The 40 Best Thrillers on Amazon Prime

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The 40 Best Thrillers on Amazon Prime

Out of any potential category of movie available to stream on Amazon Prime, the “thriller” may be the most elusive, mostly because it covers so much ground and Amazon has no real organizing function to delineate between, say, an action/adventure and what may “thrill” its audience.

So, for the (admittedly untenable) purpose of picking the best thrillers on Amazon Prime, we’ve decided to lean more toward the sinister—the horror, the pulp, the violent—films that can be found, rather than the action and adventure that, while still thrilling, are less conceived in darkness.

From neo-noir to sci-fi, from bleak action to blockbuster suspense, the thrillers Amazon Prime houses aren’t always for the squeamish—and aren’t always the easiest to find.

So here are the 40 best thrillers available to stream with Amazon Prime right now:

like-me-poster.jpg 40. Like Me
Year: 2017
Director: Robert Mockler
Like Me is an indictment of a life spent “extremely” online: a thriller in which the thrill is the threat of empty transgression; a body horror flick in which the body horror is the way social media and Tumblr and Reddit and YouTube transform us, make us grotesque, perverting basic physical functions into scary, dysmorphic representations of the flesh sacks we carry around with us whenever we’re not online. Early in the film, writer-director Robert Mockler introduces us to the online world of our main character, Kiya (Addison Timlin, terrifying), via a disturbing barrage of hyperreal, gif-like images—close-ups of sugary cereal and milk chewed sloppily, of a viscous tongue mid-slurp, of Kiya doing weird kinesthetics in a dirty motel room while the camera capsizes and arises around her, this Manic Pixie Dream Girl who embodies each of those words as literally as possible. Though Mockler implies that these are all curated posts Kiya’s put online, we believe that this is how she sees the world. Aided by some seriously heady opioids and hallucinogens, she can’t help but digest her lived experiences without mitigating them digitally. As Kiya moves through Mockler’s pink-ish, neon dystopia, DP James Siewert shooting Timlin as if she’s stranded in the middle of a Michael Mann joint, everything seems on the table. Kiya lures a motel manager, Marshall (Larry Fessenden, better than excellent), to her room—another room, another motel, somewhere on this stupid planet—with the possibility of sex. Instead, he finds Kiya’s redecorated her room like an outtake from The Cell, testing the lonely guy’s willingness to go along with whatever insanity’s in store. Of course, some icky gastrointestinal calamity occurs, but Marshall never flinches, so Kiya kidnaps him and takes him with her. Gorgeous and gross in equal measure, Like Me is a visual feast. Mockler conjures setpieces out of practically nothing, crafting each frame with a meticulous symmetry that belies the chaos at the heart of Kiya’s impulsive odyssey. —Dom Sinacola


20. we are what we are (Custom).jpg 39. We Are What We Are
Year: 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Jim Mickle is the best young horror director to consistently get left out of discussions of “best young horror directors.” His remake of this 2010 Mexican film of the same name is a brooding, tense blend of thriller and horror, the story of a seemingly normal (if stuffy) rural family that harbors a dark secret of religious observances based around yearly acts of cannibalism. When a family member dies and the long-held tradition is threatened, allegiances come into question, familial ties crumble and the younger generation faces an extremely difficult decision in potentially breaking away from the customs that have bound the family together for many generations. It’s part crime story, part grisly, gutsy horror, and features Michael Parks in a role that is about 100 times better than what he was sentenced to do in Kevin Smith’s Tusk. In particular, the conclusion and final 20-30 minutes of We Are What We Are is shocking in both its brutality and emotional impact, an intimate case study of family dysfunction driven by the changing times and the impracticality of archaic traditions that sustain us. —Jim Vorel


blackcoats-daughter-movie-poster.jpg 38. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Year: 2016
Director: Osgood Perkins
Looking at his first two horror features, it becomes clear that director Osgood Perkins seems to have a distinct distaste for both plot and film convention. His films defy easy description, as anyone who watched I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House on Netflix could attest. The Blackcoat’s Daughter, meanwhile, was completed and exhibited as early as 2015 under the title February, but has been floating around in limbo ever since until A24 decided to finally give it a limited release this spring. Compared with Pretty Thing, Blackcoat’s Daughter is at least easier to grasp and marginally brisker, which makes it more effective overall. Perkins’ style is languid, atmospheric and deliberate, favoring repetition and a slowly multiplying sense of unease and impending doom. The story follows two high school-aged students who are both left relatively alone at their uptight Catholic boarding school over break when their parents fail to pick them up. As one descends into what is implied to be either madness or demonic possession, the events are interwoven with another story about a young woman journeying on the road in the direction of the boarding school. The two stories inevitably intertwine. The film’s pace sometimes leaves something to be desired, but patience is largely repaid by its final third, which contains several moments genuinely disturbing in their violence and transgressive imagery. In the end, The Blackcoat’s Daughter comes together significantly more neatly and logically than one might consider while watching its first hour, rewarding careful attention to detail throughout. —Jim Vorel


