By Noelle Buffam · March 26, 2011

A Mystery/Suspense film centers on a person of authority, usually a detective, that is trying to solve a mysterious crime. The main protagonist uses clues, investigation, and logical reasoning. The biggest element in these films is a sense of “whodunit” suspense, usually created through visual cues and unusual plot twists.

Examples of Mystery/Suspense Film:

The Maltese Falcon – A private investigator works to discover the whereabouts of the Maltese Falcon after his partner is murdered.

Blue Velvet – A young man begins a relationship with a psychotic man and his girlfriend.

Chinatown – A private investigator takes a case about adultery, but discovers a Los Angeles City Water & Power murder scheme.

Sub-genres of Mystery/Suspense Film:


A Closed-Mystery is a sub-genre of Mystery/Suspense Film that conceals the identity of the main perpetrator until the very end of the film. This kind of storyline adds an extra element of suspense to the plot, as the audience is not sure who has committed the crime. Often, there are a variety of characters that are possible suspects.

Examples: Clue, Murder of the Orient Express, Twelve Little Indians.


Film Noir is not simply a sub-genre, but rather a term for a distinct, stylistic type of crime-drama or thriller/mystery that was popular throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Film-Noir is characterized through a black-and-white style with stark visual lighting effects. The main character is usually a cynical hero. Film-Noir relies on a narrative voice and various flashbacks to explain the intricate plot.

Examples: Sunset Boulevard, The Maltese Falcon, Sweet Smell of Success.


The Open-Mystery Film is the opposite of a Closed Mystery. In these movies, the main perpetrator is revealed at the beginning of the story. These films showcase “the prefect crime” scenarios. Suspense in these films come less from the “whodunit” aspect, and more from how the crime was committed.

Examples: Oceans 11, Thomas Crown Affair, The Italian Job.