Five years after the success of his Murder on the Orient Express, director and star Kenneth Branagh, 61, is reapplying Belgian detective Hercule Poirot’s prodigious mustache to take on a new Agatha Christie case: Death on the Nile. Costarring Annette Bening (63), Russell Brand, Gal Gadot, Sophie Okonedo (53), Armie Hammer and more, his new film will hit theaters on Feb. 11, and it’s sure to include all the delicious twists and dry wit we’ve come to expect from Christie adaptations. The British mystery legend has sold more than 2 billion books, landing her in the Guinness Book of World Records as the top-selling fiction author of all time, and her novels, short stories and plays have proven popular with filmmakers for almost a century. Here are 10 great adaptations to stream before watching Death on the Nile. For each film, we’ve included a tiny detail to watch out for — the kind of thing only an eagle-eyed sleuth like Poirot or Miss Marple might notice.
And Then There Were None (1945)
The premise: Christie’s 1939 novel ranks as the best-selling mystery in literary history, and it’s been adapted into at least two dozen film and TV versions over the decades. In this 1945 movie by René Clair, eight strangers are summoned to an island off the coast of Devon. Once inside the mysterious mansion, a voice on the gramophone accuses each of murder, and then one by one, they start dropping like flies — felled in the exact same way as the characters in the "Ten Little Indians" nursery rhyme. Can they work together to figure out who the killer is before no one is left?
The detail to watch for: Christie readers will notice that the ending strays from the original finale of the book. She thought the plot was too bleak for audiences who were already dealing with World War II, so she modified the story to make it slightly happier for her stage adaptation, which provided the basis for the screenplay.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
The premise: Witty and suspenseful, Billy Wilder’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1953 play stars Tyrone Power as Leonard Vole, a man being tried for the murder of a wealthy older widow. Defense attorney Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) convinces Vole’s German wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich), to provide an alibi and testify on his behalf, but when she uncovers a legal loophole, things don’t go quite as planned. During previews, the studio made test audiences sign a pledge saying, “I solemnly swear I will not reveal the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” The film earned six Oscar nominations, and AFI ranked it the sixth-best courtroom drama in movie history.
The detail to watch for: It won’t give you any clues to how the case ends, but pay close attention to the flashback in which Christine’s trousers get ripped during a brawl at a German nightclub. The scene was written into the movie to show off Dietrich’s famous legs, and it required 145 extras and 38 stunt performers, costing $90,000.
Murder, She Said (1961)
The premise: From 1961 to 1964, Dame Margaret Rutherford starred as Miss Jane Marple in a series of four films that paired Christie’s usual suspenseful tone with a light touch of comedy. In this first installment, based on the 1957 novel 4.50 from Paddington, Miss Marple witnesses a woman being strangled in the window of a passing train, but the police find no proof of a crime and dismiss her as a dotty old lady. She takes matters into her own hands, getting a job as a housekeeper at the estate where she believes the body was thrown from the train and begins searching for clues. While Christie was not a fan of the films’ daffier tone, she later dedicated The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side to Marple’s famed portrayer: “To Margaret Rutherford in admiration.”
The detail to watch for: If you’re a fan of Christie’s books, you may not recognize the character of Jim Stringer, Marple’s town librarian friend, and that’s because he never appeared in any of her stories! The part was written for actor Stringer Davis — who just happened to be Rutherford’s real-life husband.
Join today and save 25% off the standard annual rate. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
Endless Night (1972)
The premise: In this chilling tale based on one of Christie’s later novels, American heiress Ellie Thomsen (Hayley Mills, 75) marries British chauffeur Michael Rogers (Hywel Bennett), and they decide to build a dream house on supposedly cursed land called Gypsy’s Acre. Let’s just say the honeymoon period doesn’t last long. In his 1967 review of the source novel in The Guardian, Anthony Berkeley Cox wrote, “It is impossible to say much about the story without giving away vital secrets: sufficient to warn the reader that if he should think this is a romance he couldn't be more mistaken, and the crashing, not to say horrific suspense at the end is perhaps the most devastating that this surpriseful author has ever brought off.” Bond girl Britt Ekland, 79, costars as Ellie’s German tutor, Greta.
The detail to watch for: If you notice that Ellie’s singing voice doesn’t quite match her speaking voice, it’s because she was dubbed by Marian the librarian herself, Shirley Jones, 87.
Watch it: Endless Night on Kino Now
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
The premise: In Sidney Lumet’s choo-choo-whodunit, Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express for a trip from Istanbul to London, when a man named Ratchett (Richard Widmark) shows up stabbed to death. Also on the train: an American widow (Lauren Bacall), an English governess (Vanessa Redgrave, 85), a British Indian Army colonel (Sean Connery), a Hungarian count (Michael York, 79) and countess (Jacqueline Bisset, 77), a translator (Anthony Perkins), a valet (John Gielgud) and many, many more potential suspects. The film picked up six Oscar nominations, with Ingrid Bergman winning her third for playing the Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson.
