The 25 Best Detective Movies to Watch Right Now

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Orion Pictures / Lionsgate / Newmarket / New Line Cinema

Oftentimes, detective movies are tough to come by, but great detective movies are even more difficult to find. Adding on to that, there are many streaming services nowadays that could easily point you in the wrong direction. This causes some of these films to fly under the radar and be sunk in the massive pool of streaming movie options.

This list will help guide you towards the best detective movies and also where you can check them out. Note that this list is not ranked and just serves as a general map instead.

1. Prisoners

A horrifying nightmare for parents, this film is a heavy watch, but it’s (debatably) the most captivating detective movie on this list. Denis Villeneuve, who is now considered one of the greatest directors working today, brings us a mind-blowing masterpiece early in his career. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) works tirelessly to hunt down the kidnapper of two young girls, but one of the girls' fathers, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), feels like the police could be doing more. As the film goes on, Keller Dover gets fed up and tries to take matters into his own hands which is where the film elevates itself to a whole different level.

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2. The Silence of the Lambs

A classic, and what some consider to be one of the greatest movies of all time, The Silence of the Lambs is an unforgettable detective flick. The film includes one of the most notable movie characters of all time, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). In the film, Lecter is interviewed and questioned by young F.B.I. cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who’s trying to learn more about what makes a serial killer tick in order to catch a new serial killer on the loose, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). This film is creepy and feels like there’s a bug constantly crawling around your body, but in the end, is a kick-ass detective movie with a story like no other.

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3. Gone Girl

Definitely not your standard “detective” movie, director David Fincher brings us another brilliant film in Gone Girl. When his wife suddenly disappears, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) desperately goes searching for her all while the media closes in on Nick and increasingly considers the possibility that Nick could’ve killed her. The way the film is put together really makes this movie what it is. It constantly bounces between perspectives and you really don’t know who to trust, Nick or his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). Definitely check this one out, as it brings many new ideas to the table and has an ending that will leave you shocked. 

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4. The Maltese Falcon

Although very old, this is still a must-watch and an absolute classic detective film. The Maltese Falcon follows private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) as he traverses San Francisco while murders begin to mount up around him, he slowly begins to get tied up in corruption and uncertainty and realizes that he must mind one thing that everybody wants their hands on the Maltese Falcon. Nominated for 3 Academy Awards, The Maltese Falcon is a great noir flick that can’t be overlooked when talking about the greatest detective movies.  

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5. Knives Out

Probably one of the most recent films on this list, Knives Out does not disappoint. Writer and Director Rian Johnson gives us an original whodunnit film that is often hard to come by nowadays. The film is tense at times, but there’s a great deal of comedic relief that mixes extremely well with all the mystery. If you need one more reason to watch this one, look no further than the incredible cast list: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer.

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6. Gone Baby Gone

One of Ben Affleck's best-directed films, Gone Baby Gone is a gritty crime detective film that’s full of surprises. When a little girl disappears and the police make little headway in figuring out the case, the little girl’s aunt hires two detectives, who are experienced with the tough Boston neighborhoods, to figure out what exactly is going on. This is such a solid film top to bottom and does a good job at not going overboard by trying to do too much. If looking for a good detective story set in the Boston area with some tricks up its sleeve, definitely try seeking this one out.

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7. Se7en

Can’t include a detective list without this one. Se7en follows detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they try to hunt down a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his motives. Gritty and grim would sum this one up, as director David Fincher gives us a detective thriller that doesn’t hold back and constantly keeps you guessing. Not much more to say about this classic, if you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to put this at the top of your list.

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8. Memento

One of the great Christopher Nolan’s earlier films, Memento doesn’t disappoint and is another film that is stylistically told in a very unique way. The film may start out confusing to some mainly because it is told both forwards and backward, but it’s all for good reason. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce) has short-term memory loss and is attempting to track down his wife’s killer. It’s told entirely through his perspective which is why we get one story that works itself backward and one forwards. The way Nolan is able to mash these storylines together so that by the end they link up perfectly is impressive and the end result is a great detective movie.

