Mystery is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking genres in film. Movies of this genre aim to suck viewers in and hook them on a story enough to see it through the end where they often shock or foil your expectations.
Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, and Christopher Nolan are often regarded as some of the best directors of the mystery genre. Read on and see how many of their films made to our list of the 10 best mystery movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Mystery Movies of All Time
North by Northwest (1959)
Here’s a point for Alfred Hitchcock. We begin our list with one his best works, North by Northwest (1959), a highly entertaining mystery film about mistaken identity.
The film is about an advertising executive who is pursued by criminals after being misidentified as a government agent. It showcases classic Hitchcock elements and is a perfect first movie to introduce the uninitiated to the master filmmaker’s filmography.
Zodiac (2007) is a gripping mystery thriller about the true to life story of a cartoonist’s disturbing obsession with the elusive Zodiac killer, a serial murderer who terrorized the neighborhoods of California in the late 60s until the 70s.
Unlike films which discuss the topic of serial killers, the film is praised by critics for being a realistic portrayal of murder investigations and for valuing substance over sensationalized graphic violence. Well, we expect nothing less from a filmmaker like David Fincher.
Michael Haneke dissolves the line between victim and predator with Cache (2005). The film, considered to be Haneke’s magnum opus, tells the story of a European family terrorized by the mysterious appearance of disturbing video tapes along with morbid drawings revealing that someone has been monitoring their house from afar.
Cache slowly reveals its mysteries through the use of misleading shots which makes the viewers look more closely in order to see what they are being presented with.
Rear Window (1954)
Here we have another film by Alfred Hitchcock. Rear WIndow is a story about a wheelchair-bound photographer who spends his time spying on his neighbors with a binocular. All seems well in the apartment complex until the photographer witnesses a murder…or did he?
Regarded as Hitchcock’s finest work, Rear Window stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly as leads in a detective solve a mystery type of thriller. The film is praised for its fearless exploration of what darkness lies deep inside people’s psyche.
Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960) is one of the best mystery films about the disappearance of a young woman on a boat trip and the subsequent entanglement of the rest of the characters after the event.
Receiving jeers and boos when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, the film is now considered one the best films of the cinema after a reevaluation by critics and audiences. It’s also credited for changing the role of visuals in filmic storytelling forever.
The Third Man (1949)
A gritty yet equally stylish film noir, The Third Man (1949) tells the story of an American in post-war Vienna who comes to the country fill a job offered to him by a friend. However, he arrives to find his friend killed in an accident hours before his arrival. The film focuses on the man’s investigation in an attempt to solve his friend’s death.
The film sets itself apart from other mystery films with its atmospheric cinematography inspired by German expressionism, distorted camera techniques and excellent performance from its actors.
Chinatown (1974) is credited by critics for redefining the mystery film genre through director Roman Polanski’s excellent direction and Robert Towne’s near flawless screenplay. Chinatown is one of the best mystery movies ever made.
It stars Jack Nicholson as a private eye hired to spy on a woman’s husband who would find himself entangled in the dark and twisted morality that rule Chinatown. Some of the film’s unforgettable scenes are a depressing climax and its iconic gut-wrenching last line.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
It’s hard to explain what David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) is really about. On the surface, it’s about a mysterious woman who’s left with amnesia after surviving car accident and the aspiring actress who finds her in a relative’s home.
Mulholland Drive is one of those films that are meant to be experienced as it’s brimming with sublime moments of the human consciousness stripped to its bare bones. The film presents a disturbing and dark, at the same time exquisite, look into the mysteries of the human mind.
Does this film even need an introduction? The film is universally acclaimed and well-regarded– its scenes, techniques, and dialogue analyzed down to every small detail. Alfred Hitchcock’s best mystery movie Psycho (1960) is the perfect example of what a mystery film should be. It even gave birth to a brand new subgenre in the film: the psychoanalytical thriller.
In case you haven’t watched it yet, Psycho tells the story of Norman Bates a disturbed hotel owner with severe mother issues. The plot is set in motion when the sister of one of his murder victims come to the hotel looking for her. And we’ll stop here to avoid spoilers. Just a warning, there’s a plot twist in the end.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you that this list will be dominated by Alfred Hitchcock films and his 1958 mystery movie, Vertigo tops it.
The film is a classic Mystery film and an adaptation of the French novel, D’Entre Les Morts. The story follows Scottie, played by James Stewart, an acrophobic detective who is hired by an old friend to investigate the latter’s wife. What he doesn’t know is that he is slowly being sucked into an insidious plan unknown to him at the time.
Aside from its merits as a genre film, Vertigo (1958) is also notable for its pioneering camera work attempting to accurately convey the main character’s experience of vertigo as a result of his phobia.
What great mystery movie did we miss? Do you agree with our top pick for the best mystery movies list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.