Everyone loves a good mystery, and this month cinema-goers will be treated to the big screen return of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot in his third outing as Agatha Christie’s iconic detective. Based on Christie’s 1969 novel Hallowe’en Party, A Haunting in Venice will see Branagh’s moustachioed Poirot trade in rides on the Orient Express and Nile River cruises for a more supernatural-flavoured mystery when he is tasked with solving a murder that takes place during a séance he was invited to attend.
Set to arrive in Australian cinemas on September 14, 2023, A Haunting in Venice will see Branagh teamed with a whole new ensemble cast featuring the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan, popular SNL and 30 Rock comedienne Tina Fey, and Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Michelle Yeoh.
In honour of Poirot’s return to the big screen, we thought it might be timely to bring out the magnifying glass and look at some of the all-time favourite cinematic sleuths. So, in no particular order, here are 10 of our absolute favourite crime-solving movie detectives.
If we were to include television detectives in this list, it would likely be a much longer, and very different roundup of fictional investigators. However, one name bound to appear on both lists would have to be Kristen Bell’s quick-witted and acidic-tongued Veronica Mars. Starting her career as a high-school-aged sleuth in the 2004 television series of the same name, Veronica eventually landed her own crowd-funded movie in 2014, the success of which also led to a 2019 season 4 revival.
Long before Denzel Washington began dispensing vigilante justice in the Equalizer movies, he once played a brilliant forensic detective named Lincoln Rhyme in the 1999 film adaptation of Jeffery Deaver’s The Bone Collector. Left bed-ridden after an accident that saw him paralysed from the neck down, his expertise and deductive reasoning skills are still called upon when a rookie cop played by a young Angelina Jolie uncovers a crime scene that points to a potential serial killer copying murders from an old crime novel.
In 2020 Rhyme would also get his own short-lived television series adaptation played by Russell Hornsby.
In comic book land, Gotham’s Dark Knight is also well known as the World’s Greatest Detective. While other big screen adaptations of DC’s most famous vigilante crime fighter would instead seek to focus on Batman’s martial prowess and costumed heroics, in 2022 audiences finally got a live-action glimpse of his detective skills in action too.
Tasking Robert Pattinson’s Batman with hunting down Paul Dano’s sadistic Riddler, when director Matt Reeves took over the reins on a solo Batman film after Ben Affleck stepped away, he was intent on introducing the detective noir aspect of the character that other adaptations had largely overlooked. In preparation for his own film, Reeves delved deep into previous comic arcs, including Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal 13-issue series The Long Halloween, which also received its own animated adaptation in 2021.
Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc.
Ruh-roh! To be fair, most of the heavy lifting in terms of any mystery solving that gets done largely ends up falling on the bespectacled shoulders of one Ms. Velma Dinkley, but it’s hard to construct any list of great detectives without including the entire Scooby gang. Between running away from monsters and quaffing down endless boxes of Scooby Snacks, Mystery Inc. always manages to get to the bottom of any mystery they are faced with. Though that may be because it typically involves a greedy property developer in a mask.
Initially created by best-selling author James Patterson, the astute Forensic Psychologist Alex Cross has made his way into film a total of three times, beginning with 1997’s Kiss the Girls. Despite earning mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release, Morgan Freeman’s tenure in the lead would earn considerable praise from fans and generate enough box office success to eventually see him return for 2001’s Along Came a Spider. Later in 2012, the series would be rebooted with Tyler Perry taking over from Freeman.
Undoubtedly one of the best psychological horror films of all time, 1991’s Silence of the Lambs has gone on to become one of the most well-known and often quoted thrillers in modern pop culture. While Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lector would have his previous cinematic debut in 1986’s Manhunter (played by Brian Cox and renamed as “Hannibal Lecktor”), the onscreen chemistry between Anthony Hopkins’ Lector and Jodie Foster’s rookie FBI Agent Clarice Starling would ultimately set the bar for countless investigative thrillers to come.
While Hopkins would later return for 2001’s Hannibal (and 2002’s prequel Red Dragon), sadly Foster passed on the offer to return as Starling and instead was replaced by Julianne Moore. More recently, Aussie actress Rebecca Breeds also took on the role for the 2021 television series Clarice.
The talented and effervescent Millie Bobby Brown is not only one of our favourite Supanova alums, but she is also responsible for bringing one of the most delightful and entertaining cinematic sleuths from recent years to life. While most audiences would know her as Eleven from the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, her tenure as Sherlock Holmes’ lesser-known younger sister proves her future star power will extend far beyond the confines of Hawkins, Indiana.
Based on the young adult books by Nancy Springer, Brown has already produced and starred in two Enola Holmes movies, the second film potentially setting up more to come. While Netflix is still yet to announce whether there will be an Enola Holmes 3, the viewership numbers and critical acclaim received from the first two movies would make a good case for Brown’s potential return to the character.
We can’t possibly include Enola Holmes without giving proper dues to her big brother, the legendary consulting detective from 221B Baker Street himself, Sherlock Holmes. Currently holding the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed human literary character in film and television, the sheer number of actors who have played Holmes over the years would put every other detective on this list to shame.
In more recent years, fans have been treated to several memorable Sherlocks, including the television adaptations led by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, however, over on the big screen Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. would be the most notable to lend his own eccentricities to the role. Having already played the role twice, Downey has revealed that Sherlock Holmes 3 is still a priority for him now that he’s finally finished with his time in the MCU.
While Daniel Craig may have finally hung up his 007 status and moved on from playing James Bond, he is only just beginning to pick up steam as the brilliant Southern detective Benoit Blanc in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out mysteries. Originally based on Johnson’s own interest in the works of Agatha Christie, Johnson returned to helm his personal passion project after finishing his time on 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
With 2019’s Knives Out earning considerable praise and cementing Craig’s Blanc as the next great cinematic detective, Netflix would later step in to pick up the rights for two sequels in a massive US $469 million deal. With last year’s Glass Onion serving as the first of those sequels, Johnson has confirmed that he has already begun work on the third film in-between his other television crime series, Poker Face starring Natasha Lyonne (whose character Charlie also cameos in Glass Onion).
Credited as the best-selling fiction author of all-time, mystery author Agatha Christie is renowned for writing over 66 novels and 14 short-story collections, most of which centre on either of her detective characters Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot. While several actors have played both of Christie’s iconic sleuths over the decades, it is only in more recent times that her work has moved beyond made-for-television projects into the realm of big-budget blockbusters.
Beginning with his 2017 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, Branagh’s take on the famous Belgian detective would come to introduce a rotating roster of high-profile stars well beyond the reach of previous adaptations. His latest effort, A Haunting in Venice is no exception to this trend and looks set to deliver an intriguing supernatural twist on his previous outings as Poirot.
Moreover, it does not seem that Branagh will be getting rid of Poirot’s trademark moustache anytime soon, with his producing partner James Prichard already hinting at the possibility of a fourth movie.
A Haunting In Venice arrives in Australian cinemas on September 14, 2023.