20 Best Detective Movies of All Time

We all grew up loving Sherlock Holmes. Didn’t we? There is something fascinatingly charming about detectives. Inherently, yes, they are doing good to the society by going after the truth. But that is not the only reason we find them irresistible on-screen. It is the mysterious quality about sleuth films and what they do that make audiences want to watch them. In any case, here is the list of top investigating and detective movies of all time. On this you will films that deal with crime investigation and murder investigations. You can stream some of these really good detective movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

20. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Fans and critics were waiting for this one from David Lynch with bated breath, especially since it was touted as a sequel (and prequel) to his iconic TV show, ‘Twin Peaks’, which had a cliff-hanger ending that confused audiences, who were hoping to find some answers. And Lynch, in true Lynchian fashion not only failed to answer any of the questions that arose from the show; instead, it confounded the audiences with more questions as Lynch raised the stakes and made the mysterious world of ‘Twin Peaks’ darker and more disturbing. It created a huge furore at Cannes with incessant boos from the American press while the European critics hailed it as a masterpiece. With time, the dust has settled and contemporary film-writers have hailed it as a work of art, some even calling it his best work.

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19. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Another film starring an ensemble of stars, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is the kind of espionage/detective/spy film without the thrills and shocks of murder investigations but is more of a silent, dark and mysterious take on the genre. An impeccable depiction of John le Carre’s novel of the same name, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ follows a group of British Intelligence officers who try to find a Soviet mole on their team. The film is known for its dense and complex plot and its way of uncovering the complexity impeccably. ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ gives a sense of paranoia as director Alfredson very brilliantly connects the dots to solve the puzzle. The film stars Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch in lead roles, all of whom stands as the pillars of sublimity and exquisiteness in British film industry.

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18. Out of Sight (1998)

Eccentirism defines almost all Soderbergh films but none like ‘Out of Sight’. One of his earliest successes, the plot revolves around Jack Foley, an habitual offender of the law, who escapes prison, kidnapping a marshal in the process. He, along with his team of amateurs, decide to hit a former colleague in the prison who boasted about his abundant wealth. He falls in love with the marshal, Sisco, unaware of the plans of another gang conniving in the dark to hit the same jackpot. Crime and untimely love have been a defining trait of Soderbergh’s movies and ‘Out of Sight’ is no different. It utilizes the vagueness and unique nature of its characters and story to the optimum, in the process giving shape to an unforgettable masterpiece.

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17. Dirty Harry (1971)

The first stint of a Hollywood director in the genre of detective-cop on the trail of a notorious psychopathic killer, ‘Dirty Harry’ was the first influence from the Zodiac killings in San Francisco. The film was released at the time when the Zodiac was active in many California counties, and the investigation of his killings was still going on. Director Don Siegel’s ‘Dirty Harry’ used the popularity of the cases and turned it into an original script centered around a fictional case and cop figure. In the film, Inspector Harry Callahan is appointed to catch a notorious kidnapper who goes by the name Scorpio. The film stars Clint Eastwood as Harry, whose performance, dialogue delivery, and personality of a loose-cannon cop alone makes the film a hardcore entertainer. Despite the lack of perseverance in writing and other acting performances, Eastwood’s popularity and fan-following made it a huge box-office success and led to four sequels, all of whom turned out to be commercial hits.

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16. Heat (1995)

In Los Angeles, a gang of armed thieves are hitting serious targets – major banks, vaults, and armored cars. One of their operations, an armored-car robbery, goes bad and the armored-car guards are murdered by the gunmen – putting LAPD homicide detective Vince Hanna on the trail of the thieves. “Heat” is nearly three hours long and packed with mind-blowing visuals. Besides being adrenaline filled, “Heat” is an epic tale with complex characters. One of the most interesting aspects is how similar the lives of the cop and thief are.

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15. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

When four-year-old Amanda McCready is kidnapped from her home and the police make little progress in discovering where she is, the girl’s aunt Beatrice McCready hires two private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). When they are about to solve their case, they are faced with a moral dilemma that could tear them apart Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, “Gone Baby Gone” marks the directorial debut of Ben Affleck. It’s one of those rare movies in which the less you know about the story, the richer the experience. Moreover, it has a disturbing and emotional layered story that slowly unfolds with a moral dilemma at its core.

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14. M (1931)

“M” is a monumental crime drama ahead of its time. In Berlin in the early 1930’s, a psychopathic man is murdering children. As the police are trying to find the criminal, their methods start to negatively impact the local criminal community. Hence, they decide that the only way to get the police off their backs is to catch the killer themselves. Directed by Fritz Lang, “M” is an influential and unforgettable film that will keep you on the edge of your sit.

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13. Manhunter (1986)

Before director Jonathan Demme transcended Dr Hannibal Lecktor into pop-culture, Michael Mann wove Thomas Harris’ ideas into an underrated artwork. Fronted by the powerful performances of William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen and Brian Cox, ‘Manhunter’ focuses on a former FBI profiler, Will Graham, who is redeployed to service to follow the case of a deranged serial murderer. The film is unsettlingly stylish and cool, which evoke the psychological wave of mind. The film is driven by strong colour cues which provided neo-noir essence to it. The film is an immersive and engaging thriller, which infuses the suspense of a crime and the revulsion of a horror.

