Why Knives Out’s Rian Johnson Didn’t Watch Any Murder Mysteries Before Writing His Whodunit

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in Knives Out

The murder mystery film genre might not be as popular as it once was, but clearly plenty of folks are still interested in watching a compelling whodunnit unfold on the big screen judging by how Rian Johnson’s Knives Out has been performing. However, when crafting the story for his star-studded movie, Johnson did not turn to any specific murder mysteries of yesteryear for specific inspiration because he wanted to focus on capturing the overall spirit of these kinds of mysteries.

When asked if he’d been “going down the rabbit hole” of reading or watching any whodunnits tales before working on Knives Out, director, writer and sweater enthusiast Rian Johnson responded:

Not really, because I have done that with whodunits. I’ve just been reading them since I was a kid, it’s something that I always keep coming back to. I find it not useful to do research and read specific books. To me, it’s more useful to blur my vision, and to think, in more general terms, about what I love about the genre—to almost create an idealized vision of what works about the genre for me, and then take that and set that as my goalpost. Otherwise, there might be the danger of just creating a patchwork of stuff from other sources. For me, it’s much more about getting at the heart of what about this genre really resonates for me.

So rather than risk replicating specific beats from other murder mysteries, Rian Johnson instead opted to just channel the spirit of these kind of stories that he read/watched in his younger years, as he informed Deadline. That way Knives Out would fit nicely within the genre, but his overall vision for the narrative would be something special rather than derivative.

Of course, Rian Johnson has said in the past that his goal with Knives Out was to make an Agatha Christie-style mystery, and he certainly delivered on that front. Johnson had originally planned on making Knives Out after finishing 2012’s Looper, but it was delayed when he was hired onto Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Despite having to wait a little longer for its arrival, Knives Out has been cemented as a silver screen winner, and in addition to possibly seeing sequels starring Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, I’m curious to see if Knives Out’s success could trigger a resurgence of murder mystery movies.

Warning: SPOILERS for Knives Out are ahead!

I won’t go into too much detail, but the biggest way that Knives Out stands out from most whodunnits is the manner in which we learn how Christopher Plummer’s Harlan Thrombey dies. Rather than use the traditional clue-by-clue formula and reveal who killed him and why towards the end, the audience learns the circumstances of Harlan’s death rather early on. The rest of the movie is spent following the aftermath of his demise and providing more context for the events surrounding why Thrombey died.

Knives Out is still playing in many theaters, and along with receiving critical acclaim, it has also done quite well for itself commercially. Right before 2019 ended, it crossed $100 million domestically and $200 million worldwide, with its current global total standing at nearly $224 million. There’s no word yet on when it will be released on home media.

Be sure to read CinemaBlend’s review of Knives Out, and don’t forget to look through our 2020 release schedule to learn what movies are coming out in the new year.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.