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A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

Best Mystery Movies

The following list contains many of the best mystery movies ever made. These are all films with elements of true mystery: mysterious situations that are only gradually explained throughout the course of the film. This is a much smaller pool of films, than "crime films" as a whole. I have never seen a list of true mystery films anywhere. People do not seem to think of films in these terms. Books are a different story: crime novels are usually immediately classified either as mysteries/detective stories (books with a mystery that is eventually solved) or as suspense novels/thrillers (books without any mystery to be solved). This classification is often labeled right on the book, and is consciously employed and shared by writers, readers, publishers and critics, when they think about and discuss the book.

Also, please see my lists of recommended best episodes of TV series and British TV mysteries, 1980's and contemporary. These include recommended episode lists of Burke's Law, Perry Mason, Mannix, Cannon, Poirot, Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, Castle, Murdoch Mysteries, Frankie Drake Mysteries, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Hallmark Mysteries, Monk, Psych, Death in Paradise, Endeavour, Father Brown.

If a film is adapted from a work by a well-known mystery writer, I have added the writer's name at the end of the listing.

The Grim Game (Irvin Willat, 1919) Arthur B. Reeve

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)

Schloss Vogelöd / The Haunted Castle (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1921)

The Bat (Roland West, 1926) Mary Roberts Rinehart

London After Midnight (Tod Browning, 1927)

The Studio Murder Mystery (Frank Tuttle, 1929)

Miss Pinkerton (Lloyd Bacon, 1932) Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Penguin Pool Murder (George Archainbaud, 1932) Stuart Palmer

From Headquarters (William Dieterle, 1933)

The Kennel Murder Case (Michael Curtiz, 1933) S.S. Van Dine

Murder on the Campus (Richard Thorpe, 1933) Whitman Chambers

Bombay Mail (Edward L. Marin, 1934) Lawrence G. Blochman

The Dragon Murder Case (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1934) S.S. Van Dine

Remember Last Night? (James Whale, 1935) Adam Hobhouse

Murder in the Fleet (Edward Sedgwick, 1935)

The Plot Thickens (Ben Holmes, 1936) Stuart Palmer

Two in the Dark (Benjamin Stoloff, 1936) Gelett Burgess

The Princess Comes Across (William K. Howard, 1936)

The Witness Chair (George Nicholls, Jr., 1936)

London by Night (Wilhelm Thiele, 1937) Will Scott

The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason, 1937)

The Patient in Room 18 (Bobby Connolly, Crane Wilbur, 1938) Mignon G. Eberhart

The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938) Ethel Lina White

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (William Clemens, 1939)

Gallant Sons (George B. Seitz, 1940)

The Case of the Black Parrot (Noel M. Smith, 1941) Burton E. Stevenson

I Wake Up Screaming (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941) Steve Fisher

Journey into Fear (Orson Welles, Norman Foster, 1942) Eric Ambler

Murder in the Big House (B. Reeves Eason, 1942)

A Night to Remember (Richard Wallace, 1942) Kelley Roos

Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1943) Graham Greene

Mystery Broadcast (George Sherman, 1943)

A Scream in the Dark (George Sherman, 1943)

Murder in Times Square (Lew Landers, 1943)

Dangerous Blondes (Leigh Jason, 1943) Kelley Roos

Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944) Cornell Woolrich

Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944) Vera Caspary

Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger, 1945)

The Falcon in San Francisco (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945)

Crime Doctor's Courage (George Sherman, 1945)

Crime Doctor's Warning (William Castle, 1945)

The Falcon's Adventure (William Berke, 1946)

Green for Danger (Sidney Gilliat, 1946) Christianna Brand

Undercurrent (Vincente Minnelli, 1946)

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946) Ethel Lina White

Crack-Up (Irving Reis, 1946) Fredric Brown

The Verdict (Don Siegel, 1946) Israel Zangwill

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947)

Blackmail (Lesley Selander, 1947) Robert Leslie Bellem

Backlash (Eugene Forde, 1947)

High Tide (John Reinhardt, 1947) Raoul Whitfield

Secret Beyond The Door (Fritz Lang, 1948) Rufus King

The Lady From Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1948) Sherwood King

The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948)

Bodyguard (Richard Fleischer, 1948)

Follow Me Quietly (Richard Fleischer, 1949)

Intruder in the Dust (Clarence Brown, 1949) William Faulkner

Mystery Street (John Sturges, 1950)

Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock, 1950) Selwyn Jepson

Backfire (Vincent Sherman, 1950)

Hunt the Man Down (George Archainbaud, 1950)

The Tattooed Stranger (Edward Montagne, 1950)

Woman on the Run (Norman Foster, 1950) Sylvia Tate

Lightning Strikes Twice (King Vidor, 1951)

Suspense: The Crooked Frame (Robert Mulligan, 1952) William P. McGivern

Suspense: The Blue Panther (Robert Mulligan, 1952) Norbert Davis

The Blue Gardenia (Fritz Lang, 1953) Very Caspary

Dangerous Crossing (Joseph M. Newman, 1953) John Dickson Carr

Spaceways (Terence Fisher, 1953)

Studio One: Sentence of Death (Matt Harlib, 1953) Thomas Walsh

Blackout / Murder by Proxy (Terence Fisher, 1954) Helen Nielsen

Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles, 1955)

The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955)

Murder Is My Beat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1955)

Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) Mickey Spillane

The Trouble With Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)

23 Paces to Baker Street (Henry Hathaway, 1956) Philip MacDonald

Cheyenne: Big Ghost Basin (Joseph Kane, 1957) Steve Frazee

Maverick: Ghost Rider (Leslie H. Martinson, 1957)

