10 movies that inspired Knives Out (and where to watch them)
While Rian Johnson tried to avoid any direct influence from other films while creating his murderous mystery masterpiece Knives Out, his love for certain films is still very evident both in the finished product and in the interviews he did to promote them. As Johnson is set to make a return to the Whodunnits with the upcoming sequel to Knives Out, there is no better time than the present to discover the films that nourished his love of the genre.
These films, many of which are parodies, satires or “deconstructions” (as is the case with Knives Out) of the mystery genre as a whole, are all available to stream online for those who need a quick fix before Knives out 2 falls on Netflix.
ten Deathtrap (1982) – Rent at Amazon
Sidney Lumet’s Death trap follows Sidney Bruhl, an aging playwright who plots to murder one of his students in order to steal their work and pass it off as his own. A surprisingly progressive film in a way that cannot be revealed without spoiling one of its many twists and turns, Death trap is a forgotten masterpiece of the murder mystery genre. And its scenography, if Johnson (in an interview with Atlantic) is to be believed, is “incredible”.
Death trap is available to rent or purchase on Apple TV +, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Youtube, and Vudu.
9 Sleuth (2007) – Rent on Google Play
1972 film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz Detective is another great “home movie”, as Johnson describes the subgenre of murder mysteries that take place in a few small places (which includes Knives Out) in his interview with Atlantic. An accessory of Detective even appears in Knives Out!
Sadly, the original film is not available for online streaming, but Kenneth Branagh’s 2007 remake (albeit lower than the original) is the next best thing. It can be purchased or rented from Apple TV +, Amazon, Microsoft Store, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu.
8 Gosford Park (2001) – Rent on Apple TV +
Robert Altman’s Dark Comedy Gosford Park (which inspired televisions Downton abbey) follows a group of wealthy British socialites immersed in a murder mystery while staying in an English country house. According to his interview in Atlantic, the film’s use of the class commentary is something Johnson starred in making Knives Out.
Gosford Park is available for purchase or rental on Apple TV +, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft Store, YouTube, and Vudu.
7 The Last Of Sheila (1973) – Rent from the Microsoft Store
Often described as a predecessor of Knives Out (Rian Johnson himself presented a screening of the film at TIFF), the satirical thriller Sheila’s Last is a winning mix of comedy, mystery and commentary. It follows a group of people who attend a party at the mansion of film producer Clinton Greene, during which Clinton’s wife, Sheila, is killed in a hit-and-run. A year later, revelers gather for a luxury cruise paid for by Clinton – who offers them a game that may well reveal the truth about his wife’s death.
Sheila’s Last is available to rent or purchase from Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft Store, YouTube, and Vudu.
6 Evil Under the Sun (1982) – Britbox
Evil under the sun is a must have watch for mystery murder fans. Although often overlooked in favor of its contemporaries, the film features one of Agatha Christie’s best storylines ever to appear on screen. It was written by Anthony Shaffer (the writer of Detective), directed by Guy Hamilton (the director of The cracked mirror), and was clearly one of the movies it got Johnson to like a good old school thriller.
Evil under the sun is available to watch on Britbox.
5 The Cracked Mirror (1980) – Britbox
The cracked mirror is an underrated adaptation of Agatha Christie which features stars such as Kim Novak, Elizabeth Taylor and Angela Lansbury. He follows Miss Marple as she tries to figure out the truth behind the death of a woman whose poisoned mug was apparently intended for another. Rian Johnson saw this movie as an influence at Knives Out; actor Michael Shannon (who plays Harlan’s son Walt) described it as her first exhibition at Agatha Christie.
The cracked mirror is available to watch on Britbox.
4 Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – HBO Max
Perhaps the most enduring of Christie’s adaptations, Murder on the Orient Express combines a star-studded cast with stunning sets and costumes so as to inspired by future murder mysteries such as Knives Out. When a businessman is murdered on a train, Detective Hercule Poirot rushes to find out which of the passengers had a motive to kill him.
1974 Murder on the Orient Express is available to watch on HBO Max.
3 The 39 Steps (1935) – Amazon Prime, HBO Max
Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 steps follows an innocent man accused of murdering a secret agent. As he tries to unravel the conspiracy while fleeing the law, he meets a woman who is forced by circumstances to accompany him for the remainder of the pursuit.
Johnson described the protagonist’s situation in this film as similar to Marta in Knives Out, and said the two “emotionally engage” the audience, keeping them “leaning forward to see how [the protagonists are] will come out of a [dangerous] hard situation.” The 39 steps is available to stream on Amazon Prime and HBO Max.
2 Murder by Death (1976) – FuboTV
Although it is not as well known as Index, Murder by death was one of Johnson’s Favorite Movies as a Child, and its comical tone echoes Knives Out. The film follows “The World’s Best Detectives” (parodies of famous detectives like Sam Spade and Miss Marple) as they attempt to unravel the mystery of why they were all invited to dinner by a mysterious millionaire.
Murder by death is available to watch on FuboTV.
1 Index (1985) – Amazon Prime, Paramount +
The rare board game adaptation that actually works like a movie (most of the time), IndexThe use of quick humor, delivered by an eccentric cast of characters, has made it a cult classic.
Harlan thrombey is described in Knives Out as “[living] in a Clue board “, and the similar set design between the two films shows it. Although Johnson tried to avoid too much inspiration from any source when creating Knives Out, it’s clear a little of Index infiltrated somewhere. Index can be found on Amazon Prime and Paramount +.
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