frailty poster (Custom).jpg 37. Frailty
Year: 2001
Director: Bill Paxton
Frailty is scary in much the same way that Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is so unsettling—they’re both about fathers who become possessed by the idea that they have a mission in life, a secret commandment from on high that may or may not be due to the slow onset of mental illness. The late Bill Paxton wrote and starred in this passion project, giving himself one of the best roles of his career as that disintegrating father, who has come to believe that he’s living in a world surrounded by “demons” that God has ordered him to eradicate. From the point of view of his young protagonist sons, they’re trapped in a situation that is both hopeless and terrifying. On one hand, their father has become an alien, unknowable personality ordering them to assist him in committing atrocities, but on the other they’re cognizant of the fact that revealing his apparent madness to the world will likely mean losing him forever. Matthew McConaughey is supplied with an unexpectedly juicy, unheralded role as one of the grown-up brothers, who has come to terms with his nasty childhood, but Paxton really steals the show with the kind of nervous energy that makes it impossible to tell what he’ll do next. Also: Prepare yourself for one zany ending. —Jim Vorel


spectre-movie-poster.jpg 36. SPECTRE
Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes 
For the first time in the franchise’s 50-plus year history, James Bond argued against his own existence. Opening with an amusingly ponderous title card—“The dead are alive”—Sam Mendes’ second entry into the Bond series, and Daniel Craig’s fourth turn, situates the British superspy in a world where not only is he no longer needed (we have drone warfare for that) but where he must reconcile with the ruins of the locales the character, and the series, once exoticized. As James Bond continues to exist through Craig, he simply becomes worse at his job, his growing irrelevance meshed with the masculine, psychological trauma of what it’s like to actually be James Bond. Mendes, and cinematogrpaher Hoyte van Hoytema, make Bond’s world dusty, opaque against Skyfall’s crisp neon, as if he’s adrift in an underworld. In SPECTRE, James Bond a zombie whose time is up, and whose Achilles’ heel is the trio of ghosts he’s trying to leave behind. —Kyle Turner


jacobs ladder poster (Custom).jpg 35. Jacob’s Ladder
Year: 1990
Director: Adrian Lyne
Moderately regarded upon release, but now hailed as a modern horror classic, Jacob’s Ladder occupies a special place in the “psychological horror” pantheon. The story of a Vietnam veteran who continues to experience horrific and surrealist visions after his return from the war, it is in some respects an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s famous short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” although the true nature of that link only becomes clear after the credits roll. Tim Robbins is appropriately haunted as our protagonist, a man whose reality is melting around him like a Salvador Dali painting. Is he simply carrying some terrible PTSD after his war experience? Or were he and the men of his former platoon the victims of an elaborate conspiracy that thoroughly destroyed each of their lives? Jacob’s Ladder is a film with a seriously nihilistic streak, and seemingly little regard for man’s capacity for empathy—it’s a chilling, mind-warping descent into the subconscious of a person who has been through more than he could handle. —Jim Vorel


way-of-gun-movie-poster.jpg 34. The Way of the Gun
Year: 2000
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
The second half of the ’90s was oversaturated with Tarantino-style crime dramas that tried and mostly failed to capture his playful pop culture banter mixed with gritty hyper-violence. Christopher McQuarrie, who was only known as the writer of The Usual Suspects at the turn of the Millennium, helmed this directorial debut, The Way of the Gun, around the tail end of this Tarantino trend. Even though McQuarrie’s script, centered on a duo of reckless criminals (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) who kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) they later find out is carrying the seed of a notorious mobster, is full of long scenes of witty dialogue between cool-as-a-cucumber anti-heroes discussing existential matters that have nothing to do with the plot, The Way of the Gun presents a thoroughly grounded take on a QT clone. Putting an eight-month pregnant woman in the middle of the endless carnage that follows the criminals’ colossally stupid decision isn’t used as a gimmick for shock value, but as a way to depict the consequences of their violent ways. McQuarrie’s script’s barrage of third act twists about the real father of the baby and who’s backstabbing whom may get tiresome, but McQuarrie keeps our attention on his formidable cast—MVP of which is James Caan as a no-nonsense mob fixer. —Oktay Ege Kozak


deep red poster (Custom).jpg 33. Deep Red
Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento
Dario Argento movies would be exceedingly easy to pick out of a police lineup, because when you add all of his little quirks together they form an instantly iconic style—essentially the literal definition of auteur theory. Deep Red is one of those films that simply couldn’t have been made by anyone else—Mario Bava could have tried, but it wouldn’t have the instantly iconic soundtrack by Argento collaborators Goblin, nor the drifting, eccentric camerawork that constantly makes you question whether you’re seeing the killer’s POV or not. The story is a classic giallo whodunit: Following the brutal murder of a German psychic, a music teacher who lives in her building starts putting the pieces together to solve the mystery, uncovering a tragic family history. Along the way, anyone who gets close to the answer gets a meat cleaver to the head from a mysterious assailant in black leather gloves. Except for the ones who die in much worse, more gruesome ways. Argento has a real eye for what is physically disconcerting to watch—he somehow makes scenes that are “standard” for the horror genre much more grisly and uncomfortable than one would think, simply reading a description. In Argento’s hands, a slashing knife becomes a paintbrush. —Jim Vorel


