From nail-biting suspense to psychological nightmares, thrillers are riveting to watch. They often start with something crazy happening within the opening minutes and manage to keep us entertained for the rest of the movie. It is one of the best movie genres out there and also contains some of the greatest movies of all time.
Today, I’m here to countdown the greatest thrillers of all time. Not only do they manage to become nail-biting movies, but they also happen to show us a side of humanity that we don’t often see and it’s riveting.
As always, I have some honourable mentions to give out before I countdown the top 10 best of the genre. Even though these are amazing movies, they just didn’t make the cut.
Shutter Island (2010): This underrated Scorsese thriller follows our boy Leo, as he takes on a mysterious case in a mental asylum. Believe me, your head will be spinning by the end.
Nightcrawler (2014): Ever wanted to see the creepiest version of Jake Gyllenhaal ever, as a person who records footage of crimes and sells them to the prime-time news? Well, this overlooked thriller has got you covered.
Cape Fear (1991): Perhaps the scariest performance from Robert De Niro I’ve ever seen was when he played a convicted sex offender as he attempts to exact revenge on his lawyer. A great mixture of creepiness and intensity.
Gerald’s Game (2017): I’ve heard some call this “a f%&$#@ up version of 50 Shades of Grey” and I can see why.
Prisoners (2013): Although the subject matter is hard to stomach (especially if you are a parent), this revenge thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal will have you thinking long after it finishes.
Gone Girl (2014): One of the more disturbing and thought-provoking thrillers you’ll ever see. If you haven’t watched it, then you should definitely watch it without seeing a single trailer. It’s worth it.
Hush (2016): A brilliant horror/thriller that managed to be one of the best movies of 2016. It’s almost a silent movie and it works so well.
The Game (1997): David Fincher’s follow-up to ‘Se7en’, is a dark thriller full of twists and turns that you can’t miss.
Collateral (2004): Jaime Fox as a cab driver who is forced to drive a dangerous hit-man around LA is thrilling from start to finish. Tom Cruise is amazing as the hit-man.
Oldboy (2003): This South-Korean thriller is the definition of a messed-up revenge thriller. Definitely not for the squeamish.
Now, let’s begin!
10. Psycho (1960)
To kick off this list we are going back to the roots and I have pulled up Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, ‘Psycho’. What was once considered one of the most controversial movies of all time (partly due to the fact that it was the first movie to ever show a toilet on screen), is now one of the quintessential classic movies of all time. This sharp and painfully cold thriller is one that has made many people afraid of having a shower, due to the famous shower stabbing. I should also mention that this is a brilliant movie that still holds up today considering it’s now 57 years old. With its influence on modern cinema shown everywhere, you can see why it’s considered a classic.
9. The Prestige (2006)
Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus is criminally underrated. This tale of two rivalling magicians as they attempt to not only out-wit one another, but to destroy each other, is period piece like no other. With Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in peak form, watching them as they attempt to out-wit each other is thrilling. Christopher Nolan manages to make a small movie that feels like an epic and that is due to the amazingly bold style of film-making that is just stunning to witness. Although it may appear to be a sci-fi movie, this is a thriller at its heart and will make you think hard long after the credits roll. I also recommend watching it more than once as there is a lot to wrap your head around.
8. Green Room (2016)
What do you get when you put a young heavy metal band in a neo-Nazi bar? Well, you get the 2016 gritty thriller ‘Green Room’. First of all, I’m going to warn you that this is NOT for the squeamish. This is one of the most violent movies I’ve seen in a long time. A certain scene involving an arm has scarred my mind and I’ve seen ‘A Serbian Film’. What also makes this an essential to the genre is the unpredictability of it. You have these relatable characters in this completely messed up situation and you would expect certain cliches to happen, but they don’t. It’s a completely original movie and a thriller that will make your skin crawl. Patrick Stewart is also terrifying as the leader of the neo-Nazi gang.
