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Knives Out has a major cast to back its tight whodunit script. This includes major names like Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Ana de Armas, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, oh yeah, and throwing in Frank Oz and Christopher Plummer for funsies. Apparently, the cast is so stacked by design, as director Rian Johnson revealed during a recent podcast interview.
The director of Knives Out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Looper has built enough of a resume and worked with enough big names that he shouldn’t have too much trouble hiring for new movies; however, there’s a difference between an ensemble movie with a few big names and Knives Out, which is absolutely jam-packed with them.
The reason the director did this was because he was looking at the whodunits he grew up with and how they chose to do things. He said:
It was very much manufactured with [big name stars] in mind. I was thinking about the movies I grew up watching like Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun with Peter Ustinov, you know the Finney Murder on the Orient Express that were all-star events, all-star extravaganzas. I remember watching them with my family and feeling like these were events, feeling like this is the most fun a movie could possibly be. And you watch those movies and it’s like every single person is up there. It’s Ingrid Bergman, it’s David Niven, it’s James Mason. They had so much fun and those movies walk a tonal line where there’s a cheeky sense of self-aware fun and yet they never tip over into parody. Evil Under The Sun gets close, but they keep it on the side of this is a mystery with stakes. And so as big as all the characters are they still land as characters.
Speaking on the Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, Rian Johnson talked about crafting Knives Out in a way that paid homage to what came before. He also said it was an “essential part” of the movie for the audience to recognize that, “this is a whodunit murder mystery with all the rules that apply to that.” One of the major ingredients or to this genre is that sort of on-screen presence.
There’s also that old TV factor of where if there is only one big name in a whodunit that big name is often a bad guy. I’ve seen episodes of Law & Order before. A big, well-known cast keeps people guessing.
It’s not easy to get that many a-list names together for a movie, a process that people related to Downton Abbey have spoken out about in recent months related to that film and the prospect of a sequel. Yet, Rian Johnson also revealed his movie shot very quickly, which means that all of the puzzle pieces (aka major players) who needed to be there for scenes were available and ready to move forward.
Basically, he didn’t have to compromise his vision due to scheduling in any way.
What this resulted in was a satisfying movie that was made on a middling budget and has already made over $82 million worldwide at the time of this writing. Would it have worked with a smaller cast or a lower budget? Probably. But the star power plus a good script is part of what makes Knives Out so fun and what has made it competitive at the box office in recent days.
Knives Out is currently in theaters and will still be competing some more at the box office as we head into this stretch of the holiday season, which will add the likes of Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to theaters. Give our full guide to what’s coming this holiday season a look.