Agatha Christie’s exquisite crime stories have carved an enduring legacy, making her a celebrated literary figure of all time. Her influence, however, transcends the realms of print, extending into diverse media forms such as films, television series, radio, and stage plays. This widespread adaptation and celebration of her works have not only led to direct renditions but have also sparked inspiration among other artists, giving rise to successful movie franchises and intriguing characters. For instance, the amusing detective duo in the ‘Murder Mystery’ movies bear striking resemblances to Christie’s beloved Tommy and Tuppence, while the enigmatic Benoit Blanc of the ‘Knives Out’ franchise draws inspiration from her iconic Hercule Poirot.
Here is an overview of the top 5 movies adapted from Agatha Christie’s books.
Murder on the Orient Express
In Agatha Christie’s 1934 ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ Hercule Poirot boards the luxurious Orient Express train from Istanbul to London. But the uneventful journey he would have liked is disrupted when a passenger is murdered on the train, and Poirot soon discovers that the passengers on board are not what they appear to be.
Among the various adaptations of Agatha Christie’s works, the 2017 film, bearing the same title as the novel, stands out as the most commercially successful. This Hercule Poirot mystery, skillfully directed and produced by Kenneth Branagh, achieved a remarkable box office gross of $352.8 million, surpassing all other renditions while being created with a budget of $50 million. The film boasted an ensemble of renowned screen favorites, including Kenneth Branagh himself, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Tom Bateman, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridler, Leslie Odom Jr, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, among others, elevating its star-studded status.
Despite its overwhelming commercial success, this adaptation received relatively mixed reviews from critics, particularly when compared to an earlier 1974 version that shared the same title.
The 1974 version of ‘Murder on the Orient Express‘ was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, with other roles played by Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Wendy Hiller and many more. It was also a Box Office success, grossing $36 million when the cost of production was scarcely up to $2 million. This version is also one of the few adaptations that Christie was pleased with. Before this production, Christie had been unhappy with the adaptations of her works that she eventually stopped selling movie rights. But with some persuasion, she made an exception for this one and was pleased when she saw it at the cinema. It is said that her only complaint about the film was that Hercule Poirot’s famously stylish mustache was not well portrayed in the film.
Death on the Nile
The 1978 British film ‘Death on the Nile’ stands as one of the most highly regarded adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work. Based on Christie’s 1937 novel of the same name, this Hercule Poirot mystery was skillfully adapted by Anthony Shaffer and directed by John Guillerman. The movie features a stellar cast led by Peter Ustinov in the role of Hercule Poirot, alongside talents like Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Beth Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Jane Birkin, and others. Garnering predominantly positive reviews, the film also earned several prestigious awards and nominations, solidifying its place among the best Christie adaptations.
In the year 2022, another film adaptation of ‘Death on the Nile’ was released, this time directed and produced by Kenneth Branagh, who also wrote the screenplay alongside Michael Green. This version elicited mixed reactions from critics. Traditional purist critics disapproved of the alterations made to the characters and plot, while more liberal critics praised it for infusing a modern touch to the story and incorporating contemporary themes, such as lesbianism and racial dynamics.
The gripping plot revolves around a woman named Linnet, who marries her best friend’s ex-fiance, causing her best friend to feel betrayed and subsequently stalk and provoke her. Tragedy strikes when Linnet is murdered aboard a cruise ship, prompting Poirot to take on the challenge of uncovering the killer’s identity from a pool of suspects, each with a potential motive for the crime.
There are many adaptations of ‘And Then There Were None,’ but many of them fell short of Agatha Christie’s approval because they made too many alterations to the original story, especially with the endings—making Claythorne and Lombard survive, contrary to the original text where everyone on the island died. However, a 2015 TV miniseries adaption stands out for staying true to the details of the original text and is also the most critically acclaimed, gaining an impressive 6 million views on its debut. This miniseries was written by Sarah Phelps, directed by Craig Viveiros, and produced by Agatha Christie Production Company and Mammoth Screen.
The three-episode drama based on Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel ‘And Then There Were None‘ was created in celebration of Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday marked in the year 2015. The casting featured Charles Dance as Justice Wargrave, Maeve Dermody as Vera Claythorne, Aiden Turner as Philip Lombard, Sam Neil as General MacArthur, Burn Gorman as Sergent Blore, Toby Stephens as Doctor Armstrong, Miranda Richardson as Emily Brent, Noah Taylor as Thomas Rogers, Anna Maxwell Martin as Ethel Rogers, and Douglas Booth as Anthony Marston.
The general plot has ten strangers invited by a mysterious host to an isolated island where they soon discover that they have been marked for death by an unknown person among them. Each person dies according to the details of a nursery rhyme, and after each death, the speculations and mental turmoil of the other survivors heighten.
Witness for the Prosecution
This is a 1957 legal thriller film with interesting plot twists based on a 1953 play by Agatha Christie also titled ‘Witness for the Prosecution.’ The screenplay was written by Larry Marcus, Billy Wilder, and Harry Kurnitz. It was directed by Billy Wilder. and starred Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Elsa Lancaster.
A young man Leonard Vole is accused of killing a rich widow Emily French who had made him the beneficiary of her assets in her will. Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a senior barrister recovering from a heart attack, takes on the case as the defence attorney despite medical advice warning him against taking on criminal cases.
Sir Robarts meets Leonard’s German wife Christine, who provides an unconvincing alibi for Leonard. However, Sir Robarts is shocked when Christine is brought into the trial as a witness for the prosecution. Getting to the truth of the matter becomes a near-impossible task as revenge, passion, and greed complicate the inquest.
This 2017 film was adapted from Agatha Christie’s mystery novel released in 1949, also with the name ‘Crooked House.’ It was directed by Giles Paquet-Brenner with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price, and Giles Paquet-Brenner.
The film is about an investigation into the death of an ill-mannered patriarch of an eccentric family. All the members of his family have the motive to kill him because of his bullying and because of the handsome inheritance at stake. As investigations progress, more murders occur, and eventually, an unlikely murderer emerges.
How many Agatha Christie books were turned into movies?
About thirty (30) of Agatha Christie’s books have been adapted into movies. Sometimes, a single Agatha Christie title is adapted several times by different film-makers from different countries and in various languages, and this has led to the production of over a hundred Agatha Christie films.
What was the first Agatha Christie film?
The first film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s work is a 1928 film titled ‘The Passing of Mr Quin’. It was adapted from Agatha Christie’s short story titled ‘The Coming of Mr Quin’ that was part of ‘The Mysterious Mr Quin‘ collection.
The film was produced by Julius Hagen, who also co-directed it with Leslie S. Hiscott.
Why is ‘Death on the Nile‘ banned?
The 2022 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel ‘Death on the Nile‘ with the same title is banned in some countries like Lebanon and Kuwait. The reason for the ban is because the movie stars Gal Gadot who is of Israeli origin and is seen as an ambassador of Isreal because she once won the Miss World Beauty Pageant as Miss Isreal.
Lebanon and Kuwait do not have good diplomatic relations with Isreal, hence the ban.
What is the highest-grossing Agatha Christie movie?
The highest-grossing film adapted from Agatha Christie’s books is the 2022 film ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ based on the 1934 novel of the same name. The movie was produced on a $50 million budget and grossed a whooping sum of $352.8 million at the Box Office. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh who also played the role of Hercule Poirot in the film.