If you’re enjoying a thriller, your body might know before your mind does. Thrillers can touch on many different subgenres, but they live and die on whether they make viewers feel suspense, anxiety, tension, and surprise. That’s the mark of a good thriller, and it’s what the movies on this list have in common.
From classic thrillers like John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder to underseen gems like John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning or the Antonio Banderas mall cop thriller Security, the genre boasts a rich and expansive selection made for every sort of audience you can think of.
Looking for something exciting and cerebral to watch this weekend? We’ve pulled together a list of our favorite thrillers available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Criterion Channel, free services like Tubi, and more. These are movies that’ll keep your eyes glued to the screen and your palms wrapped around your seat. If you’re looking to keep the adrenaline pumping, feel free to also take a look at our list of the best heist movies available to stream or our list of great horror movies you can watch at home. Our latest addition to this list is Netflix’s The Stranger, and we also changed up the format a bit, just for you.
Editor’s pick: The Stranger, new on Netflix
Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Thomas M. Wright
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Jada Alberts
Based on a true story, Thomas M. Wright’s Australian psychological crime thriller stars Sean Harris as Henry Teague, an aloof day laborer with a sordid past who, by way of an acquaintance he meets on a long distance bus ride, meets and begins to work for Mark (Joel Edgerton), a criminal with ties to a much larger crime syndicate in West Australia. Parallel to this is the largest organized police manhunt in the country, one which may or may not have its sights set on Henry and his employers. Things get a little more complicated than that, but then — why spoil the surprise, eh?
Wright’s film is packed with dark, subliminal imagery; whole sequences that play out with seemingly mundane detail before quickly morphing into fugue-like nightmares. Edgerton and Harris both deliver exceptional performances, as does Jada Alberts in her role as a dogged Senior Constable determined to bring Teague to justice by any means available. Between the gorgeous cinematography and bracing minimalist score, The Stranger is a no-brainer pick for one of the best thrillers available to stream on Netflix. —TE
The Stranger is available to stream on Netflix.
Run time: 2h 16m
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
Michael Bay’s high-octane heist thriller is one of our favorite movies of the year so far, so of course it’s going to find its way onto this list, too.
Ambulance follows two brothers: Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Will, a veteran, needs money to pay for a medical operation for his wife and reaches out to Danny, a high-profile criminal, for help. Danny ropes Will into a bank job, which goes wrong when a police officer shows up to ask out a bank teller. The pair end up hijacking an ambulance, taking a brave EMT (Eiza González) hostage and going on a whirlwind chase around Los Angeles.
The setup is a pretty simple heist narrative, but the lead performances and the well-constructed characters (all the way down to the various bit parts) go a long way. But what makes Ambulance work so well, of course, is Bay: the movie is a perfect match for his particular sensibilities and technical acumen.
The chase scenes are absolutely electrifying, aided by Bay’s latest technological achievement: captivating drone filming. Drones have replaced helicopters in a lot of movies for cheaper overhead shots, but Bay isn’t satisfied to just use the latest technology to do the same thing he used to do. Instead, he hired World Drone Racing League Champion Alex Vanover to fly the drone and shoot chase sequences, allowing camera angles and camera movement previously impossible to do when shooting practically. The result is a heart-pounding, energetic thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. —Pete Volk
Assault on Precinct 13
Run time: 1h 31m
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Often imitated but never outdone, John Carpenter’s 1976 crime thriller is one of the tensest 91 minutes ever put on screen. Carpenter’s second feature film (following Dark Star and just two years before Halloween changed everything), the movie follows a police officer (Austin Stoker) and a convicted murderer (Darwin Joston) who team up to defend the titular precinct from a heavily armed street gang.
Made on a shoestring budget of approximately $100,000, Assault on Precinct 13 is a master class of efficient filmmaking, using the closed-in setting of the movie to maximum effect in building tension and staging action sequences. It’s also an early peek at many of the skills that would make Carpenter one of the great masters of genre filmmaking. —PV
Assault on Precinct 13 is available to stream on Showtime, for free with a library card on Kanopy, or for free with ads on Tubi. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu.
