The category of murder mystery stories has never really lacked for content or a fan base to watch it. There are hundreds if not thousands of movies that fall into the murder mystery genre, and dozens of others that could be included with a little bit of stretching. However as far as the best murder mysteries go, the five best whodunits that I’ve seen are listed below.
“The Maltese Falcon” (and this rating is for the original with Bogart, Lorre and all the other actors of the silver screen) ranks as one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time. The plot, which is based off the infamous novel by Dashiell Hammett, is a solid mystery in and of itself. It features Sam Spade (a man described as looking rather pleasantly like a blond Satan in the book) as the head of a private detective company who’s hired by a girl to find something, and to protect her. The mystery spirals out of control and heavy hitters come knocking, but in the end Spade comes away with his life, and most of his reputation intact. The movie is dramatic, features great acting and it’s so famous that everyone knows the story, even if they have no idea what a Maltese Falcon is.
Ranking second on this list is “The Big Sleep,” a movie that features much the same cast as the above pick. Bogart plays private eye Phillip Marlowe (the first of the down on his luck gumshoes), who’s hired by the disgustingly rich Sternwood family to look into the disappearance of a man named Rusty Regan. The case quickly takes on so much complexity that it’s hard to follow, dealing with issues of homosexuality, pornography, blackmail and murder before the end. Though this version was very subtle in its portrayal of some of the subject matter, it’s still one of the classics that helped set the murder mystery standard.
Third on this list, and another genre defining film is “Chinatown.” Starring a young Jack Nicholson in one of his finest performances, “Chinatown” is the story of a private detective named Jake who begins following a man at the bequest of his wife. It comes out though that the woman who hired Jake isn’t the man’s wife, and soon both the woman and the man he was following turn up dead. Land grab deals, blackmail, murder and darker secrets abound as Jake tries to put all the facts together concerning what’s actually happening. This film brought noir to a new level, and it solidified the career of one of modern film’s best actors.
Taking the fourth slot for great murder mysteries is one that most people wouldn’t expect. “Watchmen,” a 2009 release about a world where costumed superheroes have altered the course of history, is at its core a murder mystery. When a retired hero known as the Comedian is found murdered his death is investigated by one of the only remaining vigilantes at large. As the obsessive Rorschach continues to dig deeper into the Comedian’s death, as well as bringing many of his old compatriots out of their own retirements, the heroes uncover a plot that may mean more than just the death of one man. A fantastic example of good writing, supreme acting and a gripping mystery “Watchmen” definitely belongs on this list.
Rounding out this list is one of the most frightening murder mysteries, “Seven.” The movie stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two homicide detectives attempting to catch a serial killer who’s on the loose in the city. The killer is committing atrocious murders, and each one is themed around one of the seven deadly sins. The film is a pulse pounding ride through the human psyche, and the nature of right and wrong. As one of the best serial killer films, “Seven” has earned its place on this list.