Thrillers The Top 25 Must-See Quintessential Thriller Movies  

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56 votes 12 voters 25 items

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

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Where would American cinema be without people like Alfred Hitchcock? Probably a lot less scared, but who wants to live in a world like that? Thrillers are a mix of adrenaline, suspense, and - most vital - contemplation on the human psyche. Anyone can scare someone, but making an audience think while they scream is an artistic acheivment. Only the truly essential thriller movies make us question all our preconceived notions about humanity while we try to solve a mystery or murder. If you're a fan of simultaneously philosophizing and wincing, these thriller movies for beginners will help! 

Some of the most famous thriller films out there include commentary on human nature and contemporary society. While these films proved popular to mainstream audiences, they're not your average Hollywood blockbusters filled with cheap ploys and clichés to spark an easy emotional reaction. These thrillers really delve deep. The charming and ever-quotable Hannibal Lecter makes us wonder if evil is born or made. Psycho's Norman Bates questions how responsbile an individual is for their wrongdoings when not in their right mind. American Psycho muses on how corporate greed and toxic masculinity impact American society. These are films everyone should watch, regardless of whether you're a fan of the morbid and macabre. 

If you're new to the genre, you can consider this list an intro to thriller movies. Check out these must-see thrillers below and then vote your favorites to the top of the list. 


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Psycho is a 1960 American horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film centers on an encounter between a secretary, Marion Crane, who ends up at a secluded motel after taking money from her employer, and the motel's owner-manager, Norman Bates, and its aftermath. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, + more

Initial Release: 1960

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Also Ranked

#8 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#5 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#40 on The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

#21 on The Best Movies Based on Books

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The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American thriller film that blends elements of the crime and horror genres. Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn, the film is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 novel of the same name, his second to feature Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer, known only as "Buffalo Bill". The Silence of the Lambs was released on February 14, 1991, and grossed $272.7 million worldwide against its $19 million budget. It was only the third film, the other two ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak, George A. Romero, Roger Corman, + more

Initial Release: 1991

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Also Ranked

#1 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#6 on The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies

#31 on The Most Rewatchable Movies

#61 on 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime

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Seven is a 1995 American psychological thriller film directed by David Fincher. The film stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, with Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, John C. McGinley, and Kevin Spacey in supporting roles. It was directed by David Fincher based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. The newly transferred David Mills and the soon-to-retire William Somerset are homicide detectives who become deeply involved in the case of a sadistic madman whose meticulously planned events that correspond to the "seven deadly sins": gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. The film was released in the United States on September 22, 1995. ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey, + more

Initial Release: 1995

Directed by: David Fincher

Also Ranked

#2 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#94 on The Best Rainy Day Movies

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

#36 on Movies That Should Never Be Remade

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Shutter Island is a 2010 American psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese. The film is based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. Production started in March 2008. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels, who is investigating a psychiatric facility on Shutter Island. Positively cited by movie reviewers, the film grossed over $128 million in its initial domestic theater release, as well as an additional $166 million internationally. Shutter Island was originally slated to be released on October 2, 2009, but Paramount Pictures pushed the release date to February 19, 2010. In August 2014, Paramount Television and HBO were reported to be ...more on Wikipedia

Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, + more

Initial Release: 2010

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Also Ranked

#4 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#89 on The Best Movies Based on Books

#32 on The Very Best New Noir Movies

#4 on The Best Movies About Split Personalities

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