The Most Exciting Thrillers to Pair with a Bottle of Wine
We've got your Saturday night plans.
When Thrillist talked with Steven Soderbergh to discuss his HBO Max movie Kimi, he and screenwriter David Koepp described it as a "Saturday night bottle of wine thriller." Those guys should know something about this kind of movie, the type of twisty experience you want on a cozy night with a glass of Pinot—Noir or Grigio, to each their own.
Both Soderbergh and Koepp have made films that fit the description beyond Kimi, among them the likes of Panic Room and Side Effects. So inspired by this epithet, we at Thrillist have decided to make a list of our favorite "Saturday night bottle of wine" movies. We took some cues from the originators of the term, including their favorites like Repulsion and Sorry, Wrong Number, and added some of our own. Operating from a loose definition, we chose selections that are paranoid, creepy, and engaging, always keeping you on the edge of your couch even after you've downed a couple.
Blow Out (1981)
A frenzied commentary on post-Watergate paranoia and a careful examination of how narratives get constructed, this Brian De Palma thriller will change the way you listen to audio. John Travolta stars as a gifted movie sound effects artist who accidentally records a murder involving a presidential candidate—or does he? To solve the mystery he keeps going back to the tape, driving himself to the brink of madness in the search for the truth. You'll return to this movie with the same intensity.
Body Double (1984)
Brian De Palma's Hitchcockian homage didn't have the warmest reception when it was released, but it's since gone down as a cult favorite. And how could it not? It's a pulpy erotic thriller set in a seedy yet sexy LA, where the porn industry is thriving and voyeurism is the norm, and it features Melanie Griffith in a spitfire of a role. Mystery and obsession unfolds when a struggling actor (Craig Wasson) takes up an offer from a new friend (Gregg Henry) to stay at his home while he's away. Being that he lives at the futurist, window-lined Chemosphere in the Valley, he's got the perfect view to creep on the hot neighbor down below in the hills… and witness her murder. While it may be an ode to Hitchcock films like Rear Window, it's sensational De Palma at his finest.
The Conversation (1974)
If you think domestic surveillance is spooky, imagine how it feels for the guy on the other end of the microphone. Starring Gene Hackman in his prime, Francis Ford Coppola's subdued thriller builds paranoia out of an overheard conversation and the lengths to which one private investigator goes to uncover its meaning. Hackman’s Harry Caul can only get so close to his subjects, and Coppola plays by similar rules, making sound as essential to the viewing experience as picture. Wildly influential, this one will have you looking over your shoulder for days.
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Dial M for Murder (1954)
No blonde is safe if she's in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and Dial M for Murder is no different, starring the director's muse Grace Kelly as the victim of a murder plot gone wrong. When retired tennis player Tony (Ray Milland) finds out that his wife Margot (Kelly) is having an affair with a mystery novel writer, he blackmails a former friend-turned-small time criminal Charlie (Anthony Dawson) into plotting Margot's murder. When the plot goes wrong, it's up to a particularly savvy lawman to figure out what really happened, before an innocent woman is framed for a crime she never committed. The movie drips with Hitchcock's patented sardonic humor and thrills with its atmospheric plot and daring escapes.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
Do you need a thriller that's also a fashion movie? Eyes of Laura Mars is the Kate Moss of a movie in that very niche genre. The '70s New York neo noir stars the glamorous Faye Dunaway as a fashion photographer whose style explores themes of violence against women. When she's on the cusp of releasing a new photo book and must navigate controversy surrounding her work, she starts to experience visions. Now, it's not just her camera that captures brutality—it's as if she can see through the eyes of a serial killer in real time. An American attempt at a giallo film, it's often completely nonsensical, but it undeniably has its own style and everybody is dressed to kill.
The Fugitive (1993)
"You'll never find him—he's too smart." That's the apt description Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) gets in director Andrew Davis' '90s masterpiece. Kimble's on the run from the authorities because he's been wrongfully accused of killing his wife, and through a series of unlikely escapes, the doc-turned-fugitive tries to hunt down his mysterious nemesis and prove his innocence. Fortunately, he really is something like the offspring of Carmen Sandiego and MacGyver. Ford is pitch-perfect as the jack-of-all-trades hero, playing opposite a ruthless Tommy Lee Jones. Together, they weave a satisfying balancing act of high-octane action (including a train, a bus, and a helicopter), heart (Kimble somehow finds time to save other people's lives), and intrigue (drug companies, I tell ya), making for a legit nail-biter.
