Best Thriller Movies of All Time, Ranked for Filmmakers - Featured

When it comes to the best thriller movies of all time, there’s a lot to choose from. While great thrillers involve the protagonist in constant and terrifying danger, some are more light hearted, while still juggling with the concepts of life and death.

With such a broad genre, there are many movies in the thriller genre to choose from, including horror, psychological, true crime, and black comedy. Since it can sometimes be difficult to choose good thrillers, we decided to make the job easier for you.

Listed here are the best thrillers from cinema, ranging from new classics to old favorites, along with everything in-between to satisfy all types of thrill seekers.

Good Thriller Movies

25. Burning (2018)

Burning  •  Trailer

An adaption of the Japanese short story “Barn Burning,” this South Korean thriller lives up to its name. Focusing on a young writer, his childhood friend, and a stranger (played by Steve Yuen) they make friends with, Burning starts off as a very unassuming drama that touches on contemporary South Korean society. As the film progresses and our protagonist learns a bit more about the stranger, the narrative starts to change when he realizes things may not be what they seem.

Burning may not be for everyone, as it does spend a lot of its runtime focusing on the mundane daily life of its characters. But while it does take a while to get to the thrills, the film rewards patient audiences with a nerve wracking third act.

Good Thrillers

Conclusion

At 148 minutes, Burning moves at a slower pace, but audiences who stick with it will discover a thriller with ferocious bite.

Cerebral Thrillers

24. Source Code (2011)

Interview with director Duncan Jones

After director Duncan Jones made a splash with the indie hit Moon, he followed it up with this mind-bending science-fiction thriller. Jake Gyllenhaal plays an Army captain who must find the one responsible for a Chicago train bombing by entering a simulated reality of the event. With only eight minutes to spare at a time, he races against the clock and identify the bomber before another attack happens in the real world.

It’s a heady concept, but Jones makes it an engaging piece of entertainment that also works as a meditation on realities. As our hero continues to go through the simulation, revelations are uncovered, and the situation at hand warps in unexpected ways.

Great Thrillers

Conclusion

At a lean 93 minutes, Source Code doesn’t waste time telling an interesting story of a thriller that also delves into some deeper questions along the way.

Top Thriller Movies

23. Good Time (2017)

Interview with Robert Pattinson and the Safdie Bros

The Safdie Brothers’ reputation began to grow with Good Time, a crime thriller starring Robert Pattinson as a criminal who wants to help his disbabled brother get out of jail. He attempts to get the money for his bail, but a series of bad decisions leads to an anxiety fueled roller coaster that never lets up.

Featuring music by Oneohtrix Point Never and shot on location in the brothers’ hometown of New York City, Good Time not only shows how great Robert Pattinson is as an actor, but just how intense one night of mistakes can be.

Good Thriller Movies

Conclusion

The plot and characters may be a bit thin, but Good Time delivers as a crime thriller that never lets up until the credits.

Best Thrillers

22. Blue Velvet (1986)

NYTimes review by A.O. Scott

David Lynch is known for making weird movies, but Blue Velvet tones it down a bit to present a gripping mystery in a small town. Kyle MacLachlan plays a college student who ends up getting involved with some bad people in his nostalgia-fueled hometown of Lumberton.

Presenting a nice, quiet town and its surprisingly seedy underbelly, Lynch paints a contradictory setting with a plot that is equal parts engaging and surreal. Featuring the late, great Dennis Hopper as the scene-stealing bad guy Frank at the film’s rotten center.

Good Thrillers

Conclusion

Blue Velvet was a critical smash for a reason, with great performances and a unique setting for a dark mystery thriller.

Top Thriller Movies

21. Blow Out (1981)

Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown discussing Blow Out’s cinematography

Starring John Travolta and directed by Brian De Palma, Blow Out focuses on a horror film Foley artist who, while out getting some sounds, captures an assasination attempt. Taking images captured at the scene and using his recorded sound, he uncovers a political conspiracy and attracts the attention of a psychotic murderer.

