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Jacob Osborn & Meagan Drillinger, Stacker.com
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Jacob Osborn & Meagan Drillinger, Stacker.com
Representing the best of all worlds, quality cinematic thrillers pair edge-of-your-seat suspense with genuine human conflict. Throw in a little mystery, some taut action sequences, and the occasional romantic encounter, and it’s no wonder the genre remains so wildly popular year after year. Thrillers are also less tethered to formula or tone than something like straight horror or comedy, lending them far more range to showcase.
Despite the genre’s wide-reaching parameters, however, most thrillers tend to emphasize the human element. As a result, viewers are more inclined to care about the characters and invest in the story. Not only that, but because thrillers often weave a more intricate narrative, the best ones reveal additional layers of meaning and detail with every viewing, making them compulsively watchable over and over again. And who doesn’t love a movie that they can watch multiple times?
As with any genre, not all thrillers are created equal. Some explode with pure movie magic while others fail to light even the weakest fuse. Stacker is celebrating the former, listing out the 100 best thrillers in movie history. For analysis, we’ve built an index (the “Stacker score”) that compiles IMDb ratings (weighted 50%) and Metacritic scores (weighted 50%). To qualify, the film had to be listed as a thriller on IMDb, have a Metascore, and have at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by the number of IMDb votes. Every film on the list has been considered according to cinematic history and the development of thrillers.
Click through to see if your favorite thriller made it to Stacker’s list.
– Director: Robin Hardy
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 88 minutes
A British police sergeant pays a call to the island of Summerisle, searching for a missing girl. When he arrives on the island, he discovers that its residents have forsaken Christianity to practice a form of Celtic paganism. The film was based on the David Pinner novel “Ritual,” and was remade in 2006 starring Nicolas Cage.
– Director: Michael Mann
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 157 minutes
Sometimes a thriller doesn’t need to go big on explosions or mysteries in order to retain an atmosphere of suspense. For proof, look no further than Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” about a chemist’s harrowing attempt to expose Big Tobacco by appearing on “60 Minutes.” The film is based on the real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, who visited set only twice but asked Mann to ensure smoking would not be glamorized. His request was granted.
– Director: Steven Soderbergh
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 147 minutes
A film of ever-shifting perspectives, “Traffic” tells the story of the illegal drug trade through the eyes of everyone involved—traffickers, enforcers, politicians, and users. A powerful narrative is emboldened by an impressive cast, including Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Erika Christensen, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Brolin, and many others. Originally, 20th Century Fox demanded that Harrison Ford play a leading role, but Steven Soderbergh refused. USA Films picked up the project.
– Director: Juan José Campanella
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 80
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 129 minutes
A retired investigator (Ricardo Darín) looks into an unsolved murder case and cracks open new leads in this Argentine thriller. With its complex characters and intelligent plot twists, the story rises well above the standard genre fare. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and inspired a 2015 American remake.
– Director: Edgar Wright
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 113 minutes
Bank heists are to the thriller genre what haunted houses are to the horror genre, yet that didn’t stop filmmaker Edgar Wright from infusing “Baby Driver” with its own distinct vibe. The movie is about a young getaway driver with a passion for music who gets wrangled into pulling off an impossible job. To research the film, Wright befriended real-life ex-convict Joe Loya, author of “The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell.”
– Director: Jordan Peele
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 104 minutes
Still fresh on everyone’s minds is Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the 2017 thriller about a Black photographer who visits his white girlfriend’s family and unwittingly gets ensnared in a diabolical scheme. As one might imagine, the film is rife with racial overtones and comic jabs at upper-crust society. However, there are also some less obvious references to America’s history of racism. For instance, a teacup and spoon play an essential role in the film, alluding to the slavery era, when enslavers would use a teacup and spoon to summon an enslaved person.
– Director: Quentin Tarantino
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 79
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Runtime: 99 minutes
This taut crime thriller made a splash at Sundance and turned director Quentin Tarantino into an overnight sensation. With an ensemble that includes Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and Lawrence Tierney, the story depicts a group of criminals that must figure out who to trust in the wake of a robbery gone awry. The film’s gritty characters, gut-punching violence, and unforgettable dialogue helped usher in a new era of cinema at large.
– Director: Bryan Singer
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 77
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Runtime: 106 minutes
Nothing is what it seems in this Oscar-winning crime drama, which centers around a deadly heist. A lone survivor (Kevin Spacey) recounts his twisty tale and a cocky detective (Chazz Palminteri) hangs on every word. The name Keyser Söze has been part of the cultural lexicon ever since.
