Sherlock Holmes is known as the greatest and most popular literary detective of all time. Over 250 screen adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character exist. There are so many versions of Holmes and Watson that in 2012 the Guinness Book of World Records dubbed him “The Most Portrayed Literary Human Character in Film and TV.”
In 2020, Netflix released yet another version of Holmes. But this time, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), Sherlock’s intrepid younger sister, took center stage. The film became one of the most-watched Netflix films that fiscal quarter, capturing over 76 million viewers. Based on Nancy Springer’s YA book series, “Enola Holmes” aimed to please a young adult audience. With so few female detectives on screen, millions of young girls found “Enola Holmes” to be an inspiring, feminist retelling of a beloved classic.
Netflix decided to give the world an Enola Holmes sequel, which hits select UK theaters on October 27 and lands on Netflix on November 4. Thankfully, much of the original cast returned. Henry Cavill reprised his role as Sherlock, and Helena Bonham Carter will continue portraying Enola’s delightfully eccentric mother. Henry Bradbeer returns as director (“Fleabag”) for the big-budget sequel. Brown reportedly received $10 million to star in “Enola Holmes 2.”
If viewers are hungry for more women-led detective and coming-of-age stories, check the below list for 10 mysterious whodunnits and biographical re-imaginings.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s mystery novels have been adapted dozens of times for the stage and screen. (Christie also has a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the reigning queen of “Most Translated Author.”) However, one of Christie’s best novels is 1934’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which boasts three film adaptations.
While the 2017 film was decent, 1974’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is fantastic. This classic whodunnit film stars Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman (who won an Oscar for her role), Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Anthony Perkins, and Albert Finney as the great Hercule Poirot.
Roaring through the mountains of then-Yugoslavia, Poirot’s train becomes caught in a snowdrift, and of course, there’s been a murder. Unable to reach the local police, Poirot must solve the case while trapped on the stalled train. This mystery ends with a neat twist, proving that even if a story is nearly a hundred years old, it can still surprise viewers. (We’re betting even the cleverest mystery lover won’t be able to solve this one.)
Christie famously disapproved of many of the screen adaptations of her books; however, the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express” was one of two she enjoyed. She later said of the film, “It was very well made except for one mistake I cannot find in my heart to forgive.” The great mistake? Poor Albert Finney’s mustache.
Countless films and BBC series have adapted Jane Austen’s work, including the six-hour definitive version of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Yet, for all the world knows of Austen’s novels, how much do we know of the writer herself? 2007’s “Becoming Jane” attempts to remedy that with a romantic mix of historical fact and creative license.
Anne Hathaway stars as Jane, an aspiring writer pushed toward marriage by her parents. Based on Jon Hunter Spence’s book, “Becoming Jane” follows Austen falling in love with Thomas (James McAvoy) and pursuing a writing career. According to Spence, Austen’s love affair with Thomas was the basis for the story of “Pride and Prejudice.” Though there was a Thomas mentioned in Austen’s letters, and it’s believed they were attracted to each other, not much is known about her real-life relationship with him.
It’s wonderful to see one of history’s most beloved authors’ life unfold on screen. Hathaway, a childhood fan of Austen, prepared for the role by rereading Austen’s novels and learning as much as possible about the period. “I moved to England a month before we started filming, and I worked on the accent and did all the historical research about the period, and specifically about what it would have been like to live in the countryside in England at that time,” she told Phase 9. “I read her letters, I had to learn the piano, sign language, and calligraphy.”
For those needing more of a passionate heroine in period dress, look no further than “Emily,” a gothic biographical film about the life of Emily Bronte. 2022’s “Emily” is an imaginative, creative retelling of the lives of the Bronte sisters and Emily’s possible love affair with William Weightman. This occasionally spooky film taps into the otherworldliness of Emily’s “Wuthering Heights,” mimicking a few of the book’s dark themes.
