One could argue that thrillers are among the best movie genres. On one hand, it’s because there’s such a wide variety of methods a filmmaker can use to thrill an audience — from psychological spooks to the mounting suspense of crime movies, from the shocks of a horror thriller to real-world scenarios a movie can fictionalize to send anyone into a state of anxious frenzy. But it’s also because thrillers are just so damn gripping and fun to devour.
We’ve let our heart rates suffer and anxiety levels skyrocket to curate a list of the very best thrillers you can find on Netflix, all of which offer a smorgasbord of exhilaration and intrigue. There’s trashy thrills, high-stakes action, a badass revenge flick, crime capers, a gothic period piece, a comedic murder mystery, and even a plummet down the terrifying paths student debt will send you.
Credit: Paramount Pictures / Handout
To be thrilled is to, by definition, be excited. It’s why us thriller junkies return to the genre again and again, itching to be left on the edge of our seats. No film explores and executes that more brilliantly than Psycho.
Hitchcock’s 1960 classic understands how terror and pleasure can intermingle when we witness something ghastly. In Psycho, it’s Anthony Perkins’s voyeurism that’s on display as the queasily terrifying Norman Bates — the final person Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) meets at her fateful stop at the Bates Motel. But it’s also our voyeurism on display, as Hitchcock was keenly aware of the viewer’s desire to watch menacing danger unravel on screen. Manifesting that terror and titillation so evocatively across his work is what made him the master of suspense, and what in many ways makes Psycho one of the greatest and most game-changing thrillers of all time. From Hitchcock’s direction to DP John L. Russell’s innovative camera work (the final transition shot will haunt you for ages) and Bernard Herrmann’s frightful, nerve-jangling score — not to mention the shocking first act twist — Psycho‘s influence can still be seen across the genre.
How to watch: Psycho is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
2. Inside Man
Credit: David Lee/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock
One of the best modern-day heist movies, Spike Lee’s Inside Man is a masterclass in crackling suspense, both inside and outside of the bank at the center of the film. We follow Clive Owen’s Dalton Russell who claims to have planned the perfect robbery. When he takes over a Manhattan bank, Denzel Washington’s Detective Frazier arrives to negotiate the release of the hostages. But things turn messier when secret documents related to the bank’s founder (Christopher Plummer) enter the picture, and Jodie Foster’s ice-cold fixer arrives on the scene to straighten things out. With its precise plotting, taut action, and razor-sharp performances from Foster, Washington, and Plummer, Lee’s Inside Man is nothing short of a damn fine caper movie.
How to watch: Inside Man is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
3. The Beguiled
Sometimes the mere presence of a man is enough to instigate ominous tension. In Sofia Coppola’s gothic Civil War thriller The Beguiled, itself a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film of the same name, Colin Farrell plays a wounded Union soldier who falls ill near a Confederate all-girls’ school. Nicole Kidman’s headmaster Miss Farnsworth allows him to stay until his health restores, but an atmosphere of sexual unease and jealousy begins to pervade the school as each girl vies for the handsome soldier’s affection, especially Kirsten Dunst’s Miss Edwina Morrow. The Beguiled soon crescendos into a frenetic thrill ride of violence, secrets, and one very unforgettable meal. Most memorably, Coppola gives us an all-timer line: a distraught Farrell screaming, “You vengeful bitches!”
How to watch: The Beguiled is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
Jennifer Lopez gets her Sleeping With the Enemy moment in Enough as Slim, a mother and survivor of domestic abuse who takes matters into her own hands. After enduring years of violence from her husband Mitch (Billy Campbell), Slim finally escapes with her young daughter. But Mitch is a real piece of shit (of course), and he does everything he can to track down and stop her. Much melodrama ensues, but it’s the climax of Enough that makes it all worth it. Just imagine what would happen if Jennifer Lopez was really pissed off at you, then suddenly learned a bunch of Krav Maga and decided to get revenge.
How to watch: Enough is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
5. The Wolf’s Call
The Wolf’s Call is a submarine action thriller that uses sound (and silence) as its biggest and most effective asset. In this underseen French film from diplomat-turned-director Antonin Baudry, a French sub sets out on a mission to rescue a special forces team but must do so covertly, without alarming an enemy warship above them or enemy troops stationed nearby. The key to their mission: a sonar expert with a “golden ear” named Chanteraide (François Civil) who can detect the subtlest underwater sound.