Run time: 1h 37m
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya
The Coen brothers’ 1984 directorial debut, Blood Simple, is a perfect primer for the darkly comic, eccentrically plotted, idiosyncratic body of work they went on to create. A hard-boiled neo-noir crime thriller set in Texas, the film centers on a deadly love triangle between a bar owner, his wife, and one of his employees. When the attempted affair and elopement inevitably spills over into bloodshed, the would-be lovers are implicated in a tangled plot of money and murder. Frances McDormand shines in her performance as Abby, the dissatisfied wife at the heart of the drama, as does M. Emmet Walsh as Loren Visser, the conniving hitman who throws the whole conflict into turmoil in his own selfish bid for a quick payday. —Toussaint Egan
Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
John Travolta stars in Brian De Palma’s 1981 mystery thriller Blow Out as Jack Terry, a sound effects technician living in Philadelphia who inadvertently stumbles across a political assassination while recording background noise for a sleazy teen slasher flick. Befriending Sally (Nancy Allen), a distressed call girl and the sole principal witness of the assassination, Jack attempts to unravel and expose the insidious conspiracy behind the killing before the perpetrators can murder her and cover up their involvement.
Based on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blowup, De Palma’s film is an inspired contemporary reinvention of an old classic defined by its inventive use of split diopter lenses to achieve focus between foreground and background elements, impressive cinematography that emphasizes the elements of sound design and music inherent to the plot, and a trio of fantastic performances by Travolta, Allen, and John Lithgow as a sadistic hitman hellbent on completing his mission. If that weren’t enough, the ending to Blow Out is arguably one of the most remarkable and devastating of its era, with a twist so well-executed you’ll be left scratching your head in astonishment as to how you never saw (or heard) it coming. —TE
Escape From Mogadishu
Run time: 2h 1m
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Cast: Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung, Heo Joon-ho
A tightly wound political thriller set during the start of the Somali Civil War, Ryoo Seung-wan’s Escape From Mogadishu doubles as an exciting action movie and a moving plea for the world to move past superficial divisions that prevent us from helping each other.
Set in 1991, the movie takes place in a time where both the North and South Korean governments were lobbying hard to be added as United Nations members. The Somali government holds a key vote, so both Korean governments send representatives to make their case. When civil war breaks out, the politicians and their families must find their own way out of the country — but will the group be able to work together, or will decades of generational distrust get in the way of their safety?
Escape From Mogadishu strikes the balance between thoughtful historical film and exciting thriller deftly, and one scene in particular stands out in the latter category: A caravan, fired upon by soldiers, attempts to back its way out of a tight situation, as the camera zooms through each car one by one in an absolutely breathless sequence that will leave you on the edge of your seat. —PV
Run time: 2h 34m
Director: Sydney Pollack
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman
Sydney Pollack’s 1993 adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm stars Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere, an ambitious Harvard law graduate who accepts a generous offer from a small yet prestigious law firm in Memphis, Tennessee. Everything seems perfect for Mitch and his wife, Abby, until the deaths of four of the firm’s top associates arouse his suspicions. Searching for answers, Mitch finds himself drawn into the middle of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to endanger himself and his loved ones and faced with a choice that could either land him in prison or in a shallow grave. It’s a bit long, with a run time of two and a half hours, but it’s well worth a watch for the supporting cast alone, which includes the likes of Gene Hackman, Wilford Brimley, Tobin Bell, Gary Busey, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Dean Norris. —TE
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Run time: 2h 15m
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel
John Cassavetes’ 1976 neo-noir thriller is one of the finest works by one of the masters of American independent cinema. The movie follows a nightclub owner (Ben Gazzara, in a stunningly good performance) who gets in way over his head and is asked to kill somebody to pay off his gambling debts. A rich character study with an all-timer lead performance, stunning use of tinted frames to bring out color, and Cassavetes’ cunning eye for group dynamics, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a high mark of 1970s American filmmaking. —PV
Joint Security Area
Run time: 1h 47m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Hyun-seok, Jeong Seong-san, Lee Moo-yeong
A career-making hit for Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden), JSA is a mystery about a murder on the border between the two Koreas. Swiss Army Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae) is sent to the Demilitarized Zone to investigate an incident on the border that left two North Korean soldiers dead and one South Korean soldier (Lee Byung-hun) wounded. After the wounded South Korean soldier confesses to the killings, the investigator gets conflicting reports from the two sides about what happened. At times funny, joyful, crushing, and pensive, JSA cuts right through to the human stakes of the maintenance of borders and government conflicts. —PV
Run time: 1h 32m
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon
Jean-Pierre Melville’s hugely influential neo-noir is a meticulously paced, slow-burn crime thriller. Quiet hitman Jef (played by all-time great movie star Alain Delon in one of his most memorable roles) gets pulled into a tough situation when he’s spotted after killing a target. Soon, Jef is not just on the run from the police, but from other figures in the organized-crime underworld.