So far, “Emily” has some pretty impressive reviews, particularly about Emma Mackey, who audiences will recognize from “Sex Education.” While writer and director Frances O’Connor took a few historical liberties in the screenplay (William Weightman more likely had a romance with Emily’s younger sister, Anne), the dramatic landscape and gothic atmosphere brilliantly recreate Bronte’s work. According to Mackey, filming in the Yorkshire moors was haunting. “It’s only in being there that you realize what an influence the scenery had on the Brontë girls,” she told Vogue UK. “Emily’s bedroom looked out over a graveyard. It’s really otherworldly. There’s nowhere to hide in that sort of landscape. The light is haunting.”
Mackey and director O’Connor pointed out that the film isn’t a strict biopic but a “testament to the power of creativity” and Emily Bronte’s genius. Well, that and a chance to “run around the moors in a corset while screaming her head off,” says Mackey. — a dream for many girls.
No list of whodunnit films is complete without a straightforward Sherlock Holmes adaptation, so we’re including one of the best modern takes on Sherlock: Guy Ritchie’s 2009 playful “Sherlock Holmes.” Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock and Jude Law as Dr. Watson, this action-packed film stays relatively close to its source material while giving Ritchie plenty of space for his famously frenetic style.
“Sherlock Holmes” is loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” — though the inclusion of Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty, was artistic liberty. A fan of Sherlock Holmes since childhood, Ritchie wanted the films to “be as authentic as we can to the original Sherlock Holmes,” he told the press. “We’ve tried to include a bit more Conan Doyle in it.”
For those who think Ritchie’s stylized fight sequences are over-the-top modern inclusions, think again. Sherlock Holmes is a bare-knuckle boxer and an accomplished swordsman in the original source material. So that opening scene of Sherlock winning a boxing match might not be so far-fetched after all!
“Paper Towns” is an offbeat coming-of-age story. Cara Delevingne stars as Margo, a high school student who runs away from home. Quentin (Nat Wolff) is Margo’s childhood friend who endeavors to find her. After Margo leaves behind a series of clues for Quentin, he follows in her footsteps. He wants to tell Margo he’s madly in love with her — that is if he can find her.
Based on John Green’s YA novel of the same name, the sweet teen film was co-written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and directed by Jake Schreier. Surprisingly, Schreier gave a lot of creative room for their young cast. “We ha[d] a say in how we sa[id] our lines and if it [felt] right or not,” Delevigne told Teen Vogue. “We’ve had a lot of freedom in this movie.”
For Schreier, not only is the film a clever mystery, but it’s also about that final year of high school when teenagers struggle towards becoming adults and try to come to grips with how their peers see them. It’s about “everyone feeling captive to how they’re seen and wanting to break out of that,” he told Hey U Guys.
It’s rare that a board game is made into a film and rarer still that it’s good (see: “Battleship”). Fortunately, 1985’s “Clue” is one of the few genuinely excellent board game movies, and today, it’s become a cult classic. “Clue” is ’80s camp at its absolute best: Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, and Christopher Lloyd star in this darkly-comedic whodunnit. And yes, just like the game, all the characters have their original names, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, and everyone’s favorite femme fatale, Ms. Scarlet. The weapons for our fearsome group of potential murderers? Just like in the board game, there’s a rope, a wrench, a candlestick (naturally), and all the other implements of a “Clue” death.
The cleverest part of this madcap film? During the film’s initial release, theaters screened the film’s three separate endings at differing showtimes. Audiences had to choose one of three possible endings to watch in theaters. Today, home audiences can watch all three finales compiled in one film.
“Clue” is a farce that bases its satire on the classic whodunnit format popularized by Agatha Christie. According to story creator John Landis, Tom Stoppard, the great British screenwriter (“Shakespeare in Love”), was even invited to write the script (Stoppard denies having worked on the film). Even if you’ve never seen “Clue,” you’ve likely seen the fabulous ‘flames’ meme that came from it — a line that the great Madeline Kahn improvised.
.For true lovers of the murder mystery genre, the whodunnit never died; however, in Hollywood, this genre wasn’t the most popular. While true crime documentaries, gritty noir thrillers with “shocking twists,” and unreliable narrators have been on the rise, whodunnits seemed to lag at the box office. Thankfully, whodunnits are back on the big screen — thanks to “Knives Out.”
Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is a traditional locked room murder mystery with a wealthy victim, bitter relatives, and a deceptively smart detective (Daniel Craig). The darkly comedic script and excellent casting made “Knives Out” a box office hit, earning over $300 million worldwide. Critics praised the subversive, anti-racist message and applauded the acting of Ana De Armas for her portrayal of the empathetic nurse, Marta. In a hilarious twist, Marta is physically incapable of lying — vomiting whenever she doesn’t tell the truth.
For de Armas, the film hit a personal nerve. “In this family, everyone is very wealthy, and the children and grandchildren feel like they can get away with blackmailing people for money and power,” she told Vanity Fair. “Like Marta, I was pursuing my dream, and I wanted a better life for me, and therefore for my family.”
Due to the success of “Knives Out,” Netflix purchased the rights to the series for a shocking $496 million, ordering two sequels. Whodunnit addicts should be excited, though, since “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” drops on Netflix on December 23.
Even though “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is ostensibly a children’s movie, this dark fantasy film is spookier than most. Based on a series of books written by Ransom Riggs, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” tells the story of Jake (Asa Butterfield), who is swept into Miss Peregrine’s time loop (Eva Green). There, Jake discovers that he can see hollows — eyeball-eating monsters. Naturally, this macabre children’s movie was directed by Tim Burton.
Visually stunning and lauded for its lush special effects and gorgeous cinematography, the film received mixed reviews from critics. However, its incredible cast makes up for the sometimes confusing plot. Samuel L. Jackson portrays the incredibly creepy Mr. Barron. Alison Janney is Dr. Golan, a sometimes psychiatrist. Even Judi Dench makes an appearance as Esmeralda Avocet, another headmistress for peculiars.
Tim Burton loved the book, feeling it perfectly exemplified his awkward teenage years. However, Burton decided to make a few changes, including creating Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Mr. Barron — mostly because he’d been dying to work with the actor. Burton told Buzzfeed, “It just felt like he’s got such power, he’s got such a presence, Sam, as a person, and it was just a dream for me to work with him…I remember when the first time he came onto the set with his look and his white eyes…He’s just one of those actors who’s willing to go for it and try anything.”
While older women solving murder mysteries is a certifiable genre — “Murder, She Wrote,” “Miss Marple” — there are few examples of young ladies playing the detective role. Enter “Veronica Mars,” the relentlessly curious main character (Kristen Bell) for Rob Thomas’ series. Thomas intended “Veronica Mars” to be a series of young adult novels starring a boy. But once he envisioned the character for TV, Thomas knew he needed to change it. “I think a noir piece told from a female point of view is more interesting and unique,” he told the Associated Press.
Due to a low number of viewers and the shift from UPN to The CW, “Veronica Mars” was canceled after three seasons, leading Thomas and Bell to start a Kickstarter for a film budget. Within 11 hours of announcing the Kickstarter, the project received over $2 million.
The 2014 “Veronica Mars” film shows Mars returning to Neptune after her ex-boyfriend becomes accused of murdering his girlfriend. A classic murder mystery with plenty of scandalous clues, red herrings, and a romance, “Veronica Mars” is the perfect film for any amateur sleuth.
The Nancy Drew book series crafts the now-classic female detective tope, who inspired many of today’s global leaders. Ruth Bader Ginsberg once said she wanted to be Nancy Drew as a child. First published in 1930, the novels featured a fearless heroine who could pick a lock and drive her fabulous car like she was in F1 racing. While Nancy Drew has been on the big screen numerous times, we’re focusing on 2007’s modern update of the classic character, “Nancy Drew.”
In the 2007 film, Nancy (Emma Roberts) and her father, Carson (Tate Donovan), move into a mysterious old house (naturally) that Nancy has specifically chosen due to the unsolved death of its earlier owner, Hollywood star Dehlia Draycott (Laura Harring). The confident Nancy wears vintage clothing and is constantly curious, making her a quick target for bullies. But Nancy is fast to find allies and friends as she solves the case.
While the film had mixed reviews from critics, Roberts is a smart, vivacious Nancy Drew. With its clever, lighthearted mystery, “Nancy Drew” maintains its relevance for “Enola Holmes” fans today.