Doesn't everyone love a good old-fashioned murder mystery? It's the driving force behind the enduring popularity of police procedurals, true crime podcasts, and murder mystery parties.
It all comes down to the compelling nature of a single question: "Who did it?" Or, in some vernaculars, who done it. Which led to the fun name for an entire genre of movies: the whodunnit murder mystery.
A whodunnit is a crime story that features a detective solving a murder case with a list of suspects and clues at their disposal. Whodunnit movies can be comical or serious, but the main draw is always in bringing out our inner detective as we follow the characters' exploits.
Here are our picks for the best whodunnit murder mystery movies of all time worth watching if you haven't already!
11. The Last of Sheila (1973)
It's the anniversary of Sheila's death, so her husband Clinton Greene (played by James Coburn) invites his group of friends to spend a week on his yacht and take part in his parlor games. But their stay turns into a deadly scavenger hunt to determine who can keep their dark secrets.
The Last of Sheila came from the minds of Psycho star Anthony Perkins and Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, who were inspired by their friends' murder mystery games. Twisted yet intriguing, The Last of Sheila is a mystifying whodunnit.
10. Brick (2005)
In Rian Johnson's directorial debut, a student named Brendan Frye (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and delves into the complex underbelly of his high school.
As he dives deeper into the case, the amateur detective Brendan slowly uncovers the true colors of his fellow students.
The world of Brick is seedier, crasser, and bleaker, more in the vein of David Fincher than Agatha Christie. Brick owes its inspiration to hardboiled classics—particularly those from Dashiell Hammett—and it shows in its story, its dialogue, and its camerawork.
9. Scream (1996)
Scream revolves around a killing spree by a mysterious serial killer known as Ghostface. High school student Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) becomes the target of the killer, prompting her and her friends to crack the mystery of who the killer could be.
Scream isn't just a return to form of the slasher genre; it's a clever whodunnit murder mystery about the identity of Ghostface and who it could be from among Sidney's circle of friends. Breaking down horror tropes in meta fashion helps make Scream's mystery more interesting.
8. Clue (1985)
Based on the board game Cluedo, Clue follows a group of strangers (all of whom are connected to a felon) who are gathered in a manor by the butler Wadsworth (played by Tim Curry). After a murder takes place, the seven try to discern who could be the murderer before the police arrives.
Clue faithfully adapts the mechanics of the board game and turns it into a fun whodunnit. Plus, the cast—which includes Christopher Lloyd, Matrin Mull, and Madeline Kahn—effortlessly delivers its dark humor.
7. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye is a mystery thriller about private investigator Philip Marlowe (played by Elliott Gould) who gets involved in the murder of his friend's wife.
When that case goes nowhere, Marlowe receives another case, which seems related and makes him think that every case he gets involved in all connects to a bigger suspect.
This film never pulls its punches regarding the harshness of its story. Director Robert Altman presents a world that's unfair to friendships or loyalty, and that makes its core mystery all the more haunting.
6. Charade (1963)
Part-romantic comedy and part-mystery thriller, Charade follows American expatriate Reggie Lampert (played by Audrey Hepburn) who finds her husband murdered.
Afterwards, she's targeted by three men who are after the fortune her husband had stolen. Reggie soon receives help from charming stranger Peter (played by Cary Grant), and they attempt to solve the case.
Fans of romantic capers will love this classic, which still oozes charm and escapism. Both Grant and Hepburn work together as two people entangled in a deadly mystery. Charade really is "the best Hitchcock movie he never directed."
5. Gosford Park (2001)
Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Gosford Park. This film, directed by Robert Altman, tells the story of a group of people who gather at Gosford Park for a shooting party.
When a murder takes place, the guests and servants are brought into question, turning it into a wild goose chase for the murderer.
Under Altman's hands, Gosford Park becomes more than just a classic whodunnit. It clearly satirizes Britain's social classes with its depiction of the upstairs-downstairs hierarchy. Its dark humor fits well with the character's absurd personalities, and the ensemble cast is amazing!
4. Knives Out (2019)
Rian Johnson's Knives Out centers on the wealthy but dysfunctional Thrombey family, whose patriarch Harlan (played by Christopher Plummer) has passed away.
Private detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) is on the case as he dives into the characters of the Thrombey household, but mostly on Harlan's caretaker Marta Cabrera (played by Ana de Armas).
Johnson's thumbprints on the story result in an unorthodox take on what could've been a generic whodunnit mystery. The sequence of narrative reveals is unusual, and the case goes in unexpected directions. But most importantly, it's entertaining and well-written with a gifted cast.
3. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Based on the James Ellroy novel, L.A. Confidential follows three cops—the determined Edmund Exley, the fierce Bud White, and the sneaky Jack Vincennes—who are brought in to investigate a series of murders around the Los Angeles vicinity.
They eventually find themselves caught up in a tangled world of corruption and fame. In the world of L.A. Confidential, no agenda is left isolated, always leading to a domino effect that soon exposes the darkness of anyone involved.
This neo-noir thriller never pulls away from showing a deceitful 1950s Los Angeles. Together with its fascinating mystery, L.A. Confidential brings wonders to the genre.
2. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Any list of whodunnit murder mysteries would be incomplete if it left out Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot stories.
One of the best Agatha Christie movie adaptations is 1974's Murder of the Orient Express, where Poirot (played by Albert Finney) investigates the murder of a tycoon by interrogating all of the passengers and crew.
Director Sidney Lumet's version stands as the best and most definitive adaptation of this story. The mystery is intense, the characters are likable, the execution is spotless, and the cast is amazing. A must-watch!
1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
To this day, The Maltese Falcon stands as the most iconic whodunnit murder mystery movie of all time.
The film follows San Francisco-based private eye Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) as he takes on a high-stakes case involving three peculiar crooks and a deceitful femme fatale, all of whom are after a valuable jeweled falcon statuette.
This film is one of the best (and first) examples of a film noir. We have a private eye, a murder case, a list of suspects, and a femme fatale. They all amount to a case of a slain officer and a missing MacGuffin. It's well-deserving of its legacy as a whodunnit noir great.