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The Best '30s Thriller Movies

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List RulesVote up your favorite suspense films that were released in the 1930s

The Golden Age of Hollywood, which stretched from the end of the silent film era until the 1960s, saw the release of many great suspense films. Thriller movies became popular in the '30s due to their complex plots, shifting alliances, and distinctive visual style. The best '30s thriller movies will have you watching them on the edge of your seat. 


What are the greatest ‘30s thriller movies? In 1931, Fritz Lang, legend of the silent film era, used his unique vision and expressionist filmmaking style to produce
M, a gripping murder mystery that can also be found on our list of the “Best ‘30s Cop Movies.” Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock also has a number of influential films on this list, including The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps, both of which can be found on our list of the “Best ‘30s Spy Movies.” One of the first talking films to feature famous fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes also debuted in the 1930s, with Basil Rathbone portraying the title characters.


This list of the top ‘30s thriller films will leave your hair standing on end and your palms wet with sweat. Tod Browning’s
Freaks cast actual sideshow performers in the roles, as opposed to relying hair and makeup tricks, thus creating an eerie level of verisimilitude. Help us re-rank this list by voting up your favorites, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section.
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  • 1
    30
    4

    The Lady Vanishes

    Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Redgrave

    Released1938

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 British comic thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty. Written by Sidney Gilliat and...  more
  • 2
    27
    5

    The 39 Steps

    Alfred Hitchcock, Madeleine Carroll

    Released1935

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    The 39 Steps is a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John...  more
  • 3
    22
    2

    Mad Love

    Peter Lorre, Colin Clive

    Released1935

    Directed byKarl Freund

    Mad Love is a 1935 American horror film, an adaptation of Maurice Renard's story The Hands of Orlac. It was directed by German-émigré film maker Karl Freund, and stars Peter Lorre as Dr. Gogol,...  more

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  • 4
    20
    3

    M

    Peter Lorre, Theo Lingen

    Released1931

    Directed byFritz Lang

    M is a 1931 German drama-thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. It was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was the director's first sound film. Now considered a...  more

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  • 5
    21
    6

    Night Nurse

    Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck

    Released1931

    Directed byWilliam A. Wellman

    Night Nurse is a 1931 American pre-code crime drama and mystery film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. and directed by William A. Wellman. The film stars Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan...  more
  • 6
    19
    3

    After the Thin Man

    James Stewart, Myrna Loy

    Released1936

    Directed byW. S. Van Dyke

    After the Thin Man is a 1936 American film, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, and James Stewart, that is the sequel to the film The Thin Man. The movie presents Powell and Loy as Dashiell Hammett's...  more
  • 7
    23
    12

    The Thin Man

    Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank O'Connor

    Released1934

    Directed byW. S. Van Dyke

    The Thin Man is a 1934 American comedy-mystery film directed by W.S. Van Dyke and based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. The film stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora...  more

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  • 8
    19
    8

    Murder!

    Alfred Hitchcock, Herbert Marshall

    Released1930

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    Watch for Free with Amazon Prime Free Trial
    Murder! is a 1930 British drama film co-written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring and Edward Chapman. Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter...  more
  • 9
    17
    8

    The Man Who Knew Too Much

    Peter Lorre, Edna Best

    Released1934

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    The Man Who Knew Too Much is a British suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Peter Lorre, and released by Gaumont British. It was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed...  more
  • 10
    12
    3

    Daybreak

    Jean Gabin, Bernard Blier

    Released1939

    Directed byMarcel Carné

    Le jour se leve is a 1939 film written by Jacques Viot and Jacques Prévert and directed by Marcel Carne....  more
  • 11
    12
    4

    Sabotage

    Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka

    Released1936

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    Sabotage, also released as The Woman Alone, is a 1936 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock about an agent who hides a time bomb in a delivery package to blow up London. It is loosely...  more
  • 12
    10
    2

