30 Best Thriller Movies You Shouldn’t Watch Alone
Hold on to your popcorn! You're in for twists and turns with the best thriller movies ever created.
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Hold on to your seat
They may not offer the gore or jump scares of horror movies, but the best thriller movies still set your heart racing. Think of ’em as part drama movie, part action movie with suspense turned up to ten. They can be quietly disconcerting, uncomfortably real, and packed with twists and turns that keep you guessing until the very end.
Each of the movies on our list brings thrills, chills, and gut-clenching suspense. You’ll find Oscar winners, cult classics, recently released gems, and films that took pop culture by storm. Our list of the best thriller movies is filled with iconic performances, heady mysteries, twist endings, heists, and car chases. Some of these films defined the genre when they came out, changing audiences forever.
Whether you love a slow-burn psychological shocker or action-filled adventure, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for. Not your cup of tea—or, should we say, bucket of popcorn? Press play on one of the best movies of all time or a romantic movie that’ll get your heart racing for a totally different reason.
1. The Sixth Sense
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
“I see dead people.” Everyone felt a chill down their spine when a young Haley Joel Osment whispered the famous line. Bruce Willis plays the child psychologist sent to help him deal with his ghostly visions. M. Night Shyamalan earned his rep as the king of twist endings after he pulled a fast one with this flick—the shocking finale is part of what made The Sixth Sense a blockbuster. Add these family movies to your must-see list for something a little less chilling.
2. Primal Fear
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Edward Norton earned rave reviews for his performance as a sweet, mentally ill man accused of murder. He suffers from multiple personality disorder, so lawyer Richard Gere goes for an insanity plea. The audience gets pulled along for twists and turns that are absolutely chilling. When you’re in the mood for a great courtroom thriller with an ending that turns the story on its head, this is the flick to pick. If this movie’s too tense for your liking, lighten the mood with one of these laugh-out-loud funny comedy movies.
3. No Way Out
Director: Roger Donaldson
In one of the best thriller movies from the ’80s, Kevin Costner plays Tom Farrell, a young naval officer who’s hunting a KGB mole named Yuri. The taut story melds intrigue with romance: While spying on the secretary of defense (played by Gene Hackman), Farrell falls in love with the man’s girlfriend. Come for the mystery and stay for the shocking twist ending. The film was based on the classic 1946 noir novel The Big Clock. Check out more great books made into movies.
4. The Village
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Prepare for another shocker courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan, a director famous for twist endings that change everything you thought you knew about the film. This one takes place in an old-timey forest village where residents are terrified of a mysterious monster living in the woods. William Hurt plays the chief elder, and he dissuades anyone from straying too far or looking for nearby towns lest they become monster meat. But everything is not as it seems. If this puts you in the mood for sci-fi, don’t miss our ranking of Star Wars movies.
5. The Usual Suspects
Director: Bryan Singer
Who is Keyser Söze? The Usual Suspects poses the question early on but doesn’t answer it until the very last moment—a climax that shocked audiences with its brilliance. The film mixes the present-day testimony of a low-level crook, who’s sharing his story with a detective played by Chazz Palminteri, with flashbacks focused on the gang of criminals he runs around with and the mythic tales of the master kingpin, Keyser Söze. Prepare for a twisted path of bad guy mayhem. This thriller took the ’90s by storm, winning a slew of awards, including two Oscars. Looking for something totally different? Try one of these movie musicals instead.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock turned up the creep factor in this classic that ends with a huge surprise. As far as suspense movies go, Psycho was groundbreaking, giving rise to the modern slasher genre. The infamous shower scene is a marvel of editing that will freak you out even in black and white. If you’re a fan of the dark and disturbing, pick up one of the best horror books and satisfy your dark side.
7. The Others
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Nicole Kidman stars in this atmospheric thriller about a widow living in a creepy old mansion with her two kids, who happen to be allergic to light. After odd events occur, the woman begins to suspect her house is haunted by ghosts she calls “the others.” Tragic, scary, and a total surprise ending, this is one of the best thriller movies for anyone who loves artsy camera work and gorgeously off-kilter art design. If you need a good time of year to watch the flick, it’s the perfect Halloween movie.
