From murder mysteries to disappearance cases, detective films have always been a main-stay in cinema history. Over the years many iconic detectives have hit the big screen and made audiences question the truth behind the crime, but the key to any great detective movie is carefully placing clues throughout the plot so that viewers can unravel the mystery themselves.

A lot of films in the genre build suspense and tension incredibly well, but very few directors have mastered the skill of hiding clues in the movie. In recent years, the detective genre has burst back into the scene, with directors like Rian Johnson and Kenneth Branagh using impressive ensemble casts in their mystery thrillers, and giving the audience enough clues to solve the mystery themselves.


Updated on December 31st, 2022 by Colin McCormick: The release of the new Knives Out mystery Glass Onion, has got detective movie fans itching once again to bust out their Sherlock Holmes caps and solve the murders themselves. These great films will show them how to do it.

Knives Out (2019)

Benoit Blanc talks in front of Marta in Knives Out

  • Available to rent on Apple TV

Although mainly known for his sci-fi blockbusters Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson created one of the best films of 2019 with his murder mystery Knives Out. Full of surprises and a stellar performance by Daniel Craig as the detective Benoit Blanc, the thriller became a box-office hit after hitting cinemas last year.

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As the investigation deepens, it’s slowly revealed that each member of the family has their own motives for killing author Harlan Thrombey, played by the incredible Christopher Plummer. From the innocent nurse Marta to his daughter Linda Drysdale, everyone appeared suspicious, but by the finale, when the real culprit was revealed, it became clear it was his grandson Ransom all along. From the switching of the medicine to the burning of the lab, the movie laid out the clues from the very beginning.

Searching (2018)

  • Available on fuboTV and DIRECTV

The underrated thriller Searching is worth seeking out if only for its unique format for the movie. The entire movie is told on screens, from computers to phones to video calls, as a widowed father searches for his missing daughter.

The audience is taken along on this harrowing journey with this desperate father as he explores every possible path in the case. It all leads to the double reveal that the lead detective was covering for her son who supposedly killed the girl only for the girl to be revealed as alive.

Scream (1996)

  • Available on Starz and DIRECTV

Though Scream is known as one of the most influential slasher movies of all time, it is also a very effective murder mystery. When the Ghostface killer begins picking off various young victims in their small town, Sidney Prescott and her friends must find out who the killer is among them before they become the next victim.

A big part of the fun of the Scream franchise is how it plays on the slasher movie tropes. Fans of the genre will be able to notice the trends and see how the movie is subverting them, all leading to the reveal that there are two killers, including Sidney’s boyfriend who seemed like such an obvious choice that he must have been a Red Herring.

Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

Alice in Bodies Bodies Bodies

  • Available to rent on Apple TV

Another horror movie that plays around with the blend of slasher and murder mystery is this year’s Bodies Bodies Bodies. The movie follows a group of young rich and self-absorbed people partying in a house, but when one of them winds up dead, the tensions rise.

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The movie uses the frustrating and hilarious flaws of the main characters to foreshadow the darkly comedic twist. As it turns out, the first death in the movie was accidental with a TikTok going wrong and the rest of the mayhem was caused by the others letting paranoia get the best of them.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

The main characters in the police line up in The Usual Suspects

  • Available on Showtime, fuboTV and DIRECTV

Written by Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects broke all sorts of records upon its release in 1995, including Academy Awards for both best supporting actor and best original screenplay. The movie is about a group of criminals, who upon meeting in a prison cell, plan out a dangerous heist in a deal worth three million dollars. Told in reverse, and from the unreliable narrative of Verbal Kint, the true story of that heist is slowly revealed.

What makes the movie so special is one of the great movie plot twists of all time. As it reveals that Verbal was the actual mysterious crime lord Keyser Soze, it all comes together. Everything was taken from the noticeboard right in front of the audience’s eyes for the entire movie, the clues were quite literally right in front of the viewer.

Rear Window (1954)

rear window

  • Available to rent on Apple TV

Whilst professional photographer Jeff was not necessarily a detective, the movie still follows him in investigating the suspicious activity of his neighbors. After breaking his leg, Jeff is confined to his apartment when out of boredom he begins watching his neighbors. As the heatwave passes, Jeff and the audience become even more suspicious of Thorwald from across the street.

As one of the greatest directors of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, known also for Psycho, Vertigo, among many other classics, expertly builds clues upon clues in a typically suspenseful movie, combining both the thriller and romance genres once again. Rear Window is an all-time classic and one that every other movie on the list must have been inspired by.

Zodiac (2007)

zodiac robert downey jr jack

  • Available to rent on Apple TV

Although Zodiac never explicitly points the finger at a specific suspect, the main protagonist Robert Graysmith leads the audience to believe Arthur Leigh Allen, who was the lead suspect in real life, was in fact the Zodiac Killer. With its incredible cast and directed by David Fincher, the true-crime epic managed to tell the story of America’s most known unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer.

RELATED: 8 Best Villains In David Fincher Movies

Filled with accurate details, witnesses, and even flashbacks of the killings, the movie fully immerses audiences in the investigation, making viewers almost as obsessed as Graysmith in the movie. With evidence such as the Zodiac watch, his birthday, and identification from a victim of the attacks, the movie strongly indicates that Arthur was the culprit.

