Everyone loves a good mystery, it’s the reason crime shows last over a decade and movies create such a buzz as we try to solve the case before the characters do. Sometimes watching movies can be a passive experience, but at the best mystery movies help us become more active in our viewing experiences: looking for clues not just in the story, but in the visual language of the movie in case the director has snuck in some hints. With that in mind, lets countdown the 10 Best Mystery Movies for fans of both a potboiler and a ripping good yarn.
Martin Scorsese made his name as America’s greatest filmmaker with movies about the misfits, wise guys, and Jordan Berlfort’s of the world to his own spin in Jesus, Howard Hughes, and the underrated religious epic, Silence. In short, you’re always in for something special with the artist also known as Marty, and Shutter Island is his take on both the horror film, and the mystery thriller. Leonardo Di Caprio stars as U.S. Marshall Edward “Teddy” Daniels, who is sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate of the titular Hospital for the criminally insane. Based on the novel by Ben Affleck’s favorite crime writer, Dennis Lehane, it’s best to go into Shutter Island knowing as little as possible, but like all of the best mystery movies, it rewards through multiple viewings. While it is considered one of Scorsese and Di Caprio’s lesser works, Shutter Island is actually won of the director’s most interesting and engaging works, manly because he is trying something new.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The late Steig Larsson’s debut novel, and two follow-ups that form the Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to the literary world by storm at the height of the obsession with Scandinavian Noir. A film adaptation was put into production with each of Larsson’s novels being turned into films that, apart from Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth Salander, were merely fine. Which brings us to one of the rarest things in cinema: an American remake that is better than the original. David Fincher took the reins as he followed up the Oscar nominated drama, The Social Network, with a movie that suits his sensibilities. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star as journalist Mikael Blomquist and Salander respectively. Under Fincher’s perfectionist eye, the novel got the visceral adaptation it deserved, with Mara’s breakthrough performance the only thing that stopped Craig’s career-best work from being the film’s highlight.
The Silence of the Lambs
One of only three movies to win in the top five categories of the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins, Best Actress for Jodie Foster, Best Director for the late Jonathan Demme, and Adapted Screenplay, the legacy of Silence of the Lambs speaks for itself. The movie is the rarest thing in Hollywood (rarer than great American remakes) a Best Picture-winning horror movie, but it can be strongly argued that Silence of the Lambs has more mystery in its DNA than horror. Sure, Hopkins portrayal of the cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter makes my blood run cold, and the movie features so scary sequences, it’s Foster as Agent Clarice Starling that grounds the movie in her investigation, with Lecter’s help, into the murders by the killer dubbed Buffalo Bill.
Thanks to the passage of time this 1972 British thriller is easily the most obscure movie on this list but anyone who has seen it will agree that it deserves to be considered as one of the best mystery movies of all time. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the Academy Award winning director of All About Eve, Sleuth stars the legendary Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine, both of whom were nominated for acting Oscars for their performances. Olivier plays Andrew Wyke, a famous crime author who invites his wife’s young lover, played by Caine, into an increasingly escalating game of cat and mouse. This was Mankiewicz final movie and he goes out on a major high as we are constantly guessing which character in this two-man show has the upper hand. The movie was remade in 2007 with Caine playing the Wyke role and Jude Law as the other man, but that is a complete waste of time.
When Prisoners was first announced many critics and movie goers expected a thriller in the David Fincher mold. Fincher certainly can be counted as an influence here, but Prisoners is so much more than a great mystery movie, it’s the breakthrough movie of visionary director Denis Villeneuve. Prisoners, which was Denis Villeneuve’s first English language release began a hot streak that includes the cerebral thriller Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and last year’s Blade Runner 2049. Prisoners centers around the abduction of two little girls in suburban Pennsylvania and the increasingly desperate attempts that one of the girl’s fathers, played by a brilliant Hugh Jackman, sinks to. Joining Jackman is a star-studded cast including Viola Davis, Terence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the detective assigned to the case. Prisoners is not a mystery movie to watch if all you’re after is a good time. It’s brutal but rewarding, and the cast are superb.
Considering the fact that Get Out is one of the most beloved movies of recent years, I shouldn’t need to spend much time convincing you to watch it. You’ve probably already seen it, and loved it as a socially conscious horror movie, but it’s on the second viewing that Get Out reveals itself as a fantastic mystery movie. Much like The Sixth Sense, a second watch of Get Out rewards you by showing you exactly what the movie hid in pain sight during the time around. You can watch as the trap is set form Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and how Peele gave us everything we needed to solve this horrific mystery. You should also watch it again for the obvious reason, Get Out is a great movie. It’s a movie that doesn’t let its reputation for being so damn awesome get in the way of being so damn awesome. It’s is truly to good to be underwhelming.
In a strange sort of way (of course) all of David Lynch’s movies, and especially Twin Peaks, are mysteries bathed in Americana. After his disastrous attempt at being a tentpole filmmaker with Dune, Lynch went back to exploring the underbelly of American culture with Blue Velvet. Kyle MacLachlan stars as Jeffrey Beaumont, a college student who comes back home after his father has a stroke. On his way home from the hospital he finds a severed ear, leading him into one of cinema’s darkest mysteries as Jeffrey crosses paths with lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and her psychotic lover Frank Booth (a truly horrifying Dennis Hooper). Blue Velvet is an ugly movie, but it is also the movie within Lynch’s filmography that has the most traditional structure and thematic clarity.
David Fincher has a few masterpieces in his filmography, Fight Club, Seven, and The Social Network to name a few, but his greatest achievement is his true crime mystery surrounding the infamous Zodiac killer and his reign of terror. The movie follows three separate characters that had an impact on the failed investigation: Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the case, Mark Ruffalo as David Toschi, the detective assigned to the case, and Robert Downey, Jr. in one of his best pre-Marvel roles as journalist Paul Avery. Fincher put an amazing amount of work into this movie, putting in hundreds of hours of research and it really shows in the movie’s recreation of the Zodiac killer’s crimes. What better mystery movie than a movie that is obsessed with the idea of trying to solve a mystery.
The Third Man
One of the greatest thrillers of all time, The Third Man is a classic that every mystery movie fan should see. Based on the novella by Graham Greene, which he only wrote as a practice piece for the movie’s screenplay, The Third Man is directed by legendary filmmaker (who was also a huge influence on Martin Scorsese) Carol Reed. Joseph Cotton stars as crime writer Holly Martins who comes to Allied-occupied Vienna after hearing of his friend Harry Lime’s death. As Martins begins asking questions about his friend’s death he is thrust into a world of mystery and espionage as it turns out that Lime may have changed quite a lot since Martins last saw him. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the plot, but it more than stands the test of time, while also home to one of the finest improvised monologues in movie history.
The number one spot was always going to go to the king of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, who built an entire cinematic legacy on great mystery movies from Rebecca, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Psycho, and Vertigo, but the top spot goes to the most purely enjoyable of the lot: Rear Window. Starring the legendary pair of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, Rear Window is a movie that is so skillful at capturing your attention that you won’t even care that the movie is built on voyeurism. Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a photographer who while getting over a broken leg, begins to spy on his neighbors when one day he sees what appears to be a man murdering his wife. We’ve all seen the hilarious Simpsons episode based on the movie, but the original is just as fun and twice as thrilling.