That premise sets up an incredibly gripping underwater thriller that slowly builds in tension until the stakes get even higher — the French sub finds itself at the center of potential nuclear war. With a killer cast of French acting veterans including Omar Sy, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Reda Kateb, and sound design by Oscar-winner Randy Thom, The Wolf’s Call is a standout film more than worth your time.
How to watch: The Wolf’s Call is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
6. Side Effects
In Side Effects, Rooney Mara plays Emily, an elite upstate New Yorker who starts to unravel once her husband (Channing Tatum) arrives home after a four-year prison sentence. Her new therapist (Jude Law) has Emily start a new experimental medication recommended by her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones). At first she begins sleepwalking, then suddenly something horrific happens. I won’t tell you what, but if you dig ultra-twisty psychological thrillers that veer towards the schlocky end of the genre, Side Effects is for you. Steven Soderbergh’s exploration of the world of pharmaceutical drugs and therapy is a wild ride with a final twist that — whether you hate it or love it — will keep you guessing till the end.
How to watch: Side Effects is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
7. Reservoir Dogs
Credit: Live Entertainment/Kobal/Shutterstock
Tarantino’s first film is full of all his signature quirks — explosive violence, killer needle drops, cool-as-hell characters, labyrinthine plotting, and plenty of anxiety-inducing tension. After a gang of criminals escape a diamond heist gone awry, with one of them bleeding out in the back of the getaway car, paranoia sets in. Someone definitely snitched to the cops, and now the remaining guys – Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White, Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink, and Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde – are left to let their suspicions and rage stew as they wait at the hideout. Tarantino essentially shoves a bunch of ruthless gangsters into a room, lights a fire beneath them, and lets us watch the pot boil over.
How to watch: Reservoir Dogs is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
8. Emily the Criminal
Known best for her offbeat deadpan humor, Aubrey Plaza gets to fully immerse herself in a high-stress dramatic role in Emily the Criminal, and it’s a real treat to watch. She plays Emily, an artist suffocated by her $70,000 of student debt and a criminal record preventing her from landing a reliable job. Everything is stacked against her until a coworker hooks her up with a side gig doing credit card fraud, sending her down a new path of danger and financial success.
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Most crime thrillers put us in the shoes of long-time, professional swindlers, yet Emily the Criminal feels especially relatable as a story about the way anyone — especially those of us buried in debt — could consider illegal routes out of pure desperation. While the film could benefit from a keener analysis of the systems in place that directly lead to crime and inequities in the first place, it’s really Plaza’s performance that makes this film shine. She does a phenomenal job of channeling a young woman breaking under the pressure of financial instability, and also one who grows more daring and outspoken the deeper she gets in.
How to watch: Emily the Criminal is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
9. The Woman in the Window
If you like your thrillers absolutely over the top and oozing with melodrama, may I introduce you to Joe Wright’s deliciously entertaining The Woman in the Window? Based on the A.J. Finn bestseller of the same name, this thriller finds Amy Adams camping it up as Anna Fox, a child psychologist with an extreme case of agoraphobia that prevents her from leaving her Manhattan brownstone. One evening, after guzzling wine and popping prescription medication, Anna believes she’s witnessed a murder across the street. But as the detectives begin to question her sanity, Anna also starts to lose a grip on what’s real.
Of course, you’ve seen this all before, and that’s kinda the point. A mash-up of Rear Window meets Gaslight and filled with a dozen and a half other references to classic noir that Anna actually watches throughout the movie, The Woman in the Window is more of a cheesy love letter to a subgenre than a successful recreation of one. But boy, does that give way to some good, trashy fun.
How to watch: The Woman in the Window is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
Any film about a child abduction is bound to be intense, but in Prisoners filmmaker Denis Villeneuve bottles up and captures an incredibly potent intensity that echos what any parent of a lost child would feel during an investigation. And it’s hard not to feel that racing anxiety and pulsating terror throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime.