De Palma is no stranger to thrillers, and Blow Out might be his finest hour. Using filmmaking as a sort of jumping off point for a murder mystery, the film gives Travolta and co-stars Nancy Allen and John Lithgow a lot to work with, resulting in a smart and paraoid thriller that continues to gain critical acclaim to this day.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Conclusion

With it’s politically tinged plot and great performances, De Palma’s Blow Out presents a thrilling murder-mystery.

Classic Thrillers

20. North by Northwest (1959)

An analysis of the famous crop duster scene

For those who like their thrillers with a bit of Hollywood class and a bit of comedy, then Alfred Hitchcock has the movie for you. Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason, North by Northwest was written to be the Hitchcock thriller to end all Hitchcock thrillers.

Starting with a case of mistaken identity, the plot soon becomes an endless stream of twists and turns. In-between it all, the actors keep things unexpectedly light, making this thriller as smart and stylish as it is fun and funny.

Good Thrillers

Conclusion

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers, North by Northwest keeps things light while also keeping us glued to our seats.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

19. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

A scene from Twin Peaks: FWWM

If there is one thing David Lynch is good at, it’s making his viewers question everything. After the success and cancellation of Twin Peaks, a sequel/prequel film was made, subtitled Fire Walk with Me.

While mainly geared towards fans of the show (who already know who Laura Palmer is and what happened to her), the movie’s storyline works fairly well on its own. Focusing on Laura’s last days, as well as the mystery that preceded her and those involved, Fire Walk with Me presents a horrifying story of a young woman, the people in her life, and how it all ties into the greater mystery that is Twin Peaks.

Good Thriller Movies

Conclusion

While fans of the show easily sing its praises, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me works on its own as a tense and frightening tale of a woman who had too much to hide.

Great Thrillers

18. Gone Girl (2014)

Lessons from the Screenplay analysing Gone Girl’s script

Based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), Gone Girl is David Fincher reveling in the trashy situations of problematic individuals. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is married to famous Amy Elliot Dunnne (Rosamund Pike), and she goes missing without a trace. A media circus ensues, with Nick trying to keep his private life as hidden as possible while trying to figure out exactly what happened to his wife.

Gone Girl is a movie that thrives on secrecy, as its plot features plenty of twists and turns. It’s also very funny, to the point where some have categorized the film as a very black comedy. If nothing else, the film is a tense and anxious examination of a marriage and how other people can perceive a serious situation — be it neighbors, relatives, or the media.

Top Thriller Movies

Conclusion

Whether as a thriller, a black comedy, or both, Gone Girl delivers with excellent performances, music, and cinematography.

Classic Thrillers

17. Rear Window (1954)

Hitchcock’s technique in Rear Window

Another Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window stars James Stewart as a photographer with a broken leg, who must stay confined to his little apartment as he heals. As a bored man stuck in a New York apartment is bound to do, he starts spying on his neighbors. It’s harmless fun, until he suspects one of his neighbors has committed a murder. 

Shot on a soundstage, the movie takes place in one main location, relying on a murder mystery to keep audiences engaged. Along with its immobile protagonist, there are many thrills to be had in this Hitchcock classic, ranking as one of his very best.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Conclusion

If you’re in the mood for a thriller that keeps things simple but engaging, you can’t go wrong with a classic like Rear Window.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

16. The Game (1997)

Scene from The Game

David Fincher’s The Game has a simple enough premise: Michael Douglas plays Nicholas van Orton, a wealthy banker whose brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him the titular game as a birthday present. Nicholas is intrigued, but doesn’t quite understand what the game is. As the movie continues, his world becomes warped and distorted, to the point where he no longer knows what’s real and what’s the game.

As a mystery movie, as well as a meta-commentary on film production, The Game delivers with a narrative that never once puts on the brakes until it’s all finally over. It’s one of Fincher’s best films — for pure excitement, full of twists and turns, not many others beat it out.

