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.

21. Nightcrawler (2014)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Dan Gilroy

Actors

Alex Ortiz, Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of “Drive” and “The Network”. The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you’re the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal’s performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

22. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Shane Black

Actors

Ali Hillis, Angela Lindvall, Ariel Winter, Ben Hernandez Bray

Moods

A-list actors

Robert Downey Jr’s triumphant return to film, this movie is a satirical take on film noir and detective movies in general. The screen chemistry between Gay Perry the private eye, played by Val Kilmer, and Downey Jr’s robber turned actor, Harry Lockhart, is hysterical, and the film’s tongue in cheek nature is witty, smart, and delivers. Directed by the man who directed Lethal Weapon, the action is top notch, the laughs are pretty much constant, and the mystery is compelling. It’s mind boggling that nobody saw this when it came out.

23. Leave No Trace (2018)

best

8.6

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Debra Granik, Female director

Actors

Alyssa McKay, Art Hickman, Ayanna Berkshire, Ben Foster

Moods

Character-driven, Touching, Well-acted

Leave No Trace is the amazing new movie from the director of Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik. It’s the story of a father and his daughter who live completely off the grid in a national park in Portland, and their quiet quest to not be separated and remain off the grid. It’s not the sensational, tear-jerker story that you’d expect something with this premise to be. Rather, and like Winter’s Bone, it chooses a humane and realistic approach to the subject matter. The decision to live outside society is almost irrelevant to this movie. More so, its inevitability for certain people with certain mindsets is what is interesting. A stunningly quiet movie, really well-acted too.

24. The Limey (1999)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Steven Soderbergh

Actors

Allan Graf, Amelia Heinle, Barry Newman, Bill Duke

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Gripping

The bare bones of The Limey’s story — vengeful Cockney ex-con Wilson (Terence Stamp) flies to LA to investigate the suspicious death of his daughter Jenny — are gripping enough, but what Steven Soderbergh does with them elevates this neo-noir thriller into something utterly singular and stacked with layers upon layers of meaning. An icon of London’s Swinging ‘60s scene, Stamp is pitted against laidback symbol of ‘60s American counterculture Peter Fonda (as Jenny’s sleazy older boyfriend), giving their face-off grander cultural stakes. The extra-textual significance of the casting is deepened by Soderbergh’s ingenious references to the actors’ heyday: in flashbacks to Wilson’s happier past, for example, we’re shown the actual Stamp in his younger years (courtesy of scenes borrowed from 1967’s Poor Cow).

The Limey is also a brilliant showcase for editor Sarah Flack’s technical inventiveness: though the narrative is largely linear, the film cuts to and from scenes and sounds at unexpected points, giving the film an almost David Lynch-like sense of eerie fragmentation. Conjuring up a nightmare LA atmosphere isn’t all the editing does, either, as the film’s puzzle pieces are expertly reassembled to reveal an emotional gut-punch of an ending. In short, this high point in Soderbergh’s filmography is a must-see for any fan of cinema.

25. Moon (2009)

best

8.5

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Duncan Jones

Actors

Adrienne Shaw, Benedict Wong, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario

Moods

Mind-blowing, Thought-provoking

Moon is a sci-fi movie that doesn’t care that it’s a sci-fi movie. It’s not about space exploration or aliens. It’s about a man struggling to understand what and who he is and the dehumanizing effect of industrialization. Moon leaves you with a pit in your stomach and an incredible feeling of melancholy. It is perfectly acted by Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Moon keeps you guessing and deeply enthralled. A true masterpiece I would recommend to anyone, whether they are sci-fi nerds or just movie lovers.

26. The Player (1992)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Robert Altman

Actors

Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson

Moods

A-list actors, Dark, Dramatic

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

27. Layer Cake (2004)

best

8.4

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Matthew Vaughn

Actors

Ben Brazier, Ben Whishaw, Brinley Green, Burn Gorman

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

28. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Sean Durkin

Actors

Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Mind-blowing

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It’s a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts, and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proves that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

29. The Double Life of Véronique (1991)

best

8.4

Country

France, Norway, Poland

Director

Krzysztof Kieślowski

Actors

Alain Frérot, Aleksander Bardini, Bogusława Schubert, Chantal Neuwirth

Moods

Mind-blowing, Original

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s drama stars Irène Jacob as two identical women living separate lives, and the intricate and indelible ways in which they are bound together. While Weronika, a Polish singer, balances her familial duties and intimate romantic relationship, a French music teacher named Véronique senses that she is not alone.

The Double Life of Véronique’s hypnotic and entrancing qualities will wash over you like a tide crashing over a bed of sand. It is a tough film to capture in words, when so much of it is just beyond words—Kieślowski’s film is one to be seen, sensed, and experienced. 

30. Rouge (1987)

best

8.4

Country

Hong Kong

Director

Stanley Kwan

Actors

Alex Man, Anita Mui, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Irene Wan

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Romantic

Vivid, seductive, and highly romantic, Rouge starts as an enchanting tale of a ghost courtesan that haunts a modern-day couple to look for her lost lover. It’s easy to be swayed by the ghostly lovers – the courtesan Fleur (Anita Mui) and wealthy pharmacy chain heir Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung) start off the film courting each other (and the audience) through lush visuals, dramatic declarations, and Cantonese song. They agree to a suicide pact and promise to find each other in the next life. However, as Fleur haunts newspaper journalists Yuen and Chor, it’s clear how different Hong Kong has become. From its culture to its attitudes towards romance, Rouge suggests that while modern day Hong Kong may be more cold and standardized, the past as we know it is only a gorgeous dream. And that dream hides a tragic, sordid reality.

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