free-fire.jpg 32. Free Fire
Year: 2017
Director: Ben Wheatley
In each of his films since his debut (2009’s Down Terrace), Ben Wheatley has thrown down the gauntlet. His creative derring-do continues with Free Fire, the director’s sixth film in eight years and one of the most purely entertaining movies of 2017. If the project began—as one suspects upon watching—as a mere self-imposed filmmaking challenge, then Wheatley has more than outdone himself. There are obvious comparisons to Reservoir Dogs, but not even Tarantino could help himself keep the action confined to a warehouse for an entire running time, let alone stretch out one of his Mexican standoffs to some 70 minutes. Partaking in Free Fire’s lengthy showdown, there’s Chris (Cillian Murphy), Frank (Michael Smiley) and Frank’s skeezy cousin Stevo (Sam Riley), in town to buy guns from Vern (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay) and their muscle Harry (Jack Reynor), with Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) the mediators who forgot to check in advance whether anybody from the two parties might share murderous grudges. After a brief introduction that sets up the characters and a city, possibly Boston, as the wider location, the firefight begins, and the film never leaves its disused riverside factory. The entire movie is both celebration and gentle satire of muscular crime movies; Free Fire doesn’t make a claim of great depth. It’s a disposable B-movie that responds to the tendency of Hollywood action moviemaking to blow up all stakes by shrinking them instead, squeezing them down to the finest possible point, reclaiming such cinema as an intimately physical endeavor. —Brogan Morris


we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-australian-poster.jpg 31. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Year: 2012
Director: Lynne Ramsay
We Need To Talk About Kevin concerns the experience of a mother struggling with the aftermath of a school massacre carried out by her son. In its narrative construction, it draws upon two key tropes: that of the “whydunnit” thriller, in which the the mystery of the perpetrator’s motivations are a driving factor, and that of the family horror, in which some dark element tears a traditional household apart. Indeed, the real horror is not that a teenager chose total negation over the banality of normative family life—it’s that these appeared to be the only two choices available. —Donal Foreman


alice sweet alice poster (Custom).jpg 30. Alice, Sweet Alice
Year: 1976
Director: Alfred Sole
Alice, Sweet Alice is one of the most fascinating of proto-slashers, arriving after the limited exposure of 1974’s Black Christmas but before Halloween rooted slasher conventions indelibly in the American psyche. It’s a film that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, whether it’s the Psycho poster that shows up in one scene or the many, many visual flourishes and motifs that seem to draw comparison to the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava—particularly Argento’s Deep Red. In fact, Alice, Sweet Alice could rightly be called one of the most giallo-esque American films ever made, fusing a seeming obsession/fetishization with Catholic dogma into a murder mystery whodunit that does not skimp on the arterial spray. The story concerns a young girl who is murdered by a mysterious, masked killer during her first communion, leading to suspicion falling on the girl’s older, jealous sister, Alice. Is Alice a budding psychopath? Or is she surrounded by them on all sides? Alice, Sweet Alice features a collection of some truly loathsome characters, from the morbidly obese, cat-obsessed landlord of her building to her shrill aunt, who detests Alice’s very guts. Moody, melodramatic and genuinely chilling in some of its quiet, stalker-ish moments, Alice, Sweet Alice runs the gamut from emotionally harrowing to violently perverse. —Jim Vorel


neon-demon-movie-poster.jpg 29. The Neon Demon
Year: 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
If Nicolas Winding Refn—anthropomorphic cologne bottle; asexual jaguar—is going to make a horror film, Nicolas Winding Refn will make a horror film about the things that scare Nicolas Winding Refn most: asymmetry, sex, fatherhood. In The Neon Demon, every character is either someone’s daughter or a deranged daddy figure, both thirsty for the kind of flesh only Los Angeles can provide, the roles of predator and prey in constant, unnerving flux. Part cannibal-slasher movie and part endlessly pretty car commercial, Refn’s film about a young model (Elle Fanning) making it in the fashion industry goes exactly where you think it’s going to go, even when it’s trying as hard as it can to be weird as fuck. But despite his best efforts, Refn sustains such an overarching, creeping atmosphere of despair—such a deeply ingrained sense of looming physical imperfection, of death—that it never really matters if The Neon Demon doesn’t add up to much of anything in the end. —Dom Sinacola


