The Best Thrillers Currently on Netflix
Bring on the suspense.
What could be more thrilling than sitting at home, safely plopped on your couch, staring into a screen? Watching a thriller, obviously, which gets your blood pumping, dilates your pupils, and causes your palms to sweat, all without the threat of actual bodily harm. That's the beauty of watching these thrillers on Netflix: You get to witness the pros play out psychological and physical drama, while you kick back after a long day or week of work. You're going to love these thrillers on Netflix.
Apostle (2018)For his follow-up to his two action epics, The Raid and The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans dials back the hand-to-hand combat but still keeps a few buckets of blood handy in this grisly supernatural horror tale. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, an early 20th century opium addict traveling to a cloudy island controlled by a secretive cult that's fallen on hard times. The zealous religious group is led by a bearded scold named Father Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who may or may not be leading his people astray. Beyond a few bursts of kinetic violence and some crank-filled torture sequences, Evans plays this story relatively down-the-middle, allowing the performances, the lofty themes, and the windswept vistas to do the talking. It's a cult movie that earns your devotion slowly, then all at once.
Basic Instinct (1992)Has any movie ever done more for ice-based weapons? '90s bad-boy director Paul Verhoeven gave us this lurid tale of a damaged cop, played with real scumbag glee by Michael Douglas, investigating an icepick-wielding serial killer, but Sharon Stone is the real star of this show. Unlike the late-night premium-cable schlock that attempted to steal its sleazy style, this pulp classic has a sense of humor and a Hitchcockian playfulness to go along with all the nudity, violence, and cheesy one-liners.
Blue Ruin (2013)Before he went punk with 2016's siege thriller Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier delivered this low-budget, darkly comic hillbilly noir. When Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) discovers that the man who killed his parents is being released from prison, he returns home to Virginia to claims his revenge and things quickly spin out of control. Like the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, this wise-ass morality tale will make you squirm.
Braven (2018)The main character in this movie is named "Joe Braven" and he's played by Jason Momoa. That simple fact alone should convince you to watch this scrappy, low-budget action movie about a logger tasked with fighting off a heavily armed gang of drug dealers who stash some primo shit in his log cabin. If the protagonist had a less goofy name, the movie would still be effective—the director is a former stunt coordinator and he knows how to properly stage all the gunfights, bow-and-arrow deaths, and snowmobile chases—but the stupid grin that you get on your face every time someone says "Joe Braven" really elevates this throwback outdoors thriller. Momoa has the sturdy, low-key charisma of the best '80s action heroes, and it's a shame that the the laws of modern blockbuster-dom mean he'll likely spend more time starring in CG monster throw-downs like Justice League when he could be snapping necks in gruff B-movies like Braven. In a just world, the Braven-verse would be rapidly expanding every year.
Burning (2018)Some mysteries simmer; this one smolders. In his adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, writer and director Lee Chang-dong includes many elements of the acclaimed author's slyly mischievous style—cats, jazz, cooking, and an alienated male writer protagonist all pop up—but he also invests the material with his own dark humor, stray references to contemporary news, and an unyielding sense of curiosity. We follow aimless aspiring novelist Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) as he reconnects with Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman he grew up with, but the movie never lets you get too comfortable in one scene or setting. When Steven Yeun's Ben, a handsome rich guy with a beautiful apartment and a passion for burning down greenhouses, appears, the film shifts to an even more tremulous register. Can Ben be trusted? Yeun's performance is perfectly calibrated to entice and confuse, like he's a suave, pyromaniac version of Tyler Durden. Each frame keeps you guessing.
Calibre (2018)More than two men going on a vacation together in a horror film is never a good idea. Calibre, a horror tale that follows two childhood friends on a hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands, is a clever and tense entry in this long tradition of male bonding gone haywire. Father-to-be Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and his gruffer buddy Marcus (Martin McCann) aren't as close as they used to be, but the trip loosens them up and rekindles their friendship. After a tragic accident occurs in the woods, Marcus makes a decision that the more reserved, contemplative Vaughn regrets. Director Matt Palmer finds psychological nuance in this well-trodden material, making a familiar hike feel like a brand new journey into the unknown.
