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A giant screen projecting the face of a smiling man (Ralph Fiennes) looms over a crowd of cars amassed in front of a police blockade in Strange Days. Image: 20 Century Fox Home Entertainment

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The best thrillers to watch on Netflix, Hulu, Max, and more

The most pulse-pounding, nerve-wracking films available to stream

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 Michael Mann’s Heat to underseen gems like Ryoo Seung-wan’s Escape from Mogadishu 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, 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.


Editor’s pick

Strange Days

A woman in a black leather jacket (Angela Bassett) leans above the hood of a dark vehicle and fires a pistol, a bright muzzle flash illuminating both her and the surface of the vehicle. Image: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Run time: 2h 26m
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis
Where to watch: Max

Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 sci-fi thriller is one of the most criminally underseen cyberpunk classics of its era. It’s also the rare example of a movie whose cultural impact is subtle yet ubiquitous enough to be directly referenced in disparate works like Fatboy Slim’s 1999 single “Right Here, Right Now” and the 2002 anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles riots that erupted in the wake of the Rodney King trials, Strange Days is a electrifying sci-fi noir that puts systemic racism and media voyeurism squarely in its crosshairs.

Ralph Fiennes stars as Lenny Nero, a former LAPD officer turned black marketeer in illicit virtual reality technology, who inadvertently comes into possession of a recording that could cause major social uproar if made public. Together with his friend Mace (Angela Bassett), a body guard and limousine driver, Nero must unravel the conspiracy behind the recording and expose the truth before it’s too late. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles at the turn of the century, Strange Days is a visually striking and inventive film, employing point-of-view photography to simulate the film’s futuristic memory-storing technology. A brutal, remarkable movie about corruption, redemption, and society on the brink of collapse, Strange Days is requisite viewing for any avowed thriller fan. —Toussaint Egan


Assault on Precinct 13

Gangsters in Assault on Precinct 13 hold someone up by gun point Image: Turtle Releasing Organization

Run time: 1h 31m
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Where to watch: Tubi

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. —Pete Volk

Blood Simple

Frances McDormand holds a gun and extends into a shadow in Blood Simple Image: Universal Pictures Home Video

Run time: 1h 37m
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya
Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel

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. —TE

Blow Out

John Travolta as Jack in Brian De Palma and John G. Fox’s Blow Out Image: Filmways Pictures

Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
Where to watch: Available to rent on Amazon, Apple TV

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

South Korean diplomats wear grey suits while the North Korean diplomat wears his uniform, as they  look off-camera in Escape from Mogadishu. Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

Run time: 2h 1m
Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Cast: Kim Yoon-seok, Jo In-sung, Heo Joon-ho
Where to watch: Viki

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

Heat

Robert De Niro as career criminal Neil McCaulley standing watching the waves against the shore from his empty apartment. Image: 20 Century Fox Home Entertainment

Run time: 2h 50m
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Where to watch: Netflix

In an interview with Empire published 12 years after the film’s release, Michael Mann described his 1995 masterpiece Heat not as a heist thriller, but as a “symphonic drama,” an opera of heightened emotions centered on two men whose single-minded obsessions put them at odds not only with one another and their respective sides of the law, but the people who otherwise love and care about them. Heat is not only that, it is also indisputably one of the greatest movies of the ’90s, featuring two career-best performances from the legendary Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Heat is... well, an absolute heater of a movie. It’s a masterful thriller clocking in at nearly 3 hours, and yet every minute feels consequential and moving. The story of Neil McCauley (De Niro), a career thief and his cat-and-mouse battle against LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino) is an explosive epic bursting with gunfire that rattles like percussion instruments and pensive silences that pronounce emotional intensity too complex to express through words alone. If you have never seen Heat before, now is the opportunity to correct that error, and even if you have seen it already, I guarantee you’re well overdue for a rewatch. —TE

Joint Security Area

Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Shin Ha-kyun posing for a picture and smiling in Joint Security Area. Image: Arrow Media

Run time: 1h 47m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Hyun-seok, Jeong Seong-san, Lee Moo-yeong
Where to watch: Tubi, Arrow

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

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Ben Gazzara as Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Image: The Criterion Collection

Run time: 2h 15m
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel
Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel

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

Le Samouraï

Alain Delon in his iconic Le Samourai outfit, looking gorgeous as always. Image: The Criterion Collection

Run time: 1h 32m
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon
Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel

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

Lost Bullet

A red automobile with a metal cowcatcher is sandwiched between two cop cars in Lost Bullet. Image: Netflix

Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Guillaume Pierret
Cast: Alban Lenoir, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Ramzy Bedia
Where to watch: Netflix

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. The sequel, also on Netflix, is just as good (if not better). —PV

M

Inge Landgut as Elsie Beckmann peering up at a man silhouetted against a wanted poster in M. Image: Criterion Channel

Run time: 1h 39m
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens
Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel

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

Marathon Man

Laurence Olivier as Szell and Dustin Hoffman as Thomas “Babe” Levy in Marathon Man. Image: Warner Home Video

Run time: 2h 5m
Director: John Schlesinger
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider
Where to watch: Prime Video, Paramount Plus, MGM Plus

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

The Night of the Hunter

Robert Mitchum as Preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (1955). Image: Turner Classic Movies

Run time: 1h 32m
Director: Charles Laughton
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chaplin
Where to watch: Prime Video, Tubi, Pluto TV

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

Pushpa: The Rise

Pushpa and his fellow coolies in Pusha: The Rise — Part 1 Image: Prime Video

Run time: 3h 0m
Director: Sukumar
Cast: Allu Arjun, Fahadh Faasil, Rashmika Mandanna
Where to watch: Prime Video

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

Security

Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Deacon (Antonio Banderas) and Jamie (Katherine de la Rocha) in Security (2017). Image: Millennium Films

Run time: 2h 10m
Director: Alain DesRochers
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Gabriella Wright, Ben Kingsley
Where to watch: Netflix

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

The Stranger

Two man stand in a field at night watching acar erupt in a blaze of fire. Image: Netflix

Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Thomas M. Wright
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Jada Alberts
Where to watch: Netflix

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

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Kang-ho Song as Dong-jin Park holding a knife and drenched in water in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Image: Tartan Video

Run time: 2h 9m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Bae Doona
Where to watch: Tubi, Plex

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

Yojimbo

Toshiro Mifune struts in Yojimbo Image: Criterion Collection

Run time: 1h 50m
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa
Where to watch: Max, Criterion Channel

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

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