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15 Times Movies Hid The Killer In Plain View

Nothing holds the attention of a movie audience better than a big, juicy mystery at the center of the plot. And perhaps the biggest mystery of all is the identity of a secret killer. 

The element of disguised danger combined with shock at an unexpected turn of events — coupled with a good dose of foreshadowing before finding out the identity of the killer — can turn an ordinary film into a memorable one. Of course, pulling off such a twist isn't easy. It requires carefully constructing plot and disguising the true intentions of the killer with a lot of red herrings, misleading clues, and a convincing motive. 

So which films have managed to pull off hiding a killer hidden in plain sight? Well, let's take a look at 15 movies that successfully kept the murderer hidden the whole time, making for a truly memorable climax. Needless to say, there are huge spoilers ahead.

Last Night in Soho

Edgar Wright is a filmmaker who's made a name for himself directing offbeat films in a variety of genres. After getting his start with the horror-comedy "Shaun of the Dead," Wright returned to make a proper horror movie with 2021's "Last Night in Soho." He teamed up with rising stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie to tell a twisted tale of broken dreams and painful pasts.

Ellie (McKenzie) is an aspiring fashion student who feels she belongs to the 1960s rather than present times. Ellie's wish appears to come true when she gets transported in her dreams into the past. Ellie finds herself sharing a body with Sandie (Taylor-Joy), an aspiring '60s singer who gets taken advantage of by a man who claims he can help her become a star but who instead turns Sandie to a life of forced sex work.

After investigating, Ellie believes Sandie was murdered by her pimp, and she sets out to uncover the decades-old mystery over what happened to Sandie. In the end, it's revealed that Sandie never died. Instead, she turned into a serial killer, murdering the men who abused her, and eventually became the landlady of the very building where Ellie lives in the present day.   

Murder on the Orient Express

There are few writers in the annals of mystery fiction as hallowed as Agatha Christie — a woman whose very name has become synonymous with locked-room whodunits. Naturally, Hollywood is ever eager to look to Christie's books for inspiration, resulting in the 2017 film adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express."

The movie stars its director, Kenneth Branagh, in the lead role as one of the most famous fictional detectives, Hercule Poirot. On board a lavish train in the middle of nowhere, Poirot must grapple with an unexpected murder that occurs during the journey. American gangster Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found murdered in his compartment. In the absence of a proper police investigation, it falls to Poirot to bring the killer to justice. 

The venerated detective takes his time examining the motives of each passenger on the train. He discovers that everyone aboard has a past link to Ratchett and a plausible reason for wanting him dead. So who was the killer? Well, it's every single passenger on the train except for Poirot. Turns out they'd all pooled their resources together and determined to kill Ratchett as a group to allay suspicion over any one person. 

Knives Out

When it comes to cinematic detectives, Hollywood likes to stick to the tried-and-tested popularity of classic characters like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. But in 2019's "Knives Out," filmmaker Rian Johnson gave the world a new detective named Benoit Blanc, a gentleman sleuth played by Daniel Craig sporting an outrageous Southern accent. 

The movie hinges on the murder of famed novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) and the many family members who stood to gain from his death. Halfway through the movie, another twist is thrown into the proceedings when it's revealed that Harlan's death was a medical accident at the hands of his nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas).

But then it turns out a new mystery person is blackmailing Marta in connection to the murder. The only point of support for Marta is Harlan's handsome and debonair grandson, Hugh (Chris Evans). Marta's trust turns out to be misplaced in the end when it's revealed that Hugh was the person who'd been secretly blackmailing her, was also the killer of Harlan's housekeeper, and set up the medical scenario resulting in Harlan's death. The twists and turns served up by "Knives Out" make it one of the most entertaining entries in the murder mystery genre.  

Angels and Demons

Dan Brown burst onto the pop culture scene with his best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code." The book got a film adaptation in 2006, starring Tom Hanks as adventuring symbologist Robert Langdon. Following the success of the movie, it received a sequel in 2009 titled "Angels and Demons," seeing Hanks return as Langdon on a mission in the Vatican.

The movie opens with the murder of a reputed scientist/priest who'd made a groundbreaking new scientific discovery. The discovery led to the creation of a bomb with massive destructive capabilities. On the cusp of a new pope being elected at the Vatican after the previous one's death, the bomb is revealed to be hidden somewhere in the holy city. It falls to Langdon and his allies to locate and dispose of the weapon before it detonates.

Among the people helping Langdon is Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), the deceased pope's right-hand man and a deeply religious Catholic. After coming across as a messianic figure throughout the movie, Langdon discovers near the end that McKenna is responsible for the previous pope's death and the murderous conspiracy surrounding the bomb at the Vatican, all out of a sense of twisted religious morality on McKenna's part.  

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese isn't a name you immediately think of in connection with murder mysteries. But in 2010, Scorsese proved he was just as capable of directing investigative thrillers as gangster dramas with "Shutter Island."