sacred-deer-movie-poster.jpg 28. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
In the uncanny valley of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, characters resemble human beings…but not entirely. In movies such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, the Greek writer-director has become a maestro of the queasy/funny horror-comedy, turning our universal anxieties into psychologically rich satires in which life’s mundane surfaces give way to dark, often bloody realities we don’t want to acknowledge. His movies are funny because they’re so shocking and disturbing because they’re so true. But for them to really soar, their provocations need to be grounded in recognizable behavior, which gives Lanthimos a foundation to then stretch his extreme stories past their breaking point. With his latest, we see what happens when his underlying ideas are not as complex as the intricacies of his execution. The Killing of a Sacred Deer reunites Lanthimos with his Lobster star Colin Farrell, who plays Steven, a cardiologist, who’s married to an ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children, teen Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). It would be hard to describe their personalities because, in typical Lanthimos fashion, they don’t really have any. Quickly, Sacred Deer introduces us to the fly in this particular ointment. His name is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a moody teen who seems as lobotomized as the other characters. There’s one crucial difference, though: He has befriended Steven for reasons that feel sinister but will only eventually become clear, and he keeps insinuating himself into the man’s world. It wouldn’t be much fun to reveal where Sacred Deer goes from there, but Sacred Deer may be Lanthimos’s most visually and sonically ambitious work—technically, it’s pristine—clever without ever quite deciding precisely what it’s about. —Tim Grierson


mother-movie-poster.jpg 27. mother!
Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky 
Try as you might to rationalize Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, mother! does not accept rationalization. There’s little reasonable ways to construct a single cohesive interpretation of what the movie tries to tell us. There is no evidence of Aronosfky’s intention beyond what we’ve intuited from watching his films since the ’90s—as well as how often Aronofsky loves to talk about his own work, which is usually worth avoiding, because Aronofsky likes thinking the movie is about everything. The most ironclad comment you can make about mother! is that it’s basically a matryoshka doll layered with batshit insanity. Unpack the first, and you’re met immediately by the next tier of crazy, and then the next, and so on, until you’ve unpacked the whole thing and seen it for what it is: A spiritual rumination on the divine ego, a plea for environmental stewardship, an indictment of entitled invasiveness, an apocalyptic vision of America in 2017, a demonstration of man’s tendency to leech everything from the women they love until they’re nothing but a carbonized husk, a very triggering reenactment of the worst house party you’ve ever thrown. mother! is a kitchen sink movie in the most literal sense: There’s an actual kitchen sink here, Aronofsky’s idea of a joke, perhaps, or just a necessarily transparent warning. mother!, though, is about everything. Maybe the end result is that it’s also about nothing. But it’s really about whatever you can yank out of it, its elasticity the most terrifying thing about it. —Andy Crump


charade.jpg 26. Charade
Year: 1963
Director: Stanley Donen
Cary Grant is the most charming male lead ever. Audrey Hepburn is the most charming female lead ever. Everything else is just bonus in this romantic thriller about a woman pursued in Paris for her late husband’s stolen fortune: the Henry Mancini score, the Hitchcock-ian suspense, the plot twists and Walter Mathau as a CIA agent. It’s a screwball comedy and an international spy thriller, and works equally as both. —Michael Dunaway


unsane.jpg 25. Unsane
Year: 2018
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Sawyer (Claire Foy) knows she’s not crazy. In Unsane, she’s a young woman who’s recently moved from Boston to Pennsylvania, working an office job she doesn’t much like and enduring not-so-subtle sexual come-ons from her creepy boss who really thinks they ought to spend more time together. When she FaceTimes with her mother during her lunch break, she tries to put a positive spin on everything: Yes, I’m fine, I’m doing well, how are you? But even before she goes on a date that evening, taking the guy home but then having some sort of emotional breakdown before they can sleep together, there are signs that all is not well with her. Very soon, things will get much worse. The umpteenth film from Steven Soderbergh—like his previous two, the kinky thriller Side Effects and the Southern-fried crime comedy Logan Lucky—is a capital-G genre flick, happily luxuriating in its own pulpy proclivities. But it’s also his strongest in a while, in part because its deceptively dashed-off tone is tied to a stronger thematic hook than he’s allowed in a while, and guided by an expertly measured performance from Foy as Sawyer, a woman who refuses to be pegged as hysterical, no matter how much the world wants to slap that straitjacket on her. Sawyer’s in trouble in Unsane, but she never seems helpless—the movie’s black-hearted joke is that, really, she’s always been dealing with guys who are trying to metaphorically imprison her. There’s a weary, sarcastic cackle to the performance that practically spits in the eye of any patronizing damsel-in-distress concerns the audience might have. Shot on an iPhone 7 Plus and supplemented by drone cameras, this psychological thriller brandishes its slightly warped, fisheye-lensed aesthetic, plunging the viewer into a queasy, disorienting mindset from the start. In turn, Soderbergh’s vision of a smart woman eternally held down against her will has a wonderful, nasty kick to it. Sawyer insists she’s not crazy, but that might not matter if the world has already decided she is. —Tim Grierson