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"Isabelle Huppert goes goblin mode" is maybe the best way to describe Neil Jordan's recent wild thriller about kooky piano teacher Greta (Huppert), who leaves nice handbags on the New York City subway to lure passing do-gooders into her sociopathic maw. The just-graduated Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the latest scheme victim, returning the purse and befriending Greta before promptly ending it upon discovering a trove of the very same purse in Greta's house. But, because of the mysteries of her past, Greta can't accept this and begins stalking Frances, eventually kidnapping and imitating her to her friends via text. It's not like Greta is a masterpiece, but Huppert and Moretz put in noteworthy performances as unhinged and terrified, and the final twist is a perfect bit of insanity to scream at the TV about a bottle of wine deep on a Saturday night.
In the Cut (2003)
Director Jane Campion (The Piano) turns the psychological thriller on its head with this thoughtful and bracing film starring Meg Ryan as a woman who gets caught up in a murder investigation in Manhattan. In a role originally developed for Nicole Kidman, who has a producing credit, Ryan digs deep into her character's curiosity and fear as she unwraps the mystery. In the Cut is often disturbing, has a shocking ending, and ultimately functions as a portrait of a woman managing her own desires and struggling with the demands of the troubled men who circle around her.
In the '70s Alan J. Pakula was the king of the paranoid thriller and Klute is maybe his crowning achievement. This jittery noir stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels, a prostitute who is tenuously connected to the disappearance of a chemical company executive. She's investigated by John Klute, played with deceptive stillness by Donald Sutherland. As he gets closer to figuring out the case, they get closer as a pair, even as they both remain deeply guarded. It's a sort-of love story hidden in a deeply unsettling mystery, the kind of movie that keeps you leaning in toward the screen.
Mother is a critically acclaimed hit from Bong Joon Ho that has its titular mother on an obsessive quest to prove that her mentally disabled son is innocent of a murder he's accused of having committed. Its unpredictable twists and turns cast Kim Hye-ja, seen as the maternal archetype in Korea for her other roles in more family-centric titles, as a vengeful protectorate. There aren't any supernatural scares here; just the grotesque horrors that humans can capably wreak on one another.
One Hour Photo (2002)
Despite his zanier-than-life reputation, Robin Williams was no stranger to dramas. Still, 2002’s one-two punch of Insomnia and One Hour Photo stamped out his likable mania entirely, casting Williams as a small-town murderer and a mild-mannered stalker, respectively. Take your pick, but Photo is the more wine-friendly movie. Director Mark Romanek—known at the time for Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, and Fiona Apple videos—was wise to choose Williams after Jack Nicholson turned down what would have been an all-too-obvious role. Playing a lonely photo technician who takes an uncomfortable liking to one particular family, Williams’ soft demeanor ratchets up the movie’s eerie menace, throwing everything off balance until its darkness becomes blindingly apparent.
Panic Room (2002)
Panic Room is a clever and propulsive David Fincher thriller starring Jodie Foster as a divorced Manhattanite surviving a home invasion. The script, written by David Koepp, is packed with effective twists, sharp dialogue, and authentic-seeming details that help complicate the stripped-down premise about a trio of thieves looking for the hidden money of the house's former owner. Foster and a young Kristen Stewart, playing the precocious diabetic daughter, are both gripping in tough, demanding roles, while Forest Whitaker brings a weariness and warmth to his villain role. It's as gripping as it is frighteningly claustrophobic.
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Before the gripping drama of George Stevens 1951 classic A Place in the Sun even gets started you’ll be mesmerized by the aesthetics, and by that I mean, the casting of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift as part of the love triangle at the film’s center. Based on a Theodore Dreiser novel, Clift plays George Eastman, a man who begins works in his rich uncle’s factory. From there he becomes entangled with a woman (Shelley Winters) who works alongside him, but as his clout grows due to his surname he’s thrust into a new social spectrum where he falls for Angela (Taylor), a rich society girl. But when Alice tells George she’s pregnant, George has to figure out what to do next. With an incredibly chilling performance from Clift at its center, A Place in the Sun might hit too close to home about what someone might be capable of when trying to achieve the “American Dream.”
Red Eye (2005)
Director Wes Craven is best known for his Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but in 2005 he directed a pulpy, terrifying thriller at 36,000 feet. Before boarding a red eye flight from Dallas to Miami, frumpy hotel manager Lisa (Rachel McAdams) engages in some light flirting with a stranger (Cillian Murphy) at the airport bar. When the same stranger ends up seated next to her, things seem off, and when the stranger reveals that he's actually a terrorist bent on assassinating a member of the government staying at Lisa's hotel, she knows she's in trouble. McAdams plays the perfect not-so-distressed damsel, and Murphy's skills at playing scary-hot are on full display.
What's hiding behind the walls? For the follow-up to his debut feature Knife in the Water, another tale of close-quarters suspense, director Roman Polanski cast Catherine Deneuve as a young manicurist living in a cramped London apartment with her older sister. As the Deneuve character grows increasingly distressed by her sister's relationship with a man, she begins to unravel and the interior of the apartment, already on the claustrophobic side, takes on a sinister quality. Clocks tick, food rots, cracks appear, and soon enough you're plunged into a surreal parable of psychological and architectural terror, one that refuses to provide tidy answers to the unsettling questions it provokes.
