25 Best Mystery Movies That Will Keep You Glued to the Screen
From thrilling detective movies to hilarious whodunits, these are some of the best mystery movies of all time
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The best mystery movies for amateur detectives
The puzzling flicks that are mystery films are perennial favorites for a reason, and when you’re in the mood for a good head-scratcher, nothing else will do. So while you could watch another episode of that show you use as background TV (you know the one), you’ll get much more satisfaction from pressing play on one of the best mystery movies around.
Don’t assume all mysteries are alike, though. There are classic films noir from the golden age of Hollywood, scary movies with a mystery threaded throughout and thriller movies that keep us on the edge of our seats. And while some of those might be dark or grisly, you’ll also find cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths and films with witty detectives and ensemble casts—think playful and fun flicks like Knives Out and Murder Mystery.
Some of the best movies ever made have been mysteries, and no matter their differences, the one thing they all do is give us a sense of satisfaction when we find out what’s really going on. To help you make tonight a mystery movie night, we pared down a list of the very best, from award winners and films based on mystery books to beloved cult classics and those that had everyone talking when they came out. Don’t worry: We’d never give away the ending.
What was the first mystery movie?
It depends who you ask. Some experts consider the French silent film The Gold Bug, which came out in 1910 and was based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story, the first mystery movie. Others point to the first Hollywood mystery movie: Sherlock Holmes, a silent film produced in 1916 and starring William Gillette as the famed detective.
Not long ago, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a copy. All prints of Sherlock Holmes were thought to have been lost or destroyed, but one was uncovered in France in 2014. It was restored and screened at several film festivals in 2015, and you can now watch it on Prime Video.
Why do we watch mystery movies?
The brilliance of the best mystery movies is that they give us too little information to predict every twist but just enough to convince us we can solve the case. We want to play along, scouring each scene for clues and coming up with our own suspect lists. We want to be savvy enough to figure out the final plot twist before it happens. And when the credits roll, we want to pat ourselves on the back, knowing we sleuthed out the mystery on our own.
But there’s another reason we love mystery movies. Films focused on crimes, murders and other perilous situations also give us the chance to analyze situations and insert ourselves into dangerous settings from the comfort (and safety) of our own couch.
Detective work can be exciting, but how many times have you seen a film in which the investigators get too close to the truth, prompting the bad guys to threaten their lives? The best mystery movies give us a chance to be part of the excitement without having to watch our backs.
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Memorable quote: “Let’s go down to the garden and find out what’s buried there.”
Alfred Hitchcock may have made dozens of now-classic movies filled with mystery and suspense, including Vertigo, North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, but Rear Window is arguably one of his best mystery movies ever. The film stars James Stewart as Jeff Jefferies, a news photographer who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg. Homebound, he stares out his apartment window, whiling away the time with some harmless spying on his neighbors. But he eventually suspects that one of them has committed a murder. With the help of his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), he tries to piece together the clues to prove his suspicions—inadvertently putting Lisa in grave danger.
The Pink Panther
Memorable quote: “If you’ve seen one Stradivarius, you’ve seen them all.”
Henry Mancini’s jazzy theme to The Pink Panther is so iconic and recognizable that the score belongs in the pantheon of best movie soundtracks. But the music is only one reason to check out this Blake Edwards film, the first in the franchise that follows inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) as he chases down a jewel thief called The Phantom who has stolen a diamond known as the “pink panther.” Though Sellers appeared in a bunch of funny movies throughout his career—including Being There and What’s New, Pussycat?—he is perhaps most closely identified with Clouseau. (His roles in Dr. Strangelove are a close second.)
Memorable quote: “In front of me is some kind of box. He’s telling me to open it …”
Director Park Chan-Wook is a modern master of action movies and suspenseful thrillers. Take, for instance, his 2003 film Oldboy, an exciting and completely original story with a complex, layered mystery at its heart. For 15 years, Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) has been imprisoned in a hotel-like room, kept alive by kidnappers who seem to want him to suffer. With nothing else to do, Dae-Su trains to become a fighter, swearing vengeance on his captors. As for what happens when he’s finally released, well, we’ll let you have the fun of figuring that out for yourself. Filled with stunning fight sequences, Oldboy is a wild revenge fantasy with twists you’ll never see coming.
Memorable quote: “Remember Sammy Jankis.”
Memento is the film that put director Christopher Nolan on the map and earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. And boy, is there good reason for that Oscar nod: The events of the movie occur in reverse. In the film, Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man with a chronic form of short-term memory loss. Armed only with Polaroids and information he has tattooed on his body to help him remember details, he’s hunting down the man who killed his wife.
