Both in his original films and his foray into a galaxy far, far away, Rian Johnson is known for his twisty-turny plots and stylish flair, while simultaneously peppering his movies -- Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi -- with homages to his favorite cinema from the past and nods, in equal parts, to beloved and obscure pop culture.
The writer-director's latest is the Agatha Christie-esque Knives Out, a star-studded whodunit revolving around a murdered crime author, the deceased's dysfunctional family and a celebrity detective dead set on exposing their deepest, darkest secrets. Ahead of the its release, ET's Ash Crossan asked Johnson to assign us some Knives Out homework, aka the must-see movies that inspired his new caper.
"Let's not call it homework, that doesn't sound fun," he laughed. "How about I give you three awesome movies that you're going to love that will not feel like homework?"
1. The Last of Sheila (1973)
Johnson's first recommendation is to track down director Herbert Ross' murder mystery drama. One year after the hit-and-run death of gossip columnist Sheila (Yvonne Romain), her husband and their closest friends gather for a Mediterranean cruise and a deadly round of "The Sheila Greene Memorial Gossip Game"
"This is a crazy 1970s movie that was written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins and it's about a bunch of rich people who get together on a yacht for a murder game, where the host has assigned everyone [a secret to keep]. It's like a murder mystery party and, of course, it goes horribly wrong and someone dies. It is so funky and so '70s and so cool."
2. Death on the Nile (1978)
Kenneth Branagh is the most recent actor to portray Agatha Christie's famed detective -- in 2017's "Murder on the Orient Express" and again in a new take on "Death on the Nile" -- but director John Guillermin cast actor Peter Ustinov to sport Hercule's signature mustache and solve the case of a murdered heiress aboard a luxurious Egyptian cruise.
"The original, late-'70s Death on the Nile. Peter Ustinov as Poirot, he's hilarious. It's an all-star cast. Betty Davis is freaking in it. Mia Farrow is amazing in it, she plays the lead. David Niven [plays Poirot's friend, Colonel Race]. It's phenomenal and so much fun."
3. Columbo (1971-2003)
The late Peter Falk starred as LAPD homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo for 10 seasons of the crime procedural, winning four Emmys along the way.
"If you've never seen the original Columbo, go back and watch. They are so much fun and they are so good. There's one called 'Murder by the Book' which Steven Spielberg directed, which was one of the first ones, that's really fun to watch. But they're all fantastic. And if you're a fan of '70s actors, they got the most fun people. Dick Van Dyke -- he's not a '70s actor -- but he plays the murderer in one of them, that's the level of people they were getting to come in and do these crimes."