Set in the 1950s, the story takes place on a lonely island that houses an institution for the mentally ill. Two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), arrive at the island to investigate the disappearance of a woman named Rachel Solando. Teddy suspects there's a deeper conspiracy going on at the island, and it's somehow connected to a missing patient named Andrew Laeddis.

As Teddy draws closer to the heart of the mystery surrounding the island and its inhabitants, he comes to realize a shocking truth. His real name is Andrew Laeddis, and "Teddy the U.S. marshal" was an identity he'd created to cope with the reality of having murdered his wife, Rachel Solando, after she killed their three children during a manic episode. Everything that "Teddy" sees and does throughout the movie is his therapist's attempt to let him play out a fantasy and then return to the real world after putting his delusions to rest. 

Orphan

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra of "Jungle Cruise" fame, "Orphan" starts off with Kate and John Coleman feeling a heavy strain on their marriage following Kate's third pregnancy ending in a sudden termination. While they already have two children, the couple decides to also adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl named Esther from a local orphanage. The arrangement seems to work out well for a time ... until Esther starts showcasing violent behavior and an unusual degree of possessiveness towards John.

After a series of tragic events befall the family all revolving around Esther, Kate discovers the truth of the matter. Esther is in reality a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer who suffers from a medical condition that stunts her physical growth and keeps her looking unnaturally young. Meanwhile, Esther is plotting to get Kate and her two children out of the way so she can have John all to herself, which means beating a nun to death and attempting to murder Kate and the kids. 

The Invitation

Directed by Karyn Kusama, "The Invitation" puts a new and terrifying twist on the phrase "dinner party from hell." The film follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green), a man still struggling with grief after a terrible tragedy. To make things more complicated, he's attending a dinner party being hosted by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new partner, David (Michiel Huisman), complete with friends he hasn't seen in years. Things are awkward from the get-go, and a bigger wrench is thrown into the proceedings following the revelation that certain members of the party are participants of a cult called "The Invitation."

As the party spirals out of control in the third act, it's revealed that Eden and David are acting on orders from the cult and intend to kill the other guests as a way to alleviate all their pain and grief and move on to the next plane of existence. Not only does the plan work to a large extent, it's indicated at the end that other members of the cult all over the city are carrying out similar plans on a massive scale.   

Secret Window

Today, most fans know Johnny Depp as the whimsical Disney pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, the whimsical Willy Wonka, or the less-whimsical but still very PG-13 Gellert Grindelwald. But there was a time when the actor was known for much more hard-edged roles in bloody actioners or murky thrillers like the psychological horror offering "Secret Window."

Here, Depp plays mystery writer Mort Rainey, whose life is crumbing around him following a brutal divorce. Trying to escape his personal pain, Mort holes himself away in a cabin for weeks to work in peace, although he struggles to write. That's when man named Shooter (John Turturro) arrives to confront Mort over claims that the author plagiarized Shooter's short story. At first, Mort denies the accusation, but as he tries to prove he wrote his story first, a string of crimes — including murder — begin occurring in the vicinity.  

As everything falls into place the film's finale, it's revealed that Mort suffers from a mental disorder, and he created the alternate personality of "Shooter" as a way to cope with his inner demons. It was always Mort's intention, acting as Shooter, to kill his ex-wife and her new husband. He succeeds in doing so by the end of the film and happily goes back to work.

Primal Fear

Early in his career, Edward Norton established himself as one of the best actors in Hollywood with a string of well-received roles that drew comparisons to the likes of Dustin Hoffman. One such movie was "Primal Fear," which starred A-lister Richard Gere in the lead role. Yet it was Norton in his first movie role who walked away with all the accolades.

Gere plays Martin Vail, a hotshot defense attorney obsessed with money and fame. However, Vail is attracted to the case of the murder of an archbishop, with the chief suspect being 19-year-old altar boy Aaron Stampler, played by Norton. Convinced of Aaron's innocence, Vail has a change of heart and agrees to represent him pro bono despite a mountain of evidence linking Aaron to the crime. The court case becomes a matter of convincing the jury that meek little Aaron, with his stutter and his violent split personality of "Roy," was not in his right mind when he killed the archbishop, a man he loved and admired. 

After a hard-fought battle, Vail wins his case and gets Aaron acquitted using the insanity plea. In one of the most shocking twists in cinema history, Aaron reveals to Vail at the end that he'd been acting the whole time. He had in fact been responsible for killing the archbishop in cold blood, and "Roy" was his true personality, while "Aaron" was mask he had put on for the benefit of Vail and the jury.   

Saw II

In 2004, "Saw" introduced to a world of gruesome deaths and a genuinely compelling villain in the shape of Jigsaw, a man who thinks people need to be made to suffer to truly appreciate their lives. 

The breakout success of the original "Saw" meant a sequel was released only a year later. This time around a new batch of victims are imprisoned by Jigsaw, including Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), a woman he'd captured once before. The group is then made to solve a series of bloody and horrifying "escape rooms" with the promise of a painful death if they fail to follow the instructions or try to cheat. 