The detail to watch for: Pay attention to Finney’s facial hair. Christie considered this the best movie adaptation of her works, but she had one major complaint: Poirot’s mustache was too subtle!
Death on the Nile (1978)
The premise: Not wanting to endure the hours of makeup required to transform into Poirot again, Finney sat out this sequel and was replaced by two-time Oscar winner Peter Ustinov, who would go on to play the detective six times. Poirot courts disaster every time he boards a luxury mode of transportation: After his success on the Orient Express, he’s thrown into a similar mystery on a Nile cruise, when a wealthy heiress is found dead with the letter “J” smeared in blood above her head. The real Egyptian filming locations (such as the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx) are almost as iconic as the performers on board, including Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury (96), Maggie Smith (87), David Niven and Mia Farrow (76).
The detail to watch for: Anthony Powell won an Oscar for his costume design. If you want to see his handiwork at its finest, check out Farrow’s casual striped number, which he whipped up on location to accommodate a newly written scene. When he couldn’t find any fabric to use, Powell discovered his tailor’s mother making paella on set and transformed her greasy tea towel into a chic outfit. Farrow, unawares, commented that she kept smelling garlic.
Watch it: Death on the Nile on Kino Now
The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
The premise: A Hollywood film crew arrives in the quaint English village of St. Mary Mead, which Miss Marple (Lansbury) calls home, to shoot a period drama about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, starring rival actresses Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak, 88). When a local fan ends up poisoned, Miss Marple takes on the case, convinced that one of the stars was the intended target. The underrated classic also features Rock Hudson as Marina’s director husband and Tony Curtis as Lola’s producer husband, but the best part is getting the chance to watch Novak and Taylor trade vicious barbs like, “Lola, dear, you know, there are really only two things I dislike about you … your face” and “Chin up, darling … both of them.”
The detail to watch for: Pierce Brosnan, 68, makes his big screen debut in an uncredited role as Jamie, Liz Taylor’s onscreen paramour in the film-within-a-film.
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1980)
The premise: Christie had a well-known disdain for TV adaptations, perhaps set in motion when one of the actors portraying a dead body got up and walked offstage during a live 1949 broadcast of And Then There Were None. After her death in 1976, the author’s estate began granting rights for TV films, including this three-hour ITV production of her infrequently adapted 1934 novel. Bobby Jones (James Warwick) is out golfing on the Welsh coast when he finds a dying man who has apparently fallen off a sea cliff. His dying words: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” He turns to his socialite friend, Lady Frances Derwent (Francesca Annis, 76), to uncover that cryptic line’s meaning. This year, the streaming service BritBox is set to release a new adaptation, written and directed by Hugh Laurie (62), who will star opposite Emma Thompson (62) and Jim Broadbent (72).
The detail to watch for: Joan Hickson, who plays the small role of Mrs. Rivington, had a long relationship with the works of Christie; 55 years elapsed between her first appearance in a Christie adaptation, 1937’s Love From a Stranger, and her last, as Miss Marple in a 1992 TV movie!
Crooked House (2017)
The premise: Knives Out got all the attention when it premiered in 2019, but it’s remarkably reminiscent of this under-the-radar 2017 mystery, which follows a similar “who killed the patriarch?” plot. Based on Christie’s 1949 novel with a screenplay cowritten by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes (72), the film stars Max Irons (Jeremy’s son) as private investigator Charles Hayward, who’s looking into the death of business tycoon Aristide Leonides. He arrives at the family estate, where he encounters a slew of suspicious characters, including Aristide’s sister-in-law, Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close, 74); his much younger second wife, Brenda (Christina Hendricks); and his daughter-in-law, Magda (Gillian Anderson, 53).
The detail to watch for: Extra-observant viewers might recognize the estate’s foyer and staircase, which were shot in Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire — the same filming location of Fellowes’ film Gosford Park.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
The premise: It’s impossible to include only one adaptation of Orient Express on this list when the casts are this star-studded. In Branagh’s stylish 2017 film version, in which he first played Poirot, the train cars are filled to bursting with Oscar winners and nominees: Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench (87), Willem Dafoe (66), Johnny Depp (58), Olivia Colman and Michelle Pfeiffer (63), plus up-and-comers like Leslie Odom Jr. and Daisy Ridley. Pfeiffer reportedly burst into tears on the first day of filming, and when the director asked her what happened, she replied, “I just met Judi Dench!”
The detail to watch for: If the film has a classic celluloid look to it, that’s because Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, 51, shot it using the last four 65mm Panavision cameras in the world.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.