Thriller is one of the most popular genres with filmgoers. Over the years, the emergence of visionary auteurs, like Dennis Villeneuve and David Fincher, has lifted the standards of the genre and they have set a benchmark for others to emulate. Their use of non-linear storytelling and gripping narratives make thriller films an engrossing venture. Though there has been criticism directed towards the genre for becoming too commercial and losing its soul in the process, the past decade has seen a balanced combination of both quality content and entertainment factor. This infusion of revolutionary techniques has made them rank amongst the best of movies. With that said, here’s the list of top thriller films of the 2010s that you shouldn’t miss.
17. Widows (2018)
Directed by Steve McQueen, ‘Widows’ is a heist film starring Viola Davis, who received a BAFTA nomination for her performance. After her husband is shot dead in a botched robbery, Veronica is threatened by a crime boss from whom her husband had stolen. He wants his money back and Veronica has a plan outlined in her late husband’s diary. She meets with the wives of the rest of the crew to pull off an elaborate heist. The film also stars Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell and Daniel Kaluuya.
16. Wind River (2017)
An underrated gem starring Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner, ‘Wind River’ is set in an American Indian reservation in Wyoming. Jane Banner is an FBI agent, sent there to investigate the death of a teenage Indian girl. Trying to work her way through the town that isn’t particularly welcoming of her, she uses the help of Cory Lambert, a wildlife officer, well-versed with the terrain of the snowy town and its people. It is directed by Taylor Sheridan, who is known for writing critically acclaimed movies like ‘Sicario‘ and ‘Hell or High Water’. The film also found a place in the Top Ten Independent Film list of National Board of Review.
15. Good Time (2017)
Robert Pattinson tasted stardom with the ‘Twilight‘ saga, the controversy and criticism of which sent him down a road that got him some of the best roles of his career. ‘Good Time’ is one of those films. It has Pattinson play the role of Connie Nikas, whose younger brother, Nick, is arrested after their botched robbery attempt. Feeling responsible for the whole incident, Connie tries a number of ways to get his brother out. Ultimately, Connie has to confront his own demons and make a difficult choice. The film stars Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Benny Safdie and Barkhad Abdi in the supporting roles. The film received a nomination for Palme d’Or in Cannes Film Festival, and for his performance, Pattinson received a number of award nominations.
14. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Based on the novel of the same name by Lynne Ramsay, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ stars Ezra Miller as the titular Kevin. Tilda Swinton plays the role of his mother Eva. Ever since Kevin was born, she felt something off about him. Unable to form a bond with him, she ignores some of his negative traits but is forced to revisit them when Kevin goes on a killing spree at his high school. Eva tries to understand what evil resides within the recesses of her son’s mind. For her performance in the movie, Swinton received Best Actress nominations for Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild. The film also gave a great boost to young Miller’s career.
13. The Invitation (2015)
‘The Invitation‘ is one of those films which is run entirely by what goes on in the background. The brilliance of it lies in the fact that you never know what is really going on until the climax. The last scene will definitely take your breath away. It is important to ensure that you go into this movie without even reading the plot summary or having a hint of what it is in order to be completely blown away by it. Also, it stars Tom Hardy’s doppelganger, Logan Marshall-Green. I had to actually check to confirm that it wasn’t Hardy. Twice. The film also has Michiel Huisman, Tammy Blanchard and Emayatzy Corinealdi in the supporting roles. Just to give you a quick glimpse, it follows the story of a man who attends a party hosted by his ex-wife, but soon grows suspicious of her true motives.
12. Nightcrawler (2014)
Dan Gilroy’s ‘Nightcrawler‘ stars one of the best actors of this generation, Jake Gyllenhaal, as the ruthless Louis Bloom. The stringer-thriller film, canvasses his nightly sojourns through the streets of LA, working for a local TV news station. A common theme in the film is the symbiotic relationship between unethical journalism and consumer demand. Gilroy courageously wrote Bloom as an antihero, which eventually came off garnering critical acclaim. It is a parody of the lewd tabloids and news channels that often misrepresent the actual news for their own profit. The anti-climax is a perfect example of the character’s psyche, with Gyllenhaal surprisingly missing out on an Oscar nomination (he also lost 20 kgs for the film). The director’s ideas of capitalism and unemployment were perfectly showcased in the character’s actions. The supporting cast, that includes Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed, does a commendable job creating a dark environment. After watching this film, you will be left with the discomfort that often comes with the realization of the extent we are willing to go to serve our purposes. Gyllenhaal gives a “love to hate” character in the form of Bloom.
