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The 32 best thriller movies of all time to watch now

From Silence of the Lambs to Dead Man's Shoes, these films will keep you on the edge of your seat. Here is our list of the best thriller movies of all time.

Best thriller movies: Ryan Gosling, Sharon Stone, and Anthony Hopkins

There’s really something special about the best thriller movies. No matter how many times you watch a classic pulse-pounding favorite, it will still put your heart in your throat and have your jaw making impact with the floor.

Many of the best movies have tried to check these boxes, but only a few have completed the whole set. Except for these picks, of course. We’ve shredded our nerves watching the best action movies and the best drama movies in a bid to put this list of thrillers together. What follows is a collection of cinematic treats that will ensure a large volume of audible gasps, pangs of fear and ice-cold dread.

Best thriller movies - The Vanishing

32. The Vanishing (1988)

Some movies have endless rewatch value. Some only shine on the first viewing. And some are just so bleak that you can’t ever conceive of popping the disc into your Blu-ray player ever again. The Vanishing – known to some by its original Dutch title, Spoorloos – is very much in the latter category.

It follows a man’s attempts to solve the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend at a rest spot, as well as his ultimate meeting with the chilling person responsible. To say any more would be to spoil the movie’s sickening twist of the knife, but it’s safe to say that you won’t ever forget the final moments.

Just make sure you don’t accidentally watch the US remake, which confusingly has the same name. The original director remade his own film in the English language, but the new version undermines the power of the ending. And don’t accidentally watch the movie about Gerard Butler in a lighthouse either. Gosh, this title is a minefield.

Best thriller movies - No Country for Old Men

31. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen Brothers gave us a dust-covered neo-Western for the ages with No Country for Old Men. Josh Brolin is terrific as a Vietnam veteran who gets in way over his head when he finds a briefcase of cash left behind after a bloodbath of a drug deal, while Javier Bardem gave a career-best performance as the hitman trying to get the money back.

The Coens know their way around a stylish thriller tale for sure, and they make the most of slightly twisting the iconography of the Western into a very modern story. It’s a meditation on the consequences of violence above all else and richly deserved its haul of awards at the Oscars. This one’s a true classic.

Best thriller movies - The Raid 2

30. The Raid 2 (2014)

The first Raid movie, released in 2011, was a pure blast of action carnage with a plot as simple as a beat-em-up arcade game. Its sequel, again written and directed by Gareth Evans, takes that lean, mean premise and spins it out into a labyrinthine underworld thriller. This time around, Iko Uwais’s cop Rama goes undercover in the Jakarta underworld.

Of course, even though the plot and character goes up a notch this time, it’s the fighting and the bloodshed that leaves the biggest mark. In particular, a kitchen fight between Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman is pretty much the pinnacle of hand-to-hand combat on the big screen. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch.

Best thriller movies - Gone Girl

29. Gone Girl (2014)

David Fincher’s meticulous, often clinical directing style is a perfect fit for the thriller genre, and they don’t come much chillier than this twisted tale of romance, disappearance, and murder. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast as a couple shrouded in mystery after the former’s disappearance.

Both leads thrive in Fincher’s icy world, helped along by a stellar script by Gillian Flynn, in which she unspools the narrative surprises of her own novel as elegantly as if they had been written for the screen from the very start.

Best thriller movies - Double Indemnity

28. Double Indemnity (1944)

There’s no doubt that Billy Wilder deserves recognition among the best directors of the 20th century. He might be better known for some of the best comedy movies of the ’50s and ’60s, but before that he delivered an exquisite adaptation of this hard-boiled noir novel by crime fiction maestro James M. Cain.

Fred MacMurray plays the insurance salesman who falls under the spell of Barbara Stanwyck, who has a plan to murder her husband and cash in on his life insurance policy. The chemistry between the two leads sizzles throughout and the tension builds to almost unbearable levels as the couple’s inevitable downfall unravels.

Best thriller movies: Michael Douglas in Falling Down

27. Falling Down (1993)

Falling Down is an insane journey through one man’s descent into violent madness. It’s also probably the most relatable movie ever made. After a divorced and unemployed man snaps after getting caught in traffic, he spends the day walking through Los Angeles, getting further wound up with each and every inconvenience that comes his way.

