Best Thrillers on Netflix, Amazon, Starz

Like comedy or horror, “thriller” is a genre of entertainment that’s meant to provoke a physical response in the viewer: In this case, stress. A great thriller will raise your blood pressure and make you forget to breathe. In the same way you watch a horror movie to feel controlled fear, you watch a thriller to feel controlled anxiety.

It’s also a genre that produces some of the most artistically accomplished works of pop culture — the consensus greatest filmmaker of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, almost exclusively made thrillers — and is endlessly versatile, with myriad subgenres and hybrids.

So we made a list of some of our favorite thrillers and where to stream them. It’s an admittedly incomplete and arbitrary list, but that’s only because we had such a hard time choosing what to put on it. The ground rules are it has to be easily available on a streaming service (that’s why no Hitchcock) and in English, and the latter distinction is truly just to keep this list from sprawling out of control (otherwise we’d include Oldboy and stuff). So without further ado, here are 15 great thrillers (and one really bad one!) to stream today.

Basic Instinct (Starz)
No list of thrillers would be complete without an erotic thriller, a type of movie Hollywood truly doesn’t make anymore. But in the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, there were hundreds of movies where Michael Douglas runs afoul of a femme fatale. They’re an important if amusingly disreputable part of the genre’s history. Like romantic comedies or Adam Sandler movies, people stopped going to see them in theaters, but Netflix revived both of those, so maybe the streamer will start making erotic thrillers for people to watch in the privacy of their own dark, dank basements. Or maybe not, because as Broadly‘s Christina Newland put it in a retrospective on the genre, “Viewed today, erotic thrillers are bitterly cynical about gender relations; they ask us to assume the worst of both men and women. Where’s the fun in that?” The defining erotic thriller is Fatal Attraction, but that one’s not currently available as part of any subscription streaming service, so we’ve included the second-most defining erotic thriller, Basic Instinct, starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone. (Similar vibes: Angel Heart, The Last Seduction)

Belly (Starz)
Iconic music video director Hype Williams‘ first (and unfairly still only) movie is this avant-garde art film disguised as a crime thriller. It stars rappers Nas and DMX as Queens crooks who get in too deep after a nightclub robbery turns violent. Twenty-one years (and several prison sentences for one of its stars) later, this uber-stylish head trip still stands out for its uniqueness. “Black stories, especially black stories involving street life, are never allowed to be painted in such rich colors and stylized so beautifully,” as Complex’s Khal puts it in his lovely retrospective. (Similar vibes: Juice, Set It Off)

Collateral (HBO Go/HBO Now)
The best thing a thriller can do is make you go “oh s—!” Collateral has an “oh s—” moment in almost every scene. Jamie Foxx plays a Los Angeles cab driver who picks up Tom Cruise, an assassin who “hires” him to drive him to his hits. The movie makes incredible use of the emptiness at Tom Cruise’s core, turning him into a gray-haired, blank-faced human Terminator. Mark Ruffalo is almost unrecognizable as a cop with slicked-back hair, a goatee and a big earring. And it contains some of director Michael Mann‘s best shots of a city at night, which is really saying something, because that’s his signature thing. It’s almost impossible to watch a movie at home these days without checking your phone every five minutes, but this movie will make you forget all about it. (Similar vibes: Heat, Miami Vice)

First Reformed (Prime Video)
This slow-burn psychological thriller comes from Paul Schrader, a master of the subgenre, and uses the format to explore themes of climate change, faith, and guilt, with all three woven into the heavy question “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to His creation?” A popcorn fun time this is not. But it contains underrated icon Ethan Hawke‘s finest performance and grapples with the most important issue of our time more gracefully than any other movie has ever attempted. (Similar vibes: Taxi Driver, Hardcore)

