20 Best Thriller Movies of All Time

Thriller movies captivate audiences with suspenseful twists, high stakes, and action, offering complex storylines that involve characters like spies, assassins, and undercover agents. These films, blending drama, mystery, and intrigue, weave together tense situations and unexpected outcomes, providing an unforgettable viewing experience. Iconic thrillers often have unique settings and scenarios, ranging from the perilous world of espionage to survival against deadly threats, making the genre a cinema mainstay with its vast thematic range.

Directors from Hitchcock to Tarantino have left indelible marks on the thriller genre, producing films that span decades and various subgenres, showcasing the genre’s dynamic and evolving nature. As these movies continue to explore new themes and scenarios, audiences remain engaged, anticipating future releases that promise to be as exhilarating and unpredictable as the narratives within the films themselves.

20. High and Low (1963)

“High and Low” is a captivating crime mystery thriller film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The movie stars Toshiro Mifune as a wealthy industrialist whose family becomes the target of a ruthless kidnapper. The movie is based on Ed McBain’s detective novel King’s Ransom and showcases a tense plot with gripping action.

The tension in the film lies in the kidnapping of the main character’s chauffeur’s son. The kidnapper’s demand for a hefty ransom sends the protagonist on a tense journey to save the child. The wife plays a crucial role in the decision-making process, ultimately affecting the crime-solving process.

The film’s action supports the storyline, keeping the viewers engaged while the mystery unravels. The kidnapping plot proves to be a mastermind’s work, which further heightens the tension between the characters. As the plot thickens, the audience witnesses unexpected twists and turns, adding depth to the film’s overall appeal.

19. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

“Witness for the Prosecution” is a prominent legal mystery thriller film, directed by Billy Wilder and released in 1957. It features an incredible cast, including Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and Elsa Lanchester. The film is adapted from a play of the same name, written by the famous British author, Agatha Christie.

This captivating thriller showcases a British barrister, played by Charles Laughton, defending his client who is on trial for murder. The film takes the audience on a suspenseful journey, with the trial filled with unforeseen developments and absorbing drama.

18. The Lives of Others (2006)

“The Lives of Others” is a gripping thriller set in 1984 East Berlin, focusing on the world of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. The film reflects on the obsession of its agent protagonist with the lives of citizens under surveillance. It’s not a typical serial killer or noir film, but the tension and suspense hold their own among the greats.

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the film successfully portrays the moral dilemmas faced by Stasi Captain Gerd, played by Ulrich Mühe. His character deviates from the archetype of a monstrous enforcer, instead providing a more humanized look into the world of secret police.

As Gerd becomes increasingly absorbed in the lives of a writer (Sebastian Koch) and his lover (Martina Gedeck), the film explores themes of obsession, control, and humanity in a genuinely captivating manner. The psychological elements evoke comparisons to classics like “Psycho” and “Heat,” though “The Lives of Others” stands on its own merits.

17. Come and See (1985)

“Come and See” is a 1985 Soviet film directed by Elem Klimov. Although it is considered more of a war film, its intense and horrifying depiction of war atrocities gives it a thriller-like atmosphere. The story takes place in 1943 and follows a young boy named Flyora, who joins the Soviet resistance movement against the German forces during World War II.

This film stands out from typical Hollywood thriller movies as it is grounded in the gritty reality of war. It brings a unique perspective to the viewer, focusing on the emotional and psychological effects the conflict has on the characters. This can lead to feelings of anxiety as the audience empathizes with their struggle to survive.

While the movie doesn’t specifically revolve around serial killers, the brutal actions of the German forces can evoke a similar sense of dread and terror. “Come and See” may not be a thriller in the traditional sense, but its harrowing portrayal of wartime violence creates an impactful and unforgettable experience.

16. Oldboy (2003)

“Oldboy” is a 2003 South Korean neo-noir action thriller film directed and co-written by Park Chan-wook. With its gripping storyline and intense characters, it has been widely acclaimed as one of the best thrillers ever made.

The film follows the protagonist Oh Dae-Su, who, after being kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, is abruptly released and given five days to find his captor. The story’s numerous surprises keep audiences at the edge of their seat throughout the entire runtime.

15. Aliens (1986)

“Aliens” is a thrilling sci-fi movie released in 1986. Directed by James Cameron, it stars Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who becomes the key figure in battling the terrifying Alien Queen and her offspring.