Cam (2018)Unlike the Unfriended films or the indie hit Searching, this web thriller from director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei isn't locked into the visual confines of a computer screen. Though there's plenty of online screen time, allowing for subtle bits of commentary and satire, but the looser style allows the filmmakers to really explore the life and work conditions of their protagonist, rising cam girl Alice (Madeline Brewer) who logs online one day to find her identity stolen. Immersing ourselves in her life IRL and online, we follow the young woman on a terrifying, pop-art-like hunt for who or what is taking over not just her viewers, but her entire life.
Den of Thieves (2018)If there's one thing you've probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it's that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann's crime saga Heat, which you'll find below on this list. The broad plot elements are similar: There's a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Pabro Schreiber) and they must contend with an obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Gerard Butler) over the movie's lengthy 140 minute runtime. What makes Den of Thieves oddly fascinating is that it feels like a bootleg T-shirt you'd buy for a band outside the venue, all garish and unconcerned with matters of good taste. A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, Christian Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle. You might respect the hustle.
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The Departed (2006)Don't let your annoying college roommate's affection for The Departed ruin the movie for you—it's an enormously entertaining crime film. Leonardo DiCaprio's expert slow-boil performance as undercover cop Billy Costigan is a big reason for that and marked a major career step forward; he stood tall against the Martin Scorsese film's many big-name scenery chewers and kept his Boston accent under control. Just try to forgive the little rat at the end.
Extraction (2020)Tossing aside Thor's massive hammer and trimming his gnarly beard, after Avengers: Endgame Chris Hemsworth picked up an assault rifle and got to work in Extraction, a Netflix shoot-em-up that re-teams the Australian actor with his former Marvel filmmaking buddies Joe and Anthony Russo. While Hemsworth's gun-toting commando protagonist Tyler Rake—yes, that's his name—lacks comic-book superpowers and Norse god strength, he can take a beating and keep fighting. At one point in the film's big show-stopping chase sequence, Rake gets slammed by a speeding car. His solution? Locate a bigger vehicle, preferably a large truck, and hit the bad guy back. That type of strategic thinking should give you a sense of Rake's tactical prowess and of the movie's blunt-force approach to action filmmaking.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)Stieg Larsson's brutal Millennium series of novels introduced the wider world to goth hacker Lisbeth Salander and the joys and torments of a very specific, regional brand of Scandinavian crime fiction: bleak, violent, and cold, both literally and figuratively. Given the books' appeal and the success of the 2009 Swedish adaptation, it was only natural that Hollywood would jump at the chance to make an English-language Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—and who better to direct it than David Fincher, who's directed more than a few films about serial murder and insidious savagery? His adaptation stars Rooney Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as Mikhail Blomkvist, and tosses the two together in the midst of a murder conspiracy involving a wealthy family, a series of horrific killings, and an unsolved disappearance that took place more than 40 years prior. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo reels you in with its mystery-thriller facade and slowly opens into a potent examination of the many different types of misogynistic cruelty hiding beneath society's surface.
I Am Mother (2019)Artificial intelligence continues to inspire contemporary sci-fi, maybe even at an increasing rate as it becomes more and more integrated into daily life. I Am Mother finds a teenage girl (Clara Rugaard) raised in a post-apocalyptic underground shelter by a robot known as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne), who's built to nurture a new generation and eventually send them back up to the surface, where much of humankind has been wiped out. But when a woman, played by Hilary Swank, arrives out of nowhere at their facility, the girl must reconsider all everything she knows, including her trust of Mother. It's a simple set-up, but exceedingly ominous in the sci-fi genre's tried and true trope of warning us of our dependence on technology.
