Agatha Christie was a prolific author of gripping mysteries. Given the huge sales and massive success of her novels, her body of work has inevitably attracted the attention of movie producers looking for a box-office smash. From The Passing of Mr Quinn (1928) to Sir Kenneth Branagh’s latest Hercule Poirot blockbuster, A Haunting in Venice, the Queen of Crime’s work has rarely been off the silver screen.
But just because her stories have been adapted for the screen, it doesn't mean they're all winners. If you're looking to watch her cases come to life, we've got your back. Here are nine of the best Agatha Christie film adaptations.
Lord Edgware Dies (1934)
The first screen appearances of Hercule Poirot saw him played by Irish actor Austin Trevor in Alibi (based on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Black Coffee (both released in 1931). This film was Trevor’s third and final outing in the role. Based on Christie’s 1933 novel of the same name, it also features Richard Cooper as Captain Hastings. Alibi and Black Coffee are both considered lost films, leaving Lord Edgware Dies as the only remaining pre-WW2 Poirot movie.
And Then There Were None (1945)
There have been dozens of adaptations in many different languages of what remains the biggest-selling mystery book of all time. This movie from 1945, directed by Frenchman Rene Clair, is arguably the best of them. Starring Irishman Barry Fitzgerald, Canadian Walter Huston, and South African Louis Hayward—with a script by Academy Award Winner Dudley Nichols—this film is suspenseful, sharp, and perfectly paced with a nice touch of the macabre.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
We are cheating slightly here, as Billy Wilder’s cracking noir courtroom drama was actually adapted from one of Christie’s hit plays (though it started out as a short story). Still, it would be a shame to leave it off the list, as it’s arguably the most successful of all of Christie's films (it was Dame Agatha’s personal favorite). Wilder was at the peak of his considerable creative powers when he made it. Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power lead a glamorous cast, and the movie has a twist ending that leaves audiences gasping. Little wonder it picked up six Academy Award nominations.
Murder, She Said (1961)
The first big screen appearance of Miss Marple sees her played largely for laughs by the peerless Dame Margaret Rutherford, who turns the astute village busybody into a slapstick figure who’s always likely to fall off her bicycle and land in a pond while chasing down a lead. Dame Agatha was apparently not amused, but Rutherford’s larger-than-life comic performance was a big hit with audiences, and she’d reprise the role in three more movies, including Death at the Gallop.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
This was the first truly big-budget Christie adaptation. The movie was shot with real grandeur by director Sydney Lumet and features a superb cast of Hollywood greats (Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Richard Widmark), a cracking script by Paul Dehn, and a rousing score by Richard Rodney Bennett. Ingrid Bergman, who plays Greta Ohlsson, picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, though it’s Albert Finney as the fussy persnickety Belgian sleuth— complete with hair and mustache nets—who steals the show.
Death on the Nile (1978)
The huge success of Murder on the Orient Express guaranteed more lushly produced big-screen outings for Monsieur Poirot. Albert Finney wasn’t interested in doing it again, however, and so the role was given to the estimable Peter Ustinov. The film makes wonderful use of location—filmed in Egypt—and the cast is predictably starry (Bette Davis, David Niven, Maggie Smith).
Ustinov would go on to appear in two further Poirot films. He is arguably the best of all screen versions of the detective, not least because he makes a great effort to have his character sound genuinely Belgian rather than simply generically French.
The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
The financial success of the Poirot films persuaded British producers to re-activate the movie career of Miss Marple with an adaptation of Christie’s 1962 novel. This time the silver-haired sleuth was played by Angela Lansbury (warming up for her role as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote). The ensemble cast features Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, and a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan. Lansbury gave a fine performance that was much truer to Christie’s character, but it proved less popular with audiences than Rutherford’s clowning. Two more movies with Lansbury as Marple had been slated, but the poor box office saw the idea abandoned. Miss Marple would stay on television.
Crooked House (2017)
In the hullaballoo that surrounded Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, this stylish adaptation of one of Christie’s best standalone mysteries got rather overlooked. It’s a pity, because it is very good. Scripted by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, it stars Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Terence Stamp, and Christina Hendricks in a classic tale of dysfunctional families. Witty and beautiful to look at, it moves at a stately pace, but ratchets up the tension when necessary to finish with a brilliantly executed finale.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
The biggest-grossing Christie adaptation of all time sees Sir Kenneth Branagh directing and acting while sporting a mustache so extravagant it looks like he’s trying to inhale a badger. The cast—which includes Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judi Dench—enjoy themselves hugely (a little too much for some tastes). The settings are as lavish as the legendary train, and the story zips along with some truly thrilling set pieces. Inevitably, two more spectacular Branagh-led Poirot adaptations have followed.