The film weaves Leonard’s past and present together in two timelines, culminating in a jaw-dropping climax that reveals the details Leonard’s memory has left out. Since Memento‘s release, Nolan has become known for drama movies that feature incredible visual effects and play with time, memories, dreams and nonlinear narratives. It’s safe to say that if you enjoyed films like Inception and somehow haven’t watched Memento yet, you’ll love it.
Memorable quote: “‘Cool girl.’ Men always use that, don’t they? As their defining compliment: ‘She’s a cool girl.'”
Considering the astronomical success of author Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel Gone Girl, it’s no surprise Hollywood scooped it up and adapted the book for film. And if you’ve managed to make it nearly a decade since the film’s release without encountering spoilers, you owe it to yourself to watch this gripping and twisty mystery. (You know, before someone on the internet gives away the ending.)
Gone Girl stars Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, a woman who disappears on her wedding anniversary. With the help of Amy’s diary and several other clues in and around their home, the cops launch an investigation. The prime suspect? Her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck). All is not as it seems in this suspenseful flick, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat as you try to determine what role Nick played in the disappearance of his wife.
Memorable quote: “What if we’re being watched by the killer? What if he was in here? Maybe he stole my Peanut M&Ms.”
If you love a good mystery, you could certainly go deep and dark with one of the hundreds of true-crime documentaries on Netflix. Or you could turn on Murder Mystery. The Netflix original comedy starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that’s part of the fun. The two comedy legends have appeared in some of the best ’90s movies, and in 2019 they teamed up to play Nick and Audrey Spitz, a married couple whose vacation to Europe is upended when a billionaire they just met ends up dead—and they become suspects in his murder. The film remains one of the most-streamed original movies on Netflix, and a sequel, Murder Mystery 2, comes out on March 31, 2023.
Clue: The Movie
Memorable quote: “Nobody. No body, that’s what we mean. Mr. Boddy’s body, it’s gone.”
Of all the movies ever based on a board game, Clue might be the most beloved. (Sorry, Battleship.) With a cast of killer comedic actors, including Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd and Madeline Kahn, the classic ’80s movie finds six strangers invited to a mansion, where they realize they’re all being blackmailed by their host, Mr. Boddy. He ends up dead, and the game is afoot. Who killed him? With what murder weapon? And where? The film provides several possible endings and a body count that keeps piling up. A cult classic, it ranks high on the list of the best mystery movies ever created.
The Maltese Falcon
Memorable quote: “Might I remind you, Mr. Spade, that you may have the falcon, but we certainly have you.”
Humphrey Bogart brings to life the private-eye protagonist of Dashiell Hammett’s noir crime novel The Maltese Falcon in a book-to-movie adaptation so hailed by critics it’s often cited as one of the best films of all time. This may be the first time Bogart appears on our list of the best mystery movies, but it won’t be the last. (In the spirit of a good mystery, we won’t tell you which of the renowned actor’s other films appears later in the list.) In this classic piece of film noir, three different clients hire Bogart’s detective Sam Spade to help them locate a valuable statue of a bird known as the Maltese falcon. Soon, Sam’s partner is killed, other bodies begin piling up and he realizes he has become tangled in a dangerous web of crime.
Memorable quote: “It’s human nature to lie. Most of the time, we can’t even be honest with ourselves.”
Rashomon isn’t simply one of the best Asian movies or even just one of the greatest classic movies of all time. It’s also a groundbreaking film that inspired dozens of movies that came after it. The Japanese mystery-thriller was written and directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, and it centers on the murder of a Japanese samurai, as told from the perspectives of several different people. But here’s where Rashomon changed the game and cemented itself as one of the best mystery movies of all time: Many details of the witnesses’ stories contradict one another. The format has inspired dozens of films and TV shows in the more than 70 years since its release. There’s even a storytelling method named after it, aptly named the Rashomon effect.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Memorable quote: “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. Don’t you think?”
When the first Knives Out movie premiered in 2019, the detective film proved that The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson, was also a master of mystery and comedy. With Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, he delivered an equally entertaining mystery with an equally star-studded cast: Edward Norton, Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae and Kate Hudson, plus a dozen or so cameos and hilarious references to other celebrities. The sequel, one of the best mysteries on Netflix right now, was a deeply funny comedy as well as a clever whodunit that pivots perspectives halfway through. In other words, everything you thought you knew gets flipped on its head at the midpoint. Grab the popcorn, buckle up and get ready for a rollicking ride.
