A psychological thriller movie is a genre of film that utilizes thrilling and suspenseful elements within the context of a psychological exploration of the characters’ minds, usually focusing on the psychology behind their actions, moments of tension, and unpredictable twists and turns. Some of the most well-known psychological thrillers include Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Vertigo,Psycho,The Sixth Sense,The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining, all of which generated their own cult followings. According to psychological thriller expert Dr. Amanda Rainey, this genre of film often focuses on “the unpredictable behaviors and mindsets of human beings, and how they react to situations and differences in opinions.” As such, the success of psychological thrillers lies in the “uncertainty of plot and characterization, as well as the suspense and tension of the plot’s development.”
The plot of a psychological thriller typically focuses on “the inner conflicts and issues of its characters,” says Dr. Rainey, “as well as the consequences of their decisions…The audience does not know who or what is responsible for the events that unfold and that suspenseful uncertainty is the basis for their success.” Examples of this include Us, which explores the relationship between two couples – one from the past and one from the present, and Gone Girl, which follows the story of a married couple whose marriage is put to the test following the disappearance of the wife.
The best psychological thriller movies often present viewers with unpredictable endings, making them all the more enticing. Many of the greatest psychological thrillers utilize a “twist ending”, such as in The Usual Suspects, in which the “true identity of the primary antagonist is not revealed until the very end of the movie”, remarks Dr. Rainey. This type of plot twist has become a staple in the genre, helping to create an atmosphere of “suspense and intrigue”. In fact, it is not uncommon for viewers to enjoy a psychological thriller multiple times, as they are able to “uncover different clues and intricate pieces of the story, with each repeat viewing”.
A mystery thriller movie is a genre of film that centers on an unsolved crime or a series of related events that are left unresolved until the very end of the film. While this type of movie may, at times, draw upon elements of the psychological thriller genre, mystery thrillers often focus more on the events surrounding the crime, “such as the uncovering of clues, as well as the endless possibilities and twists that could unfold”, explains Dr. Rainey. Some classic examples of mystery thrillers are Murder on the Orient Express, Knives Out, and Zodiac.
The success of mystery thrillers depends on the writers’ ability to build suspense over a prolonged period. This can be achieved through subtle and complex plot twists, as well as unconventional story structures. For example, movies such as Memento and Norman feature a “non-linear” style of storytelling, which makes following the plot more difficult and unpredictable. Furthermore, mystery thrillers may also utilize supernatural or fantasy elements in order to further enhance the feeling of suspense and mystery.
The appeal of a mystery thriller lies in its ability to keep viewers “on their toes” and guessing. According to Dr. Rainey, “a well-crafted mystery thriller is one that successfully builds to a conclusion that is both unexpected and satisfying.” The success of these films often relies on the “clever plotting” and tight script, as well as a strong cast of compelling characters, who provide obstacles and lead viewers closer to the resolution.
A science-fiction thriller movie is a genre of film that utilizes elements of science-fiction and suspense to create a thrilling story with a science-fiction twist. This type of film often contains elements of “triumph over the impossible, utilizing technology and the exploration of new scientific ideas”, according to Dr. Rainey. Some films that could be classified as sci-fi thrillers include The Matrix and Blade Runner.
The success of a sci-fi thriller relies on its ability to “ground” its science-fiction elements in a relatable, thrilling story. Contemporary films such as Ex Machina and Annihilation have achieved success through their unique blend of “science and philosophical questions, as well as their thrilling, unpredictable plotlines”, says Dr. Rainey. The sci-fi genre invites viewers to explore futuristic worlds with their own unique set of rules and enigmas.
The strength of the sci-fi thriller genre lies in its ability to blend science and suspense in an exciting way. By incorporating fantastical elements into a thrilling story, sci-fi thrillers provide a “unique experience for viewers”, says Dr. Rainey. This type of film also allows for unique storytelling opportunities, as its elements can be used to “explore a range of themes from morality to the search for meaning.”
