Why the Next Agatha Christie Film Adaptation Shouldn’t Feature Hercule Poirot


Summary

  • Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot film series could reach its end due to disappointing box office performance, leaving few options for future Agatha Christie film adaptations.
  • The reinvigorated approach in the latest film, A Haunting in Venice, with a sidekick and supernatural elements, failed to appeal to audiences despite positive reviews.
  • The dwindling popularity of Branagh’s Poirot trilogy suggests that major Agatha Christie film adaptations may be on hiatus, and future adaptations will likely be limited to television unless there is an effort to attract younger audiences.


If Agatha Christie had lived to see Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot film trilogy, specifically Branagh’s determined performance as Christie’s inimitable fictional Belgian detective Poirot, it’s hard to imagine that Miss Christie, who died in 1976 at the age of eighty-five, wouldn’t have, at the very least, given Branagh high marks for sheer effort and style.

However, given the disappointing box office performance of A Haunting in Venice, the third film in Branagh’s Poirot film series, there doesn’t seem to be any viable commercial path for the continuation of the series, which began with Murder on the Orient Express, the 2017 remake of the 1974 film of the same name.

While there have been countless Christie television adaptations over the past fifty years, the 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express marked the first major Christie film adaptation since the 1982 mystery film Evil Under the Sun, which stars Peter Ustinov as Poirot, whom Ustinov previously portrayed in the 1978 film Death on the Nile.

The steadily downward box office trajectory of Branagh’s Poirot film trilogy seems to have heralded another extended lull before the next Christie film adaptation. Moreover, as the Poirot film series has now seemingly run its course, there are very few other good options for possible future Christie film adaptations.


No Future for Poirot

The box office performance of Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice was especially disappointing given that the film represented an aggressive attempt to reinvigorate the series by giving Branagh’s Hercule Poirot a sidekick in the form of Tina Fey’s mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver and incorporating a supernatural element within the series.

However, while this somewhat revamped approach to the previously staid series format received generally positive reviews, audiences largely rejected the mixture. A Haunting in Venice, which had a reported production cost of $60 million, grossed approximately $120 million at the worldwide box office, down from the $137.3 million that the previous entry, Branagh’s 2022 remake of Death on the Nile, grossed at the worldwide box office. Of course, these figures pale in comparison to the box office performance of Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express remake, which grossed over $350 million at the worldwide box office.

Related: Best Agatha Christie Movies, Ranked

Indeed, as the box office performance of A Haunting in Venice likely won’t result in a substantial loss for distributor 20th Century Studios, which might even achieve profitability with the film once all post-theatrical revenue streams for the film are accounted for, Branagh’s Poirot film series has clearly become a franchise of diminishing returns.

Moreover, while Branagh’s Poirot film trilogy can certainly be regarded as having been at least somewhat successful when viewed in its entirety, there’s no commercial rationale for continuing with the series. Given how far A Haunting in Venice strayed from the traditional Agatha Christie format for the purpose of courting a wider audience, to little avail, there doesn’t seem to be any scenario in which a fourth Poirot film could reverse the trilogy’s steady decline in popularity.

Agatha Christie Needs a Makeover

Murder on the Orient Express

Release Date
November 3, 2017

Director
Kenneth Branagh

Cast
Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Kenneth Branagh

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
114

Main Genre
Drama

Prior to Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express, the last non-Hercule Poirot Agatha Christie film adaptation was the 1980 film The Mirror Crack’d, which stars Angela Lansbury as Miss Jane Marple, the elderly amateur sleuth who is featured in twelve Christie novels and twenty short stories. Between 1961 and 1964, Margaret Rutherford, who was then in her seventies, played Miss Marple in four films.

Indeed, while the Miss Marple character is unquestionably Christie’s most famous character, beyond Poirot, the character’s elderly spinster persona makes a possible film adaptation seem impractical.

Related: Every Hercule Poirot Movie, Ranked

Moreover, as the Marple character has been so heavily identified as a television character over the past fifty years through a multitude of television projects, it’s hard to conceive of Marple as a film character.

While the Poirot character had certainly also been immortalized on television prior to Branagh’s portrayal, most especially through David Suchet’s unforgettable performance as Poirot in the long-running British mystery drama television series Poirot, Branagh, who was approaching his late fifties when he was cast as Poirot, and Suchet, who was approaching his mid-forties when Poirot debuted in 1989, seem like proverbial spring chickens compared to Miss Marple.

One possible solution to the age dilemma is a younger Miss Marple prequel film. Indeed, in 2022, producing and writing partners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar revealed how they attempted to develop a young Miss Marple television series, which never came to fruition.

The Next Generation

Jessica Raine as Tuppence Beresford and David Walliams as Tommy Beresford, with Tuppence wearing a light colored button up dress and a yellow hair accessory and Tommy wearing a grey suit while they sit on a train.
BBC

Beyond Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s most recurring fictional characters are the husband-and-wife sleuthing team of Thomas and Tuppence Beresford, better known as Tommy and Tuppence, whom Christie first introduced in her 1922 mystery novel The Secret Adversary, Christie’s second published novel.

In stark contrast to Marple, Tommy and Tuppence are introduced as two young sleuths who, after the end of World War I, fall in love while pursuing adventure and mystery before getting married at the end of The Secret Adversary.

Following The Secret Adversary, Tommy and Tuppence, who are in their early twenties in The Secret Adversary, became the first recurring Christie characters to be allowed to age and essentially live their lives over the course of real time.

Moreover, besides their refreshing youthfulness, Tommy and Tuppence, unlike Marple and Poirot, have only appeared sporadically in film and on television, most notably, and recently, in the six-part BBC television series Partners in Crime, which debuted in July 2015 and received good ratings and reviews.

Indeed, as the seeming demise of Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot film series seems to indicate that another major Agatha Christie film adaptation won’t be forthcoming for a very long time, it seems like virtually all future filmed Christie adaptations will be television projects unless the controllers of Christie’s estate find a way to refresh the Christie brand for younger audiences.

If you’re interested in our interview with A Haunting in Venice cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, check out the video below.



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