8. The Game
Director: David Fincher
In this noir thriller, Michael Douglas and Sean Penn play estranged brothers with a tragic past. After one of the brothers gives the other an elaborate “game” for his birthday, his life goes off the rails. His house gets vandalized, and his TV starts talking to him. More freaky hijinks await around every corner as his life veers into total destruction on the way to a crazy twist that you won’t see coming. If you love movies about celebrations, check out the best New Year’s Eve movies.
9. Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese
Based on the mystery novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is the psychological thriller to watch on a dark and stormy night. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a cop who travels to a mental hospital on an island off the coast of Boston to investigate a patient who went missing. All manner of craziness ensues when a storm traps him on the isolated island. The atmospheric dive into psychological mayhem culminates with a shocking climax that’ll have you hitting rewind to make sure you caught the twist.
10. Soylent Green
Director: Richard Fleischer
In this sci-fi cult classic, life is bleak in a dystopian future where people eat green wafers made of ocean plankton that are supposed to be totally healthy. The food is a hot commodity in this apocalyptic thriller set in 2022 in a world beset by climate disaster. The twist ending underscores the grim future predicted in the film. Never seen the film? You’ve probably heard a quote from this movie or seen a reference without even knowing it.
11. The Crying Game
Director: Neil Jordan
Stephen Rea plays Fergus, an IRA member who helps kidnap a man named Jody (Forest Whitaker) for ransom. Jody begs Fergus to find his girlfriend, Dil, if something should happen to him. Fergus does find her—and he falls in love. Audiences at the time went crazy over the gender-bending twist. This was a critically acclaimed film that brought trans representation to the mainstream in the early ’90s. Here are more LGBTQ movies to watch.
12. Fight Club
Director: David Fincher
The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. But we’ll spill the (spoiler-free) beans for you. Edward Norton plays a depressed office worker whose life spins into violence when he meets Tyler Durden, a madcap extrovert played by Brad Pitt. The pair move in together and embark on a series of pranks and mayhem. Then they start a small army of mischief-makers intent on destroying capitalist culture. This is an end-of-millennium cult classic that captured the despair of white collar work.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
This Best Picture Oscar winner from 2019 pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Beautifully shot and set in a modern mansion, the film portrays rising tensions between an upper-class family and its servants. The story plays out with masterful suspense that’s chilling and thematic.
14. Set It Off
Director: F. Gary Gray
Four women working as janitors fed up with a world in which they see no other options choose to become bank robbers. Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise give riveting performances as the kind of thieves you end up rooting for. This stylish thriller was a ’90s hit that breathed new life into the heist genre.
15. Queen & Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas
If you love road movies, this stylish action thriller takes you on the lam with a couple on the run. Queen and Slim are on a date when fate deals a fatal blow, and they spend the film trying to escape insurmountable odds. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, rooting for them to get away. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith give stunning performances in this recent critical hit. Bonus: Queen & Slim has a great movie soundtrack.
17. Train to Busan
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
The premise of this 2016 hit is a little bit like the action film Snakes on a Plane, except it’s zombies on a train. It’s always thrilling when a threat infiltrates an enclosed space. Get ready for a suspenseful, action-oriented family drama about a father and his daughter as zombies take over the world. This one has a heart at its center. If that sounds up your alley, try these great romantic movies on Netflix.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
This pandemic drama from 2011 became a popular rewatch over the past couple of years. The star-packed cast (Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, and Laurence Fishburne star alongside other big names) makes sense of a global virus as the scientists search for a cure in this nail-biting, terrifying thriller. Be warned: With COVID-19, it might hit a little too close to home.
Director: Steve McQueen
After a team of bank robbers meets its end, the widows the crew left behind band together to grieve and take up the gangster mantle. You’ll find a suspenseful thriller filled with twists and turns that’ll make your jaw drop. Viola Davis leads an all-star cast and gives a riveting performance as a woman who gets to know who her husband really was in the aftermath of his demise. Follow this action-packed ride with a film that’ll have you going “aww” all night long—namely, one of these dog movies.