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11. Enemy (2013)
Another Jake Gyllenhaal movie on the list must give you an idea of how good he is, not just in inhabiting whatever role comes his way, but also in making intelligent choices about the ones that serve his exceptional talents the best. This is the first feature on the list directed by Dennis Villeneuve, who is a master filmmaker in his own right. ‘Enemy’ is loosely based on the novel “The Double”, and follows the story of a high-school teacher who discovers his doppelganger, a struggling actor. This challenging exploration of the subconscious dwells deeply in themes of spiders and webs, that symbolise the predicament the protagonist finds himself in. The film has one of the most confusing plots, with the end having multiple interpretations by fans and critics alike. The director and actors have given several hints as to the fundamentals of the film. “It is about a man who is married, his wife is pregnant and he’s having an affair. He has to figure himself out before he can commit to life as an adult.” The film is a reflection of the opening caption which reads: “Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”
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10. Sicario (2015)
Another of Dennis Villeneuve’s work on the list, ‘Sicario‘ is about a principled FBI agent who is enlisted by a government task force to bring down the leader of a powerful and brutal Mexican drug cartel. Trying to do her job, the only way she knows it, Kate Macer discovers that the new team follows a completely different set of rules. Starring the versatile Emily Blunt and Academy Award winner Benecio Del Toro, with an equally stellar supporting cast including Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal, the film met with critical and commercial acclaim. The engrossing action and the gripping direction are ably complemented by equally good acting and writing. The depiction of Juarez did attract criticism, for convoluting the reality with unexpected plot twists and surreal characters. Still, the film is a winner all the way through. It received nominations in various categories for Academy Awards and BAFTA.
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9. Ex Machina (2015)
The only sci-fi movie to feature on the list, this Alex Garland-helmed flick explores the journey of a programmer who wins a contest and is invited to a secluded island to administer the Turing test to an intelligent humanoid robot. ‘Ex Machina‘ received universal critical acclaim, with praise directed towards its stellar cast, the unconventional plot-line and the special effects. Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson assume their roles, with surreal performances. Alicia Vikander is the star of the show, and her eerily robotic performance further cements her position as one of the best actresses working today. The end of ‘Ex Machina’, by many, has been touted as one of the most ironical climaxes of all times. The film is a study of human behaviour as much as it is the test of a robot’s sentience. In his directorial debut, Garland spins a tale that sticks with you long after you have finished watching it. The undertones of the story present a conflicting image of the protagonists. It was nominated and won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
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8. Nocturnal Animals (2016)
This is probably the most simple, yet intriguing film on this list. ‘Nocturnal Animals‘ is much more than the ravishing outfits and the semi-arid plains. The movie is complemented by two stories, one encapsulated within a novel written by Edward Sheffield, which is gifted to Susan Morrow, his ex-wife. Through harrowing sequences of well written and shot scenes, the happenings of the novel are depicted, which bear a striking resemblance to Susan’s real life. The film features top performances, especially from Jake Gyllenhaal, who again went unnoticed. It is deeply unsettling and will leave you with a feeling of dread. The film also stars Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer and Michael Shannon, who received a nomination for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category. The film also received a nod at BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards.
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7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
This film is based on the novel of the same name by Steig Larsson. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara (the star of the film), Robin Wright, Christopher Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard, the film tracks the story of a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who investigates the case of a woman from a wealthy family who had disappeared 40 years ago. He recruits the help of a computer hacker, Lisbeth Slander, who has been through a considerable amount of emotional and physical abuse. The film follows her personal struggles while developing a complicated relationship with Blomkvist. Directed by David Fincher, the film sought extensive research and analysis, with the whole cast being particularly meticulous with details. The film had five Oscar nominations and won the award for Best Editing. The transformation of Rooney Mara was much talked about and eventually got universal plaudits and accolades.