This film is a perfect blend of action, adventure, and sci-fi elements. It is set decades after the Nostromo incident, where Ripley is sent to re-establish contact with a terraforming colony. However, she soon discovers that the colony is infested with the menacing aliens.

Though there isn’t a direct connection to the FBI, “Aliens” places a strong emphasis on the military and their efforts to eradicate the threat posed by the extraterrestrials. The story incorporates aspects of revenge, as Ripley and her team of space marines seek to destroy the Alien Queen and her brood.

14. Joker (2019)

“Joker,” released in 2019, is a psychological thriller that focuses on the character Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian suffering from a neurological disorder. The film is set in the crime-ridden Gotham City during the early 1980s recession. Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker takes a deep dive into the making of a sociopath.

Arthur Fleck’s story is quite dissimilar to the contemporary films like “Memento” (2000) and “Zodiac” (2007). While these movies exemplify the thriller genre with their gripping, mysterious plots, Joker delves into the character’s psyche rather than following a complex storyline. This emphasis on psychology sets “Joker” apart and adds a touch of film noir to the mix.

13. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

In 2012, Christopher Nolan directed a powerful finale to his Batman trilogy: “The Dark Knight Rises.” The film revolves around Batman being coerced out of exile by Selina Kyle to save Gotham City from the vicious guerrilla terrorist Bane. The plot offers thrilling twists and intense action while also touching on themes like urban terrorism and class warfare, increasing its intrigue.

In this gripping installment, Christian Bale delivers a strong performance as Bruce Wayne, drawing viewers in as he faces a soulless villain as powerful as he is. The tension in “The Dark Knight Rises” evokes reminiscent feelings of horror-style thrillers, akin to the suspense portrayed by Oh Dae-Su in “Oldboy.” As a result, fans are left on the edge of their seats during the film’s climax.

12. Memento (2000)

“Memento,” released in 2000, is a critically acclaimed thriller directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, the film revolves around Leonard Shelby, a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, causing short-term memory loss and the inability to create new memories.

The movie pushes its audience into an intense experience, as Leonard desperately tries to track down his wife’s murderer. “Memento” uses its unique narrative style to mirror Leonard’s condition, making for a haunting and unforgettable journey.

11. Rear Window (1954)

“Rear Window” is a classic American mystery thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954. The film, based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story It Had to Be Murder, showcases James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr in its cast.

The story revolves around a photographer in a wheelchair, played by James Stewart. He becomes obsessed in observing his neighbors from the window of his Greenwich Village courtyard apartment, suspecting one of them of committing murder. Despite the skepticism of his fashion-model girlfriend, portrayed by Grace Kelly, he continues to investigate his suspicions.

10. The Usual Suspects (1995)

“The Usual Suspects” is a captivating crime thriller from the ’90s, directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. It features an ensemble cast, including Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Pollak, and Benicio del Toro. The film tells a gripping tale centered around the character of Verbal Kint, played by Spacey, as a small-time conman.

Paranoia is a key theme in the film, as five criminal suspects meet in a police lineup, leading viewers to question their trustworthiness. Gradually, the story unravels, revealing layers of deceit and twists. “The Usual Suspects” explores the world of criminals and the complex relationship between corrupt law enforcement and the underworld.

9. Psycho (1960)

“Psycho” is a 1960 psychological thriller movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and John Gavin. It is widely regarded as one of the best thriller movies of all time.

The movie is based on 20th-century literature and features a horror and psychological horror storyline. Its shocking midpoint twist, pitch-perfect cinematography and editing contribute to its reputation as a masterpiece in the thriller genre.

8. Léon: The Professional (1994)

“Léon: The Professional” is a notable crime thriller that centers around Léon, an Italian hitman in New York City, played by Jean Reno. When a young girl named Mathilda, portrayed by Natalie Portman, loses her family to a drug kingpin, Léon takes her under his wing and teaches her the ways of being a hitman.

Aside from Reno and Portman, the movie stars Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello, and Michael Badalucco. It earned a staggering $46.1 million in the box office, with only a $16 million budget.

7. Parasite (2019)

“Parasite” is a 2019 South Korean black comedy thriller film directed by Bong Joon-ho, who co-wrote the screenplay with Han Jin-won. The movie delves into themes such as class discrimination, greed, and the symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.

