Movie Detectives Who Should Have Solved Things Way Earlier 

Jonathan H. Kantor
Updated January 13, 2020 143 votes 41 voters 1.2k views 13 items

List Rules Vote up the detectives who are clearly bad at detecting.

Half the fun of a mystery film is watching the inspector attempt to solve a crime, but movies are filled with inept or just plain dumb detectives. And while there are plenty of great detectives in cinema who usually solve their big case before the curtain falls, many are guilty of missing the most obvious of clues.

Granted, the audience often knows what's going on before the detective does, but when you're talking about someone like Inspector Clouseau, solving the crime is more of an accident than an "on purpose" sort of thing.

These bad detective movies should be wrapped up much sooner than they are. Of course, that would shorten their runtimes considerably.

Inspector Clouseau is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Movie Detectives Who Should Have Solved Things Way Earlier
Photo: The Pink Panther/United Artists

Who Is He? Inspector Jacques Clouseau is the main character from the Pink Panther film series. Originally brought to life by Peter Sellers, the mantle was later taken up by actors Alan Arkin, Roger Moore, and Steve Martin. He's easily the most inept detective in all of fiction - essentially the opposite of Sherlock Holmes. Despite his ineptitude and clumsiness, he usually solves the case by the end of the film.

What Case Is He Solving? In his first outing, Clouseau attempts to solve the case of the stolen Pink Panther, a beautiful pink diamond with a flaw that looks like a panther. 

What Clues Does He Miss? The culprit in this caper is none other than "The Phantom," an international jewel thief played by David Niven. Despite being a jewel thief, The Phantom is also Sir Charles Lytton, and his alter ego is fairly obvious. What Clouseau should pick up on earlier in the film is the fact that his wife is sleeping with Lytton. Not only that, but she's also his accomplice. By the end of the film, the Inspector is framed for the case he is attempting to solve while the real villains flee with the promise to clear his name with their next caper.

Poor detective skills?
Detective James Carter ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Movie Detectives Who Should Have Solved Things Way Earlier
Photo:  New Line Cinema

Who Is He? Los Angeles Police Detective James "Jimmy" Carter is paired with Hong Kong Chief Inspector Yang Naing Lee in the first three Rush Hour films. He's played by Chris Tucker, who stars opposite Jackie Chan. He's a go-getter, but he needs to be at the center of everything, which makes pairing him up with Lee a problem in the beginning. This results in delays and an inability to take Lee's warnings and intelligence seriously.

What Case Is He Solving? In the first film, Detective Carter is brought onto a case involving the nabbing of the 12-year-old daughter of Consul Solon Han, a diplomat from Hong Kong.

What Clues Does He Miss? Carter misses a lot in the beginning, mostly because of his arrogance and refusal to work with Lee, who is an expert on the case. Were he to simply listen and take Lee's information seriously, the case could be resolved far sooner than it actually is. While Carter is played expertly to comedic effect by Tucker, all he really manages to do while getting laughs is delay a little girl's reunion with her father.

Poor detective skills?
Jack Crawford is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Movie Detectives Who Should Have Solved Things Way Earlier
Photo:  De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Who Is He? FBI Agent Jack Crawford has appeared in most of the adaptations of the Hannibal Lecter franchise. He is loosely based on a real FBI agent, who didn't like his characterization all that much. In the first film, Manhunter, he is played by Denis Farina, and he's not entirely incompetent. He relies on others' help to solve his cases, but he often misses key clues that should set him on the right path earlier in his investigation.

What Case Is He Solving? During his investigation of the "Tooth Fairy," he calls in his former protégé and expert profiler, Will Graham. Graham's expertise is needed, but he's in early retirement following a vicious encounter with Hannibal Lecter.

What Clues Does He Miss? First, he fails to glean the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. His second and more egregious mistake is bringing Graham and Lecter into his investigation, despite their history. By failing to appreciate the dangerous relationship between the two men, he inadvertently enables Lecter to send the Tooth Fairy, Francis Dolarhyde, to Graham's address.

Poor detective skills?
Lionel Twain is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Movie Detectives Who Should Have Solved Things Way Earlier
Photo:  Columbia Pictures

Who Are They? Lionel Twain, as played by Truman Capote, is a wealthy man who invites some of the greatest detectives in the world to his home to solve a murder. The guest list includes Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade. The dinner is meant to prove Twain is the greatest detective in the world, so he seals off the house and issues a challenge to his guests to solve a slaying, which will take place at midnight. One million dollars will go to the winner.

What Case Are They Solving? The case of who did the butler. The butler is found shortly before midnight and Twain also meets his demise. Throughout the night, all of the detectives are nearly offed by a variety of hazards.

What Clues Do They Miss? The whole thing is a ruse, as Twain explains to everyone in the morning. Everything the detectives are put through is a series of common tropes familiar to the country-house whodunit genre. They miss everything, and that is the point. The film is meant to be confusing, but if you pay close enough attention, it's fairly clear what's going on the whole time.

Poor detective skills?