Good Thriller Movies

Conclusion

You may or may not like the way it ends, but for it’s sheer audacity and determination to keep you thrilled throughout, few Fincher films get ahead of The Game.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

15. Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightline special focusing on Nightcrawler

Featuring what many might call Jake Gyllenhaal’s finest performance, Nightcrawler tells the uniquely L.A. story of Lou, a sociopath who makes a name for himself by selling violent crime footage to news stations.

While the story isn’t too complex, it manages to be simultaneously relatable and horrifying. As we witness Lou go to unethical lengths for the sake of a story, we see how the business of news reporting can bring out the very worst in both those who report the news and those who consume it.

Good Thriller Movies

Conclusion

By telling a story that is both riveting and relevant, Nightcrawler presents a thriller that makes us face the horror of our contemporary news cycle.

Top Thriller Movies

14. Fargo (1996)

Jack’s Movie Reviews analyzing Fargo

The Coen Brothers are some of the most acclaimed filmmakers out there, and humour always runs through their films in different levels. With Fargo, they perfected the combination of black comedy and thriller, with a story that takes drastic turns throughout. This is easily one of the Coens' best movies, and that's saying something.

Taking place in the Mid-West, the Coens use exaggerated characters and accents and juxtaposes them with a serious murder mystery. What starts out as a simple fake-kidnapping turns into something really messy that doesn’t end well for almost everyone involved. It’s the kind of movie where you say “It can’t get any crazier” and then it gets crazier.

Good Thrillers

Conclusion

It might be more of a comedy than a thriller in spots, but Fargo is still an entertaining film, where the insanity of its plot and characters keeps you engaged.

Good Thriller Movies

13. Memento (2000)

Nolan explaining the construction of Memento

Before he became the biggest defender of physical celluloid, Christopher Nolan directed this indie smash about a man who can’t form new memories but is determined to find the people who killed his wife.

Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, the movie runs two parallel stories, one being told in chronological order, with the other in reverse chronological order.

It’s an engaging premise that leads to revelations that we the audience piece together, but that our lead may not realize, due to his amnesia. If nothing else, not many other thrillers are even remotely like this.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Conclusion

Memento proved that Nolan had serious chops as a filmmaker, but it also stands on its own as a one-of-a-kind thriller with a unique premise and lead character.

Good Thriller Movies

12. Ex Machina (2014)

Lessons from the Screenplay going over Ex Machina

The concept of an android not knowing it’s an android and someone interacting with it is nothing new. Plenty of famous stories deal with non-humans wondering what they are, and some of those have gained acclaim. Still, not many have pulled it off as well as Alex Garland did with Ex Machina, the screenwriter’s directorial debut.

Concerning a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who works for a Google-esque tech giant, he is invited by the CEO (Oscar Isaac) to his home to check out his new artificial intelligence (Alicia Vikander). This leads to a psychological game of cat and mouse, and increasing paranoid regarding the CEO’s intentions. 

Set entirely in one location, Ex Machina manages to make the most of its taut storytelling, resulting in one of the best thrillers of the 2010s.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Conclusion

With great performances and a paranoia-filled setting, Garland’s Ex Machina is a tense thriller sci-fi fans won’t want to miss.

Top Thrillers

11. Uncut Gems (2019)

The Safdie Bros talking Uncut Gems in New York

Starring Adam Sandler, and directed by the Safdie Brothers, Uncut Gems tells the story of one Howard Ratner and how his gambling habits are ruining his life, his marriage, and his ability to succeed as a jeweler in New York City’s Diamond District.

With Sandler in the lead role, many who know him for comedy might find it surprising just how tense and serious his performance is. As we witness Howard’s reckless behavior and compulsive personality, the audience’s anxiety only grows until the film’s nail-biting climax, courtesy of the Safide Brothers’ stellar screenwriting and directing.

Top Thriller Movies

Conclusion

Uncut Gems proves that the Safdie Brothers are masters at crime thrillers and that Adam Sandler has the potential to wow critics and audiences alike.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

10. Parasite (2019)

Parasite trailer

Bong Joon-ho had already made a name for himself, with films like Memories of Murder, The Host, and Snowpiercer. With Parasite, he exploded into the mainstream like never before, telling a timeless tale of the poor mingling with the rich, with timely and deadly consequences.

