The modernization of murder mystery movies

The other day I was scrolling through Netflix to try and find something to watch while I ate my dinner. Instead of flipping through movie after movie, however, I made an observation. There has been an odd increase in murder mystery movies and TV shows in the past few years. 

Murder mystery movies were popularized in the early 1900s before film even had sound. Taking inspiration from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie, the popularity of these detective stories lasted well into the 1940s. 

Personally, some of my favorite murder mystery films come from the 70s and 80s. The 1985 movie Clue is my absolute favorite. I just watched it for the first time a couple of months ago, but I could watch it again and again. Tim Curry is one of my favorite actors, so seeing him play the shady butler Wadsworth was truly enjoyable. The movie has three different endings, each with a different murderer and motive. When it was originally released, each theater received a copy with one of the three endings. When I watched it, each ending was played back-to-back. As the audience, I got to decide on what I wanted the ending to be. That is truly something you don’t see everyday and I love it. Another one of my favorites is the 1978 version of Death on the Nile. Based on an Agatha Christie novel, it is the perfect example of a ‘whodunnit.’ With multiple motives, characters, and a secluded setting, the plot is suspenseful with many twists and turns. While some individuals may prefer a newer, modernized plot line, I am a true fan of the classics. 

With being a fan of oldies such as these, I am ecstatic at the re-popularization of murder mystery movies. As someone who has spent their summers reading the complete set of Sherlock Holmes stories, I am a true aficionado when it comes to murder mystery movies. Going from reading mystery novels like A Study in Scarlet or The Hound of the Baskervilles to watching murder mystery movies is a piece of cake and translates rather well. 

The poster for the Netflix original film Murder Mystery.

The last few years in particular have been very good for the murder mystery genre. My personal fascination with these films started with Murder Mystery (2019), starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. It was, in my opinion, the perfect combination of mystery, humor, and action. With car chase scenes and hilarious banter between the two A-list actors, it is a combination of everything that I enjoy. The most recent film I have seen was the standalone sequel to Knives Out (2019), Glass Onion (2022). With the main character being Detective Benoit Blanc, it follows the classic plot of a well-known detective solving the crime as it unfolds in front of him. Glass Onion was brilliantly put together, involving a gaggle of influential people in media and society in general. With it taking place during the 2020 pandemic, it is not only relatable but also relevant. The characterization of the suspects is perfect down to the smallest detail, even in the ways that they wear their masks. Everything about it, including the massive twists at the end, was perfect to me. 

Fascinatingly, the world of murder mysteries had branched out into television as well. Just last year the show Murderville was released on Netflix. The main character Terry Seattle, played by the hilarious Will Arnett, is a detective who is paired up with a different celebrity guest each episode. The entire crime is scripted, but the celebrity guests are left in the dark and forced to improvise. They are required to work together with Terry to learn about the case and, at the end of the episode, arrest someone for the crime. From guests like Marshawn Lynch to Ken Jeong, the improvisation allows for humor, hijinks, and plenty of twists and turns to ensue. As a very unique and original concept, it diverges from the murder mystery concept just enough to gain new interest and audiences, but it also stays true to the original idea and appeal of murder mysteries. 

A promotional poster for the Netflix show Murderville.

In essence, the entire existence of murder mysteries has changed over the course of the last century or so. While I thoroughly enjoy the source material, I feel that murder mysteries are going in the right direction. Modern times have breathed new life into the genre and have introduced new plot lines, character types, and formats. If the past few years of murder mystery movies isn’t enough evidence of the successful future of these films, then I don’t know what is.

Either way, I am very excited to see what we as audiences will get to experience in the future. In the meantime though, I’ll have to watch Knives Out, as I skipped straight to the sequel.