The 50 Best Mystery Movies of All-Time

The 50 Best Mystery Movies of All-Time

June 14, 2024

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Mystery films are typically known for their most recognizable elements and tropes: there is a crime, a series of clues, an investigation, and a long explanation for how everything actually fits together in the end. This makes the genre a reliable source of entertainment but it also threatens to restrict the kinds of stories that these films can tell. So here at agoodmovietowatch, we want to expand your understanding of mystery movies beyond these tropes, with the films listed below. Here, you can see that different stories across various other genres still possess the real heart of mystery: a desire to understand the unknowable and to find justice when things seem hopeless.

1. Incendies (2011)

best

9.9

Country

Canada, France

Director

Denis Villeneuve

Actors

Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baraka Rahmani

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Slow

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad’s 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

2. The Hunt (2013)

best

9.8

Country

Belgium, Denmark, France

Director

Thomas Vinterberg

Actors

Alexandra Rapaport, Allan Wibor Christensen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense, Mind-blowing

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

3. Icarus (2017)

best

9.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Bryan Fogel

Actors

Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Don Catlin, Grigory Rodchenkov

Moods

Dark, Instructive, Mind-blowing

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it’s Rodchenkov’s likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can’t help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you’re not into sports!

4. Wind River (2017)

best

9.4

Country

Canada, France, UK

Director

Taylor Sheridan

Actors

Althea Sam, Apesanahkwat, Austin R. Grant, Blake Robbins

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Suspenseful

Phenomenal and heartbreaking, Wind River is a true masterpiece by Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Sicario and Hell or High Water. In a Native American Reservation, a local girl is found dead and a young detective (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to uncover the mystery. She is accompanied by a tracker (Jeremy Renner) with his own dark history in the community. It’s not a very rewarding movie at first, so don’t expect an incredibly fast-paced story from the get-go. However, when everything unfolds, it’s not only action-packed, its reflections on indigenous communities are deep and poignant. How this remains a relatively known movie is shocking, it has to be one of the best mysteries of the past 20 years.

5. The Imposter (2012)

best

9.3

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Bart Layton

Actors

Adam O'Brian, Adam O' Brian, Adam O'Brian, Alan Teichman

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Intense

Simply titled The Imposter, this film by English documentary maker Bart Layton tells an unbelievable tale. Any plot summary doing this film justice has to err on the side of brevity, which is why it will be only one line long: this is the story of Frederic Bourdin, a serial imposter nicknamed “The Chameleon”, who at one time claimed to be the missing son of a family from Texas. The film is so well-shot that it is hard to tell fact from fiction at times and it will force you to remind yourself that this is in fact real life. Expect twists and turns at every corner and brilliant storytelling from real people. If Christopher Nolan created a 48-hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

6. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

best

9.2

Country

Argentina, Spain

Director

Juan J. Campanella, Juan Jose Campanella

Actors

Alejandro Abelenda, Barbara Palladino, Carla Quevedo, David Di Nápoli

Moods

Long, Romantic, Slow

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot – a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

7. Hell or High Water (2016)

best

9.2

Country

United States of America

Director

David Mackenzie

Actors

Alma Sisneros, Amber Midthunder, Ariel Holmes, Ben Foster

Moods

Raw, Suspenseful, Well-acted

Written by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and directed by David Mackenzie (who is responsible for the prison drama Starred up), this well-acted Western is one of the most captivating movies of 2016. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two brothers, one cautious and out to better himself, the other, an ex-convict with an itchy trigger finger, whose family ranch is threatened by the local bank. Both set out to make a high-risk living of travelling and robbing that bank’s local branches. On the other side of town, grizzled Texas ranger Marcus, played by none other than Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges, has one foot in retirement but is bent on solving their case. The film’s spectacular cinematography is reinforced by the brooding original music, composed by none other than Nick Cave and long-time collaborator Warren Ellis. It takes you on a journey that is as much about the two brothers’ violent upbringing as it is about the decaying towns they visit, making this modern-day crime western not only a great thriller but a tribute to the Texan way of life.

8. The Handmaiden (2016)

best

9.2

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Actors

Bae Il-hyuck, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Byung-mo, Choi Jong-ryul

Moods

Dramatic, Thrilling, Weird

The 2016 outing of South-Korean auteur director Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy and Stoker) once again shifts attention to the dark side of what makes us human: betrayal, violence, and transgression. Based on the 2002 novel Fingersmith by British author Sarah Waters, The Handmaiden revolves around the love of two women and the greedy men around them. Park shifts the novel’s plot from Victorian London to 1930s Korea, where an orphaned pickpocket is used by a con man to defraud an old Japanese woman. Routinely called a masterpiece with comparisons made to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, this is a stylish and meticulous psychological thriller that packs enough erotic tension to put a crack in your screen. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. You might even have to watch it twice.

9. Cure (1997)

best

9.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Actors

Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Hajime Tanimoto

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Gripping

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

10. Blue Velvet (1986)

best

9.2

Country

United States of America

Director

David Lynch

Actors

Angelo Badalamenti, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Thrilling

David Lynch’s star-studded provocation Blue Velvet was both revered and criticised upon its release because of how heavily it leans on sexuality and violence to advance its plot, but today the film’s hailed as a contemporary masterpiece. Still, scenes with that kind of content are quite hard to stomach in combination with Isabella Rossellini’s depiction of an unstable, delicate singer named Dorothy. But Dorothy is surely not in Kansas anymore… It takes a young college student (Jeffrey Beaumont played by Kyle McLachlan) who becomes fascinated with her as part of his self-appointed detective quest, to uncover deep-rooted conspiracies. In his endeavours, Jeffrey is joined by butter blonde Sandy (Laura Dern), and the twisted love triangle they form with Dorothy in the middle is one for the ages. Dennis Hooper stars as one of the most terrifying men on screen and Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti scores the film with an eerie precision like no other. 

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