    The Black Cat

    Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi

    Released1934

    Directed byEdgar G. Ulmer

    Not to be confused with the 1941 version also featuring Bela Lugosi. The Black Cat is a 1934 horror film that became Universal Pictures' biggest box office hit of the year. The picture was the first...  more
  • 13
    11
    3

    Young and Innocent

    Alfred Hitchcock, Basil Radford

    Released1937

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

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    Young and Innocent is a 1937 British crime thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney. Based on the 1936 novel A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey,...  more
  • 14
    13
    6

    Star of Midnight

    Ginger Rogers, William Powell

    Released1935

    Directed byStephen Roberts

    Star of Midnight is an American mystery-comedy film released by RKO Pictures in 1935. William Powell was loaned out in this movie from MGM to star with Ginger Rogers....  more
  • 15
    15
    8

    Freaks

    Wallace Ford, Edward Brophy

    Released1932

    Directed byTod Browning

    Freaks is a 1932 American horror film in which the eponymous characters were played by people who worked as carnival sideshow performers and had real deformities. The original version was considered...  more

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  • 16
    11
    4

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

    Basil Rathbone, Ida Lupino

    Released1939

    Directed byAlfred L. Werker

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a 1939 mystery-adventure film. It is a pastiche featuring the characters of the Sherlock Holmes series of books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film is an...  more

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  • 17
    9
    2

    Marked Woman

    Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart

    Released1937

    Directed byMichael Curtiz, Lloyd Bacon

    Marked Woman is a dramatic crime film released by Warner Bros. in 1937. It was directed by Lloyd Bacon, and stars Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, with featured performances by Lola Lane, Isabel...  more
  • 18
    10
    4

    Doctor X

    Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill

    Released1932

    Directed byMichael Curtiz

    Doctor X is a First National/Warner Bros. horror and mystery film. Based on the play originally titled The Terror by Howard W. Comstock and Allen C. Miller. It was directed by Michael Curtiz and...  more
  • 19
    9
    3

    Bullets or Ballots

    Humphrey Bogart, Joan Blondell

    Released1936

    Directed byWilliam Keighley

    Bullets or Ballots is a 1936 gangster film starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Barton MacLane and Humphrey Bogart. Robinson plays a police detective who infiltrates a crime gang. This is the...  more
  • 20
    9
    4

    The Old Dark House

    Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton

    Released1932

    Directed byJames Whale

    The Old Dark House is a 1932 American pre-Code comedy horror film directed by James Whale. It is based on the novel Benighted (1927) by J.B. Priestley. The ensemble cast includes Boris Karloff,...  more

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  • 21
    9
    3

    Mata Hari

    Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore

    Released1931

    Directed byGeorge Fitzmaurice

    Mata Hari is a 1931 American Pre-Code film loosely based on the life of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer/courtesan executed for espionage during World War I. The film stars Greta Garbo in the title role....  more
  • 22
    11
    6

    Mystery of the Wax Museum

    Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill

    Released1933

    Directed byMichael Curtiz

    Mystery of the Wax Museum is a 1933 American mystery horror-thriller film released by Warner Bros. in two-color Technicolor and directed by Michael Curtiz. The film stars Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray,...  more
  • 23
    12
    8

    Another Thin Man

    Myrna Loy, William Powell

    Released1939

    Directed byW. S. Van Dyke

    Another Thin Man is a 1939 American film that is the third film in the six-volume series, The Thin Man. It again stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, and is based on the...  more
  • 24
    8
    4

    The Return of Doctor X

    Humphrey Bogart, Wayne Morris

    Released1939

    Directed byVincent Sherman

    The Return of Doctor X is a 1939 American science fiction-horror film directed by Vincent Sherman and starring Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, and Humphrey Bogart as the title character. It was based on...  more
  • 25
    4
    2

    Murders in the Zoo

    Randolph Scott, Charlie Ruggles

    Released1933

    Directed byA. Edward Sutherland

    Murders in the Zoo is 1933 horror film directed by A. Edward Sutherland, written by Philip Wylie and Seton I. Miller. Considered particularly dark for its time, film critic Leonard Maltin has called...  more