Se7en (1995)


In one of his earlier directorial works, David Fincher crafted the masterpiece that is Se7en with an ending that will leave audiences speechless. The movie follows detectives Somerset and Mills, played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt respectively, through the dark, evil streets of New York as they investigate a string of murders based on the seven deadly sins.

In an unexpected turn, the detectives actually catch the killer, but the movie didn’t end there. Fincher’s thrilling and shocking ending left fans star-struck and has been one of cinema’s most talked-about endings ever since. Fincher even managed to add clues for the ending throughout the film, the best example: using the camera to decapitate Gwyneth Paltrow’s head early on in the movie.

Gone Girl (2014)

Nick goes up on stage with Missing Amy sign in the background in Gone Girl

  • Available on HBO Max and DIRECTV

David Fincher is a master at intense thrillers and Gone Girl presents one of his most entertaining mysteries. The movie follows a man who discovers one day that his wife is missing with signs of foul play. But as the evidence begins to mount, he quickly becomes the prime suspect in the crime.

Interestingly, Gone Girl is only a mystery for the first half when the truth is suddenly revealed which some fans might have been able to figure out already. It turns out, that the wife fakes her own death and framed her husband as revenge for his infidelity.

The Prestige (2006)


  • Available to rent on Apple TV

Set in the 1890s, The Prestige is a thriller about two rival magicians whose competition with each other grows deadlier over the years. When they both manage to pull off a remarkable and similar trick, the other seeks to find out how such a thing was possible.

Christopher Nolan’s movies are often confusing, but the clues in The Prestige are laid out for the final reveal. The question of how one of the magicians pulled off the duplication trick is revealed to be because he and his assistant are actually twins, sharing one life to pull off the perfect trick.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Lisbeth and Mikael sitting across from each other in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Image

Another David Fincher mystery finds disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist taking on a cold case. He is hired by the patriarch of an affluent family to look into a decades-long disappearance. The movie follows Mikael as he teams up with anti-social yet incredibly skilled hacker Lisbeth Salander and they slowly uncover the case.

RELATED: 10 Unrealized David Fincher Projects Redditors Want To See The Most

From the disturbing Bible verses to the parade photos and the suspicious activities in the family, Fincher carefully plotted the reveal just like he had done in Se7en and Zodiac. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is another Fincher detective masterclass and stellar performances from both Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as well as a riveting mystery.

Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners Image

  • Available on Netflix and Netflix Basic

Released in 2013, Prisoners helped launch Denis Villeneuve’s Hollywood career with this dark and gripping kidnapping thriller. On Thanksgiving, two daughters disappear from thin air, with only one lead, an old RV. Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, arrests the driver but soon realizes his diminished IQ means he could not have planned the kidnapping.

Eventually, after releasing their only suspect, one of the girls’ father, Keller (Jackman), takes matters into his own hands and the truth is revealed. Detective Loki was correct in thinking he wasn’t smart enough but was involved, as he realizes his Aunt Holly is the actual child abducted in the chilling ending.

Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce looks intensely offscreen in Memento.

  • Available on HBO Max, Hoopla, Kanopy and DIRECTV

Nowadays, Christopher Nolan is known for his action blockbusters and complex ideas with his films like Inception, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight, but back in 2000, he released his second-ever film, Memento. The indie thriller explores many typical Nolan ideas. It manipulates time, by telling the story mainly in reverse, and uses an unreliable narrator to make the twists even more thrilling.

The movie follows Leonard, a man with anterograde amnesia who uses tattoos and polaroids to find his wife’s killer. It’s a brilliant film, filled with precise details that all come together to reveal the truth behind the attack and killing, and some of which appear obvious at the end. The movie is like a puzzle with the audience piecing it together along the way.

Shutter Island (2010)

Teddy and Chuck arrive on Shutter Island

  • Available on Netflix, Paramount+, Hoopla, Plex and Netflix Basic

No movie list is complete without either Martin Scorsese or Leonardo DiCaprio. Luckily, Shutter Island sees the two collaborate once again in the psychological mystery thriller. The movie is beautifully shot and filled with brilliant performances by the all-star cast, which also includes the likes of Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, and Michelle Williams. DiCaprio plays US Marshall Teddy Daniels who is investigating the disappearance of a patient from an isolated asylum in the middle of the ocean.

The movie shocks viewers with its ending, where it’s revealed Teddy is actually the missing patient and the whole case has been made up for him. From his inability to light his own cigarette to the extremely unenthusiastic guards, the writing was really on the wall from the beginning.

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Gone Baby Gone

  • Available on HBO Max and DIRECTV

Another team-up between the Affleck brothers Casey and Ben is the detective thriller Gone Baby Gone. In Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, private detectives Patrick and Angie investigate the abduction of a three-year-old. The movie leaves viewers craving answers as the days continually pass without having found the missing girl.

Eventually, in yet another jaw-dropping plot twist, it’s revealed that Police Captain Jack Doyle is the culprit leading to a huge moral conflict. The movie leaves the audience questioning whether Doyle was actually correct in taking the girl away from her mother and giving her a better life or leave her with her drug-addict mother. A stellar debut for Ben Affleck.

NEXT: 14 Locked Room Mysteries For Fans Who Loved Knives Out

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