Knives Out director Rian Johnson is not shy about sharing the influences on his films. The posters that hung in his edit room for the first Knives Out movie included including Clue, Deathtrap, Evil Under the Sun, The Last of Sheila, The Mirror Crack’d, and Gosford Park, and in various interviews around Knives Out and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Johnson has opened up about his favorite whodunnit stories.
Below, the 12 best films to watch after you finish watching Glass Onion this holiday season.
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Rian Johnson cited Stephen Sondheim’s The Last of Sheila as a key inspiration for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
“There are absolutely some very clear inspirations that I took from it,” Johnson explains. “First of all, it’s structured around a group of friends, or frenemies, who all have a power dynamic with one of their successful friends. It begins with him sending an invitation for them to come and play this murder mystery game at this exotic locale. In The Last of Sheila, it’s on his yacht, and everything ends up going horribly wrong. That is essentially how Glass Onion begins.”
Another key inspiration Rian Johnson cites is Evil Under the Sun, an adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels.
“Last of Sheila is the cooler reference,” Johnson said, “but the reality is there’s probably a lot more of Evil Under the Sun in this movie.”
Though the book is set in Yorkshire, the film takes place in the Mediterranean.
No list of classic film whodunnits would be complete without Clue, the 1985 dark comedy starring an all-star cast of Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, and Colleen Camp.
Just like the board game, the initial release of the film featured multiple endings.
Gosford Park is perhaps the newest film on this list. The film, Johnson shares, is a perfect example of how whodunits are “uniquely suited” to examine class.
Written by Julian Fellowes, the story follows a group of wealthy Brits and their servants who gather for a weekend at an English country home. Fun fact: Downton Abbey was originally intended as a spinoff of Gosford Park.
This version of Death on the Nile is Johnson’s favorite, and influenced Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc.
Johnson shares, “Ustinov is my favorite Poirot. Specifically in Death on the Nile. I do love him in Evil Under the Sun, but it’s a little bit more of an indulgent love. He’s a little bit broader in that movie, a little goofier. I think in Death on the Nile, he struck the perfect balance. To me, when I read Christie, I find Poirot hilarious. That’s the reason that I love Ustinov’s take on the character… I love the slight clownishness of Ustinov and how that keys into the kind of pompous self-inflation of the character.”
This is one of Johnson’s favorite movies, and the first Knives Out contains a subtle reference to the 1972 film. Benoit, Johnson shares, is “a famous private detective. They make reference to, ‘You solved that case with the tennis champ.’ At the beginning of Sleuth, the novel that he’s dictating is Death by Double Faults. And he’s describing how the killer like paced along the line of the tennis court and threw the body like into the clay.”
“I love Murder by Death,” Johnson said. “It was one of those that was on cable a ton when I was a kid. I watched it over and over. I revisited it recently and it’s very, very funny.”
He continues, “I always remember Truman Capote’s speech at the end where he dresses down all the detectives for the crimes they’ve committed against their readers. ‘You withheld information that was essential to solving it until the very end!’ What Truman Capote is calling out at the end is also a little bit like Hitchcock’s criticisms of the genre, which is the danger of it is that it is just one big buildup to a cheap surprise at the end. I think the best examples of the genre avoid that by putting a different engine in the car. It’s not just clue-gathering. There’s something else going on. Agatha Christie is great at that, actually, figuring out different ways of driving it.”
Another classic Agatha Christie adaptation that Johnson loves is The Mirror Crack’d, a Miss Marple mystery. Starring Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple and Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak as rival movie stars, the all-star cast is definitely a precursor to the Knives Out films. Johnson cited the story as an influence, as did actor Michael Shannon, who is in the first Knives Out movie.
Murder on the Orient Express
This 1982 comic mystery, based on the play by Ira Levin, stars Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Reeve—and like Knives Out, is entirely set in one location. In the film, a Broadway playwright plots murder to try to take credit for a student’s play.
OK, this is not a movie… but each episode could technically be a short movie, so we’re counting it. Angela Lansbury, who has a cameo in Glass Onion, stars as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, who solves crimes in her home of Cabot Cove, Maine. The show ran for 12 seasons, and is streaming on Peacock now.
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12 Movies to Watch After You Watch Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
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