20 Underrated Murder Mysteries That Make Us Feel Like Master Detectives
Have you ever imagined yourself as a Sherlock Holmes-level detective? If so, you probably enjoy murder mysteries. The genre has been around almost since the invention of movies, and it's proven to be extremely durable. From the films noir of the '40s and '50s, to the star-studded productions of the '70s, to the more recent Knives Out, audiences have long relished the opportunity to bring out their inner Miss Marples and solve some crimes.
If you've seen all the usual suspects (pun intended), the following underrated murder mysteries will give you some new fodder for your detective fantasies. Many of these are true hidden gems that never quite got the attention they deserved. Others were hits - or at least hits among a target audience - upon their initial release, yet didn't quite break into the mainstream. And some are simply older films that younger people may not be hip to yet. Whatever the case, they offer plenty of fun and chills as you follow the clues.
- 1619 VOTESPhoto: The Weinstein Company
It's a tragic fact that women often go missing on Native American reservations. That's the idea Wind River dives into. Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a professional game tracker who assists FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) in looking for the people responsible for killing a teenage girl whose body was later found in the snow. The case leads them to make some horrifying discoveries about what's happening on this particular reservation.
The way Wind River unfurls its mystery is riveting. You'll pay rapt attention to every second. The movie also has something to say about crimes on reservations. Poor economic conditions, insufficient law enforcement, and a general lack of opportunity frequently combine to create the potential for bad things to happen. This is a murder mystery with real-world relevance, driven by powerhouse work from Renner and Olsen.
- 2674 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
In the late 1960s, the Zodiac Killer carried out five confirmed murders, but claimed to have killed 37 people in total. He liked to taunt law enforcement by sending them impossible-to-decipher coded messages. The slayer was never caught, and although there are various theories about his identity, no one knows for sure.
Director David Fincher told the story of three men obsessed with the case in his 2007 drama Zodiac. Robert Downey Jr. plays reporter Paul Avery, Jake Gyllenhaal is political cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and Mark Ruffalo is police inspector Dave Toschi. They, along with dozens of others, try to figure out the messages and expose the person responsible, to no avail. Crucially, the film mimics the open-ended nature of the case, lasting far longer than audiences anticipated and not offering a clear resolution. Instead, the mystery is left as unresolved onscreen as it is in real life.
It may seem odd to call Zodiac underrated when it was highly acclaimed and is considered one of Fincher's best films. It only made $33 million at the domestic box office, though, and a lot of people still avoid it, thinking that it will contain upsetting violence. In reality, the film is restrained in that regard, focusing far more on the psychological toll that looking for the culprit takes on the central trio than on blood and gore.
- 3376 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Classics
In between the Evil Dead movies and the Spider-Man movies, Sam Raimi made a first-rate murder mystery called The Gift. Cate Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a psychic who gets caught up in the search for a missing woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes). When she turns up dead, the prime suspect is Donnie Barksdale (Reeves), a hateful man who had an affair with her. He's arrested, but Annie's visions suggest he might not be the person police are looking for. She tries to get to the bottom of things.
As you would expect from Raimi, The Gift is very stylish. A sense of dread is pervasive in the movie thanks to the tone he sets. You also get the pleasure of seeing Keanu Reeves in a rare bad-guy role. He knocks your socks off playing against type. Above all, using psychic visions as a plot point allows for some eerie moments guaranteed to give you a chill.
- 4356 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
Witness was a huge hit - and an Oscar nominee for best picture - back in 1985. It's primed to be discovered by younger audiences who didn't get to see it at the time. A young Amish boy named Samuel (Lukas Haas) witnesses the murder of an undercover narcotics officer while visiting Philadelphia. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) is assigned to protect him and his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) when the bad guys come looking to silence the boy. That means Book has to go undercover in the Amish community, living by their rules. He breaks one of those rules by starting an affair with Rachel.
This movie has everything - one of Ford's best performances, a highly original setting for a thriller, some nail-biting action, a tender love story, and even some humor. Director Peter Weir balances all these elements in just the right fashion, creating a piece of mainstream entertainment that completely draws you in. The dramatic conclusion, set in and around a corn silo, is something you'll never forget.
- 5423 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
In The Nice Guys, Ryan Gosling plays shabby detective Holland March, and Russell Crowe is Jackson Healy, a goon who beats people up for money. They join forces to find Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley), an adult film actress who supposedly died in a car accident but may actually be in hiding from some very bad dudes. They quickly discover that her career in erotic entertainment is not entirely what it seems.
Written and directed by Shane Black, The Nice Guys benefits from hilarious chemistry between March and Healy. In fact, they have their own distinct version of the old "odd couple" chemistry perfected by the likes of Abbott and Costello. Crowe and Gosling earn huge laughs together, while Angourie Rice steals scenes as March's 13-year-old daughter, who's way better at deciphering clues than he is.
The murder mystery is secondary to the interactions between the characters, but that's what makes the movie endlessly enjoyable to watch. When it's over, you'll immediately want to see these people in a sequel.
- 6196 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
Presumed Innocent was one of the best films of 1990, yet nobody talks about it anymore. Based on Scott Turow's hit novel, it casts Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor in the district attorney's office. He's assigned by his boss to look into the murder of his colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi). What his boss doesn't know is that Rusty and Carolyn had a hot-and-heavy affair. Once this is revealed, he becomes the prime suspect and has to quickly figure out who the real killer is.
If you pay attention, it's admittedly a little easy to spot the culprit in Presumed Innocent. As film critic Roger Ebert used to say, movies don't have time for unnecessary characters, so the killer is always the person who is otherwise inconsequential to the plot. Nevertheless, the movie features a terrific performance from Ford, as well as several unforeseen twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat.