Best Suspense Thriller Movies of All Time
The suspense thriller genre is full of classic films that remain popular more than 60 years after their release. Masterful directors have used clever plot lines and innovative camera angles to create suspenseful and gripping movies. To help you pick the best suspense thrillers of all times, here is a look at some of the top movies in the genre.
When Alfred Hitchcock directed this classic picture, it changed the psychological thriller genre forever. The story revolves around a Phoenix office worker, Marion Crane, who steals a considerable amount of money from her employer and heads out of town. But when she checks into the Bates Motel, Marion finds out the proprietor, Norman Bates, is not as genuine as he appears. Psycho is a rollercoaster ride of suspense and thrills, with Hitchcock’s famous camera angles, use of light and shots during the shower scene make it one of the most beloved suspense thrillers.
Rear Window (1954)
This 1954 classic stars Jimmy Stewart as a reporter, confined to a wheelchair in his apartment, who passes time by looking out of the window. He becomes obsessed with spying on his neighbors and notices one of them, Thorwald, may have committed a serious crime. This is one of Hitchcock’s lesser known works but contains some of the greatest tension, as Stewart’s nosy neighbor Grace Kelly manages to retrieve evidence to imply Thorwald has been up to no good.
Hitchcock’s Vertigo is an unmissable suspense thriller featuring noir elements and a riveting story. The protagonist, Scottie, is a former detective who becomes drawn into a complicated mystery with a woman named Madeleine. With striking stylistic choices and captivating performances, Vertigo combats fear and retells Hitchcock’s signature story in a way that just stays with you.
Psycho II (1983)
The story continues from where it all began: fifteen years after Psycho, Norman Bates returns to the Bates Motel after being found innocent of his mother’s murder. With a young actress, Mary Samuels, becoming the manager of the motel, the secrets Norman has hidden for years begin to unravel. Psycho II has just as much suspense as its predecessor, making it a must-watch for horror and suspense fans alike.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme, is nothing short of a masterful psychological thriller. The imposing character of Hannibal Lecter is exposed in this sequel and the story revolves around rookie FBI agent, Clarice Starling and her attempt to track down a serial killer, Buffalo Bill. This Oscars-winning movie is considered one of the best suspense thrillers with its smart writing, incredible cast, and low-key score.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
One of the greatest supernatural horror movies, The Sixth Sense follows the story of a young boy named Cole who was born with the ability to see the ghosts of the dead. He meets child psychologist Malcolm Crowe who attempts to make sense of Cole’s affliction and uncover the truth of his abilities. The Sixth Sense has edge-of-the-seat moments, a deathly atmosphere and the infamous “I see dead people” line. It’s a must-watch.
Another suspense thriller masterpiece directed by David Fincher, Seven goes beyond horror and bumps up the suspense factor with its dark brilliance. Two detectives, Mills and Somerset, are tasked with hunting down a serial killer who is murdering victims to represent the seven deadly sins. Gripping, dark and intense, Seven will keep you engaged till the very end.
Best Movies With Unguessable Endings
Unguessable endings are a hallmark of great suspense thrillers. Here some of the best known: Memento (2000) – Director Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending mystery revolves around a man who can’t form new memories and embarks on a search for the murderer of his wife. Oldboy (2003) – A man is held hostage for fifteen years before he is mysteriously released, with no idea why. He embarks on a quest for revenge and answers. Wait Until Dark (1967) – A blind woman is left alone at her home when three criminals come knocking. She battles her fear and finds ways to outwit them. The Prestige (2006) – When two magicians with a cut-throat rivalry pick up competing tricks, one of them discovers an actual act of magic with grave consequences. Donnie Darko (2001) – A troubled teenager struggles to make sense of his visions of a menacing six-foot bunny that only he can see.
Best Suspense Thrillers of 2020
The past decade has seen some overwhelming advances in cinema technology, with some amazing suspense thrillers being released just in the last year. Birdbox (2018) stars Sandra Bullock as a single mother trying to protect her kids from an invisible and deadly force. A Quiet Place (2018) follows a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, by living in complete silence. The Invisible Man (2020) is a twist on an old classic, inspired by an eponymous novel. And lastly Uncut Gems (2019) is a comedy-drama thriller featuring Adam Sandler as a jewelry dealer juggling between debts, debts and love.
Movies That Missed the Cut
Staying away from bloodshed and violence, some suspense thrillers don’t get the recognition they deserve. The Imitation Game (2014) starring Benedict Cumberbatch is the story of Alan Turing who, despite facing a lot of felicism, helps with cracking the Nazi Enigma code. Babel (2006) follows a story of misunderstanding, mental illness, and death in multiple scenic locations across the globe. And lastly Inception (2010) starring Leonardo DiCaprio is a mind-bending heist film about infiltrating the dreams of wealthy people to steal their secrets.
Suspense Thriller Films Across the World
Suspense thrillers aren’t just restricted to Hollywood or English speaking countries. Amitabh Bachchan starred in Sholay (1975), a cult classic from Bollywood, which revolves around two fugitives who are on the run from a ruthless dacoit. Chinese classic House of Flying Daggers (2004) follows the story of an undercover soldier and a veiled girl who fight to reclaim their freedom. Another international classic is the Japanese horror movie, Ringu (1998) which centers around a cursed videotape and the supernatural force following it through generations.
Story Structure and Visual Techniques of a Suspense Thriller
When building a suspense thriller story, it is essential to have a slow, gradual build-up of tension, with all major plot points revealed at key moments, to keep the audience hooked. Tension-related camera techniques like slow panning, suspenseful music and out of focus shots all contribute to the mood of suspense. Flashbacks add another layer of suspense and nostalgia to the film, and dialogue can help build the tension. Shots must be carefully prioritized to move the plot forward and must-watch scenes must be thrown in at the perfect moment. Lighting is an important tool in suspense films, using contrasting colors and darkness in key scenes to add some tension and suspense.
Suspense Thrillers in the New Decade
Suspense thrillers are intensifying this new decade, with upcoming films like No Time to Die (2021), Reminiscence (2021) and A Quiet Place: Part II (2021). These films continue the trend of complex plots, depicting memories, perception of time, characters with superhuman strength and sound as the only weapon. We look forward to more edge-of-the-seat suspense thrillers in the years to come.