While it does feature black comedy, Parasite very often gets serious, especially as the poor Kim family further involves itself in the lives of the rich Parks. And as secrets emerge, the tension rises to an unbearable degree by the time of the film’s final act. All of this helped make it the first non-English film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Good Thriller Movies

Conclusion

Recontextualizing an age-old premise, Parasite emerges as a comedic but dark thriller about societal relationships between the have and have nots.

SOCIAL Thriller

9. Get Out (2017)

The Take’s analysis of Get Out’s symbolism and themes

The idea of Jordan Peele, the other half of comedic duo Key & Peele, directing a horror thriller film about racism may have taken some by surprise. But with Get Out, he proved just how effective that concept can be when given the right amount of care and execution.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, an African-American man dating a Caucasian woman who seems harmless enough. She invites him to meet her parents, at which point he starts to suspect something is amiss. Events spiral out of control in the final act, leading to one of the most poignant critiques of contemporary issues around race. A thriller with a message — a rare and refreshing piece of entertainment.

Horror Thriller

Conclusion

​Jordan Peele uses horror, as well as comedy, to create a socially relevant thriller about racism in modern America.

True Crime Thriller

8. Zodiac (2007)

Analyzing the fact vs fiction as seen in Zodiac

David Fincher’s Zodiac, with a well-researched script by James Vanderbilt, tells the story of three individuals whose lives are forever changed by the killer. Taking place over decades, we see how this case affects Det. Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.).

While it does feature some levity, Zodiac is nonetheless a gripping true crime thriller. The script is based on Robert Graysmith's book about the Zodiac, as well as actual case files, making Zodiac one of the most accurate film adaptations ever made. With great performances and a real life mystery, Zodiac is less interested in who the killer and more interested in how his murder spree affected those who investigated it.

David Fincher Thriller

Conclusion

As far as true crime thrillers go, there are so few other films that can compete with David Fincher’s hypnotizing Zodiac.

Top Thrillers

7. Vertigo (1958)

Analysing Vertigo’s use of close-ups

Though it was not a huge hit at first, Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Vertigo has stood the test of time. Starring James Stewart as a former detective, he has been hired to follow Madeline (Kim Novak), who may or may not be possessed by a dead woman. While our main protagonist does have a mystery to solve early on, things gradually change during the course of the film. The less you know going in, the better.

Over the years, the film has garnered critical acclaim, to the point where many now consider it the greatest film of all-time. That’s a high honor, but if nothing else, Vertigo earns its place as one of the best thrillers ever, and definitely one of Hitchcock’s very best.

Classic Thriller

Conclusion

As iconic as it is mesmerizing, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo stands as a classic thriller and as a classic movie period.

Crime Thriller

6. Se7en (1995)

An analysis of Se7en’s effective use of “less is more”

David Fincher never went as hard, dark, and straightforward as he did with Se7en. The film is about two very different detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) trying to find a killer in an anonymous city that seems to be on the verge of falling apart. The killer is basing his murders off the seven deadly sins, and the more he succeeds, the more stressed and weary our detectives become.

Se7en was a major hit for Fincher, with the film becoming a part of pop culture almost immediately. But that doesn’t detract from the film’s thrills; it’s as gut-wrenching as it is exciting. Not too many crime thrillers go as dark as Se7en, but that only enhances its chilling atmosphere.

David Fincher Thriller

Conclusion

David Fincher’s Se7en is a dark, brutal, and engaging piece of crime fiction — a thriller that will keep you up at night.

Western Thrillers

5. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Behind the scenes documentary on No Country for Old Men

Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men tells the story of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who comes across a drug deal gone bad. Deciding to take the money at the scene, he is then chased by a mysterious assassin (Javier Bardem) as a soon-to-be-retired Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to make sense of the situation.