– Director: Christopher Nolan
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 74
– IMDb user rating: 8.8
– Runtime: 148 minutes
Christopher Nolan’s labyrinthian thriller follows a group of thieves as they hack into the dream world of their latest target. Raking in more than $826 million worldwide at the box office, this is the rare example of a modern blockbuster that’s not based on preexisting material or part of a larger franchise. It also found awards success as a Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, taking home four Oscars.
– Director: Yuriy Bykov
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 83
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 116 minutes
Convinced of an impending building collapse, a simple plumber (Artyom Bystrov) must overcome corrupt politicians in this timely Russian thriller. Its title is a gesture of futility in that the protagonist is a fool for taking on the local government. Similarly bleak is the film’s portrayal of daily Russian life.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 88
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 120 minutes
Alfred Hitchcock’s heralded spy thriller takes place on the brink of WWII and stars Joel McCrea as New York crime reporter John Jones. Sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent, Jones uncovers a treacherous spy ring. Time Out critic Geoff Andrew called it a “thoroughly enjoyable affair, complete with some of [Hitchcock’s] most memorable set pieces.”
– Director: John Huston
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 112 minutes
This black-and-white thriller set an early template for the heist subgenre, following various thieves as they plot and execute a dangerous robbery. Unforeseen problems and deadly double crosses ensue through a series of tightly controlled shots. The novel upon which it’s based inspired a number of other adaptations, including the 1972 blaxploitation film “Cool Breeze.”
– Director: Alan J. Pakula
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 138 minutes
From the annals of great journalism movies comes 1976’s “All the President’s Men,” the story of two reporters who blow the lid off the Watergate scandal. While the movie goes to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the book upon which it was based, it does take some liberties in the dialogue department. More to the point, the film introduced the phrase “follow the money,” which is now part of the national lexicon.
– Director: Bong Joon-ho
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 82
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 132 minutes
Long before he rocked the world with “Parasite,” South Korean director Bong Joon-ho crafted this acclaimed mystery drama. Set in 1986, it follows a team of detectives as they hunt for a sadistic serial killer. The story is loosely based on the real-life Hwaseong murders, considered South Korea’s first serial killer case.
– Director: Christopher McQuarrie
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 147 minutes
Ethan Hunt is back for the sixth chapter in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, this time teaming up with a CIA assassin to prevent an even greater disaster. The sixth film was discussed before the release of the fifth film, “Rogue Nation,” which was also directed by Christopher McQuarrie, making him the only “Mission: Impossible” director to direct more than one film in the franchise.
– Director: Clint Eastwood
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 138 minutes
Ex-con Jimmy Markum’s daughter is dead, and it turns out two of his childhood friends are involved: one was the last person to see her alive, and the other is the homicide detective working on the case. Not only was the film directed by Clint Eastwood, but the Hollywood icon also wrote the film’s score.
– Director: Alfonso Cuarón
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 109 minutes
In a desolate future where humans are unable to reproduce, a miracle arrives in the form of a pregnancy. So goes the premise for “Children of Men,” a propulsive thriller based on a book of the same name. Among the movie’s many iconic scenes is a pig floating over the Battersea Power Station, making direct reference to the Pink Floyd album “Animals.”
– Director: Ben Affleck
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 120 minutes
To save six American hostages, CIA agents enter Tehran disguised as a Hollywood production crew in 2012’s “Argo.” Directed by Ben Affleck, the movie is based on a real-life hostage crisis that occurred in 1979. While the film does strive for authenticity, it reportedly overlooks Canada’s involvement in the rescue mission, which in real life was quite significant.
– Director: Quentin Tarantino
– Stacker score: 88
– Metascore: 83
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 137 minutes
Tarantino’s epic saga concludes with this second installment, in which The Bride (Uma Thurman) forges a bloody path of revenge. A series of violent showdowns paves the way for her final confrontation with Bill, played by martial arts legend David Carradine. The film made just over $154 million at the worldwide box office on a reported budget of $30 million.
– Director: Carol Reed
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 88
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 95 minutes
Phillipe is the young son of a diplomat who finds himself alone much of the time and takes a strong liking to the house butler, Baines. When Baines is wrongly accused of his wife’s death, Phillipe is desperate to come to his rescue. The film was critically acclaimed upon its release in Britain, and Carol Reed was nominated for the Best Director Oscar.
– Director: Carol Reed
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 116 minutes
Best known for the noirish classic “The Third Man,” director Carol Reed also helmed this British crime thriller of similar esteem. After a robbery gone wrong, a wounded Irish nationalist leader (James Mason) tries to avoid capture in Belfast. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film and received an Oscar nomination for its film editing.
