score, and memorable twist ending. The film has become a classic of the horror genre and is considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest works.
Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Norman Bates has become iconic and has inspired countless imitations and homages in popular culture.
Overall, “Psycho” is a must-see for fans of murder mystery movies and horror-thrillers. Its combination of suspense, horror, and psychological intrigue makes it a timeless classic that continues to terrify and captivate audiences to this day.
15. The Usual Suspects (1995)
“The Usual Suspects” is a neo-noir crime thriller film directed by Bryan Singer and released in 1995.
The film follows the interrogation of a con man named Verbal Kint (played by Kevin Spacey) by a US Customs agent (played by Chazz Palminteri), who is investigating a deadly attack on a ship.
Kint tells a complex story of a group of criminals who are brought together for a heist by a mysterious mastermind known as Keyser Söze.
The film received critical acclaim and won two Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Spacey’s performance as Kint.
The film’s intricate plot, unexpected twist ending, and strong performances by its ensemble cast, which includes Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, and Kevin Pollak, have made it a cult classic and a popular subject for analysis and discussion.
“The Usual Suspects” is known for its non-linear storytelling, unreliable narration, and exploration of themes such as power, deception, and identity.
The film’s twist ending is widely considered one of the greatest in cinematic history and has helped cement the film’s reputation as a must-see for fans of the thriller genre.
16. L.A. Confidential (1997)
“L.A. Confidential” is a neo-noir crime movie directed by Curtis Hanson and released in 1997. The movie is based on James Ellroy’s novel of the same name and stars Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, and Danny DeVito.
The plot of the movie is set in the 1950s and revolves around three Los Angeles Police Department detectives, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Bud White (Russell Crowe), and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), as they investigate a series of murders and uncover a conspiracy involving corrupt police officers, organized crime, and the Hollywood elite.
As the detectives dig deeper into the case, they realize that their own lives are in danger and that the corrupt forces they are up against are much more powerful than they initially thought.
The movie is known for its intricate plot, excellent performances, and its realistic portrayal of post-war Los Angeles.
“L.A. Confidential” received nine Academy Award nominations and won two, including Best Supporting Actress for Kim Basinger’s portrayal of Veronica Lake look-alike Lynn Bracken. It is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 1990s and a classic of the neo-noir genre.
3 Characteristics of Murder Mystery Movies
Whodunit Element: Murder mystery movies are characterized by a central mystery or puzzle that needs to be solved by the protagonist(s).
The audience is often given clues and red herrings throughout the movie, but the true identity of the killer is only revealed at the end. This creates a sense of suspense and anticipation as viewers try to piece together the clues and solve the mystery themselves.
Investigation and Interrogation: Murder mystery movies typically involve an investigation by a detective or other authority figure, who interviews witnesses and suspects in order to uncover the truth.
These scenes often involve intense questioning and psychological manipulation, as the detective tries to elicit information and catch the killer. This creates a sense of tension and drama as the investigation progresses.
Atmosphere and Setting: Murder mystery movies often rely on a dark and moody atmosphere, with a sense of danger lurking around every corner.
The setting may be a claustrophobic mansion or a foggy city street, adding to the feeling of unease and uncertainty. Music and lighting are often used to create a sense of foreboding and to heighten the emotional impact of key scenes.
3 Reasons To Watch Murder Mystery Movies
Engaging plot: Murder mystery movies typically have intricate plots filled with twists and turns, which can keep the audience engaged and guessing until the very end.
The thrill of trying to solve the mystery along with the characters can be a fun and rewarding experience.
Character development: Murder mystery movies often feature complex characters with hidden motives and agendas, which can make for interesting and nuanced storytelling.
Watching how the characters interact and change throughout the movie can be an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience.
Atmosphere: Murder mystery movies often have a moody and suspenseful atmosphere that can be thrilling and immersive. The tension and uncertainty of not knowing who the killer is can create a sense of anticipation and excitement that is unique to the genre.
Best Murder Mystery Movies – Wrap Up
In this wrap-up of the best murder mystery movies, we’ve covered a range of films from different eras and directors. These movies are known for their suspenseful plots, memorable characters, and unforgettable twists.
These films have become classics and have influenced the genre of murder mysteries for generations.
Whether you’re a fan of suspenseful thrillers, dark comedies, or classic whodunits, there’s a murder mystery movie out there for everyone to enjoy.