Sometimes, when you’re looking to be entertained, only a thriller will cut it. If you ever find yourself feeling like life is getting inexplicably dark, and morality is becoming more ambiguous, immersing yourself in a tense world of serial killers, drug dealers, and crooked sleazebags of all kinds is a pretty great form of escapism. The genre is broad enough to encompass a wide variety of tropes, so you could probably watch thrillers forever and never get bored.
Netflix’s thriller offerings are surprisingly well-rounded, offering a good mix of undisputed classics from the likes of Fincher and Scorsese as well as newer indie flicks that you may have missed. Whether you’re looking to revisit an old favorite, fill an embarrassing gap in your movie knowledge, or find something new and cutting edge that will blow your mind, the streaming service has something for you. Keep reading for 15 of our favorite thrillers streaming on Netflix.
J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut may take place within a Wall Street office during the 2008 financial crisis, but it is every bit as thrilling as flashier films on this list. The movie follows a group of investment bankers for 24 hours as they make dangerous choices while their world begins to collapse. The film maintains wire-to-wire tension, keeping even financial newbies on the edge of their seats. As a bonus, “Margin Call” is widely regarded as one of the most factually accurate films about finance, so you might even learn something from it too.
Nicolas Pesce’s intense BDSM thriller opens with a man struggling to resist the urge to stab his own baby with an icepick, and things only ramp up from there. Christopher Abbott stars as a deranged man who tries to quell his violent urges by murdering a prostitute (Mia Wasikowska), only to find out that she is just as demented as he is. His attempt to lure her into a hotel room and kill her turns into a diabolical showdown that has to be seen to be believed.
Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s iconic novel does a masterful job of capturing the cynicism that defined the author’s career while still making an entertaining studio film. Telling the story of a Mediterranean rescue mission gone horribly awry, the richly layered mystery surprises and delights at just about every turn. Anchored by a stellar ensemble cast that features Matt Damon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Cate Blanchett doing some of the best work of their careers, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a delightfully nuanced thriller that continues to impress.
At first glance, the casting of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy seemed like an indulgence of all of the worst parts of mainstream true crime culture. As America’s fascination with serial killers continued to skyrocket, bringing in a former Disney star to play a brutal serial killer could have been a shameless attempt to cash in on the trend. But Efron delivers an excellent performance in a nuanced film that does nothing to glamorize the murderer, choosing instead to break down the cult of personality surrounding Bundy at every turn.
If “The Town” established Ben Affleck as one of Hollywood’s most exciting directors, “Argo” erased all doubts. His third feature behind the camera tells the story of a CIA agent who performs a complicated hostage extraction by posing as a Hollywood producer scouting film locations. “Argo” is as competently-directed of a thriller as you’re likely to find anywhere, with perfect pacing and an all-star supporting cast who give excellent performances without ever overshadowing each other. Affleck was controversially snubbed in the Best Director category at the Oscars, but the film holds up as one of the most deserving Best Picture winners in recent memory.
It is a testament to Al Pacino’s storied career that “Donnie Brasco” does not top the list of the best crime movies he appeared in. This Mafia drama stars Johnny Depp as an FBI agent who goes undercover in the Bonanno crime family and develops a close relationship with an aging hitman played by Pacino. The film does an excellent job of illustrating the way undercover agents blur the line between business and personal relationships, avoiding crime drama cliches while maintaining suspense at every turn.
Stephen King’s chilling tale of bondage sex gone wrong was long thought to be unfilmable, due to so much of the novel “Gerald’s Game” taking place inside the mind of a woman who is chained to her bed. But “The Haunting of Hill House” creator Mike Flanagan found a way, turning the story into a chilling two-hander starring Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood that remains faithful to the novel while still thrilling viewers.