arrival.jpg 24. Arrival
Year: 2016
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Your appreciation of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival will hinge on how well you like being led astray. It’s both the full embodiment of Villeneuve’s approach to cinema and a marvelous, absorptive piece of science fiction, a two hour sleight-of-hand stunt that’s best experienced with as little foreknowledge of its plot as possible. Fundamentally, it’s about the day aliens make landfall on Earth, and all the days that come after—which, to sum up the collective human response in a word, are mayhem. You can engage with Arrival for its text, which is powerful, striking, emotive and, most of all, abidingly compassionate. You can also engage with it for its subtext, should you actually look for it. This is a robust but delicate work captured in stunning, calculated detail by cinematographer Bradford Young, and guided by Amy Adams’ stellar work as Louise Banks, a brilliant linguist commissioned by the U.S. Army to figure out how the hell to communicate with our alien visitors. Adams is a chameleonic actress of immense talent, and Arrival lets her wear each of her various camouflages over the course of its duration. She sweats, she cries, she bleeds, she struggles, and so much more that can’t be said here without giving away the film’s most awesome treasures. She also represents humankind with more dignity and grace than any other modern actor possibly could. If aliens do ever land on Earth, maybe we should just send her to greet them. —Andy Crump


brawl-cell-block-99-poster.jpg 23. Brawl in Cell Block 99
Year: 2017
Director: S. Craig Zahler
In which we bask in Vince Vaughn’s hugeness, witnessing S. Craig Zahler’s pitch-perfect ode to grindhouse cinema draw the best of extremes out of an actor who’s had a rough couple years crawling out from under the parody of himself. This is not Vince Vaughn playing Bradley Thomas, stolid brute willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, it is the silhouette of Vince Vaughn, silent and bigger than everyone else in the room, a spectre of bruised flesh—so much flesh—descending circle by circle into Hades, his odyssey heralded by the likes of Don Johnson and Udo Kier (both seemingly born to be in this endlessly compelling, awfully fucked-up movie) and soundtracked by soul/RnB icons like the O’Jays and Butch Tavares. It confirms that Zahler—along with Bone Tomahawk—is on some Tarantino levels of modern genre filmmaking—which could honestly be a pejorative, were Brawl in Cell Block 99 less finely tuned, less patient and less breathlessly violent. By the time Bradley lurches into irrevocable action, foreshadowed by an opening scene in which he rips apart a car with his bare hands, which is exactly as that sounds, every life force he snuffs out with maximum barbarity also comes with pure satisfaction, the Id of anyone who’s into this kind of thing stroked to completion. —Dom Sinacola


green-room.jpg 22. Green Room
Year: 2015
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
What’s perhaps most refreshing in Green Room is writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s lack of interest in the kind of moralizing that made his last film, Blue Ruin, ultimately seem conventional. Instead, Saulnier simply presents us this nutty scenario without feeling the need to lard it up with anything as cumbersome as topical commentary or moral ambiguity. He proceeds to wring as much tension and suspense from its pulpy retro plot as possible, adding a few entertaining grace notes along the way, which can best be seen in its performances. In the ensemble-based Green Room, Saulnier revels in the contrasts of personalities and styles: band bassist Pat’s (Anton Yelchin) Bill Paxton-like desperation, for instance, set alongside the weary, near-drugged-out deadpan of Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the woman whose murder sets off the film’s violent chain of events; or the imperial calm of Darcy (Patrick Stewart), the ruthless leader of the band of white supremacists who attempt to kill Pat, Amber and the rest. It’d be a stretch to call these characters three-dimensional, but nevertheless, under Saulnier’s writing and direction, they all manage to stand out just enough as individuals for us to become emotionally involved in their fates. Meanwhile, Saulnier supports these characters and plot turns with filmmaking that is remarkable for its economy and patience. D.P. Sean Porter gets a lot of mileage out of the cramped quarters and grimy lighting of the bar, lending its wide (2.35:1) frames an appropriately nightmarish feel amidst many suspenseful set pieces. In those ways, the lean, mean Green Room stands as one of the best B-movie genre exercises in many years. —Kenji Fujishima


dressed-to-kill-movie-poster.jpg 21. Dressed to Kill
Year: 1980
Director: Brian De Palma
Dressed to Kill is as much an over-the-top, transphobic, atonal mess of an attempt at putting a Hitchcockian twist on an ’80s erotic thriller as it is a compulsively watchable exercise in pure style and tension. Which means it might be the quintessential Brian De Palma joint. Sure, he may have practically parodied his own work in Raising Cain, but if you’re looking for a much earlier expression of his most iconic traits—in a more straightforward thriller, wrapping sensationalistic sexual content around a pulpy noir plot—this is the best place to start. Dressed to Kill is essentially two short films spliced into one, the first act concerning the sexual yearning of an unhappily married woman (Angie Dickinson), infused with enough unease to the film’s much more violent and explicit remainder. Considering De Palma’s obsession with remaking parts of Psycho during the ’70s and early ’80s (see: Sisters), one can easily guess what happens to the married woman before we find ourselves in a straight horror/thriller about a transgender murderer stalking a high-priced prostitute (Nancy Allen) with a razor. The fact that the killer is transgender isn’t a twist in the film, but his identity is, and if you keep following the Psycho connections, it’s very easy to guess. De Palma may have tried to dissuade his film from controversy by including a levelheaded interview with a trans war reporter on TV, watched by two characters during a split-screen sequence, but that hardly matters when De Palma has admitted to creating his own version of Jekyll and Hyde, essentially turning a trans person into a monster. Problematic but emblematic of a great director, this sleazy flick is still worth checking out. —Oktay Ege Kozak


