18 Underrated Psychological Thrillers That Truly Get Inside Your Head

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Vote up the psychological thrillers that truly get inside your head.

There are many types of thrillers, but the psychological variety is truly able to get inside the audience’s head. These thrillers specifically play on the characters’ psyches, with the viewer often brought along for the journey. Psychological thrillers may deal with confusion, sanity/madness, self-doubt, hallucinations, memory, or questions about identity. More important than the cast of characters or plot is the sense of uncertainty about who or what can be trusted within the narrative.

There are many arguments for the best psychological thrillers of all time, whether found in the serial killer narrative of The Silence of the Lambs or the haunted house formula of The Shining. The underrated films included here are not nearly as celebrated, but are still deserving of consideration. They may have failed to impress critics initially, or didn't earn enough at the box office to be considered a success, or simply aren't as widely known as they should be.

Which of these psychological thrillers are the most underrated? Vote up the ones that deserve more attention.

  • The Premise: Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is a lonely technician working at a one-hour photo lab located in a mall department store. After years of developing photos for the Yorkin family, Sy becomes obsessed with details about their lives, which continues after working hours. Despite the idyllic photos taken by the family, Sy is convinced the family has a problem only he can fix.

    Why It’s Underrated: Following its premiere at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, One Hour Photo was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures with surprisingly solid box-office returns. The film also received critical praise, especially for the against-type performance by Williams, though he is still better remembered for his more mainstream roles.

    41 votes

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  • 2
    92 VOTES

    The Premise: After deliveryman Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) runs into Hae-mi (Jeon), a young woman who grew up in the same small village, he agrees to feed her cat while she is away on a trip. After returning, Hae-mi introduces Jong-su to a mysterious young man named Ben (Steven Yeun), who confesses his hobby of burning down abandoned greenhouses. Fearing this may be a metaphor suggesting something more devious, Jong-su becomes concerned for the safety of his childhood friend.

    Why It’s Underrated: International audiences have become increasingly aware of the success South Korean filmmakers have in handling psychological thrillers, but Burning came out a year before Bong Joon-ho's Parasite broke down the barriers of language and cultural differences. With a critical response that nearly matched that of Bong's Oscar-winning film, Lee Chang-dong's Burning is a South Korean thriller worth going back to discover.

    92 votes
  • 3
    34 VOTES

    The Premise: When LA detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is sent to a small town in Alaska during the time of year when the sun doesn’t set, it gives him a disorienting case of insomnia while investigating a possible killer (Robin Williams).

    Why It’s Underrated: Christopher Nolan followed up the extremely successful Memento with Insomnia, but despite an impressive cast and increased budget, some may have been let down by the fact that it was a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film with the same name. The critical praise and solid box-office returns were enough to earn Nolan his next job directing Batman Begins. Nolan now has a dedicated fan base, though it is likely many still have not discovered this solid psychological thriller.

    34 votes

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  • 4
    37 VOTES

    The Premise: After the young daughter of Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) goes missing and the lead detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) fails to produce results fast enough, the distraught father takes matters into his own hands. When Keller becomes convinced a cleared suspect (Paul Dano) is responsible, he decides to do whatever is necessary to save his daughter.

    Why It’s Underrated: Prisoners was a financial success, earning $122 million on a $46 million budget. The critical response was also high, and the film earned an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography, but new fans of director Denis Villeneuve may be unaware of this earlier gem.

    37 votes

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  • 5
    66 VOTES

    The Premise: As wealthy San Francisco banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) approaches the age his father was when he took his own life, his brother (Sean Penn) gives him the unusual birthday gift of a custom game experience from a company called Consumer Recreation Services. After events begin to upend every area of his life, Van Orton questions whether it is part of the game or a vast conspiracy of corruption. With nowhere else to turn, he must investigate for himself.

    Why It’s Underrated: Although there was plenty of critical praise for The Game, it was considered somewhat of a failure in comparison to David Fincher’s previous release, Se7en. Even though the believability is stretched thin in a third act the director admits is problematic, The Game is an excellent example of his signature style of precision filmmaking.

    66 votes
  • 6
    31 VOTES

    The Gift (2015)

    The Premise: After a chance encounter with a former bullied classmate named Gordo (Joel Edgerton), successful businessman Simon (Jason Bateman) suspects there may be ulterior motives behind the friendly gestures that follow. As Simon’s involvement in Gordo’s troubled childhood is exposed, he becomes increasingly paranoid at the thought of retaliation.

    Why It’s Underrated: The Gift served as writer/actor Edgerton’s directorial debut and saw modest box-office success, particularly due to the relatively small budget of $5 million. Although it was considered a success, the film is not as widely known as it should be given the praise it received from critics.

    31 votes