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Top 10 Movie Whodunits!

11.10.2017by: Jake Dee
Damn I love a good murder mystery whodunit! You know the type, much like the newly released MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS - in which a gaudy gathering of supposed strangers are summoned to a single locale, begin dying mysterious deaths one by one, until we the audience can suss who among the primary characters is responsible. When done well, movies rarely get much more fun than this, which is why the work of Agatha Christie has been appropriated for motion picture entertainment for over 70 years now. Marple? Poirot? F*cking Legends!

And while we could have done a whole Top 10 Agatha Christie list, we thought why not open it up a little. After-all, even the horror genre isn't without its fair share of harry whodunits, be it a slasher, giallo joint or another subgenre altogether. A lot to choose from, no question, but in the end, there can only be Ten Little Indians. Scroll below to peep our Top 10 Favorite Movie Whodunits!

#10. MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993)

Let's ignite this gala with a little levity, shall we. It took me an awful long time to finally locate a screening of Woody Allen's 1993 MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (Crackle? Really?), but when I did, boy did I have an perma-grin plastered on my mug for the entire duration. Allen, Alan Alda, Diane Keaton and Anjelica Huston play a pair of friendly couples who decide to do a bit of amateur sleuthing when an elderly lady down the hall suddenly dies one day. With as many authentic laughs as there are diabolical plot twists, Allen's brad of nebbish New York humor plays perfectly against the backdrop of what may or may not be foul play. Interestingly, the movie was inspired by a subplot that was ultimately cut out of Allen's ANNIE HALL. Also, keep your lids peeled for the many references in the film to Hitchcock's VERTIGO!

#9. SCREAM (1996)

While there are many worthy outright horror whodunits, very few have rewritten the rules of the game in the same impactful way that Wes Craven's SCREAM did in the mid 90s. Much of the credit goes to writer Kevin Williamson, who ingeniously crafted a wicked whodunit scheme in which TWO tandem killers turned out to be culpable in the end. And not just any two killers, but main characters, key figures that were so central to the plot involving final girl Sidney Prescott. Seeing SCREAM for the first time was like sustaining a pugilistic gut-punch, not just in terms of the violence, but in that final act reveal of how both Billy and Stu were the ones evilly orchestrating the Woodsboro reign of terror. For a movie so knowledgeable, so self-referential, so in on the joke, the shock-twist-ending sure played and made fools of us all!

#8. THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)

We couldn't conscionably mount a legit litany of movie whodunits without the inclusion of at least one genuine Giallo outing, and while the great splatter maestro Dario Argento has helmed his fair share, it only seems right we salute his deadly debut THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. The setup is a simple one. An American writer witnesses the murder attempt of an art gallery owner in Italy, and is enlisted by a detective to help solve the case of an additional three murders linked to the serial killer. It's a Hitchcockian whodunit in every sense of the phrase, shockingly shot in just 6 weeks and written in 5 days. And while it isn't the very first Giallo flick (Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE probably takes that distinction), CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is rightly credited for popularizing the subgenre between roughly 1975-1980.

#7. GOSFORD PARK (2001)

The late great Robert Altman's refreshing take on the upscale murder mystery setting in GOSFORD PARK is also a densely observed social commentary. Stratified between the upstairs guests of highfalutin socialites and the downstairs crew of subservient help, while a knife murder instigates a much deserved police investigation, as the story unravels, it becomes clearly about the ever-growing class divide that became so prominent in 1930s England. With Altman's trademark overlapped dialogue, we're given a real immersive sense of time and place, being plunked into lavish estate and its various rooms with many characters at a time. There's also many winks and nods to old Hollywood, be it Charlie Chan, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, what have you. As for an ORIENT tie in, word is Ken Branagh was set to star as the chief inspector in GOSFORD PARK but couldn't due to a scheduling snafu.

#6. PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971)

PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW is a movie I hadn't seen until sometime last year, and immediately after it ended, I incessantly bugged and badgered almost everyone I knew about how cool, sexy, funny, violent and deeply debauched the whole thing was. One watch and it's become an instant favorite, no lie! The plot centers on police captain (Telly Savalas) who investigates a string of grisly murders of sexy teenage girls at an oceanfront California high-school. Iconic and ironic screen heartthrob Rock Hudson plays Tiger, one of the smoothest lotharios I've ever seen on film, as he woos, wines and dines a harem of young hot students. Angie Dickinson (above) gives her own private sex-ed lessons to a young virgin named Ponce, all the while girls are dropping dead one by one at the hand of an unknown assailant. See this movie ASAP!

