We get Agatha Christie adaptations more often than you think; Kenneth Branagh recently took on “Murder on the Orient Express,” which was unfortunately not good. Despite the all-star cast, it lacked something. Same goes for “Crooked House,” an adaptation nobody watched. The audiences may love the “whodunit?” formula, but they are seemingly tired of uninspired adaptations. So, Rian Johnson came up with something fresh: “Knives Out” was a surprise critical and box office success with an all-star cast led by Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig with wonderful supporting turns all around.
It had an amazing balance; it didn’t mind mocking some clichés of the genre, but it didn’t treat its mystery as a joke, it was a compelling story with a lot of wit. Now, if you’re among the people who watched and loved the film and are looking for something similar – especially if you’re not too familiar with the genre – hopefully this list will help you. Even if you’ve seen most of those, “Knives Out” may remind you that they may need a re-watch to enjoy it all again.
10. The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
This, or basically any Agatha Christie movie adaptation. But “The Mirror Crack’d” and “Murder on the Orient Express” are seemingly particular influences on “Knives Out.” At least Rian Johnson claims so. Since “Orient Express” is already quite popular, it’s better to give “Mirror Crack’d” a place here. And while the film’s star Michael Shannon is not too familiar with Christie, this was the one he remembers most from his childhood.
The film is based on Christie’s “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” and is set in the fictional English village of St. Mary Mead and features Miss Marple, one of Christie’s best known characters. Here in the film, a local woman is poisoned and a visiting movie star seems to have been the intended victim. Since the police officer investigating the case isn’t so sure of what’s going on, he finally asks his aunt Miss Marple to investigate the case.
“Mirror Crack’d” is not often mentioned alongside “Murder on the Orient Express” and “And Then There Were None,” which are admittedly superior film adaptations, but it’s now somewhat of a camp classic that is worth watching not only for its fun whodunit storyline but also for Angela Lansbury’s excellent performance. The movie remains as a very fine adaptation; the pace is fine, dialogues are witty, and the story itself is engaging.
9. Radioland Murders (1994)
One may wonder what happened to Mary Stuart Masterson’s career. She was getting great parts back to back in “Immediate Family,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “At Close Range,” “Benny and Joon” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Nowadays she randomly appears in thankless roles in network shows or indie films. “Radioland Murders” is one of her last high-profile films that unfortunately flopped at the box office and didn’t get enough love from critics, but they were a little too harsh to it. “Radioland Murders” is a decent homage to 1930’s screwball comedies.
Produced by George Lucas, “Radioland Murders” follows writer Roger Henderson’s efforts to settle his relationship issues with his wife while dealing with a murder mystery in a radio station. Sure, some of the elements are overused, but it’s still funny and full of colorful characters and great lines. It may not be something big and spectacular, which is why it doesn’t often get enough credit among the best of the genre, but that’s the point – it’s small, lovely film that fans of the genre should check out. To get a better sense and idea of the film, you may like to check out some of the 1940’s mystery-comedies like “Up in the Air” and “Who Done It?”, which are also set in radio stations.
8. 8 Women (2002)
Francois Ozon’s crazy entertaining “8 Women” is a modern-day French film classic and it has basically everything: it’s a murder-mystery, it’s a comedy, it’s a musical, it’s a drama, it’s full of social and political tones with some nostalgia elements here and there. The art direction is spectacular, as is the setting. The cast of eight women, which includes Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve, are all amazing. The film follows them as they gather to celebrate Christmas in a cottage, only to find the family patriarch died with a knife in his back. Now they all are suspects and they all have their secrets.
Just like the film above, this one is also a homage to the 1930’s and 1950’s screwball comedies with so many rich themes. “Knives Out” got a lot of praise for its social and political undertones, but one can argue that “8 Women” is richer with its themes. Since the movie is based on Robert Thomas’ “Huit Femmes,” it creates the theatrical feeling of the play but at the same time, Ozon still manages to bring cinematic sensibility into it as he also pays homage to the history of film and some of the actresses’ filmography. Even though it was a major success in France, it seems the movie is not that popular everywhere. For instance, it doesn’t get much mention in American cinephile circles, but “8 Women” is a delicious experience that deserves even more popularity.
7. Brick (2005)
Rian Johnson is a versatile director, but he explored the mystery genre before in “Brick,” which was hailed as one of the most original and best films of its year. The film follows lonely teenager Brendan, portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who finds his former girlfriend Emily dead and, in investigating the murder, he finds his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring.
This is an unusual film. It’s a cynical, hard-boiled thriller, but it also excellently staged a daring experience that by no means appeals to everyone. But if you get engaged in the storyline, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most original and entertaining films of its year. Since the movie is set in high school it may make you bit skeptical, but the movie actually benefits from that fact as it makes the story go to unpredictable places. One can say “Brick” is among the best teen-focused mystery films, but it also has one of the best young casts of its time and Gordon-Levitt absolutely shines in the leading role. Johnson’s other mystery effort “The Brothers Bloom” may also get a mention here as that one is comedic but still, “Brick” is a stronger effort.
6. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
A homage to neo-noir films, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is an ideal choice if you love a good modern noir with comedy. The script is partially based on the Brett Halliday novel “Bodies Are Where You Find,” and it’s an excellent mix of humor with whodunit, a compelling and kind of complex mystery. Writer/director Shane Black went for a tongue-in-cheek tone and it worked out great. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are hysterical together and make for tons of quotable scenes. Downey Jr. still counts it as one of his own personal favorites and it was also his ticket to his “Iron Man” role.
The movie has a pretty original premise; Downey is a burglar, but things go wrong; his friends are getting shot. Downey suddenly finds himself in an audition while trying to escape from police, but he unintentionally impresses the people there. They take him to L.A. for a role of private investigator and they pair him with real life detective Val Kilmer to research the role, but he finds himself in a web of mystery and murder. The movie has its own fan base, but one feels like it still not has been watched by enough people, so it deserves more popularity. Meanwhile, if you love this, also check out another similar Shane Black movie called “The Nice Guys” (2016).