Murder mysteries aren’t all foggy nights and shadowy manors. In fact, there’s often something even more sinister about watching a mystery set in a sunny destination locale. When the setting acts as a foil to the murderous acts that take place, the viewer is forced to ask how something so evil and violent could happen in such a cheerful place — and confront the fact that if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.
This sunny sub-genre of murder mysteries — think warm weather, beautiful blue skies, sandy beaches, and vacation destinations — is represented in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, out on Netflix Dec. 23. In Johnson’s new whodunit, Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc receives a summons to a private island owned by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), a billionaire who has also invited a large group of his friends to play a murder mystery game. “I wrote this in 2020 when we were all in lockdown,” writer and director Rian Johnson explained in a recent interview with Vulture. “There were a lot of things that went into choosing the setting, but a big part of it was wanting, in that moment, to be on a beach somewhere on a Greek island. The first movie was also very much in the tradition of the English-countryside cozy-house murder but in New England. So I wanted to plant a really solid flag at the beginning that this was going to be something completely different than the first one.”
In the same interview, Johnson also cited two other warm weather whodunits as inspiration for the film: The Last of Sheila and Evil Under the Sun. In honor of Glass Onion’s debut on Netflix — and as a way to escape from any winter weather you may be experiencing — here are eight murder mystery films, including Johnson’s aforementioned influences, set in warm, sunny destinations to watch after you’ve seen the Knives Out sequel.
The Last of Sheila (1973)
While filming Glass Onion on location in 2021, Johnson tweeted that the 1973 film The Last of Sheila was “pretty much the reason I’m in Greece right now.” The similarities between the two films abound: Both revolve around an eccentric wealthy man who invites a group of friends to the Mediterranean for a week of fun and games that all have a slightly sinister edge. In Sheila, a wealthy movie producer gathers his friends on a yacht cruise in an attempt to figure out who was responsible for the hit-and-run accident that killed his wife (the titular Sheila.) There’s lots of glamorous 70s yacht fashion, stops in beautiful Mediterranean port cities, a cast of rich and famous characters, clever wordplay, and plenty of twists throughout. Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins co-wrote the movie, inspired by scavenger hunt parties that Sondheim and Perkins used to host for their friend group in New York City.
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
Evil Under the Sun brings Agatha Christie’s mustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (of whom Benoit Blanc is a spiritual successor) to an exclusive island resort in the Adriatic Sea. Poirot, here played by Peter Ustinov, is invited to the resort to help find a missing diamond, but it isn’t long before a murder is committed under his nose. Ustinov’s portrayal of Poirot across multiple Christie films is often cited as the best version of the iconic detective, including by Johnson, who told Vulture that Ustinov is his favorite Poirot and that he “grew up watching [Evil Under the Sun] four times a day on HBO when I was a kid.” Maggie Smith also stars as the resort’s owner, but Diana Rigg steals the show as Arlena, a famous actress. Arlena’s bathing suit fashion alone is worth the watch, but parasols, summer suits, blue skies, and tropical Mediterranean vibes abound throughout.
Death on the Nile (2004)
Long before “Enough champagne to fill the Nile!” was something we could all recite, the 2004 adaptation of Christie’s classic novel, an extended episode from the television series Poirot, starred David Suchet as the iconic detective, as well as a young Emily Blunt. One of Christie’s more well-known offerings, Death on the Nile follows Poirot on a luxury vacation cruise down the Nile, where he gets pulled into a mystery after someone kills a rich heiress on the boat. The scenery — think Egyptian pyramids and sparkling blue waters — will have you dreaming of warmer days, and the costumes will make you want to pull out your best straw sun hat. (And if you’d like to see other takes on the novel, Ustinov stars in the 1978 version and, of course, Kenneth Branagh is Poirot in the cursed 2022 remake.)
Appointment with Death (1988)
Appointment with Death features Ustinov’s final performance as Poirot. In this adventure, also based on a Christie novel, Poirot takes a luxury trip through Europe and the Middle East with — you guessed it — another group of wealthy travelers that ends in murder, this time at an archeological dig near the Dead Sea. The film contains a slew of murder mystery hallmarks including a secret second will, a lethal dose’s worth of missing medicine, and a collection of colorful characters, including two played by Lauren Bacall and Carrie Fisher. The scenic filming locations make it an instant addition to the canon of “Poirot on vacation” movies, while Ustinov as Poirot wears a selection of fantastic warm-weather vacation clothes, including linen suits, bowties, and sun hats.
Murder Mystery (2019)
This Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston vehicle is simultaneously a silly riff on the mystery genre and also a modern update to it. Nick, an NYPD cop, and Audrey, a murder mystery novel fan, have been married for years, but feel stuck in their lives and their relationship. When Sandler’s character takes them on a surprise vacation to Europe, their trip quickly takes an unexpected direction when billionaire Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans) invites them to stay on his family’s yacht. During their first night on the boat, the family patriarch is murdered just before making amendments to his will. Murder Mystery has a delightful set of suspects and a plot that takes Aniston and Sandler all over sunny southern Europe, from Lake Como to Monte Carlo. (A sequel to the movie wrapped filming earlier this year.)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly star in this Alfred Hitchcock film, set in the beautiful French Riviera. Grant plays a talented former burglar (Jon Robie, known as “The Cat”) notorious for a series of jewel thefts years prior. He’s been enjoying a life of quiet retirement, but when a new jewel thief starts causing havoc among the wealthy vacationers of southern France and copying all of Robie’s signature moves, Robie sets out to clear his name. As he attempts to catch the new thief, he befriends a wealthy American widow and her daughter Frances, played by Kelly. Watching Grant and Kelly swan around the gorgeous villas and beaches of the Riviera in a variety of summer fashions — including one specific red polka dot cravat —already makes for a great watch, but the twists and turns the mystery takes (including one dead body) make it one of Hitchcock’s best.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Based on the Raymond Chandler novel and directed by Robert Altman, The Long Goodbye is a satire of film noir and classic crime stories. It stars Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, who gets pulled into a mystery after his friend Terry commits suicide a few days after being accused of murdering his wife. Marlowe doesn’t trust the police’s version of the story, so he sets out to find the real culprit behind the murder of Terry’s wife. Gould’s portrayal of Marlowe cements him as one of cinema’s iconic detectives, starting from the ten-minute-long first sequence of the movie, where we’re introduced to Marlowe at three in the morning as he feeds his cat, all while muttering through a rambling internal monologue. Set in 1970s Hollywood (with brief detours to Mexico), palm trees and warm air are omnipresent throughout the film, providing a bright foil to Marlowe’s gruff demeanor.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Though it’s not strictly a mystery, nothing exemplifies the incongruity between beautiful southern European weather and grisly murder like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Based on the classic Patricia Highsmith novel, Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) gets sent to the fictional seaside town of Mongibello, Italy by the parents of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) in an attempt to convince Dickie to return to America. Tom has no intention of honoring his promise to Mr. Greenleaf, and his obsession with Dickie quickly turns deadly. The whole movie is dappled with Italian sunlight, with plenty of brightly-colored bathing suits, blue water, and seaside locales — the chic sunglasses alone could warrant their own article. The four main actors in the film — Law, Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Philip Seymour Hoffman — are arguably at the height of their powers here, and that’s not even including Cate Blanchett’s smaller role in the movie.