In this era ruled by IP, is it utterly delightful that the original murder-mystery Knives Out has become one of the most high-profile franchises. Rian Johnson’s 2019 film and its sequel, Glass Onion, are inspired by Agatha Christie’s work, but bear a modern sensibility and style.
Knives Out follows the brilliant master detective Benoit Blanc, whose cases typically involve a motley group of haves and have nots. In the first movie, he investigates the death of a wealthy patriarch whose strained family relationships make all his relatives suspects. In Glass Onion, Blanc is invited to an island by a tech mogul for a murder-mystery game, only for it to turn real (and deadly).
Netflix reportedly paid $469 million for the rights to two Knives Out sequels. Glass Onion was the first, and a second should be in the works. But it may be several years before Johnson can get to it. In the meantime, watch these seven ensemble-driven murder-mystery movies like Knives Out and Glass Onion.
Plus, if you’ve got time to binge, check out great detective shows to stream right now.
Rian Johnson made Knives Out with a bit of murder-mystery experience under his belt. His directorial debut, Brick, is a whodunnit set in a high school. Johnson cleverly uses teen tropes to mimic an old-school noir: cliques instead of gangs, slang that’s as opaque as ‘30s-era jargon and a loner serving as a hard-boiled detective.
Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is disturbed when he receives a call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) begging for help. The next day, he finds her dead body and vows to solve her murder himself. To do so, Brendan must decode Emily’s final mysterious message, and surf the social strata of his high school. The clues point to a local drug baron nicknamed the Pin (Lukas Haas).
The big-screen adaptation of the classic murder-mystery board game was a flop in theaters, but has found new life as a cult favorite. It’s beloved for a campy sense of humor, witty and often racy dialogue, scenery-chewing performances and madcap multiple endings.
At a secluded New England mansion, six guests arrive for a dinner party. They’re all given aliases: Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. When a seventh guest, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), turns up dead, the others become suspects. With the police on their way, they start pointing fingers at each other.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Agatha Christie’s mystery novels served as a source of inspiration for Johnson, so we naturally have to include two film adaptations on this list. The first is Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (the 1947 take is also very good). Like Johnson, Branagh fills out his ensemble with big stars, including Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp.
Branagh himself plays the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, enormous mustache and all. While traveling on the luxurious Orient Express, Poirot is called upon to solve the murder of a rich American businessman. He interrogates the passengers and crew, hoping to find the killer before they strike again.
Death on the Nile (1978)
Our second Agatha Christie movie pick is this star-studded 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile (Branagh also remade it, in 2022). The cast is stacked: Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow and David Diven. Peter Ustinov portrays Poirot, who happens to be on board a luxury cruise on the Nile River when a newlywed heiress is murdered.
Poirot is on the case, along with trusted friend Colonel Race (Niven). They discover many of the steam ship’s passengers had motive to kill the woman, including her maid, a kleptomaniac socialite and a Communist writer. And of course, you can’t discount her husband or his ex-fiancée.
Gosford Park (2001)
Like Knives Out and Glass Onion, Gosford Park takes place in an extravagant setting and features a cast of heavy hitters. The names include Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Charles Dance, Kelly Macdonald and Richard E. Grant.
Robert Altman’s satirical whodunnit puts more focus on the class clash between the upper-crust elite and their servants as they spend the weekend at an English country estate. Everyone is hiding secrets of some kind, whether they are financial, sexual or criminal — or all three! So, when one of the guests is killed, they are all suspects
The Usual Suspects (1995)
A murder-mystery is nothing without twists and turns, and The Usual Suspects might feature one of cinema’s greatest red herrings. After a ship fire kills 27 people, one of the two survivors is the disabled con man Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey). During his police interrogation, Verbal relates how he and his associates came to be on the ship.
In the previous weeks, Verbal claims that a crime lord named Keyser Soze arranged for a group of five criminals to pull off a heist. Soze is considered a mythic figure in the underworld, but things turn deadly when Verbal and his partners get close to identifying him. Nothing is exactly what it seems, though, as the police and FBI soon discover.
Here’s a more family-friendly ensemble mystery that is just as satisfying, entertaining and clever as the more mature titles on this list. The animated movie is set in the city of Zootopia, which is populated by anthropomorphic mammals. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is proud to be the first rabbit to join the police force, but soon learns enforcing the law is no picnic.
When a river otter is one of the latest mammals to go missing, Judy volunteers for the case. Unfortunately, it entails teaming up with the sly fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). As they track down clues and talk to various mammals of interest, they uncover a much larger conspiracy than they had imagined.
Watch on Disney Plus