7. Zodiac (2007)
With one of the most terrifyingly realistic opening movie scenes I’ve ever seen, ‘Zodiac’ is the ultimate detective thriller. This true story from David Fincher, a mastermind of the genre, is one of the most captivating detective based thrillers out. Set in the late 60s and early 70s, this thriller follows investigators and journalists as they start to become obsessed with learning the true identity of the Zodiac killer in San Francisco. ‘Zodiac’ also happens to contain one of the most intense scenes that I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. If you’ve seen the movie then you know what I’m talking about. With a gritty atmosphere and a realistic approach, this is a thriller that you may also become obsessed with.
6. Memento (2000)
The only movie on this list that is told in reverse chronological order, this Christopher Nolan neo-noir psychological thriller follows a man with short-term memory loss, as he tries to track down his wife’s murderer. Yet another Christopher Nolan movie on the list, this is another thriller that requires multiple viewings due to the structure of the movie. It’s one of the most unique movies on this list and is one that you’ll never forget due to the many plot twists that are thrown at you throughout and the amazing performance from Guy Pearce.
5. Rear Window (1954)
Personally, my favourite film to come from Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Rear Window’ is one of the greatest classic American movies of all time. Set in a singular location, this thriller follows a wheelchair-bound photographer who witnesses a murder and suspects that one of his neighbours is the killer. Right off the bat, you get an understanding of what you are in for. With James Stewart as our charming yet gritty lead character, you understand why he wants to solve the crime himself. With unbelievable tension and a more than relevant look at our reality, this thriller may make you afraid of spying on people.
4. Fight Club (1999)
The most controversial entry on this list as many consider it to be more of a drama than a thriller, ‘Fight Club’ is a modern-day thriller. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton showed everyone how fighting can be both exciting and incredibly disturbing in this thriller that is basically a satire on the things that spoil us. David Fincher knows how to make you believe in the dark and gritty atmosphere of his movies and here it is at its best. With perhaps one of the most famous movie monologues of all time and testosterone filled violence, this David Fincher thriller is a modern day classic and one that deserves a place on this list.
3. Misery (1990)
The movie that made us both love and fear Kathy Bates, this adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel is one of the most intense thrillers of all time. It follows a famous writer who gets rescued from a car accident by his “number one fan” who also happens to be a nurse. After a series of events, he is forced into writing a new novel in his Misery series for the nurse who may be anything but normal. I know that some of you may have never heard of this movie and it’s a shame as this is one of the best thrillers out there. Kathy Bates is also at her finest as she is basically a bipolar psychopath. Also, if you manage to get through the “hobbling” scene without a “yikes” reaction, are you even normal.
2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
What????? ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ isn’t your number one pick?? Yes, I know, this may come as a shock to you but there is a thriller that is only just better than this definition of a thriller/horror movie. What I love about this is how they make every single character, including the sadistic Buffalo Bill, fascinating to watch. From Jodie Foster as our female protagonist who refuses to play the victim, to the perfection of Anthony Hopkins as the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Although he is only in the movie for less than 16 minutes, he steals every scene he is in and became one of the most terrifying movie psychopaths of all time. The climax of the movie will make you sit on the edge of your seat and it may even make you forget how to breathe. A classic of the 90s and a classic in the thriller genre.
1. No Country for Old Men (2007)
There are a couple of reasons to why I picked ‘No Country for Old Men’ as my number one pick. First of all, you have the terrifying Anton Chigurh (played masterfully by Javier Bardem) who manages to become one of the most interesting characters in movie history. Secondly, it’s the lack of sound/music during most of the “action” scenes in the movie. This builds the intensity so high in certain scenes (especially the hotel/town showdown) that you might end up in a hospital. This Coen brothers thriller is easily the best cat and mouse movie out there and it happens to be their best movie to date (even with their extremely good resume). So, when you are looking for a thriller that is both unpredictable and a master of the genre, I definitely recommend watching ‘No Country for Old Men’ as it is the greatest thriller of all time!
There it is, my top 10 thrillers done and dusted. I hope you enjoyed reading it and hope you’ve put some of these on your must-watch list. As always, if there is a movie I missed, feel free to let me know in the comments below. Thanks!