Whodunit or a colloquial elision of “who’s done it?” is a complicated, plot-driven type of detective fiction where the mystery of who committed the murder takes center stage. This mystery subgenre has been a mainstay since the advent of cinema, giving rise to a number of great films that have had an unbreakable influence on the film industry, including Rear Window, Chinatown, and Vertigo.
As we enter the 21st century, the whodunit genre continues to flourish as filmmakers’ inventiveness soars, experimenting with various components to take the movie to a new level and enhance the cinematic experience of moviegoers. This century also produces a number of contemporary whodunits that are quickly poised to become classics.
‘Knives Out’ (2019)
Rian Johnson‘s mystery-thriller movie Knives Out follows master investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he was mysteriously employed to investigate the passing of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a renowned crime novelist and the patriarch of an affluent, troubled family. Blanc sorts through a labyrinth of red herrings and self-serving lies, from Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted employees, to discover the truth.
Knives Out is a tremendously fascinating classic whodunit with distinctive, well-drawn characters that together weave a picture of contemporary America. The film offers suspenseful thrills along with humorous, smart dialogue and equally outstanding performances from the ensemble cast. Additionally, thanks to Johnson’s creative filming, the whodunit subgenre gradually gained more recognition. And since it revives the entire genre in 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is undeniably one of the most enjoyable and sought-after films of 2019.
‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (2017)
Murder on the Orient Express, based on Agatha Christie‘s 1934 novel of the same name, follows Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) as he decides to take the Orient Express. But he unintentionally becomes involved in an investigation into a murder that occurred on the train.
Murder on the Orient Express has a beautiful and traditional storytelling style that makes it very enjoyable, and it is an old-fashioned whodunit in more ways than one. Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the movie nonetheless keeps audiences on the edge of their seats and continually wondering who the culprit is. Moreover, it’s not surprising that Christie’s classic can be brought to life with such intensity thanks to an accomplished ensemble cast, every one of whom can shine readily.
‘The Nice Guy’ (2016)
The Nice Guy, a neo-noir buddy action comedy thriller film directed by Shane Black, is set in 1977 Los Angeles and centers on a private detective (Ryan Gosling) and a fierce enforcer (Russell Crowe). The duo decides to team up to look into the disappearance of a teenage girl (Margaret Qualley).
Black elevates the whodunit subgenre by incorporating just the right amount of biting comedy and suspense to keep viewers glued to the screen the entire time, wondering what will happen next. This movie is an entertaining yet still smart classic whodunit because of its outlandish settings and incisive conversation, which are delivered by both director Black and his cast.
David Fincher‘s Zodiac, which is based on the nonfiction books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith. It recounts the story of the hunt for the Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer who tormented the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s while tauntingly sent letters, bloodstained clothing, and ciphers mailed to newspapers.
The movie is a satisfying mashup of a police procedural, a journalism story, a serial killer movie, and a modern “who’s done it.” Zodiac has a unique way of defying expectations and slowly dragging the spectators along until suddenly a decade has passed and the viewers still trying to put everything together with the characters. The film didn’t illustrate how these murders ruined the lives of the victims and their families but showed how the case ended up burdening practically everyone involved while busy catching the culprit.
‘Hail, Caesar!’ (2016)
Hail, Caesar! is a fictional tale that centers on real-life fixer Eddie Mannix, played by Josh Brolin in the film, who was working in the 1950s Hollywood film industry and trying to figure out what had happened to a star actor while they were filming a biblical epic.
The movie pays a lot of respect to classic filmmaking while successfully elevating the story of a missing person into a contemporary mystery with clever black humor. Moreover, underneath its whodunit facade, the movie offers a surprisingly insightful treatment of the same themes that run through the Coen Brothers‘ more somber works: the meaning of faith, and the fear of attempting to determine the right course in life.
‘Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’ (2019)
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, which is based on the Pokémon series, is a loose adaptation of the same-named video game from 2016. It follows Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a former Pokémon trainer, and a Pikachu as they attempt to discover what happened to Tim’s father, Harry (Ryan Reynolds), who mysteriously vanished.
Despite its limitations, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is definitely amusing and makes sure to include a ton of fan service that the vast majority of Pokémon fans around the world will appreciate. Moreover, the movie is one of those films that is ideal for a family watch and softened the subject, providing the spectators a lighter sense of the mystery, unlike traditional whodunits.
Brick is a neo-noir mystery thriller film written and directed by Rian Johnson in his directorial debut. It follows a juvenile loner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who forces his way into the underbelly of a high school crime gang to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin) who was found dead at the entrance of a sewage tunnel.
Johnson’s triumph in the 2019 Knives Out was made possible by Brick, which features excellent references from the 1940s and graceful images that deepen the dark humor. Additionally, Johnson was clever with his way to turn the murky alliances and communication of high school into a nail-biting mystery, especially with Gordon-Levitt’s outstanding performance.
‘Shutter Island’ (2010)
Based on Dennis Lehane‘s 2003 novel of the same name, Shutter Island is a neo-noir psychological thriller movie directed by Martin Scorsese. The movie follows Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a deputy U.S. Marshal, who is looking into a mental health facility on Shutter Island with his partner, played by Mark Ruffalo when one of the patients goes missing.
Shutter Island is a very well-made movie that successfully captures the whodunit subgenre easily found in episodes of The Twilight Zone and well-known Hitchcock productions. Scorsese knows how to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, terrified of what might happen and still longingly curious to learn the truth in this complex psychological thriller. In addition, because of DiCaprio’s superb portrayal, spectators may find themselves continuously doubting reality.
Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners revolves around the kidnapping of two young girls in Pennsylvania and the police’s search for the alleged kidnapper. However, the father of one of the girls, played by Hugh Jackman, intervenes after police detain a minor suspect and release him.
When its protagonists are trapped in its devastating narrative maze, Prisoners is an engaging thriller that knows how to harness their emotional force. The movie is a compelling whodunit with deftly placed clues and turns that are shocking without completely destroying the film’s naturalistic realism that is extremely eerie and intriguing.
‘Mystic River’ (2003)
Clint Eastwood’s neo-noir crime thriller film, Mystic River, is based on the 2001 same-name novel by Dennis Lehane. The movie focuses on three men who were childhood friends and how their lives are devastated by the death of one of their daughters as their tragic past continuously haunts them.
The film could have been a straightforward whodunit, but it digs too deep and expresses too much genuine suffering that is haunting for viewers afterward. The movie is a slow-burning thriller that deceives viewers into thinking they have uncovered the perpetrator but is ultimately proven to be wrong with a deep aftertaste of shame thanks to the superb cast and Eastwood’s excellent direction.