The film ended up being one of the best thrillers ever, as well as one of the most acclaimed movies of the 2010s, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2008. It stands as one of the Coen Brothers best films, and its villain, Anton Chigurh, made his stamp on pop culture the moment people saw his haircut. From it’s moments of levity to the heart-pounding motel chase, No Country for Old Men has almost everything you could want from a Neo-Western crime thriller.

Coen Brothers Thriller

Conclusion

No Country for Old Men is a crime thriller like few others, one which managed to break through and become one of the most acclaimed films of the 21st century.

Dreamlike Thriller

4. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Mulholland Drive’s use of manipulation

Sometimes a thriller doesn’t need a coherent plot to keep you engaged or frightened. In the hands of David Lynch, what first appears to be a straightforward mystery becomes a nightmare meditation about Hollywood, and who knows what else.

Very few people can accurately describe Mulholland Dr., often considered to be Lynch’s crowning achievement and one of the greatest thrillers of all time. Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, and Justin Theroux, the film lulls you into its bizarre world, one which never wants to be anything more than a twisted mirror of the one we’re already living in. As the narrative moves and changes, we get sucked into a world where there is no easy escape.

David Lynch Thriller

Conclusion

The narrative might go off the deep end, but that’s all part of the insane and intense experience that is watching David Lynch’s one-of-a-kind Mulholland Dr.

Top Thrillers

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs scene analysis

Few movie monsters are as famous as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and few films of this type managed to get the awards and critical acclaim that The Silence of the Lambs received. Director Jonathan Demme created one of the top thrillers of all time by combining horror and crime, anchored by Jodie Foster’s performance as FBI trainee Clarice Starling.

But it’s Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal that elevates this film beyond just being a terrific thriller. With his award-winning performance, Hopkins created a villain unequaled in contemporary cinema. He was so good at it, in fact, that he was brought back ten years later for the sequel Hannibal, along with the prequel Red Dragon the following year.

Crime Thriller

Conclusion

The Silence of the Lambs continues to haunt audiences to this very day, with it’s stellar performances, suspenseful moments, and stellar direction.

Classic Thriller

2. Jaws (1975)

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

What could be simpler than three men on a boat out to defeat a killer shark? Adapted from the bestselling novel, Jaws was one of Steven Spielberg's earliest films, and it came with numerous production problems behind the scenes. But no one could have predicted how massive of a hit it would be for everyone involved.

On the surface, Jaws is essentially a monster movie with adventure elements. Digging deeper reveals a story about small government negligence and a man who wants to keep his town and family safe. By keeping the shark hidden and emphasizing John Williams’ score, Spielberg created a masterpiece of suspense, horror, and thrills, ensuring you’d think twice about going for a swim.

Blockbuster Thriller

Conclusion

Few films can claim to have created the modern blockbuster, but Jaws has that distinction, along with being one of the greatest thrillers of all time and scaring audiences since 1975.

Classic Thriller

1. Psycho (1960)

Psycho’s one-of-a-kind trailer

As one of the top thrillers of all time, Psycho has broken the most barriers and had the most impact on both cinema and pop culture at large. One of director Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest hits, the film stars Janet Leigh as a woman on the run, who decides to stay at the Bates Motel for the night. What transpires is a series of events that lead to a truly horrifying revelation.

While the film is an engaging thriller on its own, its impact cannot be understated. Decades after its initial release, Psycho continues to terrify and shock audiences the world over, with a legendary performance by Anthony Perkins and an iconic musical score by Bernard Herrmann.

Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Conclusion

It may have gotten some sequels, a remake, and a television spin-off show, but the original Hitchcock classic continues to be an influence on the American cinematic landscape.

UP NEXT

Best Alfred Hitchcock Movies

Now that we’ve covered the best thrillers for you to watch, let’s go in-depth with the original Master of Suspense. You saw him pop up a lot on this list, so let’s dig deeper into Alfred Hitchcock’s vast filmography and learn more about his style and technique.

Up Next: Best Hitchcock Movies →
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