As the day goes on, he becomes increasingly more violent, until he eventually becomes pursued by the LAPD, who need to stop him before he causes some real damage to himself or others. We’ve all had bad days, and Falling Down is the 90’s thriller movie version of what would happen if we let go of all our inhibitions and fell foul to our worst possible reactions.

Best Thriller movies: Jeremy Renner in Wind River

26. Wind River (2017)

Sitting among the best Taylor Sheridan TV series and movies, Wind River might be the writer-director’s best yet when it comes to dipping his toes in the thriller genre. Starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner as an unlikely duo seeking justice in the icy landscape of the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, it’s a gut-wrenching ride.

The events of the movie come after an Indigenous woman is found dead on the reservation. Like most of the best thriller movies, Wind River isn’t exactly pleasant to watch. In fact, it’s quite upsetting at times and is only exacerbated by its harsh, blistering wintry setting. It all only seems worth suffering through to make it through to the unbearably intense finale where perhaps the smallest amount of closure is found.

Best thriller movies: Witness for the Prosecution

25. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Based on the Agatha Christie play of the same name, Witness for the Prosecution is a terrific courtroom thriller that tells the story of Leonard Vole, a man accused of murdering the wealthy widow Emily French. Did he do it?

Well, you’ll have to watch to find out but trust us, you won’t be disappointed by this dramatic, exciting, and darkly funny movie. Also, Agatha Christie thought it was the best adaptation of her work, so that has to count for something.

BEst thriller moves: Rear Window

24. Rear Window (1954)

A tense and paranoid thriller, Rear Window is widely considered one of the best movies ever made and one of Hitchock’s greatest films. In case you’ve somehow missed it, the film follows L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a professional photographer confined to a wheelchair who believes he witnessed a murder from his apartment window.

Best thriller movies: Misery

23. Misery (1990)

If it weren’t for the Shawshank Redemption, Misery would be far and away the best Stephen King adaptation, and it’s probably my personal favorite. Tense and more than a little bit deranged, Misery is a masterpiece in atmosphere and tone that perfectly captures the twisted spirit of King’s novel.

What elevates this particular adaptation, though, is the central performances. Cathy Bates is sensational as the deranged Annie Wilkes, simmering with untapped malice. James Caan meanwhile plays the victim, author Paul Sheldon, and I challenge you not to feel sorry for him as he spends his days trapped in a room at the mercy of his “biggest fan.”

Best thriller movies: The Fugitive

22. The Fugitive (1993)

Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble has been accused of killing his wife, and the man tasked with bringing him in “doesn’t care” that he didn’t do it. Honestly, The Fugitive is an intense and paranoid classic that’s basically one long-extended chase sequence, but it’s so well-paced that you won’t realize that until the credits are rolling.

A lot of why the film works so well is in the casting with Ford at his grumpy best and Tommy Lee Jones perfectly cast as his implacable adversary.

Best thriller movies: Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct

 21. Basic Instinct (1992)

Honestly, would it be a list of the best thrillers if we didn’t get an erotic thriller in here somewhere? Basic Instinct is a neo-noir that follows a detective (Michael Douglas) as he investigates the murder of a rock star. The twist is that he falls for the prime suspect, Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse, filled with suspicion, sex, and danger.

At the time of its release, Basic Instinct received some criticism over its depictions of brutality and sex (plus its depiction of homosexual relationships, which was still considered taboo back in the ’90s). Since then, it’s become a cultural hit and is referred to as one of the darkest and sexiest mainstream movies around. You’ll probably know it for that chair scene.

Best thriller movies: Matt Damon and Jude Law in The Talented Mr Ripley

20. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Perhaps one of Matt Damon‘s most underrated performances, The Talented Mr Ripley will have you wondering if you really know the people around you. Tom Ripley (Damon) tricks a young man, Dickie (Jude Law), into thinking they went to school together. Tom is then pulled into Dickie’s wealthy and chic life, and Tom becomes obsessed with keeping up the lie.