While not directly featuring espionage, the film’s storyline involves deception and infiltration. The Kim family skillfully manipulates the Parks to secure positions within the household, showing a level of cunning, similar to a surveillance expert.

There is no direct mention of a manhunt or insurance salesman within the storyline. However, the concept of the seven deadly sins is evident in the film. Greed and envy play a significant role in the development of the plot, as the Kim family’s actions stem from their desire to improve their social status.

6. The Departed (2006)

“The Departed,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is a powerful neo-noir thriller with a gripping storyline. Set in South Boston, the film dives into the world of the Irish Mob and the complicated relationships between mobsters and police. The film primarily revolves around the infiltration of an Irish gang by an undercover cop and a police mole working for the same gang.

As a police procedural, “The Departed” masterfully depicts the challenges and risks of navigating such a complex and dangerous environment. The story is centered on Frank Costello, an Irish Mob boss, and Colin Sullivan, a young man groomed by Costello to become a mole inside the Massachusetts State Police. The two main characters, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, brilliantly portray the intense dynamics of this dangerous game of cat and mouse.

5. The Prestige (2006)

“The Prestige,” directed by Christopher Nolan, is a psychological thriller set in the world of stage magic in Victorian London. The film stars Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier and Christian Bale as Alfred Borden, both rival stage magicians who feud over a perfect teleportation trick.

This 2006 thriller incorporates elements of kidnapping, adding to the intrigue and deception that surrounds the characters. Although it does not directly involve Toshiro Mifune, Agatha Christie, or Michael Mann, “The Prestige” shares a similar sense of mystery, suspense, and complex storytelling often found in their respective filmographies and literary works.

4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“The Silence of the Lambs,” a critically acclaimed thriller, was released in 1991. Directed by Jonathan Demme, the film stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn. Based on Thomas Harris’ novel, it follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling, played by Foster, as she interviews notorious psychiatrist-turned-serial killer Hannibal Lecter, portrayed by Hopkins.

The movie earned much recognition worldwide, grossing $272.7 million and winning several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The captivating performances by Foster and Hopkins have been lauded for their intensity and authenticity.

3. Se7en (1995)

“Se7en,” released in 1995, is a highly-regarded crime thriller directed by David Fincher. It stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as the leading detectives in the story.

In this dark and gritty film, a rookie and a veteran detective work together to hunt down a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as motives for each of his crimes. The killer’s modus operandi not only adds a chilling aspect to the movie, but also makes for an engaging storyline that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

2. Inception (2010)

“Inception,” directed by Christopher Nolan, is a mind-bending thriller released in 2010. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a skilled thief who specializes in stealing secrets from people’s subconscious while they dream. Alongside his team, Cobb is hired for an unprecedented mission: to implant an idea into a target’s mind, a process known as inception.

(L-r) ELLEN PAGE as Ariadne and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ sci-fi action film “INCEPTION,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Featuring an ensemble cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, and Tom Hardy, the movie boasts stellar performances. One of the highlights of Inception is its complex narrative structure, which combines multiple levels of dreams within dreams, making it a cerebral and compelling experience.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

“The Dark Knight” is a 2008 action-thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, the movie features an unforgettable performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker.

As a sequel to Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” this film dives deeper into the psychological aspects of the characters. The Dark Knight emphasizes the complex relationship between Batman and the Joker, providing a rich and immersive narrative.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top-rated thriller films on IMDb?

Some of the top-rated thriller films on IMDb include ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ (1957) with an IMDb rating of 8.4/10, and Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ (1959). These films have received acclaim for their engaging narratives, memorable characters, and suspenseful storytelling.

Which crime thrillers are highly recommended?

Highly recommended crime thrillers include ‘Le Cercle Rouge’ (1970) by Jean-Pierre Melville. This French thriller showcases codes of loyalty, honor, and masculinity through the lives of three social outcasts – a notorious escapee, an alcoholic ex, and a taciturn man.

What are some must-watch suspense thriller movies?

Some must-watch suspense thriller movies are ‘Psycho’ (1960), ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991), and ‘Parasite’ (2019). These films demonstrate differing aspects of suspense, be it in classic Hitchcockian style or through modern and unconventional storytelling methods.

What are the best thriller films available on Amazon Prime?

The best thriller films available on Amazon Prime may vary depending on location and availability. You can refer to the Amazon Prime catalog in your region to see what highly-rated thriller movies are currently streaming.