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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The 12 Best Thriller Movies of All Time

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In the world of film, the Thriller is a very broad category. As you'll see with our compiled "12 Best" list, it ranges 80 years and dips its toe in many other genres – horror, film noir, espionage, etc. We've done our best here to give you a grand sampling of suspenseful movies, a rundown that spans multiple decades, evokes different moods, and showcases many directors (though there are a few repeats). So here are the best thriller movies of all time, from grim, grinning ghosts, to serial killers, to brainwashed pawns of enemy nations.

The Top 12 Best Thrillers

12. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Where to Watch: Roku Channel (w/ ads), Tubi (w/ ads), Pluto TV (w/ ads), or rentable on AppleTV and most platforms.

Director: John Frankenheimer

Firstly, Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate, from 2004, starring Denzel Washington, is also very good. A different movie in many ways, but still good. Nothing beats the original in this case, however, as John Frankenheimer's 1962 adaptation of Manchurian Candidate combines drama, suspense, science-fiction and political satire in such an effective way it's hard to put it in any one category. Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate follows a returning hero soldier who's suspected of being a brainwashed assassin.

11. Memento (2000)

Where to Watch: Max, Hoopla, or rentable on AppleTV and most platforms.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Anne Moss star in this inventive, backwards 2001 thriller from writer-director Christoper Nolan, which tells the story of a vengeful man who suffers from short-term memory loss. Memento unfolds in ten-minute sequences, shown in reverse chronological order, creating an experience that put Nolan on everyone's short-list, and turned Memento into one of the privileged few movies that become lexicon. Not only is it a great thriller film, it's also one of the best mystery movies of all time.

10. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Where to Watch: Showtime, or rentable on Amazon and most platforms.

Director: Anthony Minghella

Anthony Minghella's 1999 adaptation of the first of Patricia Highsmith's five Tom Ripley novels is a magnificently twisted and unsettling yarn. It's about a young sociopath (Matt Damon) with dreams of high society, who becomes dangerously obsessed with a rich college dropout (Jude Law) living in Italy. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a fascinating thriller that takes us inside the mind of a monster who hides in plain sight, kills with kindness, and will do anything to cover his tracks.

9. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Where to Watch: Rentable on Amazon and most platforms.

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Even though everyone knows the big twist in The Sixth Sense now, M. Night Shyamalan's breakthrough 1999 movie, starring Bruce Willis and Toni Collette, is still a movie that stands firm even without the shock and awe of its final moments. Haley Joel Osment's journey as young Cole, a tortured boy desperate to find out why the dead appear to him, is masterful storytelling, containing a meaningful message about embracing that which terrifies you to discover the truth underneath.

8. The Conversation (1974)

Where to Watch: Showtime

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola made The Conversation, a paranoid masterpiece on par with his best work. It stands up today as a remarkable depiction of one man's professional life destroyed by his inescapable personal convictions. Gene Hackman gives a landmark performance as Harry Caul, a sad-sack surveillance expert who finds himself ensconced in a potential assassination plot while trying to recover from his role in the deaths of three people years before.

7. Zodiac (2007)

Where to Watch: Showtime, or rentable on Amazon and most other platforms.

Director: David Fincher

David Fincher's Zodiac, about the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s, is a moody masterwork overflowing with gut-wrenching anxiety. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. star in this cold-blooded crime epic born from decades of bewildering facts and suspicions built up around the case. You'll never hear Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" the same way again.

6. Double Indemnity (1944)

Where to Watch: Turner Classic Movies, or rentable on Amazon and most other platforms.

Director: Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder's legacy is that of being one of the most versatile and talented directors in Hollywood's history. If you only know Fred MacMurray as the lovable dad on My Three Sons, you'll look at him differently after seeing his performance as Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, a riveting, pivotal noir about an insurance salesman and a seductive housewife (Barbara Stanwyck) who pair up to bump off her husband. It's bleak, cynical, and filled with dark humor that's as troubling as it is inviting.

5. Se7en (1995)

Where to Watch: Showtime, or rentable on Amazon and most platforms.

Director: David Fincher

David Fincher's Seven (also "Se7en") brought ghoulish intelligence and jagged thrills to the oversaturated '90s serial killer movie game. A gorgeously dark suspense film, which unwraps the gory tale of a maniac punishing his victims by exacting brutality based on the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven features Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as an uneasy detective duo on the cusp of having their worlds shattered forever.

4. Chinatown (1974)

Where to Watch: Showtime, or rentable on Amazon and most platforms.

Director: Roman Polanski

Featuring a strong, Academy Award-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, Chinatown is an awesome, textbook neo-noir thriller that simultaneously pays homage to and redefines the film noir genre. It follows private detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) as he investigates a murder and stumbles onto a conspiracy involving the future of Los Angeles. Telling a complex story brilliantly and showcasing brilliant performances by Nicholson and co-star Faye Dunaway, Chinatown has been on every best thriller/noir shortlist since its 1974 premiere. It's also one of the best mystery movies of all time.

3. Psycho (1960)

Where to Watch: Netflix, or rentable on Amazon and most platforms.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Simply put, Psycho is one of the best and most influential suspense thrillers ever made and one of the best horror movies. This 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh changed cinema and inspired countless future filmmakers in the process. For Hitchcock — who had previously crafted films like North by Northwest, Vertigo and Rear Window — the film was a notable departure from his established formula. Filmed with a smaller budget, in black-and-white, by the crew of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Psycho was controversial (at the time) in both structure and topic and now stands tall as one of the best movies of all time.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Where to Watch: Max, or rentable on Amazon and most other platforms.

Director: Jonathan Demme

Remember when a horror movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay? The Silence of the Lambs not only launched a Hannibal Lecter media franchise and ushered in a brief era of "prestige horror" — big name directors doing spooky stuff (i.e. Misery, Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, etc) — but it also led to dozens of copycat serial killer films throughout the '90s (one even being called Copycat). Oh, and did we mention it also happens to be a phenomenal movie with some of the best twists, turns, and scares of all time? The Silence of the Lambs is near-unbeatable.

1. North By Northwest (1959)

Where to Watch: Rentable on most platforms, including AppleTV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Truthfully, this list could be mostly Alfred Hitchcock films. Therefore it’s fitting that he should nab the top spot here with his epic mystery/thriller, North By Northwest. An espionage adventure brimming over with intrigue and fun, and featuring some of the most copied sequences in film, North By Northwest stars the incomparable Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a man mistaken for a spy and forced to flee from relentless pursuit, providing a blueprint by which all thrillers can be judged.

Upcoming Thriller Movies

The best Thriller movies never stop coming and this year doesn't end with Inside.

Saw 10

Saw 10 will be coming to theaters on October 27 to bring the twisted franchise to its tenth film, following 2021's Spiral. We don't know what kind of traps Jigsaw has in store for us this time around, but we bet they're going to be downright vicious.

Hair of the Dog

If you're looking for something a little less sadistic, Hair of The Dog should be out sometime in 2023. We don't know much about it, but we do know it'll star Gerard Butler and will be a nail-biting tale of blackmail.

Matt Fowler is a freelance entertainment writer/critic, covering TV news, reviews, interviews and features on IGN for 13+ years.

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