nightcrawler.jpg 20. Nightcrawler
Year: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
“A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” That’s the image Nina (Rene Russo) evokes when describing her news program in director Dan Gilroy’s tremendous thriller Nightcrawler. It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which makes his achievement doubly impressive—but while that is definitely part of the equation, what drives this movie forward is the menace that lurks just below the surface, beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. A nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell, Lou is a motivated self-starter. Full of meaningful acronyms, manufactured self-confidence, and drive powered by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into on the ground floor. When he comes across the lucrative world of nightcrawlers, freelance stringers who race after breaking news stories—the bloodier, the better is the prevailing wisdom—he has the ambition, opportunity and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel. Gyllenhaal, who shed in excess of 30 pounds for the role, has rarely—if ever—been better. Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented and even borders on charming at times, but this measured exterior belies the inherent violence you spend the entire movie waiting to see erupt. Nightcrawler is tense and intense, ferocious and obsessed, and crackles with energy and a dark sense of humor. —Brent McKnight


les diaboliques poster (Custom).jpg 19. Les Diaboliques
Year: 1955
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques through the lens of the modern horror film, especially the slasher flick—replete with un-killable villain (check); ever-looming jump scares (check); and a “final girl” of sorts (check?)—one would not have to squint too hard to see a new genre coming into being. You could even make a case for Clouzot’s canonization in horror, but to take the film on only those terms would miss just how masterfully the iconic French director could wield tension. Nothing about Les Diaboliques dips into the scummy waters of cheap thrills: The tightly wound tale of two women, a fragile wife (Véra Clouzot) and severe mistress (Simone Signoret) to the same abusive man (Paul Meurisse), who conspire to kill him in order to both reel in the money rightfully owed the wife, and to rid the world of another asshole, Diaboliques may not end with a surprise outcome for those of us long inured to every modern thriller’s perfunctory twist, but it’s still a heart-squeezing two hours, a murder mystery executed flawlessly. That Clouzot preceded this film with The Wages of Fear and Le Corbeau seems as surprising as the film’s outcome: By the time he’d gotten to Les Diaboliques, the director’s grasp over pulpy crime stories and hard-nosed drama had become pretty much his brand. That the film ends with a warning to audiences to not give away the ending for others—perhaps Clouzot also helped invent the spoiler alert?—seems to make it clear that even the director knew he had something devilishly special on his hands. —Dom Sinacola


bad-lieutenant-new-orleans-poster.jpg 18. The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans
Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog 
Two men on the cusp of utter meme-ification craft one last masterpiece together before they let go, fizzling into the dying light. An elegy, perhaps—for America, maybe, or for the concept of law and order within an America that’s long abandoned both concepts—Werner Herzog’s predictably singular vision for a loose sequel (reboot) to Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant hangs Nicolas Cage from an imaginary hook, the actor’s baggy suit and wincing, glazy visage seemingly draped uncomfortably over every crime scene, line of coke and hallucinated iguana he comes across. New Orleans lieutenant Terence McDonagh is in a lot of pain, due mostly to a back injury he suffered saving an inmate from a flooding jail cell in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, exacerbated by all the extra drugs he consumes, plus the long horrible hours he maintains navigating the surreal wasteland of a city that’s seemingly made no progress since the natural disaster. Herzog makes no apologies about the obvious ties between McDonagh’s degradation and that of New Orleans’, concerned less with his plot’s procedural aspects (McDonagh’s trying to solve the murders of a family involved with low level drug dealing) and more with the oneiric geography of a once-thriving city lost to time. McDonagh, then, is our addled Virgil, guiding us through the Hell that made him, the Hell from which he can’t escape, the Hell he’ll never save despite his best efforts. Suffused with absurdity, and hilariously bleak as fuck, The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans serves as the last of Herzog’s fiction films able to withstand the director’s hardheaded anti-narrative inclinations, as well as the last of Cage’s films in which his unhinged weirdness isn’t so obviously performative. Together, the two men offer no hope for those whom America’s abandoned. Instead they offer a moving, odd bit of comfort: At least some of us are still trying. —Dom Sinacola


it-comes-at-night-poster.jpg 17. It Comes at Night
Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A “sickness” has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola


