20 Best Thrillers of All Time

Typically, in thriller movies, the predicament about the eventual consequence is substantially higher. The audience witnesses the story unfurls through the eyes of the central protagonist and goes through the same levels of intense excitement, heightened fear, and super suspense as he goes. Within the story, there are numerous situations, often with twists and turns, to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The inner conflicts between the characters intensify the situation, thus making the viewer engrossed in it. And a cliffhanger finale is the cherry on the top. Hollywood has dabbled with this genre many a time, making some remarkable movies in the process. So we went ahead and curated the following list in order to find the top thriller movies ever, and boy, was it tough!

20. The Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island

All hell breaks loose at the AsheCliff Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island when they find one of their most dangerous patients to have escaped the premises but hiding somewhere in the hospital. Investigators Teddy and Chuck come on board and start looking for clues on the island.  They find everyone to be a suspect. Even Teddy himself. Martin Scorsese’s neo-noir has the viewer caught biting his nail in anticipation. And when the curtains are down, he asks the same question that Teddy has asked as well – “Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?”

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19. The Insider (1999)


In the year 1995, CBS aired a controversial segment of 60 Minutes, where a watered-down take on the growing influence of the tobacco industry leaders was discussed. In the center of this was Jeffery Wigand, an ex-employee at the Brown and Williamson. ‘The Insider’ is a blow-by-blow account of his experience as the whistleblower of the corruption at the B&W. Nominated for seven academy awards; this is solid, taut storytelling about investigative journalism makes a compelling watch.

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18. The Conversation (1974)


A man who listens to every conversation via stealth devices is agonizingly hurt to have discovered potential murder victims in a couple. All he wants is to save them, but he cannot face his conscience as his job demands him to listen to everything they say. And this guilt keeps eating him from inside. A moral dilemma puts him in the middle of nowhere. Francis Ford Coppola’s genius shined brightly as two of his greatest works faced each other at the academy awards for best film, the other being ‘The Godfather Part II.’ No lesser reward is expected from a filmmaker’s point of view than this honor.

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17. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino’s debut and a quintessential classic, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is one of the most cult movies of this era. It’s essentially about a diamond heist gone wrong, but the style and the non-linear storytelling brought out the genius of Tarantino to the world. Oddly enough, the story depicts the events before and after the diamond heist but never shows how the heist actually went. The climatic ‘Mexican Standoff’ sequence is perhaps one of the most-watched scene of cinema history.

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16. Rebecca (1940)


A psychological thriller, where along with the central protagonist of Mrs. De Winter, the viewer is constantly reminded of the mysterious lady Rebecca, who never appears on the screen once, for she’s dead. The gothic way of storytelling, the haunting housekeeper who almost forces Mrs. De Winter to jump from the ledge only manages to heighten the suspense. The enigmatic persona of Rebecca remains mysterious throughout the storyline, only to be told about her real whereabouts towards the end. It’s a pity that though Rebecca won the academy awards for the best picture segment, Hitchcock never received one in his career.

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15. Blue Velvet (1986)


An amoral relationship between a songstress and a devious man who derives pleasure from sexual perverseness. A young man who feels drawn toward the songstress. And all started because of one severed ear. Probably one of the greatest movies of this century, it was widely criticized for its graphic sexual content and erotic tone. Over the years, it has achieved a cult status for portraying contemporary America as a middle ground between dream and reality.

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14. The Usual Suspects (1995)


The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didnt exist”. This epic statement comes to life when a limping Verbal Kint tells the story of the devil to reincarnate Keyser Soze. A much-hated man with a monstrosity at par with none, who even killed his own wife and daughter to ensure no weaknesses remain in his life, is the man responsible for a massacre that occurred on a ship. Finally, when the truth is disclosed, everyone is astounded. Because And like that… poof… he’s gone.

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13. Double Indemnity (1944)


An original thriller comprising of love, deceit and murder, ‘Double Indemnity’ is told in flashback mode. A clause in the insurance agreement, agrees to pay double the amount in case of accidental death. Using this, a devious woman schemes a nefarious plan to kill her husband in a staged accident and get the insurance money with the help of an accomplice. Considered as the first in the lines of noir movies, ‘Double Indemnity’ is one of the most engrossing works of director Billy Wilder and often compared to another of his great work – ‘Sunset Blvd’.

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12. Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown 1

‘Chinatown’ is a classic example of a neo-noir thriller, with multiple subgenres intertwined onto it. Private detective Jake Gittes is hired to investigate an engineer of the LA Dept. of water and power, by a woman who claims to be his wife. Later the man is found to be dead and the real wife surfaces. During his investigation, the deceased was found to be in the company of a mysterious woman. Who’s she? And why does the valley remains dry, even after gallons of water is released from the reservoir? A real labyrinth of plot culminating into a shocking climax, well, folks, that’s ‘Chinatown’ for ya!