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12. Mystic River (2003)

In the Summer of 1975, one of three kids playing on a sidewalk is abducted and sexually abused several days. Several years ahead, the three childhood friends are forced to confront that traumatic event when a family tragedy occurs. “Mystic River” is a tragic story of the loss of youth. Brian Helgeland’s screenplay makes the pain of each of the men’s experiences very vivid and real. Besides being masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood, this drama has a mesmerizing cast. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon have chilling performances that will leave you speechless.

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11. Memento (2000)

Memento

A man keeps forgetting his recent memories due to an accident, needs to kill the men responsible for his wife’s death and his current state. The only clues are tattooed on his body. The viewer goes through the same emotion as the protagonist, albeit in a little differently. The sequences in colour tells the story in a forward progressing manner, whereas the black and white sequence depict the past. Wait, did I tell you, the visuals are interspersed? A brilliant Christopher Nolan, a unique way of storytelling and the looming suspense of catching the real killer- That’s Memento!

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10. Prisoners (2013)

Fear has such power over minds that it can paralyze those, like a tarantula does to its prey. Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Prisoners’ effectively explores the fear of unknown, the boundaries of morality, and the dilemmas of human conscience. Let me warn you right away – It’s disturbing and makes you shiver to the marrows. And you wonder, what if it happens to me?

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9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

A modern day masterpiece, based on the late author Stieg Larson’s work, took the world by storm. An investigative journalist and a troubled hacker join hands to search for a girl who vanished from her house 40 years ago. The only clue they have is a diary of the missing girl. Soon the diary reveals a series of clues that leads them to brutal murders of young girls 40 years ago. Sensational and shocking to the core, this Swedish movie was raved by the critics and the audience alike, giving it a successful hollywood remake. Naomi Rapace gives a thunderous performance as Lisbeth Salandar.

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8. Chinatown (1974)

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is an education about how neo noir mysteries should be made. A woman assigns a private detective to keep an eye on her husband, who is found dead in a reservoir. The catch? The woman isn’t the one she claims to be. The plot is a labyrinthine maze with multiple sub-layers, thus making it one of the most amazing mystery movies. And did I forget Mr. Nicholson? In one word: wow!

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7. LA Confidential (1997)

Set in the fifties of a crime ridden Los Angeles, this a story about three cops and their ways of dealing with crime and perpetrators. It’s essentially a crime thriller but the whodunit saga goes beyond that. An investigation into a series of murders in the city, opens a can of worms of corruption and deceit. A relatively unknown Guy Pierce and Russell Crowe along with the seasoned Kevin Spacey played the protagonists. Kim Basinger won the oscar for her portrayal of a prostitute. Easily one of the best detective movies of all time.

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6. Seven (1995)

Brutal killings, each describing a biblical sin, an unnamed American city. A soon to be retired detective with his hot headed partner start looking for this unknown killer called John Doe. After five dead bodies, the killer turns himself over to the police and offers to take them to two more bodies. What transpires next is an amalgamation of disturbing, nasty and thorough bizarreness. David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ is a work of fiction, but somehow it appears to be a truth close to the heart that eventually your sin catches up to you.

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5. Memories of the Murder (2003)

How far can someone go for the pursuit of truth, and who decides ‘how far is too far’? ‘Memories of Murder’ asks these questions, but leaves the answers for the viewers to decide, never once insulting their intelligence. Set during the times of military dictatorship in South Korea, the film, apart from being a gripping mystery about one or many serial killers, is also a subtle commentary on the corruption existing in the system.

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4. Zodiac (2007)

In the late sixties/early seventies, a serial killer was roaming loose on the streets of San Francisco. Each of his killings was followed up by an encrypted letter to the local news papers, taunting the police to crack them. While the police were unable to find the killer, two journalists take it on themselves to solve the mystery. David Fincher tells a chilling tale about the most infamous and still not caught serial killer of the modern era – Zodiac.

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3. The French Connection (1971)

Inspired by a true story, ‘The French Connection’ is gritty, fast-paced, and innovative police drama about two New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France. The film’s high point, a high-speed car chase, was one of the most viscerally exciting screen moments of its day and set the stage for dozens of action sequences to follow. And the film’s grimy realism (and downbeat ending) was a big change from the buff-and-shine gloss and good-guys-always-win heroics of most police dramas that preceded it.

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2. Vertigo (1958)

A man afraid of heights who had seen his fiancé jumping from the top of a tower, suddenly finds her alive. But she claims herself to be someone else. Then who jumped to her death that fateful day? Alfred Hitchcock’s second movie on this list is a true insight to human psyche and a perfect psychological thriller. Vertigo has the classic Hitchcock signatory work with a twist in the climax catching the viewer unaware. Released to a mixed review, over the years ‘Vertigo’ achieved a cult status to be designated as a classic murder mystery.

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1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

A nightmare in which lambs are being slaughtered on a firm, keeps a young trainee from Quantico, Virginia awake in the nights. She feels that if she could save another innocent from the clutches of a crazy psychopath, she just might get rid of those dreams. To nab a serial killer, she turns to another serial killer for help. Together, would they be able to save an innocent’s life? Or it will be the burden of failure, that will torment her for the rest of her life?

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