Gerald's Game (2017)Mike Flanagan's Stephen King adaptation of Gerald's Game wrings big scares from a small location. Sticking close to the grisly plot details of King's seemingly "unfilmable" novel, the movie chronicles the painstaking struggles of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino) after she finds herself handcuffed to a bed in an isolated vacation home when her husband, the titular Gerald, dies from a heart attack while enacting his kinky sexual fantasies. She's trapped—and that's it. The premise is clearly challenging to sustain for a whole movie, but Flanagan and Gugino turn the potentially one-note set-up into a forceful, thoughtful meditation on trauma, memory, and resilience in the face of near-certain doom.
The Gift (2015)In less daring hands, this psychological thriller may have telegraphed its legitimately disturbing ending and devolved into another direct-to-VOD movie you will never watch. But Australian writer-star-director Joel Edgerton goes all in with this tale about an alpha yuppie (Jason Bateman, exuding impish charm in a non-comedic role) struggling to deal with his forlorn wife (Rebecca Hall) and the relentless friendliness of a long-lost schoolmate (Edgerton).
Good Time (2017)In this greasy, cruel thriller from Uncut Gems directors the Safdie brothers, Robert Pattinson stars as Connie, a bank robber who races through Queens to find enough money to bail out his mentally disabled brother, who's locked up for their last botched job. Each suffocating second of Good Time, blistered by the neon backgrounds of Queens, New York and propelled by warped heartbeat of Oneothrix Point Never's synth score, finds Connie evading authorities by tripping into an even stickier situation.
Inception (2010)Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it's difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others’ subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he’s got to implant one—that's inception, baby!—with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.
The Guest (2014)After writer-director Adam Wingard notched a semi-sleeper horror hit with 2011's You're Next, he'd earned a certain degree of goodwill among genre faithful and, apparently, with studio brass. How else to explain distribution for his atypical thriller The Guest through Time Warner subsidiary Picturehouse? Headlined by Dan Stevens and kindred flick It Follows' lead scream queen Maika Monroe, The Guest introduces itself as a subtextual impostor drama, abruptly spins through a blender of '80s teen tropes, and ultimately reveals its true identity as an expertly self-conscious straight-to-video shoot 'em up, before finally circling back on itself with a well-earned wink. To say anymore about the hell that Stevens' "David" unleashes on a small New Mexico town would not only spoil the fun, but possibly get you killed.
Hush (2016)Hush is undeniable proof that a movie need not be startlingly unique or densely plotted to be a damn good time. In many ways we've heard this story before—a solitary young woman must fend off a persistent stalker who is skulking around outside—but thanks to director Mike Flanagan, a master of "home invasion" tropes, Hush turns out to be a slick, quick, and remarkable suspenseful tale.
The Interview (1998)This Usual Suspects-esque Australian thriller follows the tale of Eddie Fleming (Hugo Weaving), a man interrogated by the police for a crime he may or may not have committed. Staged almost entirely within that interrogation room, the interplay between Fleming and the cops is tense as hell while the balance of power and sympathies continually shifts. Who is really on trial, and for what, are questions that get asked and answered in a series of twists that still have the power to shock over 20 years later.
The Invitation (2016)Have you ever spent an evening at a dinner party from which you couldn't wait to escape? If so, you'll probably appreciate the escalating tensions of Karyn Kusama's thriller that deals with old friends, creepy cults, and an offer that (literally) cannot be refused. A strong cast and a clever screenplay keep The Invitation interesting during the slow-burn setup. When the finish line's in sight, it's a satisfying run of thrills and scares. And don't you dare turn it off before the final shot.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)There's something off about Martin (Barry Keoghan), the surviving son of a man who died under the knife of surgeon Steve Murphy (Colin Farrell). At the beginning of spine-tingling Sacred Deer, Steve steps up to be a father figure to Martin, gauche and puzzling and bubbling with darkness. The relationship eventually sours, and it's from there that director Yorgos Lanthimos, known for bitter strains of magical realism, finds footing for an ice-cold rumination on regret and responsibility. Farrell is gifted unprecedented complexity in his Sophie's Choice, Nicole Kidman challenges him with every move, and Keoghan gives a performance that echoes Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. It's a maddening and exhilarating time at the movies.