Three Identical Strangers
Memorable quote: “When I tell people my story, they don’t believe it. I guess I wouldn’t believe the story if someone else were telling it, but I’m telling it, and it’s true, every word of it.”
And now for an entry in the “truth is stranger than fiction” category: Three Identical Strangers, a bizarre true story that became a documentary. At age 19, Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran discovered that they were triplets separated at birth. As the film slowly unspools their story, it pieces together a mystery of mind-boggling proportions. Why were the boys separated? Who separated them? Keep watching for a reveal that’ll have you wide-eyed and asking, “How could that have really happened?” Check out the documentary now before it’s adapted into a TV series that will reportedly star Ben Stiller as all three adult brothers.
Memorable quote: “Nobody can stab a corpse and not know it.”
Screenwriter Julian Fellowes has made a career of telling stories of aristocracy, class systems and royalty. He’s the man behind celebrated TV shows like Downton Abbey and The Gilded Age, plus some of the best royal movies, including The Young Victoria. Fellowes’s Gosford Park is a classic upstairs-downstairs story. It centers on a wealthy family hosting a hunting party on its vast estate for some equally posh friends. When patriarch Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) is found dead in his study, all the guests and servants become suspects in the murder. The stacked cast of suspects includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson and Clive Owen.
Memorable quote: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Chinatown is one of many mystery films to use Los Angeles as a backdrop filled with glamour and seedy corruption. Set in the 1930s, the film stars Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes, who discovers the corrupt dealings of a man named Noah Cross (John Huston). Gittes’s no-good foe will lie, cheat and kill to develop the newly expanding city, a plot inspired by the real “water wars”: At the turn of the 20th century, powerful politicians in California diverted water away from farms in the Owens Valley, destroying the farming communities. The neo-noir mystery is often hailed as one of the greatest films of all time and earned a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for writer Robert Towne.
Memorable quote: “Now, you’re in the sunken place.”
Jordan Peele got his start writing and starring in sketch comedy TV shows, but he has proven himself to be a master of modern horror. Get Out is his directorial debut, a suspenseful, mystery-laced horror that delivers smart social commentary. It stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a young Black photographer joining his white girlfriend, Rose (Alison Williams), at her family’s house for the weekend. While Rose’s wealthy parents, Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), are welcoming at first, their reasons for bringing Chris to their home are sinister, racist and terrifying. You’ll be on the edge of your seat wondering what’s simmering beneath the surface of these people—and whether Chris will actually get out alive.
Memorable quote: “You can’t go wrong with no plans. We don’t need to make a plan for anything. It doesn’t matter what will happen next.”
Yes, Parasite is a horror film. But it’s also a darkly comedic, suspenseful thriller with an underlying mystery you’ll be dying to figure out. It won four Academy Awards in 2019, including the Oscar for Best Picture—a first for a foreign-language film. Director Bong Joon-Ho’s critically acclaimed film is a commentary on class and wealth, centering on the poor Kim family, which lies its way into working for the wealthy Parks. As the story picks up speed, the secrets between the families unravel, revealing a deeper, deadlier mystery.
Memorable quote: “She looks just like Lana Turner.” “She is Lana Turner.”
In the late ’90s, Hollywood types went wild for L.A. Confidential, an adaptation of the third book in James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet mystery book series. It earned nine Oscar nominations and two wins, and it might’ve won more if it hadn’t gone up against a film of titanic proportions: Titanic swept most of the major Oscar categories that year. Still, critics and viewers alike were swept up in the noir mystery filled with Hollywood scandal and police corruption in the 1950s. It’s a film where the bad guys are bad and the good guys, well, they’re not so good themselves. Today’s viewers still consider it a classic among crime films, and if you liked Chinatown, you’ll want to follow it up with this one.
Memorable quote: “Why gamble with money when you can gamble with people’s lives?”
When a 19-year-old altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton, making his feature film debut) is accused of murdering a Catholic archbishop, defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) offers to defend him. As the case proceeds, Vail uncovers a history of abuse and lies in the church that suggests something sinister led to the archbishop’s murder. Norton gives a star-making performance in Primal Fear, and the film goes down in Hollywood history as having one of the greatest twist endings of all time.
Memorable quote: “Murder’s never perfect. Always comes apart sooner or later, and when two people are involved it’s usually sooner.”
