Section 1: Psychological Thrillers
Psychological thrillers are often those movies which really make you think. They take you on a psychological journey in which you become engrossed in the mind and motives of the movie’s characters. From crime to horror and suspense, this genre takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride.
At the top of the list is the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, Psycho. Taking place in the late 1950s, this movie tells the story of Marion Crane, a bored Phoenix secretary who decides to head south on a whim, taking her employers money along with her. Little does she know that lurking in the shadows is Norman Bates and his beloved “mother,” who will have Marion and the audience of viewers gripping their seats in anticipation and fear. This film, along with Alfred Hitchcock’s others such as The Birds and Vertigo, has become the epitome of what a psychological thriller is.
Another great psychological thriller is Mulholland Drive (2001) directed by David Lynch. A focus on the notion of dreams and how they are interpreted self-consciously dominates the film. With two protagonists, Betty Elms and Rita, whose stories are intertwined, it is up to the audience to discover how and why the women’s stories have meshed in such an unusual way. The complexities that abound throughout this movie ensure that it will stay in the memory of anyone who has watched it.
Se7en (1995) is another excellent example of a psychological thriller. With its focus on seven deadly sins and the little clues that build up to the final twist of an ending, this movie is a masterclass in psychological suspense. With lead roles played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, the movie dives deep into the moral implications of crime and justice. The conclusion, although brutal and shocking, completes the story perfectly.
Section 2: Crime Thrillers
Crime thrillers are often based around crime, such as murder, kidnapping, or theft. These types of movies will include plenty of suspense, action, and adventure as the protagonist or protagonists race to solve the crime before the bad guys get away with it.
One of the best crime thrillers of recent times is The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which is based on a novel of the same name. Here, the protagonist is Clarice Starling, an ambitious FBI agent who has to turn to Hannibal Lecter, an incarcerated serial killer, in order to catch another serial killer. The scenes of tension and fear make this movie a nail-biting must-watch.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) is undoubtedly one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time. With its exploration of the moral boundaries and corrupt nature of powerful figures, this movie has it all, from thrilling action scenes and an iconic soundtrack to brilliant performances from its all-star cast. Christian Bale’s portrayal of the Batman and Heath Ledger’s insane Joker is astounding and makes for a must-watch movie.
L.A. Confidential (1997) can also be counted amongst the great crime thrillers of all time. This movie, based on James Ellroy’s novel of the same name, uses the police corruption endemic in 1950s Los Angeles as its backdrop. With a brilliant script and excellent performances from itslead actors, this movie has suspense in spades and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Section 3: Crime-Mystery Thrillers
This subgenre of thrillers deals with suspenseful crime-solving elements. Often this will involve a murder case or a crime of some sort, but the focus of these movies is usually more on the detective who is trying to solve the crime.
One of the best crime-mystery thrillers of recent times is Sherlock Holmes (2009). Taking place in modern-day London, this movie stars Robert Downey Jr. in the titular role and Judi Dench as his associate, Dr. Watson. With its intriguing plot and clever mix of humor, this movie is surely a classic.
Another classic in this genre is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974). This classic murder mystery is set aboard the Orient Express, a train that has become a symbol of mystery and suspense. The great part about this movie is that you get to try and solve the crime alongside the famous detective, Hercule Poirot, played by Albert Finney. So if you’ve ever wanted to try and get the better of a great detective, this movie is the one for you.
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (2019) is also a great example of a crime-mystery thriller. The plot revolves around the death of wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey, and the hilarious attempts of renowned detective, Benoit Blanc, to uncover the truth behind the death. With its comedic elements and clever plot twists, this movie is sure to keep you guessing right up until the end.
Section 4: Horror Thrillers
Often combining elements of horror, suspense and mystery, horror thrillers are films that will shock and scare the viewer in equal measure. Not to be confused with horror films; they are just as suspenseful, but with a greater sense of looming dread.
