Thriller is a genre of entertainment that's meant to provoke a physical response in the viewer. A great thriller will raise your blood pressure, stop your breath, and make you go "Whew, damn!" when the tension is released. In the same way you watch a comedy to laugh or a sad drama to cry, you watch a thriller to feel controlled anxiety. It can be exciting to be stressed out!   

It's also a genre that produces some of the most artistically accomplished works of pop culture — Alfred Hitchcock, arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time, almost exclusively made thrillers — and is endlessly versatile, with myriad subgenres and hybrids, like psychological thrillers, action thrillers, legal thrillers, and good old-fashioned erotic thrillers.

We've compiled 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.

Looking for more recommendations of what to watch next? We have a ton of them! And if you're looking for more hand-picked recommendations based on shows you love, we have those too.


Basic Instinct


Where to Stream: Showtime

No list of thrillers would be complete without an erotic thriller, a type of movie Hollywood almost never makes anymore. But in the '80s, '90s and early '00s, there were seemingly hundreds of movies in which 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, and the streamer is tentatively dipping its toe into the genre with movies like Earthquake Bird. Basic Instinct is an iconic one from director Paul Verhoeven, the most subversive director to ever make big Hollywood movies. (Similar vibes: Fatal Attraction, The Last Seduction)


Belly


Where to Stream: HBO Max

Legendary 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-two 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 of the film. (Similar vibes: Juice, Set It Off)


Contagion 


Where to Stream: HBO Max

Not exactly a piece of light entertainment, especially right now, but Steven Soderbergh's medical thriller dramatizes the spread of a virus with chilling accuracy. When this movie came out in 2011, it showed what could happen. In 2020, it shows how it's happening. Hopefully it doesn't show how it ends. (Similar vibes: Outbreak, 28 Days Later)


Dead Ringers


Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video

Director David Cronenberg is renowned for the horror movies he made before this one, like Videodrome and The Fly, and the crime thrillers he made after, like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, and Dead Ringers is the bridge between the two, a unique and stylish psychological thriller about sexual obsession. Jeremy Irons plays identical twin gynecologists, a sentence that will either make you roll your eyes or shout "sold!" Elliot, the more confident of the two, seduces patients, and when he tires of them, passes them along to Beverly without the women's knowledge. But when Beverly falls in love with actress and patient Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), their dynamic is irreparably upset. (Similar vibes: The Fly, Jacob's Ladder)


Drive


Where to Stream: Netflix 

Director Nicolas Winding Refn's stylish, brutal indie action thriller stars Ryan Gosling at his most taciturn as a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. He gets close to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son, and as a favor serves as the getaway driver when her husband (Oscar Isaac) robs a pawnshop. The job goes wrong, of course, and the Driver has to track down and kill a bunch of people. It has the best soundtrack of any movie on this list. Sing it with me: "I don't eat, I don't sleep, I do nothing but think of youuuu!" (Similar vibes: The Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives)  


First Reformed


Where to Stream: Amazon 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 Gift


Where to Stream: Netflix

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 in which 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, Get Out)


Green Room


Where to Stream: 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 make it a pure thriller. (Similar vibes: Hold the Dark, Blue Ruin)


Inside Man 


Where to Stream: Netflix 

This relentlessly twisty heist thriller from director Spike Lee sets brilliant thief Clive Owen against hostage negotiator Denzel Washington after Owen's Dalton Russell takes over a bank on Wall Street, leading to a tense standoff that only gets more complicated when fixer Jodie Foster gets involved on behalf of the bank's founder (Christopher Plummer), who's trying to keep a secret contained to the bank's vault. It's an intelligent and well-plotted New York City heist flick, with a tremendously charismatic Denzel performance. It's one of Spike Lee's least thematically Spike Lee movies, but he still uses a lot of his great camera moves (those zooms!). (Similar vibes: Dog Day Afternoon, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three)


Minority Report


Where to Stream: Showtime

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


Where to Stream: Starz

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)


Parasite


Where to Stream: Hulu

Bong Joon-ho's Best Picture winner is a taut thriller first, a black comedy second, and a critique of capitalism in which the real enemy is a lack of class solidarity third. And if the first part didn't work so well, the other parts wouldn't pay off. There are sequences in this movie that are so tense you'll forget to breathe — and in one scene, you'll be holding your breath in solidarity with the Kims. Stress crosses all language barriers. (Similar vibes: Snowpiercer, Burning)


The Pelican Brief


Where to Stream: HBO Max, Showtime  

This legal thriller from 1993 is based on a bestselling book by John Grisham. It stars Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington at the peak of their movie star powers as a legal student and an investigative journalist, respectively, who uncover a conspiracy that goes all the way to the highest levels of power. Blockbuster thrillers about lawyers are yet another type of movie they don't really make anymore, but you can still enjoy this one's exquisite '90s throwback style. (Similar vibes: The Client, The Firm


Se7en 


Where to Stream: Showtime

David Fincher's darkest movie in a career full of dark movies. 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 


Where to Stream: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video

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)


Uncut Gems 


Where to Stream: Netflix 

The Safdie Brothers' gambling thriller is an absolute masterpiece of nerve-jangling tension. Everything in this movie, from Daniel Lopatin's score to Adam Sandler's agitated performance, to the use of disorienting background chatter, is designed to maximize stress. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler who owes money all over town due to his out of control gambling. When he comes into possession of a rare Ethiopian opal, he feels like his luck is about to change, and embarks on an unbelievably complicated and chaotic scheme to get the money he needs to pay off his debts with a little something extra on top. It's a crime thriller with very little actual crime, with most of the tension driven by Howard's terrible decisions. In fact, the most thrilling scene in the whole movie revolves around a magnetic door getting stuck. (Similar vibes: Good Time, Nightcrawler)