Rian Johnson has been one of Hollywood’s most successful directors over the past several years, helming movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Looper. But even he might have been surprised by Knives Out’s $311 million performance at the box office. Outside of Guy Ritchie’s lucrative Sherlock Holmes project and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, no whodunit had ever earned that much money in theaters. But more importantly: no detective story had accrued such a rabid fanbase so quickly. Which meant a sequel to Knives Out was quickly green-lit.
The “whodunit” is a specific genre of storytelling where a detective tries to solve a crime by finding clues and interviewing subjects. Rian Johnson said he was inspired to make a film modeled after the stories of author Agatha Christie, who is considered the queen of whodunits. In the past, the genre had never been particularly popular. But once movies like Knives Out came along, everybody started clamoring for great whodunits—from big Hollywood productions with all-star casts to classic films to hidden gems from the modern era.
So if you’re a fan of Knives Out and you’re looking for some similar movies, then this is the list for you. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. Then at the end of the article, you can find a longer list of notable whodunits. Trailers are linked with each film!
Knives Out might have had one of the most surprise box office openings in recent memory, but the movie might have never happened if it wasn’t for another big earner just a couple years earlier: Murder on the Orient Express. While Knives Out pulled in more money domestically, Murder on the Orient Express was more successful worldwide with its $352 million haul. With a very similar structure to Knives Out, this Agatha Christie adaptation tells the story of detective Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney in the 1974 version and Kenneth Branagh in the 2017 version), who is essentially Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) from Knives Out. While on a trip, Poirot is called to duty and must interrogate all the passengers on a train after a murder is comitted.
While Knives Out has a fair amount of levity and humor, it is, at the end of the day, a story of murder. Thus, there’s an incredibly dark underbelly to the film: what drives somebody to take the life of another? Well, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes that question to disturbing levels as it explores how misogyny cultivates a shadowy side of society. Plus, you have two options for this movie: both a 2009 version (directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace) and a 2011 version (directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara). The story follows a disgraced financial reporter who partners with Lisbeth Salander—a young, intelligent, and deeply troubled investigator—to solve a 40-year-old murder.
Sometimes a whodunit spans several settings over the course of many years. But once in a while, as is the case with Knives Out, the detective and every suspected are confined to a single location until the murder is solved. That is essentially what happens in John Guillermin’s 1978 classic Death on the Nile (and again in Kenneth Branagh’s 2022 remake). The film focuses on a wealthy heiress who is murdered on a boat ride after her wedding. Hercule Poirot must once again don his detective cap and figure out who did it.
Sherlock Holmes is, of course, a classic detective character to which any great movie investigator—including Benoit Blanc from Knives Out—owes a debt of gratitude. But stylistic director Guy Ritchie brought a modern touch to Holmes unlike anything we’ve ever seen. With two Holmes films under his belt thus far (with a third possibly on the way), both Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows follow the famed detective as he solves his usual round of perplexing cases.
What makes a whodunit a classic film? Knives Out is certainly on its way to earning the designation. It’s got lots of famous actors (Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jamie Lee Curtis), it’s manned by a famous director (Rian Johnson), and it’s got an intriguing story that can stand the test of time. Essentially, Knives Out is on the same path as Laura—a classic film noir that’s come to define cinematic detective stories. Starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, and backed by a legendary performance from Clifton Webb, this Otto Preminger story centers on a detective who falls in love with a woman who has recently been murdered.
Knives Out is what we’d call an “adult whodunit.” All suspects in the given murder case are part of an older crowd, and Benoit Blanc is a veteran detective with lots of experience. But what if that concept was twisted on its head? That was the case with The Kid Detective, starring Adam Brody as the titular character. Directed by Evan Morgan, this playful update on the whodunit formula follows a young detective who solves the same trivial mysteries day after day between hangovers—until a gruesome murder forces him to step up his game a bit.
Knives Out, of course, focuses on a murder—as most whodunits do. But what if we twisted the idea a bit? And instead of investigating a murder, a detective was forced to find a missing girl? While Under the Silver Lake doesn’t exactly own the whodunit formula, it has the charisma and style that’s associated with Rian Johnson’s extravagant Hollywood production. This David Robert Mitchell film stars Andrew Garfield as Sam, a young out-of-work adult who becomes obsessed with a young neighbor who suddenly disappears.
You certainly feel safe in the hands of Benoit Blanc in Knives Out. He’s been around the block a few times and solved quite a number of cases. But what happens when a regular person is forced to solve a murder with a number of suspects. Let’s say…a limo driver? That’s the case with James Mangold’s 2003 film Identity starring John Cusack. The movie follows a limo driver named Ed who must reveal a murderer’s true identity as people continue to be killed off one by one at a desolate Nevada motel.
Other notable whodunit movies
- Memories of Murder (2003)
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
- Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013)
- An Inspector Calls (2015)
- Veronica Mars (2014)
- Crooked House (2017)
- Mother (2009)
- Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
- Charade (1963)
- Clue (1985)
- The Pink Panther (1963)
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- A Shot in the Dark (1964)
- The Gift (2000)
- Murder by Death (1976)
- 8 Women (2002)
- The Naked City (1948)
- Murder Mystery (2019)
- 88 Minutes (1959)
- Spiral (2021)
- The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)