– Directors: Howard Hawks, Richard Rosson
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 93 minutes
A ruthless hitman (Paul Muni) climbs his way up the criminal ladder in this gangster drama, set during Prohibition. It drew inspiration from real-life mobster Al Capone, who was nicknamed Scarface by the press. The film was loosely remade in 1983 as an ultra-violent crime epic starring Al Pacino.
– Director: Dario Argento
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 89
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 127 minutes
“Deep Red” is a 1975 Italian horror film about a murdered psychic medium and a musician who feels compelled to solve the case. It’s classified under the genre of “giallo,” which means yellow in Italian, named after a series of mystery novels with yellow covers that were popular in Italy.
– Directors: Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 102 minutes
Known for its uncompromising depiction of violence and equally uncompromising lead character, “Dirty Harry” stars Clint Eastwood as a San Francisco cop assigned to track down “the Scorpio Killer.” Helping Eastwood perform the job is a fearless attitude and a silver .44 Magnum revolver. In many ways, this seminal film expanded upon the persona Eastwood had developed in classic Westerns, where he likewise took an “ends justifies the means” approach toward the pursuit of justice.
– Director: Guy Hamilton
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 110 minutes
The third James Bond film to ever be made, “Goldfinger,” was based on the 1959 Ian Fleming novel of the same name. It stars Sean Connery as the suave secret agent investigating a gold smuggling plan set to contaminate the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. The movie had a budget of $3 million ($28 million with inflation), which was the budget of “Dr. No” and “From Russia with Love” (the movie’s predecessors) combined.
– Director: David Mackenzie
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 88
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 102 minutes
Combining a simple premise with poignant social commentary, 2016’s “Hell or High Water” tells the story of two brothers who rob banks to save their ranch. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan was partly inspired to write the film after visiting his hometown and seeing nothing but closed storefronts and empty houses.
– Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 83
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 154 minutes
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s feature directorial debut delivers overlapping narratives in the vein of “Pulp Fiction.” Each story takes place in Mexico City and connects various characters through a tragic car accident. It makes up part of the director’s “Trilogy of Death.”
– Director: John Carpenter
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 91 minutes
Folks might consider John Carpenter’s 1978 classic “Halloween” to be straight horror. However, the film about a homicidal maniac who terrorizes his hometown actually touts more suspense than it does gore. That feature and a slow-burn narrative easily qualify this film as a thriller—one of the best of its kind.
– Director: David Lynch
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 147 minutes
Composed of a series of vignettes, “Mulholland Drive” ultimately follows the main story of Betty Elms, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles who befriends a woman recovering from a car accident and suffering from amnesia. The psychological thriller was originally created with the potential for a television series. However, ABC ultimately pulled the plug, so David Lynch reshaped it as a feature film.
– Director: Christopher Nolan
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 80
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Runtime: 113 minutes
The thriller that turned director Christopher Nolan into a household name still ranks among his best work. Unfolding both forward and backward, it puts a man (Guy Pearce) with short-term memory loss on the trail of his wife’s killer. Nolan’s brother Jonathan wrote the short story upon which the film is based.
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– Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 126 minutes
While on assignment in North Africa, journalist David Locke discovers the body of a stranger who looks just like him. Locke assumes the man’s identity, only to discover that the man was entwined in illegal arms dealing. The most iconic scene of the film is a seven-minute continuous shot at the end of the movie that sweeps from inside a hotel room to the piazza outside.
– Director: Jacques Tourneur
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 97 minutes
This quintessential noir stars Robert Mitchum as a former private eye turned small-town gas station owner, whose violent past comes back with a vengeance. “Each change of angle and shift of light evokes an inner disturbance,” wrote New Yorker critic Richard Brody of the film’s atmospheric style.
– Director: Lee Chang-dong
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 148 minutes
Out of South Korea comes this acclaimed psychological thriller with socioeconomic themes. Convinced that his friend (Jeon Jong-seo) is missing or dead, a struggling writer (Yoo Ah-in) suspects a wealthy young man (Steven Yeun) of foul play. It premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and took home two awards, including the esteemed FIPRESCI Prize.
– Director: Howard Hawks
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 114 minutes
This classic noir adapts a novel of the same name and stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe. Hired by a wealthy general, Marlowe finds himself embroiled in a deadly blackmailing plot. Bogart’s real-life wife and frequent co-star Lauren Bacall appears as the general’s daughter, who has some secrets of her own.
– Director: Francis Ford Coppola
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 113 minutes
In between making “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II,” Francis Ford Coppola released this comparatively modest but effectively unnerving film about a surveillance expert who thinks his next targets are going to be murdered. The highly acclaimed movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It would ultimately suffer defeat in the Best Picture category to “The Godfather Part II,” making 1974 an excellent year for Coppola.