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6. The Salesman (2016)
‘The Salesman’ is an Academy Award-winning film that follows the story of a couple who move into a new apartment. Unbeknownst of the previous owner’s identity, they make it their home. However, things take a drastic turn when the wife is assaulted in their bathroom. The husband decides to track down the culprit, but the road to revenge is rarely rewarding. The film derives inspiration from Arthur Miller’s famous play, ‘Death of a Salesman’ and even features the husband and wife working on the play. With a mild form of “a story within a story”, this film received nominations at BAFTA, Cannes Film Festival and Golden Globe Awards.
5. Black Swan (2010)
This 2010 psychological-thriller film, directed by the maverick Darren Aronofsky, traces the story of Nina, a ballet dancer with the New York City dance company, and her strenuous endeavours to play the Black Swan, a role completely opposite of her true nature. Nina is overwhelmed by a feeling of immense pressure when she finds herself competing for the part, causing her to lose her tenuous grip on reality and descend into a living nightmare. The story also intertwines the idea of doppelgangers haunting the protagonist, as Nina witnesses herself changing into a completely different person. The surprisingly dark nature of the dancing business is exposed, with corrupt and sex-ravenous masters and bitchy peers taking the front seat. The thrilling finale, which signifies “achieving artistic perfection”, fittingly concludes a riveting film that evokes and provokes spine-chilling scares. Natalie Portman won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role and deservingly so. The film also stars Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey in the supporting roles.
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4. Shutter Island (2010)
Another one of Scorcese–DiCaprio successful union, the film is based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name. Leo stars as US Marshal Edward Daniels, who is assigned to a mental penitentiary on a secluded island, where a patient goes missing. Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley star in the supporting cast. The film envisages establishing a line between reality and mental fallacy, using tormenting flashbacks and constrained present to effective use. The build-up is made intriguing with the mental patients and an alternative theory about the dealings of the hospital. A classic in the genre, ‘Shutter Island‘ incites a sense of paranoia that might even seep into your psyche and make you question the nature of your reality. Don’t miss this one!
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3. Prisoners (2013)
Here is another Jake Gyllenhaal movie (God, do I still have to say?) directed by Dennis Villeneuve. With so many brilliant collaborations to their name, Gyllenhaal-Villeneuve is one of the best actor-director duos of recent times. Starring Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo, ‘Prisoners‘ centralizes on the investigation of the abduction of two little girls on the eve of Christmas. The intricate detailing in the plot adds to the eerie feel of the movie. Met with critical and commercial acclaim, the film explores various aspects of human psychology like guilt, redemption and self-loathing. The superb acting coupled with the seamless direction makes for a great watch. The ending will not give you a happy vibe, so you might want to prepare yourself for that.
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2. Gone Girl (2014)
Based on Gillian Flynn’s 2003 novel of the same name, ‘Gone Girl‘ film is directed by David Fincher. The plot divulges no information and unravels itself at snail’s pace, much like Rosamund Pike’s character. It focuses on a struggling husband-wife pair going through marital problems when the wife mysteriously disappears and is suspected dead. The film explores themes of gender inferiority among men and the flailing economy of modern America. It also presents a look into the toxic relationships that people allow to fester and what hellish form it can take if remained unchecked. The cast is a stellar one including Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, who give commendable performances. But it is Rosamund Pike whose performance garnered universal critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award. Fincher, as always, delivers with the film with one of the best thrillers of recent times.
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1. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
This political thriller is based on the decade long man-hunt of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The Bigelow helmed film concocts certain fictional characters while retaining important real ones to fit into the plot of the film. It garnered negative attention for its depiction of so-called “enhanced interrogation“, with many criticising Bigelow for diluting the truth and dramatizing the process. In spite of this attention, the film garnered critical acclaim, topping the Top 10 list of almost all critics. Jessica Chastain was the subject of universal plaudits and accolades, with critics praising her for bringing a familiar vulnerability to the character. For its gripping realism and bold subject matter, the film is a winner all the way through!
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