After two young girls go missing, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki arrests the first suspect (Paul Dano) but soon lets him go after failing to find evidence. A furiously explosive Hugh Jackman, who plays the father of one of the girls, decides to take the investigation into his own hands, kidnapping and violently interrogating Dano’s Alex himself. From there, we’re taken down a twisty path of multiple suspects and red herrings that culminates in a bone-chilling finale.
How to watch: Prisoners is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
11. Triple Frontier
There’s nothing like a good ensemble in a crime film, and Triple Frontier has one of the strongest in years. Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal, Garrett Hedlund, and Charlie Hunnam play five former Special Forces military operators in this J.C. Chandor thriller. Feeling neglected by their government, the men decide to get in on a heist to steal $75 million from a drug cartel in a South American jungle. But as greed sets in and tensions rise, things start going off the rails.
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Triple Frontier isn’t the explosive action mayhem you’d expect from say, The Expendables, but instead Chandor brings a more restrained, taut suspense to his sequences, including a memorable tracking shot during the heist. The real glue that holds it all together though is the all-around excellent work from his stellar cast, especially Isaac and Pascal, a duo that one can only hope will team up again.
How to watch: Triple Frontier is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
12. The Nice Guys
To be fair, The Nice Guys is technically more of a comedy than a thriller, but if you’re craving some belly laughs alongside a sharply-crafted murder mystery, look no further. A delightful buddy cop comedy from Lethal Weapon‘s Shane Black follows the unlikely duo of a down-and-out P.I. (a hilarious Ryan Gosling) and the violent muscle-for-hire (a charming Russell Crowe) he’s forced to team up with. Their task? To find out if a recently deceased porn actress is secretly still alive. The two stumble and fight their way down a kooky labyrinth of 1970s Los Angeles and a variety of characters. To top it all off, this funny neo-noir slash erotic thriller throwback even features an excellent turn by Kim Basinger.
How to watch: The Nice Guys is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
13. The Guilty
Credit: Glen Wilson / Netflix
Some of the sharpest tension arises from showing less on screen and leaving the most intense moments up to our imagination. That’s the approach Antoine Fuqua takes in The Guilty, a remake of the Danish film of the same name; the narrative unfolds over the course of one day, in one location, with the majority of the action taking place offscreen.
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Jake Gyllenhaal plays Joe, a LAPD officer working as a 911 dispatch operator who receives a call from a woman who’s been abducted. Over a series of phone calls where Joe tries to solve the crime, we watch the tension grow and burst through Gyllenhaal’s performance alone, forcing us to envision what’s happening on the other end of the line. It’s a gimmick that works, largely thanks to Gyllenhaal’s ability to convincingly play a man becoming completely undone over the course of 90 minutes.
How to watch: The Guilty is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
Bond films are known for their explosive action set pieces, but there’s an extra layer of suspense and mounting concern throughout those in Skyfall that genuinely make you question whether Bond will make it through alive. In the third entry of the Daniel Craig 007 era, the stakes get especially high when Judi Dench’s M becomes the main target of Javier Bardem’s villain Silva. The danger Bond is so used to facing becomes personal as Silva, a former 00 agent, sets out on vengeful mission to kill the head of MI6 for abandoning him to British enemies years ago.
Within the opening chase sequence alone, Craig’s Bond goes from operating an excavator atop a moving train, fighting a guy on top of said train, then nearly falling to his seeming death. Pair that with him fighting in a pit of Komodo dragons and M getting attacked in a board room, and you’ve got one hell of a thrilling Bond adventure.
How to watch: Skyfall is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
15. Fear Street Trilogy
Leigh Janiak deserves far more acclaim than she’s gotten for her Fear Street movies. Her trilogy of throwback teen horror thrillers both pay homage to and cleverly reinvent the tropes of genre staples, most notably by having queer and female characters take the lead. The filmmaker’s trio of interconnected films span three decades to tell a story about a town plagued by a curse, but each movie has its own distinct genre aesthetic with heavy doses of gore and shocking chills.