Fred MacMurray is known for his roles in several classic family movies, like Disney’s The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor, but his most famous role was in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. MacMurray played insurance salesman Walter Neff, who becomes tangled in a plot to kill a man so that the man’s wife, Phyllis (played by Barbara Stanwyck), can receive the insurance payout. The title of the film comes from the double indemnity clause in the insurance policy, which will pay out double the amount if the death is ruled accidental. With an insurance adjuster hot on his trail and the discovery that Phyllis has killed before, Walter finds himself backed into a deadly, no-win situation.
Memorable quote: “What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, hen house, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at 15 miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
In this classic ’90s movie, Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man framed for his wife’s murder. He’s convinced a one-armed man is the real killer, and he goes on the run to track down the murderer himself. Meanwhile, U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, who won an Oscar for the role) has made it his mission to track down Kimble and punish him for his crime. With the mystery of who killed Kimble’s wife (and why) looming throughout The Fugitive, viewers are in for thrilling action and a race against the clock.
The Third Man
Rated: Not Rated
Memorable quote: “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love—they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
When American author Holly Martins arrives in Vienna to accept a job with his childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), he’s shocked to learn Lime was struck and killed by a car. As he inquires about the accident, Martins gets an inkling something is not quite right. He hears two different accounts of Lime’s death: In one, two men helped carry Lime’s body away from the scene of the accident. In another, three men moved his body. Facing more questions than answers, Martins remains in Vienna to investigate the death. The Third Man is a classic crime flick that’ll have you, like Martins, trying to learn the identity of the third man and working to uncover the truth about Lime. Looking to watch something totally different tonight? Try one of these fantastic Western movies.
Memorable quote: “I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”
Based on real-life murders by the so-called Zodiac Killer in and around San Francisco in the ’60s and ’70s, Zodiac is the story of a reporter and police officer intent on finding out the killer’s identity. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who works with his colleague, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), to decipher encrypted messages sent to them by a serial killer. Along with a police inspector, played by Mark Ruffalo, the men try to track down the killer. Widely considered one of the best mystery movies of the early 2000s, the film offers an insider’s look at the events as they really unfolded, though the real Zodiac killer has never been identified.
Memorable quote: “What’s in the box?”
Director David Fincher has not one but three films on our list of great mysteries: Zodiac, Gone Girl and 1995’s Seven, his first blockbuster. Morgan Freeman stars as William Somerset, a detective working one last case before retirement. And if you’re a connoisseur of crime movies, you know what that means: The case is going to be a doozy.
Together with his young partner, David Mills (Brad Pitt), he’s hunting a serial killer whose victims all represent the seven deadly sins. They expect the dead bodies. What they don’t see coming is the way the killer has involved them in his twisted game. The film’s heart-pounding climax will have you glued to the screen. The title of No. 1 thriller movie is highly subjective, but you’ll certainly add Seven to your list of all-time favorite mystery thrillers. If you found the topic heavy, follow this film with one of the best rom-coms ever created.
The Sixth Sense
Memorable quote: “I see dead people.”
When it came out in 1999, The Sixth Sense put director M. Night Shyamalan on the map and established him as the king of twist endings. By now, most people know about the shocking reveal at the end of the film (don’t worry, our lips are sealed). But when The Sixth Sense was in theaters, it made a habit of leaving audiences gobsmacked. So what are you in for? Follow psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) as he works with a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who is haunted by visions of dead people all around him. Though he’s eager to help, he’ll have to face some scary facts before he fully accepts what’s haunting the child.
Memorable quote: “You’re smarter than you look, Marshal. That’s probably not a good thing. ”
Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo head up the all-star cast of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, a movie based on Dennis Lehane’s bestselling novel. In the film, DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal who, along with partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), is investigating the disappearance of an inmate from Shutter Island, an isolated prison for the criminally insane. While working the case, Daniels is also trying to locate the man who killed his wife, who is also imprisoned on the island. The film seems like a classic detective procedural full of clues and twists, but the ending turns everything on its head. When you’re done, check one of the best Netflix movies of the year off your to-watch list.
The Big Sleep
Rated: Not Rated
Memorable quote: “What’s wrong with you?” “Nothing you can’t fix.”
Notable crime fiction novelist Raymond Chandler gave life to detective Philip Marlowe, and The Big Sleep was the first of his novels to feature the character. Several films have featured Marlowe, but Humphrey Bogart’s performance here is a classic. In this noir tale, Lauren Bacall plays Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, whose father hires Marlowe under false pretenses. As the detective tries to determine the real reason he was hired, he finds himself twisted up in a complicated and deadly plot and targeted by those who want him off the case.