Shutter Island (2010)
In his haunted adaptation of Dennis Lehane's pulpy gothic novel, director Martin Scorsese uses visceral horror imagery to convey despair. Leonardo DiCaprio's terrified mug is the film's spookiest special effect. With every grimace, furrowed brow, and anguished sob, he brings you into the tortured psyche of Edward Daniels, a man who cannot escape his past no matter how hard he tries. It's a carefully modulated performance that helps sell the film's occasionally wonky twists. While Shutter Island is more of a psychological thriller than a horrifying spook, DiCaprio will have you feeling as if you're thrown right into Daniels' mind—which is just as scary. More than anything, it makes you wish DiCaprio would return to the horror genre in the future.
Side Effects (2013)
Steven Soderbergh was an old hand at psychological thrillers before he directed Side Effects, which stars Rooney Mara as Emily, a socialite whose doctor (Jude Law) prescribes her antidepressants after she attempts suicide when her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison. The drugs she's on are experimental, though, and her resulting sleepwalking episodes soon turn violent, but all is not as it seems (this is a Soderbergh movie, after all). What follows is a thrilling blend of psychological horror and crime noir, a totally unique combination of anxieties both old and new. Shame there isn't a pill for that.
Single White Female (1992)
Today, the term “Single White Female” might be more ubiquitous than the 1992 film itself. Starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Lee, Single White Female is a campy fun thriller that gets to the heart of the staying power of that phrase. Fonda plays Allie, a software designer, who, after breaking off her engagement, needs a roommate. In comes Hedy (Jason Lee), and the two become close quickly, but Hedy becomes overly protective of Allie and when she starts dressing like her—all bets are off. I hate to call Single White Female a “romp,” but in its '90s thriller way (complete with unfortunate auburn bowl haircut), it’s a total blast.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Sorry, Wrong Number has an all-time-great premise: a bratty Manhattan heiress (Barbara Stanwyck in an Oscar-nominated role) is home alone when she picks up the phone and, due to a mismatched connection, overhears two men plotting to commit a murder that night. The police prove unresponsive to her report, resulting in a feverish quest to locate her husband (Burt Lancaster) that reveals a succession of increasingly sordid details. A brisk, noirish thriller based on a popular radio play from 1943, Wrong Number is an example of what Hollywood once called “women’s films,” a surprisingly robust quasi-genre in which Stanwyck was a key player. It has inspired a number of subsequent adaptations, including the 1982 Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
The Stepfather (1987)
It's incredible how Terry O'Quinn (y’know, John Locke from Lost) can turn on a dime in Joseph Ruben's Regan-era thriller. (You can skip the 2009 remake.) One one hand, O'Quinn's family man Jerry Blake just wants a wife and kid to settle down with in middle-class Seattle suburbia; on the other, he's a psychopath who goes by many names and stabbed his first family to death and plans to do it again by methodically leeching onto the widowed Susan (Shelley Hack) and her suspicious teenage daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen). The Stepfather thrives in building tension, with Jerry constantly on the verge of being sniffed out, and keeps the gore of its atrocities to a minimum throughout most of the film, letting the opening imagery linger as the specter behind O'Quinn's toothy backyard BBQ grin. Ignoring the subtext, it's a quaint thriller with a nail biting climax, but dig a little deeper and it becomes clever commentary on the toxic myth of the nuclear family and the former administration's penchant for claiming moral authority while committing heinous acts.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
One of the funnier aspects of Three Days of the Condor is that dashing Robert Redford is cast as a bookish, unnoticeable CIA analyst when he obviously looks like '70s Robert Redford. Luckily, as the plot springs into action and the paranoia kicks in, sending Redford's Joseph Turner on a mad dash through New York with Faye Dunaway's Kathy, the actor gets more than a few chances to fall into super-spy hero mode. Sydney Pollack's direction is slicker than some of the other Watergate-era thrillers like The Conversation or The Parallax View, but the movie skillfully evokes the unease and terror of being caught up in a conspiracy you can't quite fully grasp or understand.
To Die For (1995)
Nicole Kidman's perfect performances as a perkily, devilishly ambitious weatherwoman is the centerpiece of Gus Van Sant's deceptively delightful and hilarious thriller based on Joyce Maynard's book. Kidman is Suzanne, a perfectly coiffed host who wants fame above anything else, and will do anything to achieve it, especially when her husband (Matt Dillon) starts getting in the way. She befriends three outcast teens—among them Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck—when working on a documentary about youth issues, and convinces them to kill her (not really all that) meddling spouse. Naturally, this plan goes awry to varying degrees, and as Suzanne falters to her demise, Van Sant creates a pastel colored portrait of the American desire for stardom.