After playing the game almost to the end, one of the last players left standing is Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), a corrupt cop who's ruined many lives by planting false evidence. After believing he's escaped, Matthews is captured once again, and it's revealed that Amanda has become an accomplice of Jigsaw's. She'd been working alongside the killer the whole time, and in the end, she leaves Matthews to die alone in a room while Jigsaw watches the whole thing with satisfaction.

Gothika

Shortly after winning her Oscar for "Monster's Ball," Halle Berry starred in "Gothika," a 2003 thriller with a solid supporting cast. We're talking Robert Downey Jr., Penélope Cruz, Charles S. Dutton, and John Carroll Lynch.

In the film, Berry plays the role of Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist who suffers a car crash one night. Waking up in the penitentiary where she works, Miranda is shocked to find out that she's been charged with killing her husband (Dutton), although she can't recall the events of the day he died. To make matters worse Miranda finds herself being visited by visions of a mutilated woman who seems to be trying to communicate with her. 

As Miranda travels deeper down the road to solving the mystery of her incarceration, it's revealed that her late husband had been a serial killer. To make matters worse, Miranda also realizes at the last moment that Sheriff Bob Ryan (Lynch), who was in charge of her case and seemed to be helping clear her name, was actually her late husband's accomplice who planned to kill her off as well.  

Scream

Even more than murder mysteries, the "Scream" series loves to pull the "secret killer" twist on audiences as a way to keep the plot interesting. And while every film in the franchise has kept Ghostface's identity a surprise until the very end, the best reveal in the series still belongs to the 1996 original.

The movie follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a high schooler struggling to cope with the brutal murder of her mother a year earlier. Sidney leans on her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and their friend circle for support. But soon enough, her friends are being targeted by the masked Ghostface killer who likes to make taunting phone calls to his victims before attacking them in their most vulnerable moment. 

As the plot unfolds, Sidney becomes convinced that Billy is the killer. But getting him jailed still doesn't stop the killer from finding another victim. Thus, Billy is released and reunites with a penitent Sidney. Things come to a head during the third act of the movie when Billy's best friend, Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard), throws a party to celebrate the early closure of their school. Amidst fresh murders at the party, Sidney finally learns that both Billy and Stu took turns becoming Ghostface to avoid suspicion falling on either one of them. 

Memento

Before Christopher Nolan became one of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood following the success of "The Dark Knight" trilogy, the talented auteur proved his credentials with "Memento," one of the best thrillers in Hollywood history.

The film opens with Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, which means that he forgets new memories after 15 minutes. As a result, Leonard has to keep taking photographs of all his immediate activities to keep track of what he's doing. What caused the amnesia? According to Leonard, two thugs broke into his home, assaulted him, and killed his beloved wife. However, the cops don't believe there were two criminals involved in the crime.

So Leonard embarks on a solo crusade to bring the second thug to justice, whose name Leonard believes to be "John G." After finally tracking down and killing the man he thinks to be John G, Leonard learns the startling truth. He'd already killed the person he was after a year ago, and he's been killing different men since then to keep up his confused crusade. This is because Leonard had been personally responsible for his wife's death, and finding new men to blame for her demise is his way of coping with his guilt.   

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock's reputation as a master of mystery and suspense relies a great deal on his 1960 psychological horror thriller classic "Psycho," the film that continues to have a major impact on pop culture and still influences new generations of filmmakers looking to startle their audience. 

"Psycho" opens with a woman named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) on the run from the law in connection with a crime. Looking for shelter for the night, Marion stops at the nondescript Bates Motel run by a timid and nervy manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a man who resides in a house near the motel along with his angry, abusive mother. That night, Marion is violently killed by a woman thought to be Norman's mom suffering from some sort of criminal mania. 

Marion's disappearance at the motel attracts the attention of her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), and local authorities. While Norman tries to head off the investigation, Lila conducts her own search that yields the mummified corpse of Norman's mother. It's then revealed that Norman had killed his mother many years ago and developed a split personality that prompted him to dress up like her and kill any woman he became attracted to, including Lila's late sister.

Identity

There's nothing scarier than a murder mystery in a tight, enclosed space. And filmmaker James Mangold agrees. Inspired by films like "Rear Window" and "Alien," Mangold directed 2003's neo-noir slasher "Identity."

Here, 10 travelers — all with different backgrounds and seemingly no connection to each other — are drawn to a deserted motel one night to escape a rainstorm. Over the night, one by one, each of the travelers are killed off. Meanwhile, in a different location, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) has been accused of committing the murders at the motel that night, and the only way to get him acquitted is with the help of a journal that may contain major clues regarding the truth about what really went down.  

Amidst a lot of twists and turns, it's revealed that all the characters at the motel are split personalities belonging to Malcolm's fractured psyche, and the purpose of imagining the motel is a way to help Malcolm kill off one particular alternate personality (Ray Liotta), which is a murderous psychopath. While Malcolm succeeds in killing off the personality he thinks is the killer, it's eventually revealed that the real threat all along had been "Timmy" (Bret Loehr), a 10-year-old alternate personality that had actually been responsible for the carnage at the hotel.