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.
- 151 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.
- 247 VOTESPhoto: Paramount Pictures
If you like your murder mysteries tinged with a little bit of supernatural drama, Dead Again is the picture for you. This 1991 thriller stars Kenneth Branagh as private investigator Mike Church and Emma Thompson as Grace, a woman suffering from amnesia. She begins to recover her memories, but they're from a murder that was committed in the 1940s. The more he looks into things, the more Mike suspects - to his great horror - that he and Grace might have a past-life connection to the crime.
Dead Again has a lot of cleverly conceived twists, and the inclusion of reincarnation-related themes sets the film apart from other entries in the murder mystery genre. Mike has to untangle the past if he wants to understand the present. Everything builds to a dramatic conclusion that brings the two time frames together in a startling manner. Branagh and Thompson are phenomenal, as is Robin Williams, who has a very small, uncredited supporting role as a disgraced psychiatrist who opens an intriguing door in the investigation.
- 364 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 try to figure out the messages and expose the person responsible, to no avail.
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.
- 452 VOTESPhoto: Focus Features
Fourteen years before making one of the best all-star murder mysteries of our time, Knives Out, director Rian Johnson made another effort in the genre. Brick stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, a high school student who takes it upon himself to investigate the slaying of his ex-girlfriend. The quest takes him through various social cliques in his school, while also pitting him against "the Pin" (Lukas Haas), the resident drug dealer.
The movie is an interesting amalgamation of The Breakfast Club and the crime novels of Dashiell Hammett. That may sound like an odd combo, but it works. The characters speak in stylized dialogue right out of an old hard-boiled detective story, yet the look at issues adolescents face in high school couldn't be more contemporary. And because the film takes its concept seriously rather than playing it as a joke, it stands apart as a true original.