Thrillers are films that promote intense excitement and suspense, creating anticipation and expectation, resulting in anxiety and nerve-wracking tension in the viewer. Suspense films or thrillers relentlessly strive to provide thrills and manages to keep the audience hanging on a thread and at the edge of their seats.
There is a wide variety to choose from when picking the best. These can be thrillers that are from the genres as diverse as action, sci-fi, noir, even romantic thrillers.
Like any other genre, it is very difficult to select the top 10 thrillers of all time. But in an attempt to do so, we narrowed the playing field to just Hollywood.
We have selected and listed some of the best of the set, ranging from black and white classics to successful new movies. These are some of the greatest thrillers ever made, though we have restricted the list to just one film from each director. Else, there would have been multiple movies from the same director.
No list would be complete without work by Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. The director gave Hollywood a slew of thriller movies, including such evergreen classics as “Spellbound,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” and “Vertigo.” They all could have made it to our list, but we chose to narrow it down to just one single popular and timeless classic: “Rear Window.” The film stars James Stewart as a thrill-seeking photographer trapped in his apartment with a broken leg. Confined at home, he amuses himself by spying on his neighbors. Then he becomes pretty sure he just saw one of his neighbors murder his wife. Grace Kelly plays his girlfriend in the film. Hitchcock’s mastery of his craft creates a claustrophobic environment and lets the viewers see only what the hero sees.
The film, released in 1992 is a neo-noir erotic thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven. Even though the film is best remembered for one erotic scene involving Sharon Stone, there is much more to film than a lewd crossing of the legs, which the actress claimed was filmed without her knowledge. The film follows San Francisco police detective Nick Curran. played by Michael Douglas, who is investigating the brutal murder of a wealthy rock star. During the investigation, Curran becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the prime suspect, Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, an enigmatic writer. The film was recognized for its groundbreaking depictions of sexuality in mainstream Hollywood. The film is one of the best thriller movies of the 90s, which did more for women empowerment than any feminist rally at that time. Sharon Stone made a powerful impact with her performance. “Basic Instinct” is a very effective thriller movie and a must-watch for suspense movie fans.
The film is an imaginative fairy-tale thriller from director Guillermo Del Toro. “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a stark and disturbing fairy tale aimed at adults. It is probably not the scariest of movies, but it is definitely worth a watch for its thrilling premise. The film is about Ofelia’s mother who has just married a sadistic military captain, who forces them to live with him in a village where supernatural beings come out of a nearby labyrinth to draw Ofelia to her supposed destiny. The director establishes himself as an extraordinary filmmaker and the film sealed Del Toro’s reputation as a master of cinema. Although the story is about a child’s fantasy world, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is not for children. It is a masterpiece and a top thriller movie that cannot be seen just once.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, and is considered to have Gyllenhaal’s finest performance. The film tells the unique story of Lou, a sociopath, who makes a name for himself by selling violent crime footage to news stations. The film follows Lou who goes to unethical lengths for a story. It shows how news reporting can bring out the very worst in those who report the news and those who consume it. “Nightcrawler” is one of the darker and craftier thrillers in recent times, and stands out from the crowd. First-time director Dan Gilroy maintains a good pace throughout the film, which is an effective neo-noir thriller with an insightful social commentary.
No Country for Old Men
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including for Best Picture, in 2008. The film is based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. “No Country for Old Men” tells the story of Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin, who comes across a drug deal gone bad. He takes the money at the scene but is chased by a mysterious assassin, played by Javier Bardem. The film that got rave reviews and multiple awards for its gripping and relentless thrills. The film is one of the best thrillers ever, and is also one of the best films from the Coen Brothers. The film is also best remembered for its villain, Anton Chigurh, with his strange hairstyle.
Released in 2000, this is a mystery thriller. directed by acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, and starring Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man with anterograde amnesia (someone who cannot make new memories). As a result, every few minutes he has to reorient himself, and ask where he is and what he is doing. Imagine a person like that bang in the center of a murder mystery. “Memento” premiered at the 57th Venice International Film Festival in 2000 and was released in the United States on March 16, 2001. It was very well received by critics, who praised its nonlinear structure and motifs of memory, perception, grief, and self-deception. The film is a brilliant twist to the traditional detective thriller and is one of the best thriller movies of all time.
Gone Girl is a psychological thriller released in 2014, directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn, based on her 2012 novel of the same title. “Gone Girl” has Ben Affleck as a teacher, Nick, who’s married to Amy, played by Rosamund Pike, who famously inspired a series of children’s books. It’s not a happy marriage, so when Amy goes suddenly missing under suspicious circumstances, the media blitz quickly turns on Nick and makes him the prime suspect, ensnaring him in the oppressive high-profile web that trapped Amy for many years. Providing no spoilers, let us say there is much more to the story. The film shows Rosamund Pike in a fantastic and multifaceted role. The performances of both Affleck and Pike are superb, making this a chilling thriller with ample twists and turns to keep you glued to your seat.
Written and directed by David Lynch and starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Mark Pellegrino, and Robert Forster, this is the story of an aspiring actress named Betty Elms, newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets and befriends an amnesiac woman recovering from a car accident. The story follows several other characters, including a Hollywood film director. It takes multiple viewings to appreciate this movie. Whether it’s a fantasy world or a utopia, “Mulholland Drive” remains open to interpretation.
This is a neo-noir psychological crime thriller directed by David Fincher. The film stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey and John C. McGinley. “Se7en” tells a story about seven killings, each depicting seven sins as described in the Bible, and a unique climax. It is a smart crime thriller with extraordinary twists. The movie has an unconventional and surprising ending, with both Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman giving great performances.
The Usual Suspects
This 1995 mystery was directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. It stars Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, and Kevin Spacey. The plot follows the interrogation of a small-time con man, one of only two survivors of a massacre and fire on a ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles. Through flashback and narration, he tells an interrogator a convoluted story of events that led him and his criminal companions to the boat, and of a mysterious crime lord who controlled them. The film’s title is rumored to be from a column in Spy magazine called “The Usual Suspects.” Like any good thriller, this highly recommended film cries out for a second viewing.