Director: Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski
Before the Wachowskis teamed up for the Matrix series, they made the gangster film Bound, offering a redux of the popular genre with women at the center. You’ll find Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as women who buck gender conventions and the conventions of the crime genre in this tense movie about double-crossing mobsters.
21. The Handmaiden
Director: Park Chan-wook
Set in the 1930s, this sumptuous thriller follows an heiress whose husband schemes with the woman’s maid to steal her inheritance. Historical details are gorgeously rendered as the plot twists and turns through backstabbing and betrayal with a love story at its center. Also worth a watch: These sad movies that’ll have you saying, “Pass the tissues, please.”
22. Get Out
Director: Jordan Peele
In an innovative thriller that’s already a classic, writer and director Jordan Peele delivers a chilling take on the meet-the-parents scenario. When Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) spends the weekend at the rural estate of his new girlfriend’s wealthy parents, things take a turn for the surreal and tragic. You’ll be guessing what’s really going on until the very end. This film speaks to the Black experience in America, as do these great Black history movies.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson imparts dazzling humor and zest in all of his action thrillers. In the preposterous yet entertaining Skyscraper, he plays a retired FBI agent hired to secure a new state-of-the-art tower. When things go south, he’s thrust into terrorist conflicts and must save his family—and the world. If you like disaster thrillers and stunts that even Spider-Man would be scared to try, Skyscraper hits the mark with a combo of thrills and Johnson’s trademark charm.
24. The Road
Director: John Hillcoat
Watch this moody, atmospheric chiller if you’re in the mood for a post-apocalyptic horror with a poetic center in the midst of despair. Viggo Mortensen’s performance as a father trying to protect his son gives the proceedings a powerful heart. It’s adapted from one of the all-time greatest fiction books, Cormac McCarthy’s page-turner of the same name.
25. I Care a Lot
Director: J Blakeson
Rosamund Pike’s chilling performance centers this psychological thriller, which is set in the world of eldercare. Dianne Weist plays a wealthy woman who becomes a target for scammers who gain power of attorney over her estate through nefarious means. Pike plays the scheming villainess who promises to care, but steals instead. This one boasts a great cast and twisty surprises that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.
26. The Wages of Fear
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
The tension is palpable in The Wages of Fear, which had a huge influence on the road film genre. In it, four men are hired to transfer explosives across a treacherously bumpy road, along which they encounter cliffs, tropics, and nonstop danger. The prolonged suspense alone makes this one of the best thriller movies of all time, and it’ll have you anxiously hoping the car doesn’t go boom. It’s in French with English subtitles, but don’t let that deter you. It’s packed with thrills as the men must get out of insurmountable scrapes under a strict, life-or-death deadline.
27. Picnic at Hanging Rock
Director: Peter Weir
This classic Australian film offers slow-burn suspense as a small town deals with the disappearance of teen girls during a school field trip to the outback. You’ll be enraptured by the mystery, told in an atmospheric style that ratchets up the tension. If you love the 1975 classic, check out the television miniseries, which stars Natalie Dormer. It may not be one of the best TV series of all time, but it’s an entertaining pick for thriller lovers.
28. Rear Window
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rear Window is one of the most influential thrillers because it captures a sense of dread and paralysis. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character, who’s bound by a full leg cast and wheelchair as he recuperates from an injury, viewers are trapped as observers with no power to intervene when they witness a murder.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Jake Gyllenhaal steals his scenes as an ambitious workaholic in this noir thriller that critiques news broadcasts which sensationalize violence. He crawls through the dark underbelly of Los Angeles searching out crimes, wrecks, and mayhem to film and sell the footage. Sucked into the shady dealings, he’s soon masterminding his own crime scenes. This is the one to watch for fans of all things true crime.
30. Promising Young Woman
Director: Emerald Fennell
Carey Mulligan gives a stellar performance as Cassandra, a pleasant young barista who shows men the error of their ways when they try to take advantage. You’ll feel caught up in a feminist plot that shows what it’s like to live with trauma from sexual assault that’s systemic and overwhelming.