But not everyone is so quick to buy his falsities, and those who question him are met with a sticky end. Any description truly wouldn’t do justice to the almost unbearable ride that is The Talented Mr Ripley. To those who are in the know, it will always be one of the best Matt Damon movies.

Best thriller movies: Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Leon the Professional

19. Léon: The Professional (1994)

Luc Besson’s crime thriller is memorable for a few reasons, but we’d like to refer to two. One is the memorable performance by none other than a young Natalie Portman as the suddenly orphaned Mathilda, who finds an unexpected bond with her hitman neighbor when she needs his help.

Second, is the sheer enjoyment of seeing Gary Oldman chew up the scenery as one of the best movie villains of all time. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, you almost won’t believe it’s him when you do. What’s more, Léon manages to combine genuine scares and tension with a playful sense of humor.

Best thriller movies: the cast of Parasite

18. Parasite (2019)

We don’t really need to sit here and wax lyrical about how good Parasite is, but we will anyway. Aside from being one of the best Korean movies and an Oscars darling, Parasite was key in allowing western audiences to finally fall in love with foreign cinema without hesitation. When a family from the poor side of town manage to infiltrate a rich household, they slowly take over the lives of their new bosses, only to be met with a dark twist.

Parasite deserves every accolade it gets. Throughout the movie, you know something is wrong. But you’ll never be able to predict exactly where this twisty-turny ride will take you until it’s too late. At times, it’s all you can do not to watch through your fingers.

Best thriller movies: Cary Grant in North by Northwest

17. North by Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock‘s paranoid thriller is a tale of mistaken identity and spycraft that balances exceptional storytelling and iconic visuals, plus it’s got Cary Grant in a career-best performance. What more could you want from a film?

The fact that it’s over 60 years old and remains as entertaining as anything made by more contemporary filmmakers speaks to how well-crafted North by Northwest truly is. Basically, there’s a reason this is considered one of the greatest movies ever made.

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16. Memento (2000)

It may be premature to declare Christopher Nolan the “New Master of Suspense” (Sorry Hitchcock), but it’s undeniable that he knows how to craft a gripping and surprising thriller. Just look at some of the best Christopher Nolan movies, and you’ll see plenty of incredible thrillers, but we’ve always had a fondness for Memento, the neo-noir that put Nolan on the map.

Starring Guy Pierce as an amnesiac hunting down his wife’s killer, Memento is a fascinating and atmospheric exploration of vengeance, which, thanks to its non-linear narratives, features more twists than a slinky tied in a bow.

Best Thriller movies: Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi Reservoir Dogs

15. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Given how lengthy and indulgent some of his recent movies have been, it’s worth remembering how fresh and exciting Quentin Tarantino felt when Reservoir Dogs arrived. One of the best ’90s movies ever made, it follows the aftermath of a disastrous diamond heist and the backstories of the morally bankrupt, fast-talking crooks involved.

All of Tarantino’s filmmaking energy is at its height here, with tension crackling through every scene before even a drop of blood is spilled. Add a super-talented ensemble of actors – with the possible exception of QT himself – and you have the recipe for an all-timer in the thriller genre.

Best Thriller Movies: Dennis Weaver as David Mann in Duel

14. Duel (1971)

Before he had us fearing what was beneath the waves, Steven Spielberg had us afraid of what was down the road in Duel. Dennis Weaver was the worn-down driver who makes the mistake of overtaking a truck that’s hell on wheels.

From here, a road rage-fueled chase ensues that sees Weaver up against what feels like The Terminator on tarmac, a foe that absolutely will not stop until one of them is run off the road. It’s a great testament to the director in revving up the tension, and established Spielberg as a name to look out for. Wonder whatever happened to him? You only have to take a look at the list of best Steven Spielberg movies to find out.

Best Thriller Movies: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho

13. Psycho (1960)

It wouldn’t be a thriller list without mentioning the Master of Suspense (again). There are plenty in Hitchcock’s catalog that fit the bill, but all nip at the heels of what is undeniably his most iconic piece of work. Starting things off with Janet Leigh’s road trip from a robbery, Hitchcock’s descent into a different story entirely still brings chills the second the shower is turned on.

