Clever Whodunits to Test Your Detective Skills


There’s something so satisfying about a well-crafted whodunit mystery. While it’s fun to watch a master detective like Sherlock Holmes work a case, it’s even more exciting to try solving the mystery yourself. The best whodunits offer the audience clues and red herrings so that the movie feels like a puzzle—and then, when the big, dramatic reveal happens, you’ll either be crowing in triumph because you guessed it or sitting there slack-jawed with shock as the credits roll.

These are some of the best whodunits ever made, spanning almost a hundred years of cinema history. How many have you seen?

Knives Out (2019)

I have to start with Knives Out, one of my favorite movies of the last decade. Rian Johnson’s murder mystery is such a clever little puzzle box, filled with quirky characters, laugh-out-loud moments, and biting social commentary. Plus, the mansion setting is one of the coolest houses I’ve ever seen!

Ana de Armas proved that she’s got serious acting chops as Marta, a young woman caught up in the squabbling and backstabbing of the Thrombey family. When patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead, only eccentric detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) can crack the case.

The sequel, The Glass Onion, has a similarly stacked cast, although it might not be quite on the same level as Knives Out. Regardless, I hope that Johnson and Craig keep making Benoit Blanc movies forever. If you liked these movies, then you should definitely check out Johnson’s 2005 film Brick, a high school noir starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Gosford Park (2001)

What if Downton Abbey was a murder mystery? That’s essentially what director Robert Altman and screenwriter Julian Fellowes (who would, in fact, go on to create Downton Abbey) deliver with Gosford Park, a darkly funny murder mystery starring some of England’s best actors—including Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, and Kristen Scott Thomas. The drama kicks off when one of the guests at a shooting party at a country estate turns up dead. In the best tradition of Agatha Christie, everyone is a suspect. There’s also a whiff of P.G. Wodehouse to the way the film skewers the British class system.

Downton Abbey was originally intended to be a spinoff of Gosford Park, which was a major critical and financial success. Ultimately, Julian Fellowes decided to go in a slightly different direction, but Maggie Smith’s character—Lady Trentham in Gosford Park and Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey—was essentially unchanged.

After the Thin Man (1936)

It’s rare that a sequel managed to outdo the original, but in the case of the long-running Thin Man series, I think that After the Thin Man pulls it off. That’s largely thanks to the presence of a baby-faced James Stewart, who turns in an amazing performance.

William Powell and Myrna Loy star as married couple Nick and Nora Charles. He’s a semi-retired detective, and she’s an heiress who yearns for adventure and excitement. Although the characters were originally created by Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon), the Thin Man movies are less noir and more screwball comedy. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a satisfying mystery at the heart of the film, though! Just be warned that this film is a relic of its time, and the portrayal of the Chinese characters leaves something to be desired. At least they weren’t white actors in yellowface?

Clue (1985)

Clue is the gift that keeps on giving—at least in GIF form. A fantastic group of comedians and actors joined forces for what is arguably the best adaptation of a board game ever done. Based on the archetypical characters from the board game invented in 1943, Clue sees Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Mrs. Peacock, and Mrs. White gathered at a remote mansion. Murder ensues—but plenty of laughs, too.

The movie was a dud when it premiered, thanks mostly to the gimmick of releasing with three different endings, distributed randomly to theaters so that audiences didn’t know how it really ended. When the movie made it to VHS, however, it presented all three endings in order, with the implication that the third one was the actual solution to the mystery.

Since then, Clue has become a cult classic, and various studios have tried to reboot the property for the last decade. They came close with Ryan Reynolds and then with Jason Bateman, but so far, a reboot has failed to make it past pre-production.

The Nice Guys (2016)

Shane Black has crafted some of the most outstanding action-comedy capers ever, yet I’m always somehow surprised whenever I remember how many great movies he’s made. In my not-so-humble opinion, The Nice Guys is his best picture. The odd couple dynamic between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is just so much fun, but don’t lose sight of the mystery amid the humor and hijinks. It’s a little more serious than, say, The Big Lebowski, but it has a similar vibe.

Sadly, The Nice Guys failed to light up the box office, despite its stellar cast and cool 70s aesthetic—not to mention the glowing reviews. Black reportedly wanted to pursue a sequel, but the film didn’t make enough of a profit to make that feasible. Fox also flirted with the idea of making a gender-flipped TV called The Nice Girls, but that project never got off the ground.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

The Kenneth Branagh remake of Murder on the Orient Express was fine, but the 1974 version is so much better. Branagh was all wrong for the role of Poirot, Agatha Christie’s most famous detective, and his mustache is a thing of nightmares. Albert Finney does a better job here as Poirot, but it’s the supporting cast that really shines. I mean, c’mon: you’ve got Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman? Sean Connery, John Gielgud, and Psycho star Anthony Perkins?

Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s cozy train mystery earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar and nabbed five additional nominations. It’s the first movie based on her work that she actually liked—well, except for Albert Finney’s mustache, which she found disappointing.

Identity (2003)

Agatha Christie’s fingerprints are all over the whodunit genre. It’s almost impossible to make this type of murder mystery film without acknowledging her in some way. Identity uses the DNA of And Then There Were None to build a psychological slasher starring John Cusack. The film sees ten apparent strangers called to an isolated hotel—and then the bodies start piling up, one by one.

Director James Mangold lets the story unfold in twists and turns, using scenes out of chronological order to dizzy the viewer and heighten the sense of doom as the characters get picked off. But who is killing them? And, more importantly, why?

I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a fantastic twist. Maybe not on par with The Sixth Sense or the next film on our list, but Identity is definitely worth your time. Along with 1408, it marks a fun period in John Cusack’s career where he played main characters who were losing their dang minds, and I love it.

Shutter Island (2010)

Martin Scorsese and his latter-day muse, Leonardo Di Caprio, made a wonderful neo-noir whodunit with Shutter Island. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, it tows the line between thriller and straight-up horror. The film was a hit and made a ton of money at the box office, though the planned TV series prequel, Ashecliffe, never materialized. They did make a PC game tie-in, which was an odd choice but not the weirdest movie tie-in product ever released.  

To me, Shutter Island is a delightful throwback to an earlier era of filmmaking. It marries the intricate plot and captivating performances of films like The Third Man with the paranoia and atmosphere of modern-day psychological horror. The closest film I can compare it to is David Fincher’s criminally overlooked 1997 thriller The Game starring Michael Douglas.

Detective Pikachu (2019)

Detective Pikachu didn’t need to be a good movie. Pokemon is such a massive franchise that it was always going to be a hit. But the filmmakers (and star Ryan Reynolds) made a surprisingly fun, smart, and satisfying mystery movie. There are so few whodunits that can be enjoyed by the whole family, and Detective Pikachu is a great way to get kids excited about the genre.

I’m not saying that it’s a classic on par with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but it’s better than it has any right to be. Given that it made over $433 million at the international box office and earned solid reviews, you’d think that a sequel would be a slam dunk. However, so far, no confirmation of a follow-up film has been forthcoming.