101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

Simultaneously exemplifying and satirizing a narrative form is risky, but Rian Johnson does so with flair throughout this playful riff on whodunnits. By exploring the death of mystery writer Harlan Thrombey, a man connected to so many intrigues that all of his relatives are suspects, Johnson engineers enough misdirection to thrill any fan of Christie or Hitchcock. Woven into the puzzle is absurdity—a woman who vomits every time she tries to lie, a detective whose Southern accent is so thick a suspect refers to the investigation as “CSI: KFC,” a literal throne of knives at the crime scene. As Johnson explained, his goal was not to lampoon whodunnits but to refresh tropes—hence the choice to make Knives Out contemporary as opposed to a period piece. Johnson’s approach is sly rather than snarky, infusing a joyously twisted storyline with flamboyant characterizations, nervy jokes, and topical commentary.

READ: How Rian Johnson’s Knives Out melds an Agatha Christie-style whodunit with a Hitchcockian thriller while bringing both genres into the modern age.