While that iconic stab at terror has been imitated a dozen times over, seeing the mystery regarding Norman Bates’ unsettling relationship with his dear mother unfold is a shock that still lands 61 years later. In creating a thriller movie for the ages, Hitchcock also ended up producing one of the best horror movies known to man.

The best thriller movies: Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island

12. Shutter Island (2010)

Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors of all time, with an abundance of brilliant movies in his portfolio dating back to the ’60s, but his modern work is just as impressive. Shutter Island is one of the best movies based on books, and Scorsese brings it to life with all his usual flair, with an injection of dark, foreboding mystery.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the troubled Teddy Daniels, a detective sent to a medical facility on a strange island to investigate a missing persons case. He is joined by Mark Ruffalo, and the pair share an excellent chemistry as the twists and turns of this intense thriller unfold before our eyes.

Best Thriller Movies: Mark Ruffalo and the cast of Spotlight

11. Spotlight (2016)

Spotlight sits at the top of the pile, not just as a great journalist-focused film but a thriller in its own right. The incredible cast making up Keaton’s crew of truth-hungry writers pulling back the curtain on the Catholic Church grips you from the start, sharing the same energy and urgency as All the President’s Men.

It’s the humanity here that makes this thriller rawer than most, with the highlight being when the Spotlight team searches through a directory and finds out just how wide or close their search will send them—chilling but absolutely necessary viewing.

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10. Oldboy (2003)

The second chapter in Park Chan-wook Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy is a deconstruction of the classic revenge fantasy film. The movie follows Oh Dae-su, a man who’s let loose after spending 15 years in captivity. With his family gone, Oh Dae-su goes on a revenge-fuelled rampage as he tries to track down those who locked him away.

A spectacular movie, Oldboy is very weird but very good, managing to strike a balance between over-the-top violent action and a complex plot. The influence this film has had on contemporary filmmaking can’t be understated, with every director worth their salt trying to replicate the iconic hall fight scene at some point in their career.

Best Thriller Movies: Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith and Robert Downey Jr as Paul Avery in Zodiac

9. Zodiac (2007)

Some of David Fincher’s greatest work has been those focused on obsession. The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl, but none have a deeper and darker edge than his take on one of America’s most prolific killers.

Zodiac is a haunting examination not just of the San Francisco-based boogeyman’s deeds but the men who became consumed with the hope of catching him. Testing their wits against a monster that, as far as the police saw it, was never found, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo deliver. Still, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal excelling as the cartoonist playing a most dangerous game that brings the best and most unnerving encounters.

Best Thriller Movies: Brad Pitt as David Mills and Morgan Freeman as Somerset in Seven

8. Seven (1996)

Brad Pitt, mega-hit, cardboard box. If we were going to mention Fincher’s last great murder mystery, it would be impossible to ignore his first addition to the canon of the best detective movies. Seven was a bleak borderline horror film that saw us resting over the shoulders of Morgan Freeman’s beleaguered cop and Brad Pitt as his bright new partner set to have his world blown apart.

The chase to catch John Doe still leads palms to sweat and blood to run cold with every passing day, with that finale of Somerset opening a package that neither he, nor we, expected. Jokingly applied in film lexicon for years after, finding out what’s in the box is the moment that few whodunits have yet to match.

Best Thriller Movies: Paddy Considine as Richard in Dead Man's Shoes

7. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

Much like the film’s ‘hero,’ Dead Man’s Shoes is an underestimated entry that may lack the Hollywood gloss of the rest on this list but still delivers a tale that cuts nerves just as sharply. Playing like a modern-day contender to join the best Westerns, where a man out for blood swaps a hat for a gas mask, Paddy Considine’s Richard is a force to be reckoned with.

He’s soothed only by Toby Kebbell as his conscience and brother, Anthony, whose wrong is put brutally right. You’ll be lucky to find a threat more ferocious than the one Richard makes to his targets, who soon realize what they’re up against. It’s beyond f***ing words. Check out our interview with Toby Kebbell for a little anecdote about his time on this movie.

