Thrillers The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Psychological Thrillers  

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380 votes 44 voters 2.1k views 25 items

List Rules Vote up the movies that define the genre and should be required viewing for beginners in an Intro to Psychological Thrillers class.

A lot of films can scare an audience. From slasher films to horror films filled with jump scares, it isn't that hard to make someone scream. However, psychological thrillers don't just terrify. They make us think with complex plots that often serve as metaphors for contemporary issues or human nature in general. The must-see psychological thrillers listed below are not the type of films that are easily forgotten. If you want a film you'll be pondering for months - possibly years - these famous films will meet that need. 

Sure, many of the characters in these movies get hacked and slashed like the best of them, but the real torture is the psychological terror put upon them before they meet their ultimate demise. Many of the films that qualify as psychological thrillers can be slotted into other genres such as mystery, horror, and suspense. However, there are some essential psychological thrillers out there that deserve a list all their own! These are thought provoking films everyone should watch.  

If you're new to the genre, you can consider this list an intro to psychological thrillers. These are popular thrillers for beginners, that will help you get accustomed to the world of psychological terror.

Check out the films below and be sure to vote your favorites to the top of the list! 

1 27 VOTES

The Shining


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The Shining is a 1980 British-American psychological horror film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers. The film is based on Stephen King's 1977 novel of the same name, although the film and novel differ in significant ways. In the film, Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel. His young son possesses psychic abilities and is able to see things from the past and future, such as the ghosts who inhabit the hotel. Some time after settling in, the family is trapped in the hotel by a snowstorm, ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Barry Dennen, Barry Nelson, + more

Initial Release: 1980

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Also Ranked

#4 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#67 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#18 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

#2 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

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2 28 VOTES

The Sixth Sense


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The Sixth Sense is a 1999 American supernatural thriller film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film tells the story of Cole Sear, a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to the dead, and an equally troubled child psychologist who tries to help him. The film established Shyamalan as a writer and director, and introduced the cinema public to his traits, most notably his affinity for surprise endings. Released by Hollywood Pictures on August 6, 1999, the film was received well; critics highlighted the performances, its atmosphere, and twist conclusion. The film was the second highest grossing film of 1999, grossing about $293 million domestically and $672 million ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Bruce Willis, Mischa Barton, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, M. Night Shyamalan, + more

Initial Release: 1999

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Also Ranked

#3 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#73 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#28 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#2 on The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

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3 20 VOTES

Requiem for a Dream


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Requiem for a Dream is a 2000 American psychological drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr., with whom Aronofsky wrote the screenplay. Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. The film was screened out of competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. The film depicts different forms of addiction, which lead to the characters’ imprisonment in a world of delusion and reckless desperation that is subsequently overtaken by reality. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jennifer Connelly, Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Marlon Wayans, Keith David, + more

Initial Release: 2000

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Also Ranked

#44 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#1 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

#26 on The Most Awkward Movies to Watch with Your Parents

#44 on The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

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4 23 VOTES

Jacob's Ladder


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Jacob's Ladder is a 1990 American psychological horror film directed by Adrian Lyne, written and produced by Bruce Joel Rubin and starring Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña and Danny Aiello. The Special Edition of the film was released on DVD by Artisan Entertainment in 1998 and on Blu-ray Disc by Lions Gate Entertainment in 2010. The film's protagonist, Jacob, is a Vietnam veteran whose experiences prior to and during the war result in strange, fragmentary flashbacks and bizarre hallucinations that continue to haunt him. As his ordeal worsens, Jacob desperately attempts to figure out the truth. Jacob's Ladder was made by Carolco Pictures ten years after being written by Rubin. It drew from ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Macaulay Culkin, Tim Robbins, Jason Alexander, Lewis Black, Ving Rhames, + more

Initial Release: 1990

Directed by: Adrian Lyne

Also Ranked

#60 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#14 on The Best and Scariest Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#35 on The Best Movies of 1990

#9 on The Best Horror Movies About Hell

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