An action thriller movie is a genre of film that combines elements of suspense and action. Through its focus on gripping, high-stakes action sequences, the action thriller tends to be an “audience-pleaser”, providing viewers with a fast-paced, thrilling viewing experience. Examples include the Die Hard and Mission Impossible franchises.
The appeal of the action thriller lies in its ability to make viewers feel like they are a part of the action, “riding shotgun” alongside the protagonist. This type of movie often utilizes a “simple, straightforward narrative”, according to Dr. Rainey, with an emphasis on “quick pacing and exciting, non-stop action.” This can be achieved through fast camera movement, rapid-fire dialogue, as well as tense, suspenseful music. Many action thrillers also feature intense, thrilling set pieces, such as car chases or gunfights.
The success of an action thriller often relies on the skill of its director and stunt-coordinators, as well as its‘ability to balance the action with a “tense, compelling narrative”, according to Dr. Rainey. In order to achieve this, filmmakers often blend elements of suspense and mystery into their action sequences, providing viewers with a unique blend of thrills and suspense.
A horror thriller movie is a genre of film that combines elements of horror and suspense. These movies often seek to “unnerve” viewers, utilizing horror conventions and suspenseful plot twists to create a “frightening” viewing experience. Examples include the Insidious, Conjuring, and The Descent franchises.
The success of a horror thriller is mainly dependent on its ability to “shock and surprise viewers”, explains Dr. Rainey. By utilizing suspenseful plot twists, horror filmmakers can create a tense, nail-biting viewing experience. Furthermore, many horror thrillers also focus on psychological horror, often exploring a character’s “mental and emotional journey as they face their fears”.
At its core, the horror thriller genre relies on “heightened suspense and jump-scares” in order to create a thrilling viewing experience for audiences. As such, these films often require “careful and precise” filmmaking techniques, says Dr. Rainey. It is not uncommon for horror thrillers to utilize “ low-angle shots, clever use of lighting and sound design, as well as tight editing” in order to create suspense and a sense of dread.
Mystery Science-Fiction Thrillers
A mystery science-fiction thriller is a genre of film that combines the elements of science-fiction and mystery thriller. This type of movie typically focuses on the “discovery of scientific truths and the exploration of philosophical themes”, explains Dr. Rainey. This genre is often best exemplified by Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report and Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
The success of a mystery science-fiction thriller relies on its ability to blend science and suspense in an “intricate, captivating” way. In order to do this, the film must be able to “ground” its science-fiction elements in a “believable and fascinating story”, allowing viewers to become immersed in its unique, futuristic world. Furthermore, this type of movie also incorporates elements of mystery, often utilizing non-linear story-telling and unexpected plot twists in order to keep viewers guessing until the very end.
At its core, the appeal of this genre lies in its ability to blend “futuristic science with thrilling suspense”, according to Dr. Rainey. By incorporating captivating science and philosophical questions into its narrative, mystery science-fiction thrillers provide viewers with a unique and thrilling viewing experience.
A suspenseful drama is a genre of film that utilizes elements of suspense and drama to create a compelling story. These types of films often focus on the “emotional and psychological journey” of the characters, says Dr. Rainey. Examples include Argo, Atonement, and Gone Girl, all of which possess an “intricate and slow-burning suspense”.
The success of a suspenseful drama movie often lies in its ability to utilize “skillful writing” in order to create an intricate story, with suspenseful yet believable plot twists. These films also often feature “thoughtful and engaging” dialogue, as well as a strong cast of compelling characters, who provide obstacles and challenge the protagonist’s journey. Furthermore, suspenseful dramas often feature a “tense and unpredictable” soundtrack, further enhancing the atmosphere.
The appeal of the suspenseful drama lies in its ability to provide viewers with an “intimate and engaging” viewing experience. This genre of film is often praised for its ability to “ground its suspenseful elements in a believable and captivating story”, says Dr. Rainey. As such, suspenseful dramas are able to captivate viewers by utilizing suspense and drama in a “unique and engaging” way.