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9. Hot Fuzz

Stylistic and brilliant comedic director Edgar Wright brings us a hilarious detective film that is sure to make you laugh. A smart and sophisticated London police officer gets transferred to a small town with no crime after being annoying to his superiors, but little does he know, this innocent town is about to be hit by a string of brutal murders. If unfamiliar with writer and director Edgar Wright's work, he is best known for bringing us 4 unique comedies all with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Definitely worth checking this one out if looking for a great mix of detective work and laughs. 

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10. Blade Runner

On the surface, Blade Runner might not be labeled as a detective movie, but when focusing on the story, this 1982 Ridley Scott film is nothing short of a classic. A blade runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) must pursue and kill four replicants on the loose. If unfamiliar with Blade Runner and its concepts, a blade runner is a cop whose sole purpose is to kill replicants. Replicants are highly developed robots who were supposed to aid society, but created a mutiny and turned on humans causing them to be deemed illegal. The film was technically ahead of its time and can be perfectly summed up as a thought-provoking action sci-fi, detective drama. When unpacking this film, there’re so many elements that can be discussed and lead to different opinions which is why it had to be included on this list.

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11. Blade Runner 2049

This is film director Denis Villeneuve at the top of his game, as he delivers the follow-up to Blade Runner, 35 years later, and it’s just as good, if not better than the original. Similar to the first film, Blade Runner 2049 might not be labeled as a detective film, but when focusing on the story, it follows the path of a detective film. When ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) stumbles across a long buried secret, it leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for 30 years. Of course, the film is great, but what stands out the most are the visuals and cinematography. If seeing this for the first time, I highly recommend watching it on the biggest screen possible because this film is quite the spectacle. 

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12. Vertigo

Debatably the greatest director of all time, Alfred Hitchcock brings us what some may consider his best film in Vertigo. A former San Francisco police detective has to balance his personal issues while also becoming obsessed with the same gorgeous woman he has been hired to trail. Hitchcock has many tricks up his sleeve as he does in many of his movies, but with the number of layers to this film, this one just feels different. If unfamiliar with this Hitchcock detective classic, be sure to give this a watch.

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13. The Nice Guys

An extremely underrated detective buddy comedy, The Nice Guys deserves more recognition. Not sure if there was a marketing or promotional issue, but when this movie was released it was a massive flop at the box office. This shouldn’t have been the case when you have a duo of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling teaming up to investigate a missing girl and the strange death of a pornstar in the 1970s. Crowe and Gosling’s chemistry is perfect and the film manages to nail down the basics of a great detective movie and elevate it to become a unique, entertaining, and fun watch.

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14. Zodiac

Director David Fincher really knows how to craft great detective movies. His third film on this list, Zodiac is based on the real-life Zodiac Killer in California between 1968-1983. The film follows an amateur detective, determined to find out the identity of the mysterious Zodiac Killer. Even if you know the story already, the film does such a solid job at depicting a haunting environment for not only our protagonists of the film but for viewers as well. Additionally, the cast includes powerhouses like Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. 

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15. The Departed

One of Martin Scorsese’s best, The Departed is more than just a simple detective movie. The film is about an undercover cop and a mole in the police force both trying to figure out the other's identity all while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston. The backbone of the film is the all-star cast list which includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Whalberg, Martin Sheen, Anthony Anderson, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin. But, surprisingly, the best part of this movie is the editing. Each scene is quick and tight, yet it also manages to maintain a smooth rhythm all while the gripping detective film unfolds before us. 

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16. Brick

Another film written and directed by Rian Johnson makes the cut, only this time it’s his first film. A high school teenage loner joins an underground crime ring to find out what happened to his murdered ex-girlfriend. Although the film is set in high school, Rian Johnson stylizes the film to make it feel just like a detective movie. After watching this, it’s interesting to see the film that got Rian Johnson started, as well as a film that skyrocketed young Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career too.

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17. Training Day

If somehow unfamiliar with Training Day, it is the film that made Denzel Washington one of the greats, a household name, and why he is referred to now as just ‘Denzel’. Training Day follows a rookie cop, Jake (Ethan Hawke), as he traverses his first day as a Los Angeles narcotics cop with suspicious detective Alonzo (Denzel Washington) riding alongside him. The script really helps get the film’s feet off the ground, but the actors are the ones who manage to elevate it to even higher levels which is why this detective movie is a must-watch. 

