Last Updated: April 20th
“Thriller” is kind of a catch-all term for movies that bleed into multiple genres. It can describe films rich with drama, action, crime, and quite possibly horror. That’s why its Netflix category is such a hodgepodge of entries, varying in tone, subject matter, and quality. A good thriller, though, is going to be suspenseful for any number of reasons. An unstoppable killer. An unsolvable mystery. A gripping world that draws viewers into it. A sympathetic character fighting for survival. Something that can keep an audience on the edge of its seats. And based on that, here are the 10 best thrillers on Netflix right now.
15. The Bar (2017)
A varied group of people is stuck in a bar after a man is gunned down outside. As the paranoia spreads and they turn on one another, they discover a mysterious sickness could be the culprit. It’s a bottle-type plot that has been done before — locking a bunch of frenzied folks in a cage and let instincts take their course — but this Spanish thriller injects its own dark comedy and keeps the answers to a minimum, making an entertaining story that unfortunately favors the “dark” over the “comedy” in its final act.
14. Super Dark Times (2017)
2017 saw a lot of Stephen King adaptations, but one of the best King-inspired films bore his influence but not his name. The promising directorial debut of Kevin Phillips, Super Dark Times follows a group of bored ‘90s teenagers as they talk about girls and look for some excitement. They find more than they bargained for, however, when they start playing around with a katana found in one of the boys’ brother’s room. The title proves apt, and though the story might not offer too many surprises (and peters out a bit by the end) both the performances from the young cast and Phillips’ stylish direction suggest we haven’t seen the last of anyone involved in this movie yet.
13. Cube (1997)
The genius of Cube is in its simplicity. A group of strangers awakens to find themselves in a complex system of identical rooms, many of which contain hidden, lethal traps for anyone clueless enough to enter them. With no knowledge of where they are, how they got there, or why they’re there, they have to work together to escape and/or — usually and — die trying. As it all pretty much takes place in a single room, it’s a prime example that the only things needed are a solid idea, a little money, and the stomach to depict people getting their faces melted or their bodies diced by razor-sharp wire. The follow-up installments go a little further out there in ideas and the world outside the Cube, but the original can’t be topped thanks to its unnerving score and tense, claustrophobic nature.
12. The Interview (1998)
What starts out like a Kafka story turns into a tense match between a seemingly innocent man (Hugo Weaving) and a menacing detective with his own demons (Tony Martin). The former is snatched up and interrogated by the authorities for reasons that are slowly revealed to him, and as the hours drag by, both men become more and more desperate. Weaving knocks it out of the park, keeping the detectives and audience guessing as his true demeanor is constantly put in question. Martin is no slouch either as he does his best to expose Weaving’s character for the monster that he sees, even if it costs him his job and sanity. The writing is taut and the environment is claustrophobic, which propels the mysteries behind the two lead characters.
11. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Hijinks-y teen movies and all, 1999 was an impressive year for movies. Magnolia, Fight Club, The Green Mile, Being John Malkovich, The Matrix… The list goes on and on. Among those entries is M. Night Shyamalan’s first big release, and one of his best (behind Unbreakable, of course). This was a simpler time, before seeing his name in trailers garnered skepticism. Centered on a boy who can’t separate the dead from the living and his child psychologist with issues of his own, The Sixth Sense remains one of four horror movies to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s endlessly tense, driven by strong performances from the two leads over jump scares. It’s held up well, even if it’s established a tough hurdle for the director’s future efforts to clear.
10. The Gift (2015)
A thriller about a creepy man that takes some unexpected twists, The Gift is the directorial debut of Joel Edgerton, who co-stars as the awkward, possibly dangerous, Gordon “Gordo” Mosley. When Mosley’s childhood friend Simon (Jason Bateman) returns to LA with his wife Robyn, Gordon uses the opportunity to reconnect. But then he doesn’t go away. It’s a set-up that seems like it’s going to head in an obvious direction then doesn’t, in part because it’s an expert showcase for the darkness lurking just beneath the surface of a lot of Bateman performances. The end takes it in an even more uncomfortable direction, one that might be too much for some viewers but which keeps with Edgerton’s uncompromising approach.
9) The Wailing (2016)
Is there ever a time where a mysterious stranger shows up in a small town, and everyone is better off from it? Well, The Wailing is no exception to the familiar inciting incident, as it focuses on a village in South Korea that sees the spread of a terrifying illness once a shady character moves into its surrounding forest. As people start dying, a police officer starts investigating and is sucked into a brutal puzzle. While it’s about 30 minutes too long and the tone isn’t always consistent, The Wailing keeps its audience guessing as much as its protagonist. Its unique religious realism turns this dream-like story into a memorable nightmare.