George Clooney may be one of Hollywood’s most handsome and charming leading men, but he went downright dirty for “Michael Clayton.” He stars as the eponymous “fixer” who takes on shady legal work to pay off a debt to a loan shark. The predicament finds him representing a chemical company, which is clearly guilty, in a class action lawsuit that ends up going far deeper than anyone could have suspected. It’s one of the best legal thrillers in recent memory, and Clooney’s performance is one of the highlights of his career.
Aaron Sorkin has been one of Hollywood’s most in-demand screenwriters for decades, writing for the likes of David Fincher and Mike Nichols when he wasn’t creating his own hit TV series. But “Molly’s Game” proved that he’s also a formidable director in his own right. The tense thriller tells the story of a professional skier who organizes a high-stakes underground poker game for celebrities and criminals after an injury dashes her Olympic dreams. Jessica Chastain leads a star-studded cast that includes Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, and Jeremy Strong. Based on a true story, “Molly’s Game” is a competently-executed thriller that flies by and launched a promising directing career.
After establishing himself as a talented filmmaker with the LGBT drama “A Single Man,” legendary fashion designer Tom Ford chose a very different direction for his second film. “Nocturnal Animals” stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams as a divorced couple whose lives intersect again when he writes a novel that borrows from the darkest aspects of their relationship. The film utilizes a unique storytelling device, alternating between the real world and the world of the novel, with Gyllenhaal playing both the author and the story’s protagonist. The film is just as visually stunning as “A Single Man,” with Adams and Gyllenhaal both delivering excellent performances that help drive the film toward its thrilling conclusion.
One of the best recent additions to Netflix’s classic film catalog is “Bonnie and Clyde,” Arthur Penn’s iconic 1967 film that starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the infamous bank robber couple. The film was groundbreaking for its unapologetic portrayals of violence, including one of the most memorable death sequences in cinema. What could have been a stuffy period piece ended up being an essential counterculture film, imagining the titular antiheroes as members of disaffected youth in which a generation of rebellious cinephiles found inspiration. “Bonnie and Clyde” is widely credited with ushering in the “New Hollywood” era, influencing films like “The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” and “Taxi Driver.” It’s an essential piece of Hollywood history and a great film in its own right.
Dan Gilroy’s look at the seedy world of crime journalism and the so-called “stringers” who race to capture footage of deadly incidents is an unsettling movie that sticks with you long after the credits role. Jake Gyllenhaal unsettles as Louis Bloom, a con man who switches careers when he realizes that freelance crime video journalism is more lucrative than what he was doing before — even if it’s every bit as corrupt. It’s the kind of role that seems custom-made for Gyllenhaal — a weird, sleazy character who lives on society’s fringes, making the most of the actor’s unique physical mannerisms. The movie is worth watching for his performance alone, though Gilroy’s taught script and frantic direction are also excellent.
“Alien 3” might technically be the first film that David Fincher directed, but any fan of his work knows that the filmmaker truly introduced his style to the world with “Se7en.” Perhaps the serial killer movie to end all serial killer movies (or at least it was until Fincher directed “Zodiac”), “Se7en” follows two detectives investigating a creative killer who takes inspiration from the seven deadly sins. The murders themselves are brutally grotesque, but Fincher finds a masterful balance between shocking gore and a tight story that ensures it never becomes gratuitous.
Martin Scorsese may be synonymous with New York crime movies, but he didn’t win an Oscar until he took his talents to Boston. “The Departed” is a stellar, unpredictable tale of deception that follows an undercover cop trying to identify a Mafia mole–who also happens to be looking for him. This film has everything — stylish directing from Scorsese, an endlessly quotable script, and a stellar cast that includes Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Jack Nicholson in what’s arguably his last great role.
Scorsese’s unflinching look at the grimy underside of New York City in the early 1970s is one of the most iconic thrillers of all time. Robert De Niro stars as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran working as a taxi driver who experiences a mental breakdown as he attempts to impress a young campaign worker played by Cybill Shepherd. In addition to being an excellent character study, the film does a masterful job of creating the morally bankrupt world of ’70s Manhattan and illustrating how it gives Travis an existential crisis that leads him towards violence.