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The 5 best thrillers to watch on Netflix this December

Pulse-pounding films to keep you warm in the depths of winter

A man (Tom Cruise) wearing a Venetian mask and cloak stands in a lavish hallway. Image: Warner Home Video

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but watching thrillers is so delightful! Netflix has a robust selection of great thrillers to watch, and Polygon’s curation team has cherry-picked five of the best thrillers on Netflix that we feel are a great fit for anyone looking for an alternative to the deluge of sentimental holiday family movies this December.

What makes for a great December thriller? We’ve got movies about folks trapped with one another in frigid, hostile environments, fugue-like odes to the dangers of fantasy, and films about imperfect people succumbing to their darkest impulses in fits of desperation.

Here are some thrilling suggestions for your December viewing pleasure.


Eyes Wide Shut

A woman (Nicole Kidman) sleeps in bed beside a jeweled masquerade mask placed on the pillow next her. Image: Warner Home Video

Year: 1999
Run time: 2h 39m
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack

Stanley Kubrick’s 13th and final film is an intricately constructed cipher whose secrets only truly begin to reveal themselves after multiple viewings. Tom Cruise stars in Kubrick’s erotic psychological mystery drama as Dr. William “Bill” Harford, a man who, after learning from his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), that she had once contemplated having an affair in a moment of unfulfilled longing, inadvertently embarks on a nightlong odyssey across New York in search of catharsis and sexual release. Instead, he finds himself stumbling headlong into a masked bacchanal hosted by a secret group of powerful men who threaten to destroy everyone and everything he loves if he tells anyone what he has witnessed.

There’s so much going in Eyes Wide Shut, I don’t even know where to start. From Cruise’s and Kidman’s terrific performances alongside Todd Field’s and Sydney Pollack’s excellent supporting roles to the exquisite costume and set design to the utterly hypnotic score by Jocelyn Pook to the layers upon layers of symbolism and hidden meaning densely laden into the surface of damn near every frame of its run time, Kubrick’s film is cumulative work of scrupulous craftsmanship and undaunted artistry that coalesces into an unsettling and morbidly hilarious story that stands the test of time. Eyes Wide Shut is about so many things: sexual jealousy, the transactional nature of class and power, the loss of innocence, and the perils of pursuing one’s fantasies and unearthing their dark underbellies. It’s a masterpiece that demands to be seen, puzzled over, and debated for decades to come. Remember: The password is Fidelio. —Toussaint Egan

The Mist

A giant multi-legged creature with writhing tendrils lumbering through a mist-covered landscape. Image: The Weinstein Company

Year: 2007
Run time: 2h 5m
Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden

After The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, writer and director Frank Darabont decided that his next Stephen King adaptation should be something a little darker, and that’s exactly what we get with The Mist. The movie follows several residents of a small town who take refuge in a supermarket when a strange mist envelops the world. Everything that happens next is a carefully laid-out mystery that leads to high tension, interpersonal fighting, and one of the best endings of any movie from the 2000s. —Austen Goslin

Prisoners

Two men (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal) hold a bloodied man (Paul Dano) against the wall of a bare-walled bathroom and threaten him with a hammer. Image: Warner Home Video

Year: 2013
Run time: 2h 33m
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis

Almost a decade after its release, it’s a little hard to imagine the director of sci-fi epics like Arrival and Dune making a tiny thriller like Prisoners, but it’s clear that Denis Villeneuve is more than capable of succeeding at both ends of the spectrum. This movie follows Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard as two men who kidnap someone (Paul Dano) that they think may have kidnapped their daughters. The two lock him in an abandoned house and try to torment a confession out of him, all while the eccentric detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) searches for them. Prisoners is an always-tense movie that never really lets off the gas, but Villeneuve knows not to go all-out until the third act, where he eventually indulges in the movie’s most effective and disturbing moment. —AG

Shutter Island

Three detectives stare out over a cliffside in Shutter island Photo: Paramount Pictures

Year: 2010
Run time: 2h 18m
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

Martin Scorsese’s fantastic thriller casts Leonardo DiCaprio as a clever detective sent to investigate a disappearance on a remote island that acts as a “hospital for the criminally insane.” The movie’s snaking plot is good for a few twists and surprises, but the real strength of Shutter Island is in its creepy vibe and its over-the-top performance of a mystery that aims to be entertaining as much as unraveled. —AG

The Hateful Eight

Two men in winter coats and cowboy hats stand inside a barn with another building visible in the distance and snow storm outside. Image: The Weinstein Company

Year: 2015
Run time: 2h 48m
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Among Quentin Tarantino’s most polarizing films, the three-hour Reconstruction-era “Western” is a bottled-up, slow-drip thriller prepared to grapple with America’s prickliest politics. Trapped in Minnie’s Haberdashery in the thick of a Wyoming blizzard, a Black bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), a white bounty hunter (Kurt Russell), a fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a Confederate “lost-causer” (Walton Goggins), a local hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), and a Southern general (Bruce Dern) all gather to trade stories and unleash violence in true Tarantino fashion. It’s gnarly, it’s prickly, and it’s backed by a screeching original Ennio Morricone score that sends shivers down the spine. The Hateful Eight does not go down easy like Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, but it’s one of the most vital films of the 2010s. —Matt Patches

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