Mad Max (1979)Before Tom Hardy was grunting his way through the desert and crushing tiny two-headed reptiles as Max Rockatansky, there was Mel Gibson. George Miller's 1979 original introduces the iconic character and paints the maximum force of his dystopian mythology in a somewhat more grounded light—Australian police factions, communities, and glimmers of hope still in existence. Badass homemade vehicles and chase scenes abound in this taut, 88-minute romp. It's aged just fine.
Nightcrawler (2014)Jake Gyllenhaal gives a career-best performance in this nocturnal noir, playing the haunted, single-minded Lou Bloom, a scavenger of human suffering whose motives are as twisted and opaque as the seedy LA underworld he inhabits. That is, as a cameraman documenting crime scenes for a local news station—but that’s media for you! It’s a twisted thriller, testing how much you can take as you go on an after hours high-speed chase, and it’s all set against writer-director Dan Gilroy’s pitch-black vision of sunny California that forces you to see the City of Angels in a whole new light.
Okja (2017)This wild ride, written and directed by Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer), is part action heist, part Miyazaki-like travelogue, and part scathing satire. It's fueled by fairy tale whimsy—but the Grimm kind, where there are smiles and spilled blood. Ahn Seo-hyun plays Mija, the young keeper of a "super-pig," bred by a food manufacturer to be the next step in human-consumption evolution. When the corporate overlords come for her roly-poly pal, Mija hightails it from the farm to the big city to break him out, crossing environmental terrorists, a zany Steve Irwin-type (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the icy psychos at the top of the food chain (including Swinton's childlike CEO) along the way. Okja won't pluck your heartstrings like E.T., but there's grandeur in its frenzy, and the film's cross-species friendship will strike up every other emotion with its empathetic, eco-friendly, and eccentric observations.
The Old Guard (2020)Gina Prince-Bythewood's adaptation of Greg Rucka's comic series is a superhero movie with a soul. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy, aka Andromache, a warrior who has lived for six millennia and doesn't really see the point anymore. But she and her team of fellow immortals are drawn back into conflict when they start being hunted by a pharmaceutical brat who wants to use them as test subjects. At the same time, a new member joins their ranks, Nile (KiKi Layne), who survives a throat-slitting and is inducted into this strange club. Prince-Bythewood melds immensely fun fight sequences—it's a joy to watch Theron throw a punch—with groundbreaking moments of quietude, including a gay romance that's like nothing you've seen before in an action movie.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)The White House siege movie Olympus Has Fallen is not a great movie. It's not even the best action movie about machine-gun-wielding bad guys taking over the White House released in 2013. (That honor goes to the Jamie Fox and Channing Tatum Die Hard ripoff White House Down.) So, what makes Olympus Has Fallen worth watching? It's an essential introduction to Mike Banning, a ferocious Secret Service Agent played by Gerard Butler who appears in the sequels London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen, and the movie is key, in all its goofy brutality, to understanding Butler's mid-career resurgence as an action star. The Banning-verse starts here.
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 will return to the horror genre in the future.
Small Crimes (2017)It's always a little discombobulating to see your favorite Game of Thrones actors in movies that don't call on them to fight dragons, swing swords, or at least wear some armor. But that shouldn't stop you from checking out Small Crimes, a carefully paced thriller starring the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. As Joe Denton, a crooked cop turned ex-con, Coster-Waldau plays yet another character with a twisted moral compass, but here he's not part of some mythical narrative. He's just another conniving, scheming dirtbag in director E.L. Katz's Coen brothers-like moral universe. While some of the plot details are confusing—Katz and co-writer Macon Blair skimp on the exposition so much that some of the dialogue can feel incomprehensible—the mood of Midwestern dread and Coster-Waldau's patient, lived-in performance make this one worth checking out. Despite the lack of dragons.