The Shining (1980) is one of the classics of the genre. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the movie stars Jack Nicholson in the lead role, and focuses on the descent of Jack Torrance into madness, as he and his family inhabit the eerie Overlook Hotel. With its tense atmosphere and shocking climax, this movie is guaranteed to haunt and stay with you for a long time.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012) is an interesting horror-thriller that turns the typical horror genre conventions on their head. With an intriguing plot and great performances from its lead actors, this movie is as funny as it is thrilling, and should not be missed by any horror fans.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) is another classic of the genre. Telling the story of three student filmmakers that are out to make a documentary on the perils of the legendary Blair Witch, this movie revolutionized the found-footage genre and the horror genre itself. With its concealed villains and terrifying climax, it is no wonder why this movie has become so iconic.
Section 5: Action Thrillers
Action thrillers involve intense scenes of violence, fights, and stunts, as well as strong plotlines. Action thrillers usually involve protagonists fighting against villains, usually in order to protect something that is precious to them, or to defeat a larger enemy.
John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) is one of the greats when it comes to action-thrillers. The movie, set in a near-future dystopian New York, follows Plissken, a former war hero who is sent into the city to rescue the President, who has become trapped inside. With excellent action sequences and a great plotline, this movie is a classic of the genre.
The other classic of the genre is the Die Hard trilogy. Starring Bruce Willis, these three films follow the story of John McClane, an NYPD cop who is often thrown into difficult and dangerous situations to save the day. With explosive action scenes and classic one-liners, this series has become one of the definitive action-thriller movies.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is another great action-thriller, and a classic in its own right. Starring Tom Hardy, this movie tells the story of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, in which a one-armed warrior, Max Rockatansky, teams up with the mysterious Furiosa to battle the tyrannical and evil Immortan Joe. With breathtaking action scenes and a thrilling plot, this movie is a must-watch for action fans.
Section 6: Sci-Fi Thrillers
Science fiction thrillers are those movies which combine elements of science fiction with those of thrillers. These movies are more than just space-based adventures; they will often involve complex plots and a quest for knowledge, as well as exciting action scenes.
Arguably the best science fiction thriller of all time is Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott, this movie tells the story of Rick Deckard, a burnt-out LAPD cop who is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” a group of rogue replicants. With its dystopian setting, slow-burning tension, and thrilling action scenes, this is a movie that is guaranteed to stay with you.
Gravity (2013) is another great movie in this genre. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, this movie stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts who become stranded in space and must struggle to survive. With its mix of real and suspenseful action scenes, space is never so terrifying.
The Matrix (1999) is yet another classic in this genre. Written and directed by the Wachowski sisters, this movie stars Keanu Reeves as Neo, a computer programmer who discovers that the world he lives in is merely a giant virtual reality game. With its unique premise and the revolutionary special effects it pioneered, this movie has become an iconic science fiction classic.
Section 7: Melodramas
Melodramas are movies or plays with romantic or even tragic plots featuring exaggerated emotions and larger-than-life characters. These movies often mix dramatic themes such as love and betrayal with chilling suspenseful elements.
The classic melodrama is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). Here, the young and naive protagonist marries the wealthy and mysterious widower Max de Winter and moves into his sprawling mansion, Manderley. As the movie progresses, we learn of the horrible secrets the mansion hides, and the tragedy that ensued during Max’s first wife Rebecca’s lifetime. With its stunning visuals and masterful direction, this movie is a must-watch.
Another classic melodrama is Vertigo (1958), also directed by Hitchcock. Here, an obsessed former cop, played by James Stewart, becomes obsessed with Kim Novak’s character Madeline. The movie then takes a dark turn when Scottie realizes the woman he has become infatuated with is not who she appears to be. With its expertly crafted suspense, this movie is an all-time classic.
Finally, Body Heat (1981) deserves a mention here. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, the movie stars William Hurt as a criminal attorney seduced into a passionate affair with a manipulative married woman, played by Kathleen Turner. With its mix of steamy romance and thrilling suspense, this movie has become an iconic melodrama.