As a mystery and thriller fan, you’ve likely seen your fair share of heart-pounding films that get your adrenaline going. But while we love high-stakes drama and suspense as much as the next person, sometimes we’re in the mood for some lighter fare! A little laughter is especially welcome in these days of social isolation, when we’re all looking for a reprieve from the grim news of COVID-19.
Today, we’re counting down our favorite comedy mystery movies. These films strike the perfect balance between big laughs and zany plotlines, and enough crime and mystery elements to keep genre fans coming back for more. Queue these sunny flicks for your next movie night.
Inspired by the board game of the same name, Clue did poorly at the box office, but has gained a cult following in the years since its 1985 release. In 1954, six strangers are invited to a secluded mansion by a mysterious and threatening individual. They are given pseudonyms upon their arrival: Colonel Mustard, Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock, Mr. Green, Professor Plum, and Miss Scarlet. Their host is swiftly murdered, and in true homage to the board game, the guests must put their heads together to discover who among them is the killer. Clue was filmed with three alternate endings, each of which is included in the digital release.
The Pink Panther (1963)
Skip the panned 2006 reboot starring Steve Martin and settle on the original 1963 film for your next movie night; after all, this is the version that was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” The first film in the franchise revolves around the eponymous Pink Panther, an enormous pink-tinged diamond with a tiny flaw resembling a leaping panther. When a jewel thief (David Niven) and his nephew (Robert Wagner) hatch a plot to steal the priceless gem from an exiled princess (Claudia Cardinale), Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) intends to track them down, but the thieves always manage to stay one step ahead of him.
Murder Mystery (2019)
I personally think that Adam Sandler tends to be more boorish than funny, but readers of the same opinion will be pleasantly surprised to find that both he and Jennifer Aniston are hilarious in this Netflix original movie. Sandler and Aniston play married couple Nick and Audrey Spitz, who have set off for a long-awaited romantic trip to Europe. Along the way, they befriend a charming billionaire who invites them to party on his elderly uncle’s yacht, docked in Italy. When said uncle is murdered after making a dramatic announcement regarding his will, Nick and Audrey are pulled into a contemporary locked-room mystery, and desperately search for clues that will clear their names and implicate the real killer.
Burn After Reading (2008)
This black comedy film by the Coen brothers (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) borrows elements of espionage and international intrigue from classic spy mysteries, and introduces bumbling characters into the mix. The memoir of a resigned CIA analyst (John Malkovich) accidentally ends up in the hands of two dim-witted gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand). Mistakenly believing that they are in possession of sensitive government information, the troublemakers attempt to capitalize on their unique position by offering to sell the memoir to the Russian government. A series of misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and paranoia prompt increasingly absurd consequences for all who are involved. Other notable names in this star-studded film include George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Richard Jenkins.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Though Who Framed Roger Rabbit is marketed as a children’s movie, it’s pure entertainment no matter your age—plus, an adult audience will have far more appreciation for its groundbreaking mix of live action and animation. The movie is set in a fictional 1940s Los Angeles, where humans and cartoon characters alike reside. When well-known “Toon” Roger Rabbit is accused of murder, human PI Eddie Valiant sets out to exonerate him.
This 1988 noir comedy film won four Academy Awards and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. It’s notable for both its technical accomplishments and its claim to fame as the only film in history where both Disney and Looney Tunes characters share the screen. Of course, this homage to the Golden Age of American animation also pays its dues to Hollywood: “Eddie is, in many ways, a loving parody of a classic film noir hero” (GQ).
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Loosely based on the Brett Halliday novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, this spoof on the hardboiled genre also pays homage to Raymond Chandler by naming sections of the film after Chandler’s books. Robert Downey Jr. plays Harry Lockhart, a burglar in New York City who accidentally stumbles into an acting audition while fleeing the police. The director believes Harry is a method actor and hires him on the spot to play a private investigator in an upcoming movie. Harry is flown to Los Angeles, where he stumbles into a murderous plot and must play detective once again, this time for real.
Johnny English (2003)
This James Bond parody stars Rowan Atkinson as the eponymous Johnny English, an MI7 employee. Johnny has a desk job, but dreams of becoming a top spy for the agency. He finally gets a chance to prove himself when England’s Crown Jewels are stolen as part of a mysterious thief’s plot to depose Queen Elizabeth II. However, Johnny’s utter incompetence as a spy sets the stage for some amusing hijinks.
Knives Out (2019)
Much like Clue and Murder Mystery, Knives Out is a comedy mystery movie that takes the shape of of a classic whodunit. It also shares with the aforementioned films a tendency for tongue-in-cheek references to the mystery genre; according to Slate, “Knives Out knows exactly what kind of movie it is: a sendup of twisty murder mysteries with all-star ensemble casts that also loves and respects that silly tradition.”
Christopher Plummer plays Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy crime novelist who has invited his family to his Massachusetts mansion to celebrate his 85th birthday. When Harlan is found dead the next day, a private detective (Daniel Craig) is hired to interview his family and staff and deduce who the murderer is. Released to widespread critical acclaim and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the star-studded cast includes Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, and more familiar faces.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
This film employs a fascinating technique to put its own unique spin on classic film noir. Clips from 19 black-and-white films are woven into the storyline, with the result that the vintage scenes take on new meaning. The idea came from Steve Martin, who plays a gumshoe hired to investigate the suspicious death of a well-known cheesemaker. With surprise appearances from Humphrey Bogart, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, and more, this film will delight enthusiasts of Old Hollywood and pulpy detective fiction alike.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Co-written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, Manhattan Murder Mystery began as an early draft of Annie Hall, but eventually took on a life of its own. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton play married couple Larry and Carol Lipton, who learn that their neighbor has died of a heart attack. Carol (Keaton) suspects the woman’s husband of foul play when he seems oddly unaffected by the death. Larry accuses Carol of snooping, but her prodding leads them on a wild goose chase all over Manhattan to uncover a mystery that becomes increasingly bizarre with each new twist.
The Mask (1994)
Jim Carrey plays a timid bank clerk who unwittingly becomes entangled with the mob in this madcap comedy film. Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) discovers a mask that transforms him into his alter ego: a manic, green-faced, zoot-suited charlatan with cartoonish superpowers. The mask gives Stanley a newfound confidence, but when he inadvertently foils a bank robbery during one of his late-night capers through the city, he makes enemies with both a violent gangster and the local police force. The Mask is emblematic of Carrey’s over-the-top comedic flair—plus, it made a star out of Cameron Diaz, a previously unknown actress who plays Stanley’s love interest. This flick isn’t a mystery in the strictest sense, but it has enough high-speed chases and noirish intrigue to appease mystery fans.
Featured still from "Knives Out" via Lionsgate