Snowpiercer (2013)Did people go overboard in praising Snowpiercer when it came out? Maybe. But it's important to remember that the movie arrived in the sweaty dog days of summer, hitting critics and sci-fi lovers like a welcome blast of icy water from a hose. The film's simple, almost video game-like plot—get to the front of the train, or die trying—allowed visionary South Korean director Bong Joon-ho to fill the screen with excitement, absurdity, and radical politics. Chris Evans never looked more alive, Tilda Swinton never stole more scenes, and mainstream blockbuster filmmaking never felt so tepid in comparison. Come on, ride the train!
Taxi Driver (1976)Travis Bickle (a young Bobby De Niro) comes back from the Vietnam War and, having some trouble acclimating to daily life, slowly unravels while fending off brutal insomnia by picking up work as a... taxi driver... in New York City. Eventually he snaps, shaves his hair into a mohawk and goes on a murderous rampage while still managing to squeeze in one of the most New York lines ever captured on film ("You talkin' to me?"). It's not exactly a heartwarmer—Jodie Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute and Harvey Keitel is her much older pimp and lover—but Martin Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver is a movie in the cinematic canon that you'd be legitimately missing out on if you didn't watch it.
Time to Hunt (2020)Unrelenting in its pursuit of scenarios where guys point big guns at each other in sparsely lit empty hallways, Time to Hunt is a South Korean thriller that knows exactly what stylistic register it's playing in. A group of four friends, including Choi Woo-shik (Parasite, Train to Busan), knock over a gambling house, stealing a hefty bag of money and a set of even more valuable hard-drives, and then find themselves targeted by a ruthless contract killer (Park Hae-soo) who moves like the T-1000 and shoots like a henchmen in a Michael Mann movie. There are dystopian elements to the world—protests play out in the streets, the police wage a tech-savvy war on citizens, automatic rifles are readily available to all potential buyers—but they all serve the simmering tension and elevate the pounding set-pieces instead of feeling like unnecessary allegorical padding. Time to Hunt uses its elongated runtime to build sequences in a meticulous, considerate way that should appeal to viewers who have seen Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice too many times to count.
Uncut Gems (2019)In Uncut Gems, the immersive crime film from sibling director duo Josh and Benny Safdie, gambling is a matter of faith. Whether he's placing a bet on the Boston Celtics, attempting to rig an auction, or outrunning debt-collecting goons at his daughter's high school play, the movie's jeweler protagonist Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) believes in his ability to beat the odds. Does that mean he always succeeds? No, that would be absurd, undercutting the character's Job-like status, which Sandler imbues with an endearing weariness that holds the story together. But every financial setback, emotional humbling, and spiritual humiliation he suffers gets interpreted by Howard as a sign that his circumstances might be turning around. After all, a big score could be right around the corner. He's both trapped in a circumstantial vice, which closes in around him as the film progresses, and addicted to the powerful sensation of being squeezed, which is reflected in the movie's synth-splashed, crosstalk-filled audio mix. Expanding on the jittery, run-and-gun propulsion of 2017's Good Time, the Safdie Brothers outfit the movie with quasi-novelistic flourishes like an Ethiopia-set prologue and a surprisingly warm, funny detour to a Passover seder. Every piece, from the performances—of both the actors to the essential non-actors—to the costume design, feels deliberate and considered while also retaining the jagged, surreal texture of day-to-day life as lived in 2012 New York. That balance between the cosmic and the chaotic—the sacred and the profane—is what makes Uncut Gems so excellent.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)Netflix's "ludicrously fun and gory art-world satire" sees director and screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) team up with Jake Gyllenhaal in a thriller that rips apart the effete LA art world. While pricey auctions and pretentious collectors are relatively low-hanging fruit, Gilroy, Gyllenhaal, and Rene Russo bring a fast-paced humor that makes the plot—an outsider artist's haunted work starts killing people—more tolerable than you might think. Oh, and names like Morf, Rhodora, and Ventril elevate the film's self-aware kitschiness, which makes the satire even more cutting.
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