What are the best thriller series? In and of itself, ‘thriller’ feels like a broad term and a peculiar way to classify a piece of media. A good thriller is a lot like a rollercoaster, with various twists, turns, and huge drops making for an exhilarating, high-impact experience.
From detective movies, psychological dramas, spy movies, and the content of science fiction and fast-paced action sequences, the tone of thriller movies and TV series can widely vary, but what makes them alike is their ability to excite and invigorate audiences.
Like rollercoasters, thriller series usually aren’t for the faint of heart: there’s often a lot of crime, blood, and conspiracies to unravel. But if you think you can handle the ride, be sure to strap in as we take you through the best thriller series of all time, from Severance to Twin Peaks.
What are the best thriller series?
- Cruel Summer
- Pretty Little Liars
- The Sinner
- Black Mirror
- The Wire
- Breaking Bad
- Twin Peaks
Sure, my fear of flying is almost entirely caused by this show, and the plotline is so confusing and campy I have no idea what’s going on half the time, but there’s something addictive about the show and its central mystery I can’t quite put my finger on — plus, the dude from Once Upon a Time is in it. But be sure to catch up soon, once Manifest season 4, part 2 drops, that’s it.
Bodyguard is a massively predictable, schmaltzy affair, but Richard Madden’s performance as the titular Bodyguard manages to elevate the series to something worthwhile. You can’t say the climactic scene of the Bodyguard being strapped to a bomb while everyone believes he did this intentionally didn’t have you screaming at your telly.
I found the narrative approach of Cruel Summer unique and interesting because, firstly, these kinds of mysteries end when the central person is found and don’t often explore the aftermath, and secondly, the person in question is not only alive, but it’s also incredibly clear who the person who took her was: that was never in doubt. The central mystery is, instead, if nerdy wallflower Jeanette saw popular It Girl Kate in captivity, and whether she decided to let Kate’s ordeal continue in order to take over her life and popularity.
Pretty Little Liars
Ok, hear me out. I know that Pretty Little Liars has a reputation for being for teenage girls, but Alison DiLaurentis and her yellow top had me hooked for over a decade. And just when you think you solved the mystery of who ‘A’ is, the series throws another curveball, plot twist, or a bit of insane melodrama your way. It might get progressively more unhinged, especially towards the end, but you’ll never not be entertained or have a mystery that needs unravelling.
The Sinner is a multi-season anthology, with each season focussing not so much on the whodunnit, but the whydunnit. It has four seasons, but if I’m being honest, none of them come close to the first season, which unravels why Cora Tanetti (Jessica Biel) suddenly snapped during an idyllic beach trip and stabbed a seemingly-innocent man to death. It’s bloody, it’s gripping, and Biel is brilliant.
Jodie Comer might be known more for her role as Villanelle, but her portrayal of Ivy Moxam in the BBC drama series Thirteen is criminally underrated, and in my opinion, is among some of her best performances. In Thirteen, Comer plays 26-year-old Ivy who, after being abducted at thirteen years old and spending thirteen years in captivity, manages to escape her captor and must learn to adapt back to normal life.
It’s a provoking story about the psychological impact an event like this can have on a whole family, and to add another layer to the tale, Ivy might also be the only one with the answers to track down her captor’s latest victim.
Did anyone have any idea about what was going on in that show? They escaped the island eventually, right?
As a whole, Black Mirror is a bit of a hit and miss, and the narrative of ‘internet bad’ is a bit lazy and basic, but some individual episodes are truly unforgettable, provoking, and disturbing: including the innovative choose-your-own-adventure Bandersnatch, Shut Up and Dance, and the chilling premiere episode, The National Anthem.
Similar to a contemporary Jekyll and Hyde, Dexter Morgan would solve grisly murders during the day and then commit them by night. Going by his own… unique moral code, Dexter would only kill people who, according to him, managed to escape the wrath of the law. Michael C. Hall’s charisma as the titular character means that you end up being on Dexter’s side, which is a testament to the series.
Like The Sinner, only the first season of Broadchurch is worth watching, but with Olivia Colman and previous Doctor Who David Tennant at the helm, it’s one hell of a watch. It might seem a bit of an overstatement for an ITV crime series, but there’s a reason the whole world was gripped with the question of who killed Danny Latimer in 2013.
What sets The Wire apart from most cop shows is that it doesn’t shy away from the corruption and gritty details of both the criminal underworld and law enforcement. It’s also no stretch to say that the show has a stellar all-round cast, with A-List talents like Dominic West, Idris Elba, and Michael B Jordan, to say a few. Also, without The Wire, we probably wouldn’t have all the great Idris Elba movies we have now, with the series helping to launch his career.
Severance is still relatively new compared to some of the other thriller series on here, but it has all the ingredients to go down in history as one of the greats — a highly-talented cast, a unique storyline, and compelling commentary about modern society, technology, and the dangers of capitalism.
The hype is truly deserved, and the series overall is a fantastic metaphor for the dangers and toxicity of living to work rather than working to live. Needless to say, we’re excited about the Severance season 2 release date.
Sure, Mads Mikkelsen eats people, but we all have our flaws, right? Similar to Dexter, Mikkelsen does a fantastic job of making a character who does horrendous things irresistibly endearing, to the point where you’re not only actively rooting for Hannibal to not get caught, but also shipping him with the series’ protagonist, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). Together, Mikkelsen and Dancy have electrifying chemistry that makes this series an essential watch.
Breaking Bad isn’t just one of the best thriller series of all time, but it’s one of the best TV series of all time, period. Over five seasons, Bryan Cranston proves he’s one of the best actors out there as he chronicles Walter White’s descent from a mild-mannered Chemistry teacher to a ruthless drug lord and criminal mastermind.
Together with Aaron Paul, White’s former student-turned-sidekick Jesse Pinkman, we have a series that is layered with equal amounts of action, thrill, high-quality acting, and poetic imagery.
Could anything other than Twin Peaks really top this list? In Twin Peaks, David Lynch crafted an unmissable masterpiece and mystery that holds as much cultural prominence and power today as it did back in the ‘90s. The tragic beauty in the looming spectre of Laura Palmer — a teenage it-girl who seemed to have it all before she was murdered prior to the series’ start — is the series’ anchor and is what underpins every moment of madness that unfolds. There is no doubt Twin Peaks was an influence and inspiration for half the series on this list.
If you can’t resist media that gives you goosebumps and leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing tall, check out our guides to the best action movies, best horror movies, and best horror series. Or for the next big thriller series, here’s our breakdown of the All of Us Are Dead season 2 release date.