Le Samouraï is one of the purest distillations of “cool” ever seen in movies, and has been cited by filmmakers like John Woo, Jim Jarmusch, and Johnnie To as influences on their work. —PV
Le Samouraï is available to stream on HBO Max, the Criterion Channel, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Run time: 1h 24m
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a construction foreman in England. The night before a massive job, he learns that a woman who he had an affair with is about to go into labor with their child. Locke decides to drive to London to be with her, leaving his wife and children waiting at home.
The 85-minute film takes place almost entirely on the drive from Birmingham to London, with Hardy the only actor to appear on screen. The rest of the cast, including Olivia Colman and a young Tom Holland, appear in voice roles over the car’s speakerphone, as Locke juggles his professional and personal responsibilities on the road.
Directed by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, 2019’s Serenity), Locke is an impressive technical feat and an economical thriller to the bone, deftly showing off the skills of both its star and director. —PV
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Guillaume Pierret
Cast: Alban Lenoir, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Ramzy Bedia
This 92-minute thrill ride is one of many stellar French crime thrillers on Netflix. In it, Lino (former stunt man Alban Lenoir) is an expert mechanic who has been forced to work for a group of dirty cops. When he’s framed for murder, Lino has to find the one thing that can prove his innocence: a lost bullet in a missing car. With high-octane action sequences and great car stunts, director Guillaume Pierret executes a simple premise to perfection.
Lost Bullet is available to stream on Netflix.
Run time: 1h 39m
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens
Fritz Lang’s 1931 thriller M is widely considered arguably his magnum opus — second perhaps only to his seminal 1927 sci-fi epic Metropolis — but also one of the greatest films of all time. Set in Berlin, the film follows the investigation of a psychotic child murderer whose reign of terror has plunged the city into a fit of hysteria and suspicion. As the criminal underground of Berlin find the noose tightening around them in the police’s unsuccessful campaign to capture him, they take it upon themselves to root out this evil and bring him to justice. —TE
M is available to stream on HBO Max, the Criterion Channel, for free on Kanopy with a library card, or for free with ads on Plex. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, and Vudu.
Run time: 2h 5m
Director: John Schlesinger
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider
John Schlesinger’s 1976 thriller Marathon Man is perhaps best remembered for one scene in particular, wherein Dustin Hoffman’s character, Thomas “Babe” Levy — a New York graduate student writing his thesis on American fascism — is brutally tortured by an elderly Nazi war criminal with dentistry tools, all while being asked, “Is it safe?” The whole movie is worth witnessing in full, with a byzantine conspiracy involving devious assassins, undercover government agents, a hidden cache of stolen diamonds, and a hapless layperson thrown into the mix by a whim of unfortunate circumstance. Aside from possessing one of Hoffman’s most iconic roles, Marathon Man is a taut, nail-biting film that withstands the test of time as thoroughly entertaining thriller. —TE
Memories of Murder
Run time: 2h 9m
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha
Bong Joon-ho’s career-making hit is loosely based on the story of the first confirmed serial murders in Korea, and is one of the best serial killer dramas and detective thrillers ever made. Song Kang-ho plays an overmatched local detective who has been tasked with solving a series of murders. When a younger detective from Seoul (Kim Sang-kyung) arrives to help him with the case, their methods clash. —PV
Run time: 2h 0m
Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton
One of George Clooney’s greatest performances, Michael Clayton was the directorial debut of Tony Gilroy (writer of the first four Bourne movies, co-writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and showrunner of the excellent Andor). Michael Clayton (Clooney) is an off-the-books attorney who acts as a fixer for the rich and powerful. After Arthur (Tom Wilkinson), another attorney at his firm, has a breakdown during a deposition for a class-action lawsuit against an agricultural company, Michael is assigned to bail Arthur out of jail and help him get his act together. As Michael learns more about the truth of the lawsuit and drastic events pile up, legal thriller quickly transforms into conspiracy thriller in an instant classic. —PV
The Night of the Hunter
Run time: 1h 32m
Director: Charles Laughton
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chaplin
The sole film directed by actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter is hailed by many as one of the most masterful stories ever committed to the screen. At the heart of the movie’s enduring legacy is Robert Mitchum’s iconic performance as Harry Powell, a misogynistic serial killer with a flair for silver-tongued theatricality. Centering initially on Powell’s plot to romance a gullible widow and uncover the whereabouts of a stolen cache of $10,000, the film later unfolds into an odyssey across a rich expanse of stark, silhouetted environments, as the widow’s children desperately attempt to elude the mad preacher’s murderous intent. If you’re looking for a classic thriller with beautiful imagery, a moving score, and memorable performances, The Night of the Hunter boasts all those in ample amount. —TE
The Night of the Hunter is available to stream for free with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla, for free with ads on Tubi and Pluto TV, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Pushpa: The Rise
Run time: 3h 0m
Cast: Allu Arjun, Fahadh Faasil, Rashmika Mandanna
This Telugu crime thriller tells the origin story of Pushpa, a gangster who rises up the ranks of a smuggling syndicate that exports red sandalwood, a rare lumber that only grows in South India, overseas. A movie inextricably linked to the globalization of labor, Pushpa opens with an animated sequence depicting how the lumber got to Japan as part of a wedding present, told in reverse. It’s a fascinating way to start the movie, and it immerses you directly into the story and the struggle of the laborers who harvest this rare commodity.
