With movies like Knives Out and shows like Only Murders in the Building becoming hits in recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the murder mystery genre. While the true-crime aspects of these types of stories are intriguing, sometimes a fictional detective adventure can be even more compelling.
Ranker has highlighted some of the most popular detective movies that focus on fictitious cases. The collection is filled with older classics, newer favorites, movies that will chill audiences to the bone, and some that provide some laughs. They all offer a terrific crime tale for fans of the whodunnit.
10 After The Thin Man (1936)
Just as Knives Out found a comedic approach to a detective story while still being thrilling, The Thin Man is a silly yet effective mystery. Yet as good as the original was, there are some who prefer the sequel, After the Thin Man.
The movie finds the husband and wife detective team of Nick and Nora Charles investigating a murder in which the prime suspect is Nora’s cousin. It is a funny and clever ride featuring an early turn from James Stewart.
9 Se7en (1995)
The acclaimed director David Fincher is responsible for the true-crime detective story. Zodiacbut this fictional story is perhaps even more disturbing. Se7en stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as a pair of detectives investigating a serial killer who is murdering people based on the Seven Deadly Sins.
The movie is a haunting thriller with brilliant direction from Fincher. Freeman and Pitt also make for a great grounded pair of cops trying to wrap their heads around these horrors, all leading to the shocking finale.
8 The French Connection (1971)
Though it is inspired by some real-life crimes and cops of the era, The French Connection is technically a fictional crime story. Gene Hackman stars as Popeye Doyle, a brutal and reckless New York City detective attempting to take down a French drug smuggler in New York City.
Doyle helped cement the era’s type of unlikable yet ciomnp0elling protagonist whose only positive attribute is his determination to bring down the bad guy. The movie from Oscar-winner William Friedkin is also praised for one of the greatest car chases in movie history.
7 The Name Of The Rose (1986)
It is always interesting to see a detective story being told outside the typical setting. The Name of the Rose achieves this by setting the action in the 14th century. Sean Connery plays a renowned monk who travels to an abbey to look into the several deaths of the religious figures residing there.
Connery is excellent as this medieval detective and the mystery at its center is legitimately thrilling. But it is the unique setting of the story that really makes it stand out in the genre.
6 Backdraft (1991)
While it is usually cops doing the investigating, Backdraft is another movie that stands out by taking a new approach. William Baldwin stars as an aspiring firefighter trying to earn the respect of his hero brother (Kurt Russell). Meanwhile, he partners with an arson investigator (Robert De Niro) to solve a series of deadly fires.
Using fire as a murder weapon and having the firefighters as the hero of the story is a new take that really works. Director Ron Howard also does a fantastic job of directing the intense action sequences of the movie.
5 The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
When thinking of fictional detectives, it is hard not to immediately think of Sherlock Holmes. And while there have been countless adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works with various actors playing Holmes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes remains a favorite among fans.
The movie follows Holmes and his trusty companion Dr. Watson as they attempt to solve a decades-long mystery that may once again become a threat while also trying to stop Professor Moriarty’s latest crime.
4 Terror By Night (1946)
Given the iconic status of Sherlock Holmes, it is not surprising more of his adventures are popular in the detective genre. Terror by Night is a largely original tale though it seems to find inspiration from Agatha Christie’s mystery Murder on the Orient Express.
Like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Terror by Night finds Basil Rathbone playing Holmes as he investigates a murder and the theft of a rare jewel on board a train with the passengers serving as the suspects.
3 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
While Sherlock Holmes is undoubtedly the most famous fictional detective of all time, there have been a number of notable American gumshoes that fans have fallen in love with over the years. One such character is private investigator Sam Spade who became iconic thanks to The Maltese Falcon.
Noir movie star Humphrey Bogart helped bring Spade to life in this story that finds him wrapped up in a deadly mystery involving a seductive woman and famous MacGuffin in the form of a valuable statue. It is a web of intrigue with an effortlessly cool hero at its center.
2 Gorky Park (1983)
Some audiences might not be familiar with Gorky Park, but it seems to have found a lot of devoted fans. The late actor William Hurt stars as a Moscow police officer investigating the murders of a trio of victims. As he receives pushback from all around, he begins to find connections to the highest levels of government.
Though it is not as popular as some of the other movies, it is an intriguing setup for the story and creates a mystery with some very big stakes.
1 The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Though the movie is largely dominated by its unforgettable villain, The Silence of the Lambs is still a masterpiece of a detective story. Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a young FBI trainee who is assigned to a serial killer case which leads to her seeking the advice of an incarcerated murderer, Hannibal Lecter.
Both Foster and Hopkins are mesmerizing in the movie, especially in their intense conversation scenes together. Director Jonathan Demme infuses it all with a foreboding sense of dread and an unbearable tension throughout the dark thriller.
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