The 12 Best Thriller Movies of All Time

In the world of film, the Thriller is a very broad category. As you’ll see with our compiled “12 Best” list, it ranges 80 years and dips its toe in many other genres – horror, film noir, espionage, etc. We’ve done our best here to give you a grand sampling of suspenseful movies, a rundown that spans multiple decades, evokes different moods, and showcases many directors (though there are a few repeats). So here are the best thriller movies of all time, from grim, grinning ghosts, to serial killers, to brainwashed pawns of enemy nations.


12. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Firstly, Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate, from 2004, starring Denzel Washington, is also very good. A different movie in many ways, but still good. Nothing beats the original in this case, however, as John Frankenheimer’s 1962 adaptation of Manchurian Candidate combines drama, suspense, science-fiction and political satire in such an effective way it’s hard to put it in any one category. Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate follows a returning hero soldier who’s suspected of being a brainwashed assassin.


11. Memento (2000)


Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, and Carrie-Anne Moss star in this inventive, backwards 2001 thriller from writer-director Christoper Nolan, which tells the story of a vengeful man who suffers from short-term memory loss. Memento unfolds in ten-minute sequences, shown in reverse chronological order, creating an experience that put Nolan on everyone’s short-list, and turned Memento into one of the privileged few movies that become lexicon. Not only is it a great thriller film, it’s also one of the best mystery movies of all time.


10. The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of the first of Patricia Highsmith’s five Tom Ripley novels is a magnificently twisted and unsettling yarn. It’s about a young sociopath (Matt Damon) with dreams of high society, who becomes dangerously obsessed with a rich college dropout (Jude Law) living in Italy. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a fascinating thriller that takes us inside the mind of a monster who hides in plain sight, kills with kindness, and will do anything to cover his tracks.


9. The Sixth Sense (1999)

Even though everyone knows the big twist in The Sixth Sense now, M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough 1999 movie, starring Bruce Willis and Toni Collette, is still a movie that stands firm even without the shock and awe of its final moments. Haley Joel Osment’s journey as young Cole, a tortured boy desperate to find out why the dead appear to him, is masterful storytelling, containing a meaningful message about embracing that which terrifies you to discover the truth underneath.


8. The Conversation (1974)

Between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola made The Conversation, a paranoid masterpiece on par with his best work. It stands up today as a remarkable depiction of one man’s professional life destroyed by his inescapable personal convictions. Gene Hackman gives a landmark performance as Harry Caul, a sad-sack surveillance expert who finds himself ensconced in a potential assassination plot while trying to recover from his role in the deaths of three people years before. It’s one of the best spy movies ever made.


7. Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s Zodiac, about the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s, is a moody masterwork overflowing with gut-wrenching anxiety. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. star in this cold-blooded crime epic born from decades of bewildering facts and suspicions built up around the case. You’ll never hear Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” the same way again.


6. Double Indemnity (1944)

Billy Wilder’s legacy is that of being one of the most versatile and talented directors in Hollywood’s history. If you only know Fred MacMurray as the lovable dad on My Three Sons, you’ll look at him differently after seeing his performance as Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, a riveting, pivotal noir about an insurance salesman and a seductive housewife (Barbara Stanwyck) who pair up to bump off her husband. It’s bleak, cynical, and filled with dark humor that’s as troubling as it is inviting.


5. Se7en (1995)

David Fincher’s Seven (also “Se7en”) brought ghoulish intelligence and jagged thrills to the oversaturated ’90s serial killer movie game. A gorgeously dark suspense film, which unwraps the gory tale of a maniac punishing his victims by exacting brutality based on the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven features Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as an uneasy detective duo on the cusp of having their worlds shattered forever.

4. Chinatown (1974)

Featuring a strong, Academy Award-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, Chinatown is an awesome, textbook neo-noir thriller that simultaneously pays homage to and redefines the film noir genre. It follows private detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) as he investigates a murder and stumbles onto a conspiracy involving the future of Los Angeles. Telling a complex story brilliantly and showcasing brilliant performances by Nicholson and co-star Faye Dunaway, Chinatown has been on every best thriller/noir shortlist since its 1974 premiere.


3. Psycho (1960)

Simply put, Psycho is one of the best and most influential suspense thrillers ever made and one of the best horror movies. This 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh changed cinema and inspired countless future filmmakers in the process. For Hitchcock — who had previously crafted films like North by Northwest, Vertigo and Rear Window — the film was a notable departure from his established formula. Filmed with a smaller budget, in black-and-white, by the crew of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Psycho was controversial (at the time) in both structure and topic and now stands tall as one of the best movies of all time.


2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Remember when a horror movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay? The Silence of the Lambs not only launched a Hannibal Lecter media franchise and ushered in a brief era of “prestige horror” — big name directors doing spooky stuff (i.e. Misery, Interview with a Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, etc) — but it also led to dozens of copycat serial killer films throughout the ’90s (one even being called Copycat). Oh, and did we mention it also happens to be a phenomenal movie with some of the best twists, turns, and scares of all time? The Silence of the Lambs is near-unbeatable.


1. North By Northwest (1959)

Truthfully, this list could be mostly Alfred Hitchcock films. Therefore it’s fitting that he should nab the top spot here with his epic mystery/thriller, North By Northwest. An espionage adventure brimming over with intrigue and fun, and featuring some of the most copied sequences in film, North By Northwest stars the incomparable Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a man mistaken for a spy and forced to flee from relentless pursuit, providing a blueprint by which all thrillers can be judged.

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