Pushpa (Allu Arjun) is one of these laborers, but he is one of a kind. Uniquely laid back and with enough confidence in himself to ignore any and all authority figures, Arjun brings a vibe to the character that can best be summarized as “the coolest cat around.” While he may not be super smooth around the woman he pines for (Rashmika Mandanna), Pushpa is savvy enough with his brains and with his fists to quickly move up the ladder of the syndicate. But when the unsavory figures at the top of the criminal organization start to feel threatened by his rise, Pushpa has to use all his wits and strength to prevail. A beautiful movie with bright colors, hard-hitting action sequences, and fun musical numbers, Pushpa is one of the coolest gangster thrillers in recent memory. —PV
Pushpa: The Rise - Part 1 is available to stream on Prime Video.
Run time: 2h 10m
Director: Alain DesRochers
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Gabriella Wright, Ben Kingsley
A standout low-budget Antonio Banderas vehicle, Security is a 2017 action thriller where Banderas plays a retired Marine Corps delta captain who gets hired as the new security guard at a mall. When a young girl being chased by armed mercenaries (led by Ben Kingsley) takes shelter in the mall, Banderas must use all the training at his disposal to protect her. With great action sequences, a strong lead performance by Banderas, and an economical 92-minute running time, Security is one of the stronger action thrillers available on Netflix. —PV
Security is available to stream on Netflix.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Run time: 2h 9m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doona
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is the first in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, a group of three standout films (including 2003’s Oldboy) that are linked in theme but not in characters or plot. In Mr. Vengeance, a deaf factory worker (Shin Ha-kyun) makes a deal with black market organ sellers to exchange his kidney for one that could be used for his sick sister. When the organ sellers run away with his kidney, he acts on the advice of his girlfriend (Bae Doona) and kidnaps the daughter of his former boss (Song Kang-ho).
Like Oldboy and the trilogy’s third movie (Lady Vengeance), Mr. Vengeance tackles issues of class and capitalism through the prism of the action thriller genre. With a standout cast and Park’s terrific visual sensibilities, Mr. Vengeance is a bloody good time at the movies. —PV
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is available to stream on Metrograph and Mubi, for free with ads on Tubi, Plex, and Vudu, or for free with a library card on Kanopy. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Vudu.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Run time: 1h 53m
Director: John Hyams
Cast: Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren
A soldier (Scott Adkins) wakes up from a coma, haunted by memories of the brutal murder of his wife and daughter. He wants nothing more than to hunt down the man responsible ... Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the protagonist from the original films of the Universal Soldier franchise.
John Hyams’ 2012 masterpiece is a high achievement, effortlessly blending science fiction, horror, hard-hitting action (the fight in the sporting goods store with UFC fighter Andrei Arlovski!), and thriller into one chaotic package. A breakout role for Adkins that engages with a long-running franchise in new and challenging ways, Day of Reckoning is an unforgettable experience that will keep you on the edge of your seat while you question everything you see. —PV
Run time: 1h 38m
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Steven Soderbergh’s 2018 psychological horror thriller Unsane stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valenti, a young woman who is involuntarily committed to a mental institution in what she suspects is an elaborate plot orchestrated by her stalker. Shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus, the film is tense and claustrophobic, with visuals composed primarily of close-up shots that place stark emphasis on Foy’s frenzied performance. If you’re looking for genuine mind-screw of a psychological thriller, Unsane is it. —TE
Run time: 1h 50m
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa
Of the many excellent collaborations between Akira Kurosawa and legendary movie star Toshiro Mifune, Yojimbo may be my favorite. Mifune plays a ronin who wanders in a small town and unknowingly finds himself squarely in the middle of a gang war. As the ronin’s skill with the sword becomes quickly apparent, the two factions try to bring him into their side of the conflict.
Unofficially remade years later Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, Yojimbo is a remarkably influential movie, and an unforgettable display of one of the most charismatic leading men to ever grace movie screens. If you’ve gone this far without seeing it — run, don’t walk, to your TV. —PV