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In Fear Street Part One: 1994, a love letter to slashers of the ’90s, a masked killer wreaks havoc on the small town as a gang of friends attempt to stop the killings. In Fear Street Part Two: 1978, we hang out with a new set of teens at a summer camp, nodding at everything from Friday the 13th to Sleepaway Camp. And in Fear Street Part Three: 1666, a spooky ode to folk horror, the origins of the previous movies’ mysteries are soon revealed. The Fear Street trilogy may be horror first, but Janiak laces all three movies with an exciting suspense that keeps you hooked until the very end.
How to watch: Fear Street Trilogy is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
16. The Birds
The scariest thing about Hitchcock’s The Birds — in which a small town is suddenly attacked by flocks of vicious birds — is the sound, and in many cases the near-absence of it. The only film from the British filmmaker without a score, The Birds relies mainly on ominous sound effects and stretches of silence to evoke a tingling unease that builds to all-out terror. It’s the rustles of hundreds of bird feathers off screen that muffle the dialogue, the menacing caws of crows lining a schoolyard moments before children rush out, or the gushing sound of gasoline streaming towards a man lighting a cigarette.
But the next scariest thing about The Birds is the fact that the entire film is about women getting relentlessly watched, stalked, and attacked by birds. Is The Birds a misogynist horror thriller that relishes in watching Tippi Hedren’s Melanie, Jessica Tandy’s Lydia, and Veronica Cartwright’s Cathy get assaulted and then called hysterical for it? Or was Hitchcock attempting to comment on the ways women are looked at and preyed on in culture with his own visual techniques? The latter may be much harder to believe considering the allegations Hedren’s made against him(opens in a new tab). Nevertheless, The Birds remains a disturbing and fascinating classic thriller that can be revisited and analyzed endlessly.
How to watch: The Birds is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
In this home invasion thriller, Freida Pinto’s therapist Meera and her architect husband Henry (Logan Marshall-Green) relocate from Boston to New Mexico to live in a newly build modern home in a majestic desert landscape. The two seem like the picturesque couple, but things are suddenly jilted when their house is broken into one night. More strange occurrences follow, and soon after it happens again when a group of masked invaders return.
While there’s nothing especially new in Intrusion that you haven’t seen done in other home invasion movies, there is a twist here. Things take a sharp turn when Meera begins to grow suspicious of the person she trusts most, and tension brews as she wonders if there’s more clues tied to the intruders themselves.
How to watch: Intrusion is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
18. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Jesse (Aaron Paul) is in for it in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.”
Credit: Ben Rothstein / Netflix
Dear Breaking Bad fans, if you haven’t watched the series’ victory lap yet, what are you doing? Coming right after the events of the finale, El Camino has Jesse (Aaron Paul) setting out on the run from both the law and his troubled history. While this epilogue might be unnecessary, it remains a riveting entry into the Breaking Bad universe. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Netflix(opens in a new tab).
The most influential science-fiction films succeed not only by entertaining their audience but by offering them a new lens through which to view the world. Christopher Nolan’s Inception may be science fiction by way of an action/heist film, but its impact on culture makes it one of those undoubtedly influential movies. Its dream-within-a-dream setup changed the way we talk by creating the suffix “-ception,” its ending led the decade’s biggest unresolved mysteries, and Hans Zimmer’s epic score made the “bwaaaah” of horns easy shorthand for “stuff’s about to get really confusing.” Nolan’s had big ideas before and since, but Inception stands as his biggest non-Batman contribution to his medium. —Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
How to watch: Inception(opens in a new tab) is streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)
20. The Platform
Prison cells stacked one on top of the other, with holes in the floor and ceiling and randomly assigned levels that change each month. And a platform of food that gets slowly lowered from the very top, getting sparser and sparser with each floor it descends.
This is the concept at the centre of Spanish director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s The Platform, a disturbing sci-fi thriller that wears its capitalist analogy plainly on its prison-garb sleeve. It’s one of those rare gems where the execution is as strong as the idea at its core, driven by an excellent screenplay from David Desola and Pedro Rivero that’s dripping with horror and suspense. If you’re a fan of movies like The Cube or Saw, this is well worth checking out. — Sam Haysom, Deputy UK Editor
How to Watch: The Platform (opens in a new tab)is streaming on Netflix(opens in a new tab).
Asterisks (*) indicate the entry write up comes from a previous Mashable list.