Best Thriller Movies: Laurence Olivier as Dr Christian Szell and Dustin Hoffman as Thomas Babington Levy in Marathon Man

6. Marathon Man (1976)

The 1970s were an era crammed with iconic thrillers, but none of them reached such highs from the discomfort of a dentist’s chair. John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man is a tangled tale of a college student propelled into a world of shady men and evasive Nazi war criminals plays like a nightmare at times.

Be it that iconic interrogation led by Sir Lawrence Olivier or Hoffman’s panic, as he tries to escape his own bathroom, catching your breath, will feel like an impossibility. Is it safe to say you’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon after this? Absolutely.

Best Thriller Movies: Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover and Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki in Prisoners

5. Prisoners (2016)

Denis Villeneuve is yet to put a foot wrong in his filmography, and Prisoners was one of his earliest steps into the mainstream with a film that got a lot of attention.

Hugh Jackman gives what may be the performance of his career as the father of a missing daughter, taking justice into his own hands, with Jake Gyllenhaal reaching similar highs as the detective battling a case he can’t break. The further both go, the darker Villeneuve’s who-really-dunnit becomes, right up until its last moments and its final flicker of hope.

Best Thriller Movies: Al Pacino as Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley in Heat

4. Heat (1995)

The LA crime saga from Michael Mann harnesses a collection of stunning performances scattered across the city of angels, but who are we kidding? The thrill of the chase between Al Pacino’s flawed lawman and Robert De Niro’s bank robber is when the film reaches its boiling point.

Diner dream convo aside, Mann’s finest is loaded with an array of intense instances that raise pulses, as these two opposing forces are slowly pulled together, exploding in one of the greatest modern-day gunfights that doesn’t star Keanu Reeves.

Best Thriller Movies: Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Michael Mann’s Manhunter might be great, but Jonathan Demme’s meeting between Clarice Starling and Dr Lecter is the main course, thanks to its key ingredients. Jodie Foster’s fresh-faced FBI agent on the hunt for Buffalo Bill is enough to keep you hooked, but it’s the back and forth between Clarice Starling and her adversarial advisor that make for the film’s most uneasy moments.

Her conversations with Sir Anthony Hopkins’ iconic antihero aren’t just to catch a killer — she’s making a deal with a devil in overalls. Those with taste should know Silence of the Lambs isn’t just the best film on this list: it may be one of the best movies ever made.

Best thriller movies: Kim Novak as Judy Barton in Vertigo

2. Vertigo (1958)

The psychological thriller of all thriller movies, you just can’t beat Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. The movie famously replaced Citizen Kane as the greatest film ever made in the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound critics list back in 2012 because, yes, it’s just that good. Vertigo will leave you questioning reality, put you in a state of perpetual tension, and of course, make you feel dizzy as you unpack its brilliant story.

A thriller centered around relationships, we see a detective, who has a fear of heights, get hired to follow an acquaintance’s wife who has been acting strange. With affairs, a murder cover-up, and obsessive delusions leading to madness, Vertigo ticks all the thriller boxes and is a must-watch, period.

The best thriller movies: Ryan Gosling in Drive

1. Drive (2011)

Arguably a top contender for the best Ryan Gosling movies, largely thanks to the fact that the actor goes so against type here to lead a tension-packed, violent crime story that has to be considered a modern masterpiece.

Nicolas Winding-Refn’s neon-soaked visuals, twinned with the pulsating synth score, make this an atmospheric treat for the eyes and ears, and it’s always fun to see Ryan Gosling and Oscar Isaac covered in blood, too.

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So, there you have it. They are the best thriller movies ever made! If you want to check out our other genre lists, why not dive into the world of the best fantasy movies or best movies based on a true story? Meanwhile, Stephen King wants you to watch this underrated Netflix thriller.

Or, for something modern, take note of all the new movies coming out soon. Specifically, we think the Dune 2 release date will bring about the tension. On the small screen, bring the thrills with Reacher season 2.