The Fugitive (Vudu)
This ’60s TV adaptation was one of the biggest hits of the ’90s and one of the most straightforward genre films ever nominated for Best Picture, an honor it earned because it does what it does with flawless craft. Every element, from the script to the score, is perfectly calibrated for maximum tension. Harrison Ford is iconic as Dr. Richard Kimball, who’s wrongfully convicted of killing his wife and sentenced to death. He escapes after one of cinema’s greatest railroad tracks moments and goes on a mission to find his wife’s killer and clear his name. But the real star is Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar-winning performance as cranky U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard. Just pure, uncut cat-and-mouse goodness. It was an early exercise in repurposing old intellectual property, and its success helped lead to the remake-and-franchise-saturated world we now live in, but we can’t hold that against it. (Similar vibes: Enemy of the State, Mission: Impossible – Fallout)

Good Time (Prime Video)
Pete Davidson is this movie’s most famous evangelist, but everyone who’s seen it is part of its ever-expanding cult. Robert Pattinson stars in the Safdie brothers’ tribute to/update of the classic New York crime film as Connie Nikas, a Queens dirtbag who robs a bank with his developmentally disabled brother. And from the moment they open the money sack and the ink explodes all over them, things go wrong. And then things keep getting worse and worse and even worse until you can’t breathe and you feel like you’re going to pass out. It’s one of the most perfectly stressful movies ever made. (Similar vibes: Inside Man, Dog Day Afternoon)

The Gift (Vudu)
The psychological thriller subgenre has thrived in the past few years along with its close cousin, horror, thanks to production companies A24 and especially Blumhouse’s low-risk, high-reward business model of paying a couple million dollars to realize a strong script. That’s how we get movies like writer-director-star Joel Edgerton‘s The Gift, a tight, twisty little movie where Edgerton’s creepy oddball Gordo re-enters the life of his old school acquaintance Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), and not all is as it seems at first. The Gift uses Bateman’s inherent douchiness to great effect. They may not make movies like The Fugitive anymore, but movies like this almost make up for it. (Similar vibes: The Invitation, Creep, Get Out)

Green Room (Netflix)
Jeremy Saulnier is one of the most exciting thriller directors working today, and his breakout movie was this brutal little backwoods brawler. A desperately broke punk band plays a gig at a neo-Nazi club in rural Oregon, witnesses a murder, and has to fight its way out. The leader of the neo-Nazis is played by Patrick Stewart, who uses his competent Captain Picard-ness to chilling effect here. Its simple premise allows for striking moments of messy humanity. It’s “what you might get if you could somehow mate one of Kelly Reichardt’s portraits of life on the Oregon fringe with one of John Carpenter‘s castle-siege action vehicles,” as The A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd puts it. It’s so tense and gory that it’s often classified as a horror movie, but to us its very human monsters makes it a pure thriller. (Similar vibes: Hold the Dark, Blue Ruin)

A History of Violence (Vudu)
David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen teamed up for a pair of gripping crime thrillers in the mid-00s, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Eastern Promises has the unforgettable nude fight scene, but pound for pound, A History of Violence is the better movie. Mortensen stars as a small-town diner owner who gets unwanted attention after fighting off some thieves, and a past he thought he left in Philadelphia comes back to cause big, big problems. It received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (William Hurt) and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor and Screenplay are the two categories that most indicate a movie owns. (Similar vibes: Unforgiven, First Blood)

The King of Comedy (Prime Video)
Martin Scorsese doesn’t get enough credit for his suspense comedies. After Hours and especially The King of Comedy are funny movies that give you that claustrophobic feeling we’re chasing with this list. The King of Comedy is maybe the great director’s most cult movie, a flop at the time that’s now regarded as a prescient black comedy the world wasn’t ready for. Robert De Niro is back in Bickle Mode as Rupert Pupkin, a mentally unstable aspiring comedian who will stop at nothing to appear on Jerry Langford’s (Jerry Lewis) late-night show. It’s a psychological thriller that doubles as a bleak showbiz satire that predicted undeserved viral fame before the internet even existed. Bhad Bhabie is basically Rupert Pupkin. (Similar vibes: The Fan, Cape Fear)

