Must Watch Hollywood Crime Thriller Movies

The Thrill of the Chase

Hollywood has had a love affair with crime thrillers since the very beginning of the silver screen era. The allure of the stakes, the danger, the heart-pounding suspense, and the moral ambiguity make them highly enjoyable and engaging to watch. Today, crime thrillers continue to be one of the most popular genres of feature films, filled with gripping stories and enthralling characters.

The best crime thrillers make audiences second guess their own morality and force them to identify and empathize with the characters in a different way as the story evolves. Hollywood has crafted some of the most captivating crime thrillers in recent decades, and here are some of the must-watch titles you need to add to your movie list.

Se7en (1995)

David Fincher’s cult classic Se7en is one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time. Follow-up detective living legend William Somerset and newcomer David Mills as they try to decipher the riddle of a serial killer’s rampage styled after the seven deadly sins. The movie takes you on a psychological roller coaster ride as the two detectives are forced to confront the depth of the killer’s depravity.

The movie is an absolute masterpiece, thanks to the acting prowess of stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, the sharp script by Andrew Kevin Walker, and Fincher’s signature dark cinematography. The genius of the movie is that it is not easy to watch but keeps you wanting more. The incredible screenplay will keep audiences guessing right till the end.

Heat (1995)

Heat is the classic crime drama by the late great Michael Mann, which offers more than just high octane thrills. It follows Robert De Niro’s professional thief who commits a daring heist, and the pursuit by Al Pacino, the cop hot on his tail. It features some of the most exquisite action sequences ever filmed and expertly blends the personal struggles and ambitions of the characters.

The movie introduces another side to the crime thriller genre, as the characters had developed psychological dimensions. Heat was a pioneer of the genre, setting the template for almost all modern crime thrillers. It introduced a moral complexity which has become a trademark of the genre.

The Departed (2006)

The Departed is a crime thriller masterpiece by Martin Scorsese. It follows special police officer Billy Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who goes undercover in the Irish mob and goes head to head with the mob kingpin, Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson. At the same time, Matt Damon stars as a undercover mobster and infiltrates the police department.

The movie expertly captures the violence, betrayal, and power grabs within a criminal organization. The movie is incredibly gripping and engaging and will pull you in until the very end. The original Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs was adapted skillfully by Scorsese and provided Hollywood audiences one of the best crime thrillers of all time.

The Killing (1956)

If you’re looking for a classic black and white crime thriller, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is your answer. Set in a racetrack and following the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong, the movie revolves around crook Johnny Clay and the heist gang trying to figure a way out of the mess. Their path is littered with danger and double-crosses, and the tension never lets up.

The Killing was a huge inspiration for the modern crime thrillers because of its structure and story-telling. It also shows off Kubrick’s already well-established talent for making unforgettable movies. A modern classic in its own right, The Killing is a must-watch for any crime thriller fan.

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac was the movie that cemented David Fincher’s name as a master of crime thrillers. It follows a cartoonist and two detectives as they try to track down the Zodiac Killer, an anonymous serial murderer who terrorized San Francisco in the late sixties. From the intense atmosphere of dread and paranoia, to the engrossing story-telling and cinematography, the movie provides a fantastic experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

What sets this story apart from the rest is how it follows the pursuit of the killer with painstaking accuracy, showing the incredible effort the police put into it. The movie successfully manages to discuss the impact of the serial killer last well beyond their capture. Fincher expertly mixed drama, suspense, and horror to create a masterpiece.

The Godfather (1972)

If you love crime thrillers but also have a soft spot for drama, The Godfather is the movie for you. Starring Marlon Brando in a tour de force performance, the movie follows the Corleone crime family and their struggle for power in sixties New York. It offers a stunningly realistic portrayal of organized crime and its intricate network, and the struggles of balancing personal and family values.

This classic masterpiece brilliantly narrates the family’s journey and the inner struggles within the gang. It is a must-watch movie for anyone who wants to experience the greatest crime movies in Hollywood. The impact of this movie on the crime thriller genre is immense, as it has inspired countless movies since then.

What Makes a Good Crime Thriller?

Successful crime thrillers usually all have the same ingredients. Primarily, it’s the story that matters the most, as the best movies have expertly crafted stories that keep viewers in suspense. They also generally have compelling and relatable characters, strong pacing and a narrative structure that allows different characters’ perspectives to be explored.

It is also important for directors to create a feeling of tension and anxiety in the audience, which is achieved by making the stakes feel high and the dangers presented seem real. The darker and more complex the mood of the movie, the more thrilling it will be. A successful crime thriller also builds on its mystery, letting the audience draw their own conclusions from the clues.


Crime thrillers are a staple of Hollywood cinema, and they have invariably captivated audiences throughout the years. The best crime thrillers in Hollywood have often broken new ground, pushing the boundaries of what a crime thriller can accomplish. They blend meticulous suspenseful story telling with complex and morally ambiguous characters. Hopefully, this list should help you pick you pick some of the must-watch Hollywood crime thrillers to add to your collection.

Vicki Strouth is a life-long film enthusiast, having grown up watching classic cinema in her childhood. She has since gone on to pursue writing about films and movie news, with her work being published on various online platforms. She is passionate about supporting independent filmmakers and highlighting important stories from around the world. She has also written a successful book about classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Age era. Vicki currently lives in Seattle, where she continues to explore films of all genres and eras.

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