#5. IDENTITY (2003)

"As I was going up the stair / I met a man who wasn't there. / He wasn't there again today / I wish, I wish he'd go away." I love everything about James Mangold's unpredictably knotty 2003 whodunit IDENTITY, starting with that bone-chilling opening quote. I saw this flick in the theater with my sister and best friend on my 20th birthday, which rattled my senses even further by virtue of the fact that the date May 10th, exactly one week after my own, turned out to be a key plot point. Remember, every character in the film, named after cities, shared May 10th as their own days of birth. So many clues were given as to the nature of the mystery, yet, that first time seeing, I had no idea that the title referred to the multiple identities living in the diseased mind of a convicted murderer. Great cast, superb atmosphere, sterling twist on the whodunit plot!

#4. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)

Sidney Lumet + Agatha Christie = High art pulp fiction. And that's exactly what came barreling down the lane in the 1974 release of the first MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Good film! Classy, elegant, star-studded, all anchored by Albert Finney as the heavily accented and brazenly mustachioed master sleuth himself, Hercule Poirot. I do wonder how much, if it all, the new iteration will stray from the final resolution of Christie's tome. I hope quite a bit, otherwise, what's the point, those who've seen the original will no exactly what twists and turns to expect. I hope the new flick goes off the rails of predictability and instead of implicating the lot, narrows the culprit down to a single perp or two. As always, my eye's on Pfeiffer!

#3. MURDER BY DEATH (1976)

Neil Simon's satirical riff on the wildly popular Agatha Christie mystery M.O. is nothing short of brilliant comedic alchemy. True shit, being a huge fan of CLUE, I spent years trying to track down this silly sleight of hand farce MURDER BY DEATH, knowing full well how much it inspired the Landis classic (both star Elieen Brennan). When I finally saw this sucker one night on TCM, I was not disappointed. Nor was I really able to figure out the undying plot twists and who was pulling the ultimate chain. The story goes, five literary dicks (Sam Diamond, Miss Marbles, etc.) are whisked up to a labyrinthine mansion in order to solve a "dinner and murder" show. They can't, we can't, and we're left to marvel at an exquisite cast that includes Peter Falk, David Niven, Alec Guinness, Truman Capote and a highly offensive turn from Peter Sellers.

#2. CLUE (1985)

"This is War, Peacock!" CLUE is and will forever be one of my favorite movies. I saw it at too early of an age to forget. I've seen it so many times I can almost quote the inimitably pithy dialogue verbatim. Hell, I even had the CLUE VCR Mystery Game, remember that shite? It pales compared to the film, which came at the absolute apogee of John Landis' eclectic filmmaking career. He already did ANIMAL HOUSE, WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the Thriller video, and here equips a hilarious script with an adept director (Jonathan Lynn) and pitch-perfect cast whose collective comedic timing could not be more adroitly attuned. And what about Yvette? Good god Colleen Camp, you're a legend! By the way, which character in CLUE did you want to be growing up? I was always a Colonel Mustard man myself (big up Marty Mull), but as time has gone on, I've grown to appreciate how humorous Chris Lloyd's turn is as Professor Plum.

#1. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945)

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE...left. Indeed, the OG murder mystery movie whodunit inspired by the best-selling Agatha Christie novel must be recognized and deferred to as the number one contender. Straight up, without this one laying the narrative ground work, the other devious derivations on this list would likely cease to be. The story was redone in 1965 under the title TEN LITTLE INDIANS, which was in turn remade in 1974. Each time the setting is altered, but the skeletal structure remains...a double handful of strangers are forced to spend time with each other in a remote location, only to singly fall victim at the hand of an unseen killer. Most recently, the story was adapted into a 2-part British TV miniseries in 2015, with Sam Neill and Charles Dance starring. I wonder if Branagh saw that and got inspired to conduct ORIENT EXPRESS!

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