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18. Searching

I never thought Hollywood would be able to create an intriguing enough movie while being fully on a laptop screen, but once again I have been proven wrong. Searching follows David Kim (John Cho) as he works against the clock to find his missing daughter. This is one of the most engaging movies I’ve ever seen, and a solid detective one at that. When David is trying to get to the bottom of his daughter’s disappearance, the film does such a great job at including and focusing on every little detail that could help clue the viewer in towards figuring out the mystery. Give this film a shot if looking for some unique filmmaking flair. 

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19. The Fugitive

A Harrison Ford classic, The Fugitive has everything a good detective movie needs in order to be great (which it is). After being unjustly accused of murdering his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) must figure out who really did it, all while being hunted by the entire city of Chicago led by a veteran U.S. Marshal (Tommy Lee Jones.) The film almost plays out like a revenge thriller, but instead of the main character looking for murder, he’s looking for justice. A true detective film at heart, Dr. Richard Kimble is constantly on the move, trying to find any sort of evidence in order to prove his innocence and clear his name.     

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20. Mystic River

Another solid Boston crime flick, Director Clint Eastwood brings us a film about revenge, violence, and its consequences. Mystic River is an essential detective movie that follows three men's lives, who were all childhood friends, get shattered when one of them suffers a family tragedy. The three stars of the film are Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon who all bring their best to the table to create a gripping detective drama, and the movie is a good addition to Clint Eastwood’s catalog.

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21. Insomnia

Another one of legendary director Christopher Nolan’s earlier films, Insomnia is a classic detective movie with twists and turns taking place throughout. Two Los Angeles detectives are sent to a small town in Alaska to find out who killed an innocent teen. The setting of the film really helps capture the mood of the film. Since the sun is out constantly, Will Dormer (Al Pacino) slowly starts to lose focus on not just the task at hand but his mind too. If you’re a Nolan fan and unfamiliar with his early work, I highly recommend seeing this film that helped shape him into the director he is today.

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22. End of Watch

One of my personal favorites on this list, End of Watch is a gritty look into the daily life of two Los Angeles cops who begin to mess with crime groups larger than they can handle. This film is shot in first-person-view style from one of the cops' perspectives and adds a unique flair to the film that I think was highly needed. Also, the two leads of the film, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, have amazing chemistry and bring everything they have in order to create a fantastic detective story with a surprising amount of heart at its core.

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23. Chinatown

Former acclaimed director Roman Polanski brings us a classic in Chinatown, a detective story that’s solid from top to bottom. In 1937 Los Angeles, private detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is assigned to what seems to be a simple case, but he soon finds out that it’s more difficult than imagined and it leads him down a tricky path. There are so many standouts with the one: the academy award winning script from Robert Towne, the direction by Polanski, and the stars of the show; Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway who are both at the top of their game. There’s a reason this got 11 Academy Award nominations, so if you haven’t seen this 1974 classic detective movie yet, I’d highly recommend putting it towards the top of your list.    

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24. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

You might be tired of hearing his name at this point, but he’s one of the best directors working today for a reason. With his fourth and final film on this list, director David Fincher brings us a chilling detective mystery that can at times be extremely disturbing. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by a wealthy industrialist to figure out who killed his niece over 40 years ago, but Blomkvist quickly learns that this job is out of his league and gets aid from an anti-social yet very efficient computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo is gripping, dark, violent, and of course, an excellent detective movie.

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25. Dirty Harry

A classic Clint Eastwood movie, Dirty Harry is still a timeless detective film with camera work ahead of its time and bunches of great action. In San Francisco, 1971, a madman is on the loose known as the ‘Scorpio Killer’ (Andrew Robinson) and resilient cop ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) seeks to put an end to him. It’s a simple story but played out very effectively. Additionally, the villain is inspired by the actual Scorpio Killer who haunted San Francisco for years. If looking for a classic, gritty, action detective movie, look no further than Dirty Harry

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