Is Knives Out Based on a Book?

Is Knives Out Based on a Book

In the cinematic landscape, where adaptations of books frequently hit the silver screen, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out emerges as a refreshing anomaly. A modern-day whodunit, this film captivates with its twists, stellar cast, and meticulous details that paint a larger picture. However, one question that seems to pique the curiosity of many is whether this masterfully crafted narrative finds its roots in a literary counterpart.

To set the record straight from the onset: Knives Out is not based on a book. Instead, it’s a brilliant original screenplay by Johnson, an ode to detective stories of the past while carving its unique place in contemporary cinema. With that clarification made, let’s embark on a journey to unravel the various facets that make this film a standout in its genre.

Is Knives Out Based on a Book?

This is a question many have asked given the intricate plot and well-developed characters of the film. Knives Out is not based on a book, but its story is heavily influenced by the mystery genre that has been well-represented in literature.

It draws inspiration from various sources, primarily from the works of classic mystery authors like Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. Director Rian Johnson penned the screenplay himself, crafting a fresh, modern take on the classic whodunit.

While many films today are adaptations of books, comic books, or previous films, Knives Out stands as a testament to the thriving originality still present in Hollywood. It’s a reminder that innovative storytelling isn’t confined to the pages of a book.

Modern filmgoers often expect a film’s plot to be picked from a best-selling novel, and for good reason. Some of the most successful films in the past decades have been adaptations of popular books. However, Knives Out proves that a film can have a tight, engaging plot without being based on any pre-existing material.

The Influence of Classic Mysteries

As previously mentioned, Knives Out isn’t a stranger to the inspirations it draws from. Agatha Christie, often referred to as the Queen of Mystery, penned numerous detective novels which set the standard for the genre. Characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple tackled convoluted cases, filled with red herrings and unexpected twists. In a similar vein, Knives Out presents viewers with a complex family, each member having their motives and secrets, echoing the traditional setting of many of Christie’s tales.

Likewise, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has become an emblem of detective fiction. The sharp observation and logical deduction displayed by Holmes in Doyle’s works find a reflection in Knives Out‘s private investigator, Benoit Blanc.

The film industry often leans on established works due to the existing fanbase and the decreased risk associated with adapting a successful book. However, original screenplays are essential for the growth and diversity of cinema.

Knives Out

Films like Knives Out play a pivotal role in this. They challenge conventions, bring fresh ideas, and, most importantly, give audiences new stories they haven’t seen or read before. Original works provide screenwriters and directors with the flexibility to mold their narrative without being tied down to the constraints of an existing storyline.

In a world dominated by franchise films, sequels, and adaptations, Knives Out emerges as a breath of fresh air. It’s a reminder of the power of an original screenplay and the potential it holds. The movie’s commercial and critical success indicates that audiences are hungry for fresh stories, proving that original tales have a robust place in modern cinema.

The All-Star Cast, Filming Locations and Music and Mood

Rian Johnson, the visionary director behind Knives Out, has an eclectic filmography that spans various genres. Prior to this film, he directed the time-bending sci-fi thriller Looper, and was also at the helm for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which showcased his ability to handle both original stories and significant franchises. Johnson’s innovative direction and distinctive storytelling approach have firmly established him as a formidable force in contemporary cinema.

Knives Out boasts an ensemble cast that has undoubtedly played a huge role in its widespread acclaim. Featuring stars like Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Jamie Lee Curtis, alongside talented newcomers, the cast breathed life into their intricate characters, adding depth and nuance. Each actor managed to shine, even while sharing the screen with so many other seasoned performers, underscoring the strength of both the script and their individual talents.

Filming Locations of Knives Out

The grand mansion where most of the film unfolds is as much a character in the story as the ensemble cast. Located in Massachusetts, the mansion provided the perfect backdrop for a modern-day whodunit, exuding old-world charm and mystery.

Its intricate design and the surrounding landscapes enhanced the narrative, immersing the audience into the heart of the unfolding drama.

Music and Mood

The soundtrack of Knives Out perfectly complements the film’s tone. Crafted by Nathan Johnson, Rian’s cousin, the score weaves tension, suspense, and moments of levity seamlessly. By using unique instruments and melodic choices, the music becomes an unspoken narrator, guiding the audience through the twists and turns of the story.

Influences Beyond Books

While Knives Out draws heavily from classical detective literature, there are elements that suggest inspiration from real-life events and popular culture. The complexities of family dynamics, inheritance disputes, and societal expectations give the movie a realistic touch, mirroring issues that many viewers might find relatable.

The acclaim surrounding Knives Out suggests that the audience’s appetite for mystery films is still robust. The modern whodunit seems to be experiencing a renaissance, with filmmakers blending traditional elements with contemporary themes. Knives Out stands as an example of this fusion, paving the way for more innovative mysteries in cinema.

Reception by Audience

Audiences worldwide embraced Knives Out with enthusiasm. Its blend of humor, suspense, and drama made it a favorite for both casual moviegoers and hardcore cinephiles. Social media platforms buzzed with discussions, theories, and praise for the film, indicating its widespread appeal.

Commercially, Knives Out exceeded expectations. The movie garnered impressive ticket sales, making it one of the standout hits of its release year. Its strong performance reaffirmed the marketability of original screenplays and demonstrated that a well-told story, irrespective of its source, can captivate audiences.


