The best detective film of each of the last 10 decades (according to Letterboxd)

Mystery movies have been providing audiences with mind-blowing viewing experiences for decades. The best ones often go beyond presenting a simple thriller, instead weaving an intricate story with characters that fans quickly find themselves rooting for.

RELATED: The 10 Best Mystery Movies Of The 2010s, According To Letterboxd

Users of Letterboxd – a social media platform for movie buffs – have made it easy for fans of the genre to decide which mystery movies should be on their to-watch list. The top-rated movies for each decade represent the genre’s elements, trends, and key characteristics during that time, making it easy to see how it’s evolved and improved since then.

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The 1920s

Sherlock Jr. (1924) – 4.3


Available to rent on Apple TV+.

In one of the first big-screen versions of Sherlock directed by and starring Buster Keaton, fans are drawn into the titular character’s first unsolved mystery. In Sherlock Jr.the wacky protagonist works as a projectionist for a movie theater but dreams of becoming a detective one day.

That day soon arrives when his potential girlfriend’s father is robbed and he makes it his mission to catch the culprit and find the missing item. As if that premise wasn’t interesting enough for a rom-com, things get even more complicated when the protagonist is framed by his rival, leading to awkward situations.


The 1930s

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) – 4.0


Will of Dr. Mabuse

Available to stream on HBO Max.

The disturbing crime thriller from director Fritz Lang, The Testament of Dr. Mabusetells the story of the titular character, who, despite being confined to a mental health facility, somehow communicates his evil plans with criminals outside the walls of the building.

RELATED: 10 Mystery Movies That End With The Mystery Unsolved

This amazes the detective who discovers the criminal mastermind’s notes, which contain detailed accounts that appear to match actual crimes. He has to prove that it’s not just ramblings, which becomes increasingly difficult when he realizes he’s in danger. It’s a gripping film with a nerve-wracking premise that gets even better with every shocking twist that builds up to its memorable ending.


The 1940s

The Third Man (1949) – 4.2


orson-welles-the-third-man

Available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Things aren’t looking up for Holly Martins in The third man who, after being offered a job by his childhood friend in Vienna, arrives to find he is dead. She becomes suspicious once she learns that there was someone else with Harry Lime at the time of his death, and she decides to stay in the country to find out what really happened to him.

Besides its gripping plot, the film is known for its brilliant use of expressionism to evoke feelings of fear and uncertainty. With its sharp angles and intense lighting, the audience is bound to feel as disoriented as Holly with each new clue she uncovers.


The 1950s

Rear window (1954) – 4.3


James Stewart seated in a wheelchair with Grace Kelly lying in front of him in the rear window

Available to rent on Apple TV+.

Often considered one of the best crime films of all time, rear window is a groundbreaking masterpiece from legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. The film centers on LB “Jeff” Jefferies, who is forced to stay in his apartment while recovering from an injury. Over time, he finds himself watching his neighbors through his window, which one day leads him to witness a murder.

With its incredible use of visual storytelling and flawless pacing, viewers will soon be on the edge of their seats trying to figure out if Jeff is right about everything, or if there’s something more sinister at play.


The 1960s

Up and Down (1963) – 4.5


Up and Down 1963

Available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Helmed by Akira Kurosawa, Up and down revolves around an exhilarating story full of betrayal, violence and extortion. This is a well-written crime procedural crime film that centers on a shoe company executive who must make the right decisions after his driver’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom.

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The film is divided into three parts, each showing a unique perspective of its own. Audiences can’t be blamed for thinking this is an anthology movie, but they’ll get to see how seamlessly everything flows towards the end.

The 1970s

Chinatown (1974) – 4.2


Available to stream on HBO Max.

by director Roman Polanski Chinese district may seem to have a straightforward plot at first, as it features private detective Jake Gittes who is tasked with uncovering the details of a local socialite’s extramarital affair. The critically acclaimed neo-noir becomes surprisingly complex, however, as the protagonist learns things he shouldn’t know about political and personal scandals.

The film is inspired by real water wars in California, which becomes clear when viewers see its multi-layered narrative. There’s a new reveal around every corner, barely giving the audience time to breathe between each fascinating clue.

The 1980s

Fanny and Alexander (1982) – 4.3


Available to stream on HBO Max.

Fanny and Alexander is a three-hour 1980s film that immerses viewers in the world of the titular children’s messy family and depicts their unsettling experiences at the hands of their new stepfather. Led by the legendary Ingmar Bergman, the semi-autobiographical film is gripping from start to finish.

Praised for being well-written and surprisingly dark, its bold use of a child’s eyes to comment on the dangers of religion has been discussed and studied countless times. Its elements of mystery are often overshadowed by its supernatural aspects but are nonetheless present throughout the engrossing film.

The 1990s

Se7en (1995) – 4.3


Morgan Freeman Se7en Seven

Available to rent on Apple TV+.

Easily one of the most memorable films ever made, director David Fincher Se7fr is popular for its twisted ending. The 1995 film tells the story of two detectives and their experiences as they pursue a serial killer who always finds a way to incorporate the seven deadly sins into every well-planned murder.

RELATED: 9 Subtle Clues About The Twist Ending At Se7en

Se7fr may start out as a typical crime drama, but escalate into a genuinely engrossing mystery with each unsettling scene. Fans who pick up on the subtle hints of her iconic turn can see her coming from miles away, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of this scene.

The 2000s

Old Boy (2003) – 4.3


Old boy

Director Park Chan-wook’s Old boy is a neo-noir action film centered on recently released convict Dae-su, who finds himself in the middle of a massive conspiracy. He’s suspicious of who’s working behind the scenes to set him up and ruin his reputation, but he doesn’t realize what it will take to find out.

It’s a non-English language film best seen knowing as little information as possible about its disturbing plot. Along with perfectly choreographed action sequences, viewers can expect to be curious, unsteady, and shocked when the mystery of the film is solved.

The 2010s

Fires (2010) – 4.3


Fires

Available to rent on Apple TV+.

In what is often considered director Denis Villeneuve’s best film, the author shines the spotlight on two grieving twins, Jeanne and Simon, who recently lost their mother. In Firesthey decide to go to his old home in a Middle Eastern country, but soon discover that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

As they uncover their mother’s enigmatic past, they learn more about their family and themselves. The stark contrast between their love for their mother and the horrible situation they find themselves in will leave a lasting impression on viewers.

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