10 of the Best Detectives Movie Ever!

Glass Onion, three years after Knives Out lacerates a rich bunch of assholes, returns Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve an even bigger anti-wealthy mystery, demonstrating Netflix was, well, on the money in spending hundreds of millions of dollars to turn the character into the new Sherlock Holmes.

Is the amiable private eye destined to join the ranks of cinema’s greatest sleuths? With two excellent features under his belt, he’s clearly on his way to becoming one of those names.

Blanc has yet to prove himself worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of cinematic gumshoes, but the history of detective series shows that it is more the rule than the exception for fictional investigators to outgrow their stars and have new actors come in to play them.

Benoit Blanc mysteries seem incomplete without Daniel Craig, but sometimes fictional characters take on lives of their own. Here are 12 of the most iconic film detectives and the actors who played them.

Hercule Poirot

On a technicality, we must omit David Suchet. The actor portrayed Poirot for a total of 70 episodes of the eponymous TV series that ran from 1989 to 2013 and adapted all of Agatha Christie’s TV novels. More than just loudness, though, he perfectly captures Poirot’s blend of uptight fussiness and charm, playing a guy who knows he is the smartest man in the room but doesn’t want to say so because he doesn’t want to be rude.
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
Although it may be sacrilegious to say so, Sidney Lumet’s multi-Oscar-nominated Murder on the Orient Express adaptation is still the star-studded gold standard to which all subsequent adaptations, including Kenneth Branagh’s and the Knives Out films, are compared.
In his portrayal of Poirot, Albert Finney emphasizes the character’s more comical mannerisms, but this serves the picture well by setting up its most deadly serious moments.
Where to Watch: Fubo, Kanopy, Pluto

Miss Jane Marple

Even if it deviates somewhat from the source material (4.50 from Paddington), Margaret Rutherford’s Jane Marple makes her debut in Murder, She Said and goes on to play the keen investigator three more times with a dotty-like-a-fox cleverness.
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
There’s a bit more of a comedy of manners (’60s type) vibe than I would have liked thanks to the film’s emphasis on Christie’s humor, but that’s fine because even Agatha Christie didn’t love the adaptation. This novel is breezy and full of action, perfect for the ever-busy Miss Marple: She sees a murder occur on the train and decides to investigate by posing as a housekeeper.
Where to Watch: Britbox

Mike Hammer

A. I. Bezzerides, who openly disapproves of the ultra-violent character as depicted in Mickey Spillane’s many novels, wrote the screenplay for the second of five theatrical movies using Spillane’s hardboiled detective (before multiple TV movies and series).
This ultra-paranoid atomic-age apocalypse thriller, which became one of the quintessential films of the noir genre, accurately reflects the author’s view of the P.I. as a complete bastard.

Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

Philip Marlowe

The hardboiled crime fiction genre got its start with characters like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Chandler and others. Marlowe is a hard-drinking strong guy with a soft side, and Humphrey Bogart was a great fit for him because of his soulful but stone-faced persona.
The plot, in which Marlowe is recruited by a wealthy man to settle the debts accrued by his daughter as a result of her gambling (which leads to a series of killings), is incredibly convoluted, but this is beside the point. The movie succeeds or fails on the strength of its atmosphere, and the on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Lauren Bacall is legendary.

Where to Watch: Digital rental

John Shaft

Gordon Parks’ picture, one of the most influential and successful of the blaxploitation era, features relatively little detection even though it was directed by a black man, edited by a black man, and scored by a black guy, Isaac Hayes (many of the films of the era with Black leads featured behind-the-camera teams that were almost entirely white; even Shaft nearly had a white actor in the lead).
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
As Shaft, a private investigator faces Black mobsters, he initially views them as the adversary but eventually realizes that the Mafia is the true threat and begins to cooperate with law enforcement to bring them to justice. There were two decent follow-ups and a fantastic remake in 2000, but Richard Roundtree will always be John Shaft.

Where to Watch: HBO Max

READ MORE: 8 Spin-off Movies That Are Better Than the Original!

Nick & Nora Charles

There have been seven films made about them, as well as a TV show, a radio show, and several plays. A reboot starring Johnny Depp was also planned, but thankfully never materialized. Their first movie came out the same year Dashiell Hammett’s novel did, and it’s widely considered to be the best comedy-detective flick ever made.
Even though he’s technically the detective and she’s technically plastered throughout, the only thing that matters in this film is the boozy chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. There’s a real mystery (involving a missing inventor), some genuine danger, and a satisfying dinner-party reveal at the end, but everything else is just that. Similarly, the dog is adorable.

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Alex Cross

The success of James Patterson’s intellectual police detective Alex Cross has been slightly greater in print than on screen (30+ books versus three movies), but that could soon change with the upcoming Prime Video series starring Aldis Hodge. Morgan Freeman stars as the detective trying to track down Cross’s missing niece after she was abducted by a Buffalo Bill–style killer in Kiss the Girls.
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
While the film makes a few too many attempts to mimic the success of Silence of the Lambs, Morgan Freeman shines as the lead and remains believable as a human being no matter how much the events around him are exaggerated for Hollywood.

Where to Watch: HBO Max

READ MORE: 5 Expansive Cinematic Universes That Aren’t Marvel or Star Wars!

Sam Spade

By 1941, two pretty good adaptations of the same novel had previously depicted Hammett’s unsentimental Sam Spade, but that year marked the character’s fullest expression.
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
This one, starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston, is the stuff of legend; it has never been topped for its hardboiled noir qualities, its enticing femme fatale (Mary Astor), or its unforgettable center prop (the most renowned MacGuffin in film history).

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Philo Vance

Although crime novelist S. S. Van Dine’s creation Philo Vance hasn’t been seen much on screen since the 1940s, his character inspired 15 films starring 10 different actors over nearly two decades. Even though the series’ later chapters tend to be formulaic B mysteries, there are still some gems to be found.
Best Movie about Detectives Ever
The Kennel Murder Case, directed by Michael Curtiz and stars a pre-Nick Charles William Powell as the effete, high-society detective, also features Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) (Casablanca).

Where to Watch: Prime Video, Paramount+

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