8. The Road (2009)
You can all but disregard the tone, colors, and action-packed nature of the trailer above. The Road is a somber, slow tale, and an emotionally fatiguing one that pretty much cuts your heart out. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t thrilling in its own way. The Cormac McCarthy adaptation takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but that’s only the backdrop for a gripping relationship between a man and his son. Once the world sorta ends — not much time is spent on the “why” — the man struggles to keep his son alive amidst murderers, cannibals, and despair. It’s rough. It’s bleak. It’s a terrifying, dying world that sucks you in as you can almost feel the cold and taste the hunger. But it’s the little moments of hope and love in the pair’s lives that makes it all worthwhile.
7. The Prestige (2006)
Between this, The Illusionist, and Scoop, 2006 was a stellar year for movies about magicians, but The Prestige is the one most worth revisiting. After a fatal accident, two magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) try to one-up each other with increasingly more mesmerizing tricks (sorry, illusions) and intricate disguises. Breaking up his Batman trilogy, Christopher Nolan seems at home crafting the moody thriller, seeing as how thrillers is where he first made an impression with Following and Memento. Also, David Bowie plays Nikola Tesla. It’s a dark, well-shot mystery that’ll keep you guessing.
6. Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition (2010)
So technically this is three movies, and technically technically this is the mini-series version that splits each movie up into two extended “episodes,” but the Millennium adaptation has rightly earned its spot on the list. The first story, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, brings together disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and rogue hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) as they try to solve a mysterious murder, while the second and third stories see Salander framed for murder as Blomkvist attempts to exonerate her. The series is carried by Rapace as the titular “Girl Who Something-Something” and, if anything, doesn’t have enough of the unique, powerful character. While Dragon Tattoo is the stand-out, they’re all strong, fast-paced thrillers worth every 558 minutes of its entirety.
5. Michael Clayton (2007)
Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut focuses on the titular Michael Clayton (George Clooney), a down-and-out “fixer” trying to reign in a lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) who’s had a psychotic break while working a pharmaceutical case. As Clayton learns more about the drug company, he’s put in the crosshairs of the desperate, cutthroat general counsel (Tilda Swinton) looking to keep it all quiet. The characters are pushed to their respective edges and forced to decide what kind of people they want to be. It involves a lot of talking about legal documents and pensive looks at legal documents, but it’s powered by the Oscar-nominated performances of its three leads and a thrilling script, most of which were overshadowed by a particularly outstanding awards year (although Swinton went home with a win).
4. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Three very different detectives — one uncompromisingly by-the-books (Guy Pearce), one fueled by rage (Russell Crowe), and one sleazy (Kevin Spacey) — get wrapped up in a web of corruption, drugs, and murder throughout Los Angeles in the ’50s. The winner of two Oscars (and possible would-be winner of more had it not come out against Titanic), L.A. Confidential combines classic, thrilling crime noir elements with the pristine perception of L.A. at the time, an intentional effort from its director Curtis Hanson. Despite the recognizable names filling out the lead roles, Pearce and Crowe weren’t widely known in America at the time and were a gamble from Hanson. But their performances are what carry the film, along with a surprising turn from James Cromwell.
3. It Follows (2015)
Sometimes the best horror movies have the simplest of concepts: A nearly unkillable thing is on its way to kill you. It worked for The Terminator, Halloween, and so many others, but It Follows takes a novel approach to the concept. The story centers on a girl who catches a sexually transmitted monster (STM) that’s only goal is to slowly follow its current victim until it can brutally execute them. No one who hasn’t been the monster’s prey can see it, it can take any human form it wants, and the only way to escape it is to pass it along to another sexual partner. The eerie cinematography and retro score push this thriller into a terrifying territory to the point where you might not trust anyone walking toward you for a few days after watching it.
2. Se7en (1995)
David Fincher’s Se7en follows a veteran detective on his way off the force (Morgan Freeman) and his begrudging, untested replacement (Brad Pitt) as they travel from poorly lit room to poorly lit room on the trail of a psychotic killer. The sin-driven murders are grizzly and grotesque but seem somewhat at home in the grungey, desolate world that Fincher creates. It’s certainly worth a fresh rewatch on a sunny day that’s a little too devoid of hopelessness.
1. Oldboy (2003)
Oh Dae-su, a man imprisoned for 15 years, searches for answers in this Korean director Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of the Japanese manga. Part film noir, part revenge story, Oldboy tells a raw tale of a smart but confused average Joe, and the action sequences reflect that. There aren’t any highly choreographed martial arts, no sword-swinging spectacle. Just a lot of brutality. The sucker punch of an ending will linger with you, nearly as much as the tense hallway fight that’s synonymous with Oldboy.