Minority Report (Vudu)
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s sci-fi crime thriller is borderline underrated at this point in our nation’s history. Seriously, think how much about this movie rules: Tom Cruise’s high-anxiety lead performance, Samantha Morton‘s eerie presence as the psychic “precog” Agatha, the bleached-out color scheme, the robo-spiders, the numbing bleakness injected straight into the heart of a blockbuster movie made by two of the biggest brand names in Hollywood. And in an era when technology is surveilling us in order to read our minds, the film’s Philip K. Dick-derived dystopian concept of stopping crime before it happens via “pre-cognition” is more prescient and sinister than ever. (Similar vibes: War of the Worlds, Blade Runner)

No Country for Old Men (Netflix)
The Coen brothers‘ cat-and-mouse neo-Western is agonizing and mesmerizing. Anton Chigurh’s (Javier Bardem) relentless pursuit of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and his suitcase full of cash leaves a trail of dead bodies across Texas for no good reason, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) just can’t make sense of it. This movie is so good that it won Best Picture over There Will Be Blood, which is actually the best movie of the century so far. And as the politics podcast Chapo Trap House is fond of pointing out, it contains an unforgettable line that summarizes these unprecedented, morally and ethically broken-down times we’re living in — “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?” (similar vibes: Miller’s Crossing, Fargo)

Se7en (Netflix)
David Fincher‘s darkest movie in a career full of ’em. For its first hour and 40 minutes, it’s a very good atmospheric serial killer movie, with constant rain and dirty, dismal production design that makes its unnamed city (Los Angeles) seem like the worst place on Earth. But it’s the dread-filled last 25 that elevate it to a classic of the thriller genre, as Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey drive into the desert to find out what’s in the box. A great thriller always builds to a shocking conclusion that feels inevitable. Also, without this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn’t have been able to wear the greatest Halloween costume of all time, and we owe it for that. (Similar vibes: Zodiac, Panic Room)

The Silence of the Lambs (Netflix)
Straight-up one of the best movies ever made. If you haven’t seen it in awhile, it’s exactly as great as you remember it. It has two of the scariest performances of all time in Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine‘s Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, with Jodie Foster as the courageous moral center. I just have to say a couple words and you’ll be transported back into the scene like Harry Potter going into a Pensieve: fava beans. Miggs. Night vision. Lotion. It swept the Big Five categories at the 1991 Oscars, and it should have won more, tbh. (Similar vibes: Manhunter, Frailty)

Training Day (Vudu)
Or, Ethan Hawke’s Really, Really Bad Night. Denzel Washington owns the screen as corrupt LAPD narcotics officer Alonzo Harris, who drags Hawke’s rookie detective Jake Hoyt to hell on his first day in Harris’ “office,” a ’79 Chevy Monte Carlo. It gets a little preposterous towards the end, but the scenes where Harris is making Hoyt smoke angel dust or leaving him to play a terrifyingly high-stakes card game with some gangbangers more than make up for it. Training Day was so good that screenwriter David Ayer tried to make it again with his directorial effort Bright, aka Orc Cop, but he was unable to recapture the magic. (Get it?) (Similar vibes: End of Watch, Dark Blue, Deep Cover)


Bird Box (Netflix)
The thing about Bird Box is that it’s not a good movie. A lot of people memed about it, sure, but the A-list cast just covers up the fact that the screenplay is totally dumb and derivative. That being said, you couldn’t design a purer thriller if you were using a screenwriting algorithm (which Netflix is probably developing). Every scene is tense. There’s nothing in it that isn’t in the service of adrenaline. It’s worth watching just as a genre exercise, and also as a glimpse into the future, because this was (apparently) such a big hit that you can be sure Netflix is going to start making a lot of movies like this. (Similar, better vibes: A Quiet Place, It Comes At Night)

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