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– Director: Park Chan-wook
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 145 minutes
Revenge is served all sorts of ways in this Korean erotic thriller. Directed by Park Chan-wook, class tension and politics are central themes in the story of a con man who teams up with a pickpocket to swindle a wealthy man and his niece out of their money. The film is based on a Victorian-era novel titled “Fingersmith.” Chan-wook’s version is set in Korea during the Japanese occupation.
– Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Runtime: 135 minutes
A Jewish American jeweler with a gambling problem makes a high-stakes bet that could clear his crippling debt if he wins. The lead was played by Adam Sandler, who blew critics out of the water. It was the role of a lifetime that almost never was, as Sandler didn’t even read the script the first two times the directors approached him, according to Vox.
– Director: Andrew Davis
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 130 minutes
Harrison Ford plays a falsely accused murderer on the run in “The Fugitive,” which was based on a TV series of the same name. The film delivers no shortage of memorable dialogue, an impressive feat given the fact that the actors improvised many of their lines.
– Director: Paul Greengrass
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 115 minutes
Director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon deliver nonstop thrills and lots of shaky-cam action in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third in a series of Jason Bourne movies. In the film, Bourne narrowly escapes the wrath of a CIA boss and his various assassins, all while searching for the truth behind his own life as a trained killer.
– Director: Ridley Scott
– Stacker score: 89
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 117 minutes
In the midst of the initial “Star Wars” craze came Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” a noirish take on sci-fi that’s earned itself a healthy fan base over the years. In the film, Harrison Ford stars as a bounty hunter who must find and terminate a group of escaped replicants. Everything from the music to the characters to the set pieces is bursting with style and distinction, lending the film a breathtaking aesthetic all its own.
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– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 92
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Runtime: 116 minutes
London is at the mercy of a serial killer who uses a necktie to strangle his victims. When the ex-wife of an ex-Royal Air Force officer is found dead, the officer becomes a suspect and is forced to go on the lam. Critics like Roger Ebert (who gave the film four stars) considered it a triumphant return to thrillers for Hitchcock.
– Director: Martin Scorsese
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 97 minutes
Paul Hackett is a New York City word processor who meets a woman in a cafe one night and takes a taxi down to her apartment. The rest of the movie is a series of unfortunate, awkward, and sometimes dangerous situations as he tries to make his way back uptown. At the time, the movie was the first Martin Scorsese film in 10 years to not include Robert De Niro as the lead.
– Director: Paul Greengrass
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 111 minutes
“United 93” puts viewers on one of the flights hijacked by terrorists during the Sept. 11 attacks. The film, counting down in real-time, takes us into the seats with the passengers and crew, as well as with their loved ones. The film was made with the permission and cooperation of all of the passengers’ families. Many of the actors spent time with family members while researching their individual roles.
– Director: Sidney Lumet
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 125 minutes
As much a comedy and a drama as it is a thriller, 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon” is based on the true story of a man who robs a bank to pay for his partner’s gender confirmation surgery. What follows is a media circus for the ages. Al Pacino stars in the lead role and bears a striking resemblance to his real-life counterpart.
– Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 98 minutes
While the premise of a man who hires two criminals to abduct his wife might sound like standard Hollywood fare, 1996’s “Fargo” is quite unlike any other film of its kind. Arguably the Coen brothers’ most quintessential work, this movie performed well at the box office and even spawned a hit TV series on FX. But the FX series actually marks the second time “Fargo” was adapted for the small screen—before that came a TV adaptation in 1997, which was passed over by networks.
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– Director: Roman Polanski
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 105 minutes
Carole is a young manicurist who suffers from a pathological fear of interacting with men. When her sister, who is also her roommate, leaves for a vacation, Carole is left alone in the apartment to further succumb to her psychological entrapments. Roman Polanski got the idea for “Repulsion” after abandoning Poland for London, notes Charles Silver, the curator of the Department of Film at MoMA.
– Director: Nicolas Roeg
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 95
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Runtime: 110 minutes
Director Nicolas Roeg employed radical editing techniques and an infamous sex scene when bringing this giallo-esque horror to life. After the tragic death of their daughter, a married couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) experience a series of potentially supernatural phenomena. Themes of grief and obsession are at the heart of the film.
– Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 131 minutes
This gripping French thriller follows four men as they transport volatile nitroglycerine across rugged and perilous terrain. It was later remade by director William Friedkin as the 1977 cult classic “Sorcerer.” The film’s prolonged suspense sequences also inspired director Christopher Nolan when he was making “Dunkirk.”
