Thrillers The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Psychological Thrillers  

Ranker Film
415 votes 52 voters 2.6k 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.

We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, Ranker may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.

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 30 VOTES

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

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. ...more on Wikipedia

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

Initial Release: 1980

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Also Ranked

#6 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#66 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#9 on The Greatest Movies of the 1980s, Ranked

#17 on The Best '70s Movies

25 5
Is this a must-see?
see more on The Shining
2 24 VOTES

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

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

#46 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#47 on The Greatest Film Scores of All Time

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

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

20 4
Is this a must-see?
see more on Requiem for a Dream
3 30 VOTES

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

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 (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to spirits, 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. ...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

#69 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#8 on Movies Turning 20 in 2019

#26 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

22 8
Is this a must-see?
see more on The Sixth Sense
4 25 VOTES

Ranker Video
Video: YouTube

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 film's protagonist, Jacob, is a Vietnam veteran whose experiences prior to and during Vietnamresult 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. ...more on Wikipedia

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

Initial Release: 1990

Directed by: Adrian Lyne

Also Ranked

#47 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

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

#34 on The Best Movies of 1990

#9 on The Best Horror Movies About Hell

19 6
Is this a must-see?
see more on Jacob's Ladder