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The best thrillers to watch on Netflix this October

Move over spooky season, it’s spy time

(L-R) Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in Spy Game. Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Happy October, Polygon readers!

Summer is officially over and fall is here, as well as a whole assortment of new movies and shows on Netflix. While yes, we’re right smack dab in the middle of the spooky season (with a ton of recommendations for those looking for a tingle up their spine), we’ve got a new batch of thrillers in case you’re looking for something a little more cool and calculated to watch this month.

From Tony Scott’s 2001 spy thriller starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt to a new Netflix original thriller starring Benicio del Toro, there’s plenty to enjoy this month. Here are our picks for the best thrillers to watch on Netflix in October.

Editor’s pick: Spy Game

(L-R) Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy Game. Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack

The late Tony Scott was a master at creating tense action thrillers that gave charismatic actors plenty of room to leave their mark. His body of work is bursting at the seams with bangers, from Top Gun and Crimson Tide to Enemy of the State, Man on Fire, and Déjà Vu.

Compared to those classics, Scott’s 2001 action thriller Spy Game may not get as much attention, but it’s no less an entertaining watch. Robert Redford stars as Nathan Muir, a seasoned CIA case officer with one day left until retirement. When Muir learns that Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), a CIA field operative and his former protege, has been captured in an Eastern Chinese prison, he springs into action in order to coordinate his rescue and uncover why the agency is so intent on finding a reason to disavow him.

The movie ping-pongs between the past and present, shifting back and forth from a globe-trotting spy thriller to a clandestine bureaucratic drama where lies and rhetorical misdirection are standard tradecraft. It’s awesome to watch the film’s leading men play off of one another, with Redford assuming the role of the jaded mentor and Pitt as the talented yet naive mentee. While comparatively light on explosives, twists, or theatrics, Spy Game is a solid thriller with a capable cast that adds up to an enjoyable experience. —Toussaint Egan


Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle at night with headlights shining through his back window in Reptile. Photo: Kyle Kaplan/Netflix

Director: Grant Singer
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone

Music video director Grant Singer’s directorial debut is a compelling murder mystery that really jumps out because of how good it looks. Singer and frequent horror movie cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (Us, It Follows, Under the Silver Lake) lend the movie a tangible atmosphere from the start, and even the dark night time scenes are shot with vision and clarity.

Benicio del Toro stars as experienced detective Tom Nichols. He’s relatively new in town to the film’s setting of Scarborough, Maine, after a falling out with his previous police department. When a young real estate agent is murdered, multiple strong suspects come into play, including her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) and her ex-husband (Karl Glusman). But as Detective Nichols scratches below the surface, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

I came across this movie because John Hyams, one of my favorite directors working today, called it a “masterclass in filmmaking” that put Singer on par with David Fincher and Jonathan Glazer. I’m not quite that high on the movie, but it is a compelling and tense thriller that consistently looks great and effectively leans on the skills of its leading man. –PV


Photo: Yoo Eun Mi/Netflix

Director: Lee Chung-hyeon
Cast: Jeon Jong-seo, Kim Ji-hoon, Park Yu-rim

Next year, there will be a new movie in the John Wick franchise. It will be called Ballerina, about a young assassin seeking revenge against people responsible for the death of a loved one.

This month, there is a new movie out on Netflix that takes heavy inspiration from the John Wick franchise. It is called Ballerina, about a young assassin seeking revenge against people responsible for the death of a loved one.

No, you’re not seeing double. It’s just going to be that kind of year.

This Ballerina comes from South Korea, and is about a hardened killer (Jeon Jong-seo) who uses her skills to take revenge on a trafficking ring responsible for the death of her best friend, who she loved more than anything. (This movie is filled with queer subtext that doesn’t bubble over into being text, but really, it’s all right there). Ballerina shines because of Jeon’s fantastic, quiet performance in the leading role, and solid choreography (that is unfortunately a bit overshadowed by overactive editing and camera movement). It’s another solid entry into Netflix’s impressive crop of Korean action movies. –PV