– Director: Ingmar Bergman
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 83 minutes
In this complete mind-meld of a film, director Ingmar Bergman tells the story of a young nurse and her patient, who has unexpectedly stopped speaking. The two relocate to a remote cottage where the lines between the pair begin to blur to the point where the nurse has trouble distinguishing herself from her patient. Often thought to be Bergman’s masterpiece, the film touched on almost every controversial subject out there, from abortion and family relationships to sexuality and even vampire mythology.
– Director: George A. Romero
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 89
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 96 minutes
Made on a reported budget of just $114,000—most of which was secured after shooting began—Romero’s feature debut became a midnight box office smash. Multiple sequels would follow, as would an entire subgenre of zombie fare. Fun fact: the word “zombie” is never once uttered in this film.
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– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 88
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 101 minutes
Alfred Hitchcock continues to reign over this list, this time with 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” Adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, the premise deals with two men who agree to swap murders to forge stronger alibis. Mystery writer Raymond Chandler wrote an early draft of the screenplay, but virtually nothing from the draft would make it onto the big screen. However, Warner Bros. insisted on giving Chandler screenwriting credit as a marketing ploy.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 130 minutes
More thrillers mean more Hitchcock, and 1940’s “Rebecca” finds the master in top form. The film centers on a newlywed woman who moves in with her recently widowed husband and finds herself unable to escape the looming presence of his deceased former wife. This is the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
– Director: Lenny Abrahamson
– Stacker score: 90
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 118 minutes
Brie Larson gives an Oscar-winning performance in this adaptation of a novel by Emma Donoghue, who also penned the script. Confined to a small room, a kidnap victim (Larson) must raise her young son (Jacob Tremblay) while plotting their escape. But even if they survive, are they psychologically prepared for the world outside their door?
– Director: Costa-Gavras
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 127 minutes
This Algerian-French thriller surmounted various hurdles on its way to production and went on to win two Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film. Culling inspiration from real-life events, it centers around a political assassination and the subsequent military cover-up. Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called it “a political thriller that builds up so much tension that you’ll probably feel all knotted up by the time it’s over.”
– Director: Howard Hawks
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 100 minutes
Inspired by an Ernest Hemingway novel, this WWII adventure also plays like an unofficial sequel to “Casablanca.” Humphrey Bogart stars as a boat operator on the island of Martinique, who begrudgingly helps the French Resistance. During production, Bogart forged an off-screen romance with frequent collaborator and soon-to-be wife Lauren Bacall.
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– Director: Martin Scorsese
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 96
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Runtime: 112 minutes
Showing off the more classic (and career-defining) side of Robert De Niro is Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” in which the actor plays a psychotic troublemaker. The movie also stars Harvey Keitel as a small-time hoodlum trying to make his way up the mob ladder. Scorsese made the film on a shoestring budget of $500,000, allegedly spending most of the money on music for the soundtrack.
– Director: John Sturges
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 86
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 172 minutes
Putting actor Steve McQueen in a POW escape movie is virtually guaranteeing one of the best thrillers of all time. That movie was “The Great Escape,” and it features McQueen leading a group of allies out of a German internment camp. Charles Bronson stars as the chief tunneler, drawing upon his previous experiences as a coal miner for the role.
– Director: Steven Spielberg
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 87
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 124 minutes
The original blockbuster, 1975’s “Jaws” pits a great white shark against unsuspecting locals and tourists in a small coastal town. As most are aware, this film made director Steven Spielberg a household name, though what is less commonly known is the fact that he wasn’t the studio’s first choice. The director who was originally attached was fired after he kept referring to the shark as a whale during production meetings.
– Director: James Cameron
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Runtime: 137 minutes
In 1979, Ridley Scott terrified audiences with “Alien,” and in 1986, James Cameron delivered “Aliens,” a sequel that cranked up the action while toning down the horror. Cameron would later become well known for his authoritative methodology, but at the time, he was considered a novice, which made it hard for him to earn the respect of his assistant director and the film crew alike. In response, Cameron had the assistant director replaced, quashing a potential uprising.
– Director: Richard Kelly
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 88
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 113 minutes
A modern cult classic if there ever was one, “Donnie Darko” tells the surreal tale of a teenage boy who narrowly escapes death, only to be haunted by visions of a man wearing a rabbit suit. Richard Kelly’s debut film is so heady in its delivery that entire websites are devoted to deciphering its meaning.
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– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 93
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Runtime: 86 minutes
“It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that all contemporary escapist entertainment begins with ‘The 39 Steps,'” screenwriter Robert Towne once said. The story frames an innocent tourist (Robert Donat) for murder and embroils him in a deadly spy conspiracy. Subsequent Hitchcock works such as 1942’s “Saboteur” and 1959’s “North by Northwest” tackled similar themes and plot points.