body-snatchers-1978-movie-poster.jpg 16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Year: 1978
Director: Philip Kaufman
There’s no real need for the film’s credit-limned intro—a nature-documentary-like sequence in which the alien spores soon to take over all of Earth float through the cosmos and down to our stupid third berg from the Sun—because from the moment we meet health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and the colleague with whom he’s hopelessly smitten, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), the world through which they wander seems suspiciously off. Although Philip Kaufman’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers begins as a romantic comedy of sorts, pinging dry-witted lines between flirty San Franciscan urbanites as Danny Zeitlin’s score strangely lilts louder and louder overhead, Kaufman laces each frame with malice. Oddly acting extras populate the backgrounds of tracking shots and garbage trucks filled with weird dust fluff (which we eventually learn spreads the spores) exist at the fringes of the screen. The audience, of course, puts the pieces together long before the characters do—characters who include Jeff Goldblum at his beanpole-iest and Leonard Nimoy at his least Spock-iest—but that’s the point: As our protagonists slowly discover that the world they know is no longer anything they understand, so does such simmering anxiety fill and then usurp the film. Kaufman piles on more and more revolting, unnerving imagery until he offers up a final shot so bleak that he might as well be punctuating his film, and his vision of modern life, with a final, inevitable plunge into the mouth of Hell. —Dom Sinacola


children-of-men.jpg 15. Children of Men
Year: 2006
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
We remember the dread most—the sense of relentless, inevitable doom, from its literally explosive opening moments to its breathlessly ambiguous final seconds, the whole of Children of Men shot through with dismal grayscale, as if the human race were still coming to terms with its combustion though everyone waded through the ashes. In 2027, beleaguered former activist and current bureaucrat, Theo (Clive Owen), wanders amongst the increasing civil unrest fueled by British armed forces clamping down on refugees fleeing the rest of the world’s civilizational decline. Cynical and cornered by death at every turn, Theo can’t help but assist his estranged ex wife (Julianne Moore), taking on the protection of Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey), a Virgin Mary figure and the last known pregnant woman on Earth. Theo’s odyssey takes him through the last vestiges of a broken world, director Alfonso Cuarón staging terrible spectacles—an assault on a car, a nightmarish refugee camp, a wartorn urban battlefield—often in long takes (or digitally edited to appear as long takes) and weighted with unbelievably visceral stakes. Yet, despite all of Cuarón’s technical bravura, what remains long after Children of Men’s ended is its refusal to resolve Theo’s journey, to ascribe to what he’s accomplished any hope, hopeful that there is still time, but hopeless that there’s anything left we can do. The apocalypse has never felt so immersive. —Dom Sinacola


ms-45-movie-poster.jpg 14. Ms .45
Year: 1981
Director: Abel Ferrara
Without classic needle drops or elaborate long takes, Bronx-born director Abel Ferrara has established himself as worthy an heir to the title of “King of New York” as anyone like Scorsese or Spike Lee. Behind the corner of every skyscraper is someone menacing or power hungry—not just a metropolitan rat, but a creature indicative of humanity’s worst impulses. In his rape and revenge exploitation film Ms .45, the harsh, masculinist vibe of the city that never sleeps is a monster waiting to be slain, a sinner worthy of no forgiveness or redemption. A mute seamstress named Thana (an extraordinary Zoë Tamerlis Lund) is raped by two men in a single day. But as an inversion of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Michael Winner’s Death Wish, the traumatized becomes the powerful, with Thana cheekily reconceiving what it means to be “triggered” by PTSD, becoming an Angel of Death for rapists and abusers, traveling the Manhattan cityscape with ease and intuitiveness. While such a film has a tendency to be thought of as a genre of ill repute (rightfully or wrongfully), Ms .45 cuts to the bone as closely as it does not least because of Lund’s performance. Beyond her iconic costumery—clothed in a nun’s habit, lipstick glistening on her like spilled blood—the subtle emotion and power in her minute actions and expressive eyes seem to wrench the film from Ferrara’s grip and into hers, wielding viscerality like a pistol. Lund emerges from Ferrara’s decaying city, the trauma of existing as a woman in a world, and genre, which abuses them, as auteur—as Ms .45. —Kyle Turner


good-time-poster.jpg 13. Good Time
Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson


manchurian-candidate.jpg 12. The Manchurian Candidate
Year: 1962
Director: John Frankenheimer
In today’s political climate, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate is as timely as ever. Made when Cold War tensions were rising, the Vietnam War just saw its second tripling of U.S. ground troops and the political atmosphere was stifling with Communist allegations, Frankenheimer’s film feels relevant even now. Rich with strong political commentary, and bolstered by powerful performances (Sinatra giving, perhaps, the greatest performance of his career, supported by an especially frightening Angela Lansbury), the film is still thrilling as it shoulders such heavy themes as individual liberty versus the nature of freedom. Gorgeously shot and framed, especially in the final scenes at Madison Square Garden, The Manchurian Candidate ranks alongside Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, leaving no stone unturned in its examination of conspiracy and tensions between political ideologues. —Nelson Maddaloni


