In the future, when they discover that the stress caused by thrillers actually shaves years off your life, people are going to look back and wonder why they spent so much time binge-watching them. Until then, they present some of the best cinema has to offer: the stories of cops and criminals and criminals on the brink, corporate subterfuge, and complex conspiracies. From IRA noirs (The Crying Game) to teenage terrorists (Nocturama) to Arapaho ice-westerns (Wind River), we’ve compiled a list of the 11 best thrillers on Netflix.
The Crying Game
The 1993 Best Original Screenplay Oscar-winner was set amid The Troubles, a 30-year conflict that took place in Northern Ireland. What emerges in Neil Jordan’s haunting 1992 thriller about an Irish Republican Army member and the relationship he forms with a captured British soldier encapsulates all the best elements of UK crime dramas like Sexy Beast and This Is England, elevates them to the level of a war film, and blurs the edges with a wash of noir romance. This is the kind of movie that makes you say “Wow, what a movie,” following a long period of silence after it ends.
The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy
All three parts—comprising six episodes—of the late Swedish crime novelist Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy are on Netflix for your white-knuckled jollies. Before you watch David Fincher’s version, chill yourself to the bone with the original versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the story of introvert Lisbeth Salander, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and the high-level murders and mysteries that bind them.
Did you know that John Woo’s thriller about John Travolta and Nicolas Cage trading faces—seriously, via face transplant—won an Academy Award? Sure, it was for Sound Effects Editing, but who cares? John Woo’s thriller about an FBI agent (Travolta) and a terrorist (Cage) trading faces has an Oscar. If that’s not thrilling, we don’t know what is…
Heat is one of the best movies ever. Heat is one of the best. Movies. Ever. Heat is hands-down one of the best movies ever? Put another way, Michael Mann’s 1995 De Niro/Pacino cat-and-mouse caper is one of the best movies ever.
Hugo Weaving stars in this 1998 Australian psychological thriller that primarily takes place inside of a sole interrogation room. A labyrinth of twists and turns, Craig Monahan’s film is like an even-better Usual Suspects, and Matrix fans will be extra-satisfied to see Agent Smith in the suspect’s seat.
In order to fully appreciate the supreme cinematic beauty that is George Clooney as a stressed-the-fuck-out lawyer on the verge of an existential meltdown, you have to be OK knowing you likely won’t understand what’s going on in Tony Gilroy’s 2007 thriller until the very end. But it’s so worth it—equal parts Coen Brothers and David Mamet, and featuring never-better turns by Sydney Pollack, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton attempts and succeeds at the impossible: electrifying the corporate machine while elucidating its working parts.
The reason you haven’t heard about Bertrand Bonello’s 2016 thriller is because it’s downright dangerous. Centered around a diverse group of teen radicals who successfully orchestrate a terror attack on Paris and then hole up in the mall to wait it out. A volatile blend of Hitchcock and Hughes snakes through the story like a lit fuse, from a slow-burn opening act to an explosive, jaw-dropping finale.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson set his sights on a John le Carré Cold War novel for this spy thriller starring the ensemble talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, and even Tom Hardy. The result is a sharp, superbly acted feast for fans of the espionage genre, a successful recapitulation of an immensely complicated story that (gasp!) respects the intelligence of its audience.
Secret in Their Eyes
An extreme sense of unease bubbles beneath the surface of Shattered Glass director Billy Ray’s remake of Juan José Campanella’s 2006 revenge thriller based on an Eduardo Sacheri book. The result is a cerebral post-9/11 crime-and-punishment story that showcases the inimitable talents of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman while blending the best elements of films like Gone Baby Gone and Prisoners.
Mafia gangsters and greedy politicians rub elbows in Stefano Sollima’s fascinatingly intimate thriller from 2015. The result feels like The Sopranos, Gomorrah, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rolled into one: a lean, mean crime story that rings scariest with the truth that serious criminals are always around us. (If you enjoyed Suburra, Netflix also created an original series as a prequel.)
Stark, sad, and in search of a serious conversation surrounding the affairs of America’s displaced indigenous peoples, Taylor Sheridan’s moody murder-mystery takes place on a frozen-over Native American reservation in Wyoming. Anyone doubting the acting skills of Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen should take note—they’re at their dramatic best amidst the unforgiving wilderness, and the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) pushes this one into a realm of its own, where it very well might be considered a classic in a couple of years.
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