– Director: James Whale
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 70 minutes
This early adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel turned Boris Karloff into one of the horror genre’s foremost stars. He plays Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, who escapes from the lab and unleashes chaos across the local countryside. This version would go on to inspire a plethora of “Frankenstein” sequels, remakes, spinoffs, and spoofs.
– Director: Fred Zinnemann
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 89
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 85 minutes
Gary Cooper won his second Oscar playing a sheriff who reluctantly battles a gang of revenge-seeking killers in 1952’s “High Noon.” The famous film was directed by Fred Zinnemann, who nearly got run over by a train during the shoot.
– Director: Kathryn Bigelow
– Stacker score: 91
– Metascore: 95
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Runtime: 157 minutes
“Zero Dark Thirty” takes the 10-year-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden to the big screen. The movie follows the international search following the Sept. 11 attacks and culminates in his capture and death in Pakistan. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Chastain.
– Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 140 minutes
French criminal Corey is released from prison and vows never to wind up there again. A short-lived notion, he is dragged quickly back into a life of crime, plotting a diamond heist with an escaped murderer and a former policeman. The title of the film, which translates to “The Red Circle,” apparently comes from a Buddhist saying that means men who are destined to meet will inevitably meet.
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– Director: Kathryn Bigelow
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 95
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Runtime: 131 minutes
Movies don’t get much more straightforward in their intensity than Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” which follows a bomb squad sergeant as he dismantles explosives during the Iraq War. The film made history at the Academy Awards when Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar—one of six wins for the film.
– Director: Martin Scorsese
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Runtime: 151 minutes
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio play undercover agents on opposite sides of the law in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” The movie was a star-studded affair, to say the least, with about half the $90 million budget going toward actors’ salaries.
– Director: Stanley Kubrick
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 84 minutes
Kubrick’s noirish thriller revolves around double-crossing criminals and a dangerous racetrack robbery. The film’s tight pacing, gritty characters, and nonlinear narrative injected new life into the heist subgenre. Director Quentin Tarantino cited it as an influence when making “Reservoir Dogs.”
– Director: Anurag Kashyap
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 89
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 321 minutes
“Gangs of Wasseypur” is an Indian crime film that centers around power struggles and politics between three coal industry mafia families. The five-hour film was broken into two parts, as the story spans several decades. But it was originally shot as a single movie.
– Director: William Friedkin
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 94
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 104 minutes
Before shocking audiences with 1973’s “The Exorcist,” director William Friedkin was helming one of the most epic car chase sequences in movie history in “The French Connection.” The film stars Gene Hackman as a cop on the trail of drug smugglers. The aforementioned car chase was filmed without proper permits, and the movie also includes an unplanned car crash.
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– Director: George Miller
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 120 minutes
The legendary “Mad Max” series got a 21st-century upgrade in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It pairs the post-apocalyptic warrior with a group of female rebels as they all try to escape a vicious overlord. The blockbuster was made when CGI was ubiquitous, but that didn’t stop director George Miller from using practical effects and stunts for about 80% of the action sequences.
– Director: Jonathan Demme
– Stacker score: 92
– Metascore: 85
– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Runtime: 118 minutes
Adapted from the bestselling novel by Thomas Harris, “The Silence of the Lambs” remains a benchmark in the thriller genre. That’s in no small part thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ turn as serial killer Hannibal Lecter, who enjoys toying with minds as much as he does devouring bodies. Hopkins would later claim he was able to portray the iconic character by combining author Truman Capote and actress Katharine Hepburn with the HAL computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
– Director: Don Hertzfeldt
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 62 minutes
Don Hertzfeldt’s animated masterpiece defies convention and bears virtually no resemblance to the standard thriller. Culling together three previous experimental short films, it chronicles the mental breakdown of a man named Bill. “Alternately poignant and absurdist,” wrote Variety critic Peter Debruge.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 94
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 108 minutes
In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” a woman fears that her visiting uncle is not the man he appears to be. In fact, her uncle might very well be a serial killer known as the Merry Widow Murderer. Hitchcock often claimed that this was his personal favorite among his many films.
– Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 93
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 121 minutes
This Oscar-nominated Japanese drama depicts a family of petty criminals, who welcome an outsider into their unique (and dysfunctional) world. When one of their own gets arrested, buried secrets come bubbling to the surface. Despite its crime-based underpinnings, the work is more of a humane character study than a pulse-pounding thriller.
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– Director: Elia Kazan
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 91
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 108 minutes
Marlon Brando plays a former boxer who takes a job as a longshoreman and finds himself at odds with corrupt union bosses in Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.” Brando nabbed the role from Frank Sinatra, who reportedly carried a grudge for the rest of his life.