The making of Knives Out had its share of interesting anecdotes. From the camaraderie among the cast members to the challenges of filming intricate sequences, the production phase was as vibrant as the film itself.

Stories from the set suggest a collaborative atmosphere, where each person, from the director to the supporting staff, contributed passionately to the project.

Comparisons to Other Mystery Films

While adhering to many traditional detective story elements, Knives Out refreshes several tropes. Instead of a brooding detective, we get Benoit Blanc with his unique charm. The usual suspects aren’t just black and white characters; they have depth, flaws, and motivations, adding layers to the mystery.

Every detail in Knives Out, from the costumes to the props, was meticulously chosen to reflect the characters’ personalities and the story’s setting. The opulence of the Thrombey mansion was juxtaposed with the more grounded and modern attire of some characters, symbolizing the clash of old-world values with contemporary ones.

When pitted against iconic detective movies, Knives Out holds its ground, offering a blend of humor and suspense that’s uniquely its own. While it shares thematic elements with classics like Murder on the Orient Express or Clue, its fresh take on the whodunit genre sets it apart.

The Power of Word of Mouth

The success of Knives Out can be attributed in part to word-of-mouth recommendations. Positive reviews from early viewers spurred more people to watch it, creating a ripple effect that boosted its popularity. The discussions it spawned, both online and offline, only added to its allure.

Knives Out didn’t go unnoticed during award season. Garnering multiple nominations, it was celebrated for its screenplay, direction, and performances, further cementing its status as a standout film. While it faced stiff competition, its nominations alone speak to its quality and the impression it left on both critics and the general audience.

Who is the Real Villain of Knives Out?

In Knives Out, the storyline unravels itself in layers, leading the audience on a complex maze to find out the truth. While the initial premise is centered on the mysterious death of Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy crime novelist, the plot soon spirals into a tale of deceit, betrayal, and ulterior motives.

Ransom Drysdale, Harlan’s grandson, played by Chris Evans, emerges as the central antagonist. As the story progresses, we learn that Ransom felt slighted by his family and, in particular, by his grandfather’s decision regarding his will. Out of spite and greed, Ransom devises a plot to murder Harlan and frame Marta, Harlan’s nurse, for the crime.

Is Knives Out Based on a Book

Ransom’s plan includes switching Harlan’s medication, resulting in an apparent overdose. However, due to unexpected turns in the events and Harlan’s own actions, the plan doesn’t proceed exactly as Ransom anticipated.

It is through the brilliant deductions of private detective Benoit Blanc that Ransom’s malevolent scheme is brought to light. Despite Ransom’s attempts to maintain a façade of innocence, his malevolent intentions become clear as the investigation progresses.

Is Knives Out a Parody?

Knives Out has been lauded for its contemporary take on the classic whodunit genre, bringing forth a unique blend of humor, suspense, and sharp social commentary. When considering if it’s a parody, it’s essential to understand the difference between homage, inspiration, and outright parody.

A parody often imitates the characteristic style of another work or works, using exaggeration for comedic effect. While parodies can sometimes be a form of tribute, they usually aim to poke fun at or critique the original material.

Knives Out does contain elements that playfully nod to traditional murder mystery tropes, especially those popularized by writers like Agatha Christie. The grand mansion setting, the dysfunctional wealthy family, the unexpected will, and the outsider detective all fit seamlessly into the traditional detective narrative. However, Rian Johnson doesn’t just use these elements for comedic exaggeration. Instead, he molds them into a fresh narrative, with twists that are both respectful of and distinct from its genre predecessors.

The film does blend elements of humor and irony, particularly in its portrayal of the Thrombey family, which is filled with eccentric and often morally ambiguous characters. Yet, it’s not an outright mockery of the detective genre. Instead, Johnson provides a revitalized take, infusing the storyline with relevant social commentary, especially concerning class and privilege.

So, no, Knives Out is not a parody. While it employs humor and uses well-established tropes, it stands as a genuine homage to the genre and introduces a unique and compelling narrative that sets it apart from typical detective stories.

Why is it Called Knives Out?

Titles of movies often capture the essence of the narrative or provide symbolic insight into the themes explored within. In the case of Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, the title not only fits the murder mystery motif but also holds a deeper symbolic significance.

  • Literal Significance: The most prominent visual connection to the title is the large display of knives arranged in a circular pattern, resembling a radial “throne” or “altar” in Harlan Thrombey’s mansion. This display becomes a central focal point in several scenes and particularly in the climax, reinforcing the theme of danger and the potential threat of betrayal.
  • Figurative Interpretation: The phrase “knives out” typically means to be on the attack or to confront someone aggressively. Given the movie’s plot, where various family members have their grievances, secrets, and motives, this expression underscores the underlying tensions within the Thrombey family. Almost everyone has their “knives out,” ready to fight for their stake in Harlan’s fortune.
  • Thematic Depth: Beyond the family dynamics, the title can also be seen as a reflection of societal tensions, class struggles, and the cutthroat nature of personal ambitions. Each character, in their way, has their “knives out,” whether that’s in the pursuit of wealth, preserving their status, or simply surviving the snares of the family’s web of deceit.