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11. Se7en (1995)


A detective, on the verge of his retirement, having seen it all. A hot headed detective, desperate to prove his mettle in the big bad world. A lonely wife longing to be with her husband. Life would have been much simpler if only one man would not have been there to destroy these three lives. But he did. David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ tells a story about seven killings, each depicting seven sins as described in the bible and a climax that was never seen before.

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10. Rear Window (1954)


A man confined to a wheelchair because of a leg injury takes innocent voyeuristic pleasure by watching his neighbors via a pair of binoculars. Among many colorful characters of his neighborhood, a particular couple interests him very much. And that night, he sees something which makes him believe that the wife is dead, making the husband a suspect. The audience remains captivated to know whether a wheelchair-bound man reveals a sinister plan or is it all in his mind. All courtesy, the master of suspense – Alfred Hitchcock.

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9. Memento (2000)


A man keeps forgetting his recent memories due to an accident, and needs to kill the men responsible for his wife’s death and his current state. The only clues are tattooed on his body. The viewer goes through the same emotion as the protagonist, albeit a little differently. The sequences in color tell the story in a forward progressing manner, whereas the black and white sequences depict the past. Wait, did I tell you the visuals are interspersed? A brilliant Christopher Nolan, a unique way of storytelling and the looming suspense of catching the real killer- That’s Memento!

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8. Rope (1948)

Rope 1948 movie

A perfect crime is a work of art. To prove this, two young men strangle one of their friends and then hide the body in an antique wooden case. In the evening, they invite the victim’s relatives for a party and incidentally use the wooden case as the focal point of their discussion i.e. The Art Of Murder. Alfred Hitchcock’s experiment probably didn’t work at the time when it was released, but it remains one of the boldest decisions of his life to have come up with a story of such macabre yet intellectually inducing.

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7. Zodiac (2007)


In the late sixties to early seventies, there was an almost mythic mass murderer who kept a count of his killings and sent encrypted letters to the police with a taunt to keep up with him. The police as well as two journalists, swung into action. Many suspects were named, in fact, one particular suspect was almost zeroed in. Due to inadequate evidence, he could not be incriminated. Such was the phenomenon that till date there are several news occurrences of people confessing to be the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ is masterful storytelling of thrilling investigative journalism.

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6. North by Northwest (1959)

North by northwest thriller

A classic take on a man on the run because of mistaken identity, this is one of the most un-Hitchcockian movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock. A man, hunted by many, decides to take matters into his own hands and investigates his lookalike. It’s more of an action movie with an overdose of adventure. Hitchcock cleverly used the concept of a “Macguffin” in this slick spy thriller.

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5. Dial M for Murder (1954)

Dial M for Murder

Alfred Hitchcock’s take on a classic stage play has all the ingredients of a perfect crime. A husband plans to kill his cheating wife in order to get her huge inheritance and sets up an assassin. The wife kills the assassin instead. And now, the husband hatches a new devious plan where he tries to incriminate the wife while feigning ignorance about her innocence. A terrific thriller, ‘Dial M for Murder’ spawned numerous remakes in many languages.

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4. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Silence of the lambs

A nightmare in which lambs are being slaughtered on a farm keeps a young trainee from Quantico, Virginia awake in the nights. She feels that if she could save another innocent from the clutches of a crazy psychopath, she just might get rid of those dreams. To kill a monster, she turns to another monster for help. Together, would they be able to save an innocent’s life? Or will it be the burden of failure that will torment her for the rest of her life?

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3. Psycho (1960)


It is often said that Alfred Hitchcock adopted rather strange policies for ‘Psycho,’ which included not allowing late entrants into the movie. It was adopted to ensure full justice to the pulsating climax scene of the movie. A thriller in its truest form, ‘Psycho’ is a story of a son, his mother, and their unhealthy bond of possessiveness. Hitchcock was so fiercely guarded about the finale that he promoted the movie the tag line – Dont give away the ending Its the only one we have!

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2. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive Watts

In order to appreciate the finesse of this movie, it requires multiple viewing. Whether it’s a fantasy world or a utopia, ‘Mulholland Drive’ remains open to many interpretations. And the bigger question stays for the audience to decipher in their own way – Who is Diane Selwyn? What happened to Betty? What does the blue box with the blue key open? The answer comes up – “Silencio!”

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1. Vertigo (1958)


A man with a fear of heights goes delirious with his fiancée jumping to her death. Soon he finds her to be alive, but she claims to be someone else. Is she lying? Is he enamored with another woman who looks just like his dead fiancée? A classic Hitchcock craft with a huge twist at the end, Vertigo is a true blue thriller. In order to create the disorientation faced by the protagonist for his fear of heights, a new form of in-camera zooming was introduced in this film. Over the years, just like the cult status the film has gathered, this too had gained prominence and was recently hailed by BFI as the best film ever made.

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