Mystery Writers Theatre: And the Birds Still Sing (Gerd Oswald, 1957) Craig Rice

Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) Wade Miller

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Witness For the Prosecution (Billy Wilder, 1958) Agatha Christie

Maverick: Black Fire (Leslie H. Martinson, 1958)

Cheyenne: Dead to Rights (Leslie H. Martinson, 1958)

Edge of Eternity (Don Siegel, 1959)

The Man in the Net (Michael Curtiz, 1959) Patrick Quentin

The Third Voice (Hubert Cornfield, 1960)

Diagnosis: Unknown, A Case of Radiant Wine (Fielder Cook, 1960) Lawrence G. Blochman

Homicidal (William Castle, 1961)

Scream of Fear (Seth Holt, 1961)

Twenty Plus Two (Joseph M. Newman, 1961) Frank Gruber

The Dick Powell Theater: Who Killed Julie Greer? (Robert Ellis Miller, 1961)

The Burning Court (Julien Duvivier, 1962) John Dickson Carr

The Notorious Landlady (Richard Quine, 1962)

Jigsaw (Val Guest, 1962) Hillary Waugh

Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)

High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) Ed McBain

A Shot in the Dark (Blake Edwards, 1964)

Murder Ahoy (George Pollock, 1964)

Smokescreen (Jim O'Connolly, 1964)

The Moon-Spinners (James Neilson, 1964) Mary Stewart

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964)

Bunny Lake Is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965) Evelyn Piper

Who Killed the Cat? (Montgomery Tully, 1966) Arnold Ridley & Mary Cathcart Borer

The Champagne Murders (Claude Chabrol, 1967)

In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967) John Ball

Run a Crooked Mile (Gene Levitt, 1969)

The Spider's Stratagem (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) Jorge Luis Borges

How Awful About Allan (Curtis Harrington, 1970) Henry Farrell

Ten Days Wonder (Claude Chabrol, 1971) Ellery Queen

Incident in San Francisco (Don Medford, 1971)

The Adventures of Nick Carter (Paul Krasny, 1972)

Goodnight, My Love (Peter Hyams, 1972)

Home for the Holidays (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972)

The Nine Tailors (Raymond Menmuir, 1974) Dorothy L. Sayers

Judge Dee in the Monastery Murders (Jeremy Kagan, 1974) Robert van Gulik

Amy Prentiss: Baptism of Fire (Jeffrey Hayden, 1974)

Ellery Queen: The Mad Tea Party (James Sheldon, 1975) Ellery Queen

Tendre poulet / Dear Detective (Philippe De Broca, 1977)

Colour Scheme (Arthur Thompson, 1977) Ngaio Marsh

Joi Baba Felunath (Satyajit Ray, 1979) Satyajit Ray

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (Tony Wharmby, John Davies, 1980) Agatha Christie

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (Clive Donner, 1981)

The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982)

Evil Under the Sun (Guy Hamilton, 1982) Agatha Christie

Eddie and the Cruisers (Martin Davidson, 1983)

Simon and Simon: The List (Burt Kennedy, 1983)

Scarecrow and Mrs. King: Affair at Bromfield Hall (William Wiard, 1984)

Blue City (Michelle Manning, 1986) Ross Macdonald

Out of Bounds (Richard Tuggle, 1986)

Power (Sidney Lumet, 1986)

Suspect (Peter Yates, 1987)

Ground Zero (Michael Pattinson, Bruce Miles, 1987)

Outrageous Fortune (Arthur Hiller, 1987)

Slamdance (Wayne Wang, 1987)

Masques (Claude Chabrol, 1987)

True Believer (Joseph Ruben, 1989)

Peacemaker (Kevin S. Tenney, 1990)

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective (Christopher Lewis, 1990) Robert Leslie Bellem

Fourth Story (Ivan Passer, 1990)

High Heels (Pedro Almodóvar, 1991)

Mystery Date (Jonathan Wacks, 1991)

The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992)

Thunderheart (Michael Apted, 1992)

Princess Caraboo (Michael Austin, 1994)

Black Dju (Pol Cruchten, 1996)

The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson (Francis Megahy, 1996)

Red Corner (Jon Avnet, 1997)

Suzhou River (Lou Ye, 2000)

Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001)

Le Pacte des loups / The Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans, 2001)

Unconditional Love (P.J. Hogan, 2002)

Firehouse Dog (Todd Holland, 2007)

Undercover Bridesmaid (Matthew Diamond, 2012)

Along Came a Nanny (Michael Scott, 2014)

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019)

Note: I do not like such tough guy films as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk, 1944), The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1945), Harper (Jack Smight, 1966), Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997). In fact, these seem to me to be among the most overrated films ever made. So they are not on my list. The Big Sleep, directed by the great Howard Hawks, does have its merits, especially in its original version.

Also excluded: avant-garde works in which a mystery is raised, only never to be solved, such as L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960), Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1974), Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990-1992) and The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003). These fascinating works have considerable merit, but lie beyond the scope of the above list, which concentrates on true mystery films.

Many crime thrillers have small elements of mystery, without being principally mystery tales. I have excluded such works from the above list. Admittedly, this is a judgment call. For example, take The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock, 1957). Mainly, this is a non-mystery film, showing what happens when an innocent man is falsely accused of a crime. There is a small mystery element: who is the real culprit of the crime? Eventually, this perpetrator is revealed. This mystery aspect of the film takes up only a tiny percentage of its running time. Because of this, I have classified The Wrong Man as a suspense film, not as a mystery, and excluded it from the above list.

An honorable mention should be made of three good movies directed by Vincente Minnelli: The Pirate (1948), The Band Wagon (1953) and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962). All three are primarily non-mystery films; all three have well crafted, if tiny, mysteries embedded in their plots.