– Director: Curtis Hanson
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 138 minutes
Based on James Ellroy’s novel, “L.A. Confidential” takes place against a backdrop of widespread corruption as three policemen investigate a murder that isn’t what it seems. Ellroy himself felt the book could never be adapted for the big screen. The author was wrong in this assumption and ended up quite pleased with the results.
– Director: Christopher Nolan
– Stacker score: 93
– Metascore: 94
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 106 minutes
Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” takes place during WWII and deals with the true story of Allied soldiers finding themselves under constant attack from the German army as they evacuate a French beach. In the film, Nolan eschews traditional character development in favor of constant action and an almost permanent sense of dread. The result is a war saga quite unlike any other.
– Director: Louis Malle
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 94
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 91 minutes
Florence Carala and her secret lover, Julien Tavernier, conspire to murder Florence’s husband. But when Julien returns to the crime scene to dispose of evidence, he finds himself in an incriminating position when he becomes trapped in an elevator. Miles Davis composed the score for the movie.
– Director: John Frankenheimer
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 94
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 126 minutes
Starring Frank Sinatra, 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate” is a harrowing political thriller about a former POW who’s brainwashed into becoming an assassin. The executives at United Artists were originally reluctant to produce the film, fearing its political premise was far too controversial. Their sentiment changed after Sinatra reached out to his good friend President John F. Kennedy, who made a direct plea to the UA studio head and got the film greenlighted.
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– Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 89
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Runtime: 137 minutes
It’s 1984 East Berlin, and Stasi officer Gerd Wiesler doubts a playwright’s loyalty to the Communist Party. With permission to spy on him and his girlfriend, Wiesler begins to empathize with the couple, and suddenly, his loyalty is called into question. It received the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
– Director: Alfonso Cuarón
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 96
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Runtime: 91 minutes
To make 2013’s “Gravity,” director Alfonso Cuarón and his team didn’t just spend years in the computer animation studio, but actually invented new technology along the way. And that was all before they even began shooting with actors. Suffice to say, the effort paid off, as the 3D film about two astronauts trying to survive in space was a massive hit upon its release.
– Director: Akira Kurosawa
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 90
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Runtime: 143 minutes
This suspenseful drama explores socioeconomic themes and Shakespearean dynamics within a noirish template. While vying for control of a shoe company, a wealthy industrialist (Toshirô Mifune) must deal with the sudden kidnapping of his son. New York Times critic Howard Thompson called it “one of the best detective thrillers ever filmed.”
– Director: Roman Polanski
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 92
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 130 minutes
Set in 1937, Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” is about a private investigator who finds himself embroiled in a wide-reaching scheme involving Los Angeles’ water supply. Written by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson, the film is often hailed as an example of perfect narrative structure. However, that perfection was only achieved after multiple compromises, including a complete change to the scripted ending.
– Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 92
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 122 minutes
The Coen brothers were well into their careers as legendary filmmakers by the time they made “No Country for Old Men,” and yet the film stands out as one of their best. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, the film tells the story of a man who comes across a boatload of drug money before finding himself in the crosshairs of a sadistic killer. In the film, Josh Brolin’s character gets shot in the arm and hobbles around in pain, which was fortuitous because the actor actually did break his shoulder right before shooting.
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– Director: Christopher Nolan
– Stacker score: 94
– Metascore: 84
– IMDb user rating: 9.0
– Runtime: 152 minutes
The second Batman film from Christopher Nolan is now widely considered one of the greatest comic book movies of all time. “The Dark Knight” sees Christian Bale return as the caped crusader and Heath Ledger famously tackling the Joker. To best capture the role, Ledger reportedly drew upon a slew of influences, including Sex Pistols members Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten as well as Alex from “A Clockwork Orange.”
– Director: Akira Kurosawa
– Stacker score: 95
– Metascore: 93
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Runtime: 110 minutes
Kurosawa’s samurai thriller follows a nameless ronin (Toshirô Mifune) into a small village, where he manipulates a gang war. Remade as the American Western “Last Man Standing” in 1996, It also inspired Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars.” All of these films bear striking resemblance to the Dashiell Hammett novel “Red Harvest,” first published in 1929.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 95
– Metascore: 98
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Runtime: 96 minutes
One of Hitchcock’s final British films is a slow-burn mystery with clever plot twists and occasional comic relief. Margaret Lockwood plays English tourist Iris Henderson, who investigates the disappearance of an old woman (May Whitty) that no one seems to remember. It was remade in 1979 with Elliott Gould, Cybill Shepherd, and Angela Lansbury.
– Director: Sergei Eisenstein
– Stacker score: 96
– Metascore: 97
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 66 minutes
Eisenstein’s silent era masterpiece takes place during the Russian Revolution and breaks down into five different acts. What begins with mutiny aboard a navy battleship leads to massive protests and a deadly massacre. Its famous Odessa Steps sequence features some of the most influential filmmaking techniques in the history of cinema.
– Director: Jules Dassin
– Stacker score: 96
– Metascore: 97
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 118 minutes
Notorious jewel thief Tony is released from prison and schemes up one more heist after discovering his ex-girlfriend is now the girlfriend of a local gangster. The film was made in 1955—prime McCarthy era—by Jules Dassin, who was a blacklisted American filmmaker.
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– Director: Billy Wilder
– Stacker score: 96
– Metascore: 95
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Runtime: 107 minutes
A noir classic from Billy Wilder, “Double Indemnity,” tells the story of an insurance salesman who’s seduced into a murder plot by a gorgeous femme fatale. Actress Barbara Stanwyck landed the role of the seductress, and she was initially hesitant to play a diabolical killer. In response, Wilder asked her, “are you a mouse or an actress?”
– Director: Carol Reed
– Stacker score: 96
– Metascore: 97
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Runtime: 93 minutes
A poor writer arrives in Vienna to visit an old pal, only to discover that his friend is dead. The writer suspects foul play and decides to remain in Vienna to get to the bottom of the case. Orson Welles was the original choice to play the missing man, but it was thought that his name could damage the movie’s earnings. A series of other names were tossed forward, but ultimately they went with Welles.
– Director: Charles Laughton
– Stacker score: 97
– Metascore: 99
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 92 minutes
In “The Night of the Hunter,” a Depression-era con man assumes the role of a preacher to swindle an unsuspecting widow out of $10,000. The film was directed by actor Charles Laughton and would end up being Laughton’s only credited directorial effort.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 97
– Metascore: 100
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Runtime: 102 minutes
Alfred Hitchcock appears on the list yet again, this time for 1946’s “Notorious,” the story of a woman who’s asked to spy on a group of Nazis in South America. The director famously made cameos in his own movies, and this one was no exception. Look for Hitchcock drinking champagne around the hour mark at a party sequence.
– Director: Orson Welles
– Stacker score: 97
– Metascore: 99
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Runtime: 95 minutes
Orson Welles might be best known today as the singular force behind “Citizen Kane,” but nearly as worthy of note is his 1958 offering, “Touch of Evil.” The film is about police corruption in a small Mexican border town. Unlike “Citizen Kane,” however, Welles lost creative control over this project and was even fired during post-production. In 1998, a re-edited version more in line with the director’s intended vision was released.
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– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 98
– Metascore: 98
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Runtime: 136 minutes
In Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” a case of mistaken identity sends a New York ad executive down a dangerous path as he struggles to survive while being hunted by international spies. Featuring a brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann along with some of old Hollywood’s most memorable set pieces, the film infused the thriller genre with ideas still being utilized today.
– Director: Bong Joon-ho
– Stacker score: 98
– Metascore: 96
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Runtime: 132 minutes
The first South Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this thriller from 2019 tells the story of a poor Korean family that infiltrates a wealthy family by becoming hired as their servants. The movie made history at the Academy Awards, with four wins: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, and Best Picture—making it the first predominantly non-English language film to win the top Oscar.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 98
– Metascore: 97
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Runtime: 109 minutes
No list of best thrillers is complete without Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” which tells the story of a hotel owner who works out his mother issues on unwitting guests. The film’s premise was quite controversial for its time, prompting Paramount Studios to back out of financing. Hitchcock ended up using his own money to get the film made, in exchange for 60% ownership. Suffice to say, that ended up working out in the director’s favor.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 99
– Metascore: 100
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Runtime: 128 minutes
The master of suspense was back and better than ever with 1958’s “Vertigo,” which centers on a private investigator with a fear of heights who becomes obsessed with a woman he’s hired to follow. Featured in the film is a now-famous “vertigo effect,” which was credited to Hitchcock at the time. It turns out that the second unit cameraman, Irwin Roberts, actually came up with the effect.
– Director: Alfred Hitchcock
– Stacker score: 100
– Metascore: 100
– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Runtime: 112 minutes
Taking the #1 spot is “Rear Window” from the master of suspense himself. Telling the story of a wheelchair-bound photographer who’s convinced his neighbor is a murderer, the movie explores themes of doubt and paranoia with impeccable precision and remains a cornerstone of the thriller genre. Meanwhile, some of the film’s events were inspired by real-life murder cases.
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There’s a little bit of everything on this list of top-rated horror films and then some.
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With so many films out there, it can be difficult to find the best type of horror movie for each kind of film fan.
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