a-simple-plan.jpg 11. A Simple Plan
Year: 1998
Director: Sam Raimi 
For his second go at mainstream recognition after the mixed reception of The Quick and the Dead, Sam Raimi stepped back into the stark clarity of his pulpier early days to tell a straightforward fable about Bad Things happening to Good People. His unaffected touch is there in its first frame: a pitch-black raven cawing against a bleached-white background. Raimi wastes no ground in subtlety, shaking up his black-and-white palette with ominous reds, repeatedly allowing his characters to desperately claim that the snow, in all of its snowy whiteness, will cover up past wrongdoing and let the Good People—if they’re sorry enough—start anew. In that sense, A Simple Plan is as traditional a morality play as a thriller can get, but Raimi has never been a director unwilling to splash about in the shallows; instead, the inevitability of the plot is his point—even the simplest of decisions carry whole worlds of consequence—and Raimi injects each emotional beat with unspeakable tragedy. Carried by Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, one of boundless sympathy at a time when the actor seemed capable of anything, A Simple Plan serves as something of a companion piece to Fargo, another expertly crafted thriller from the ‘90s. It treats its wintry landscape similarly: not as a metaphorical whiting out of sins, but as a tabula rasa upon which human nature—in big bright colors—will eventually paint its own selfish doom. —Dom Sinacola


usual-suspects.jpg 10. The Usual Suspects
Year: 1995
Director: Bryan Singer
The movie is a cheat and a fraud. It’s as manipulative as it is dishonest, but unlike many other far lesser films worthy of the same description, all this flick’s shamelessness is on purpose. When it was released The Usual Suspects left viewers gob smacked, staring at screens with expressions matching Michael Caine and Steve Martin on the runway at the end of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: at first confused, then maybe a little angry, but then ultimately delighted by how fooled they’d just been. Perfectly paced, brilliantly scored by director Bryan Singer and editor/composer John Ottman—the film never lets the marks know they’re being conned by the irresistible ensemble or Christopher McQuarrie’s dark, mischievous script. And then like that…it’s gone… —Bennett Webber


zodiac.jpg 9. Zodiac
Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher 
I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


TheConversation.jpg 8. The Conversation
Year: 1974
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The really incredible fact about this film is that Coppola made it as a side project between Godfather movies. Starring Gene Hackman, The Conversation is the story of a surveillance technician coming face to face with the implications of his job, and the paranoia of being watched at every moment. It was nominated for Best Picture in 1974, an award that went to The Godfather, Part II. It’s one of the rare times in film history when a director has lost to himself. —Shane Ryan


chinatown-movie-poster.jpg 7. Chinatown
Year: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
When you look at Jack Nicholson’s run of films in what could be referred to as the “New Hollywood” era, starting with Easy Rider in 1969 and ending with The Shining in 1980, it’s truly astounding: There’s barely a dud on the list, so it’s really saying something that Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s crime classic, stands out among the best. The film’s central mystery is bold for its complexity, revolving around water rights in 1930s Southern California—a plot that remains relevant today, alongside which, like in much of Polanski’s work, an ominous atmosphere creeps, shadowing every character in doubt and undermining the possibility of a clean conclusion. In Polanski’s world, the mere fact that a mystery is solved doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending, and his incredible powers of ambiguity have never been so strong as in Chinatown. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won for Robert Towne’s original screenplay; add Nicholson at his most essential, along with a young Faye Dunaway and an aging John Huston, and this is more than an excellent film noir, but an American cinematic triumph. —Shane Ryan


american psycho movie poster (Custom).jpg 6. American Psycho
Year: 2000
Director: Mary Harron
There’s something wrong with Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)—really wrong. Although he writhes within a Christopher Nolan-esque what-is-a-dream conundrum, Bateman is all-around evil, blatantly expressing just how evil he is, unfortunately to uncaring or uncomprehending ears, because the world he lives in is as wrong, if not moreso. Plus the drug-addled banker has a tendency to get creative with his kill weapons. (Nail gun, anyone?) Like anybody needed another reason to hate rich, white-collar Manhattanites: Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ is a scintillating portrait of corporate soullessness and disdainful affluence. —Darren Orf


trouble-every-day-movie-poster.jpg 5. Trouble Every Day
Year: 2001
Director: Claire Denis
Messing with genre is more a means to an end for Claire Denis than it is a celebration of the Fulci phantasmagoria and giallo sensibility and Eureopean art house erotic thrillers she so clearly loves, and Trouble Every Day is her ultimately harvesting the misasma emanating from the ways in which she bends these kinds of movies to her will. The film stinks of sex and death, rolls around in it, characters licking it dripping from the corners of the screen. It follows newlyweds Dr. Shane Brown (Vincent Gallo, both hypnotized and hypnotic, as if a therapist permanently put him under) and June (Tricia Vessey) on their honeymoon in Paris, which gives Shane the perfect excuse to look up old friends Léo Sémeneau (Alex Descas) and his wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), with whom he appears to harbor an obsession secreted from his new spouse. With no fanfare, Denis draws us deeper into the nature of Shane’s obsession, gradually revealing that the predatory hunger Coré has for young men is so strong she begs her husband, who locks her in their house daily, to kill her, lest she kill again. Shane seems to share Coré’s affliction, contracted while working together in South America, ruining his marriage before it’s even begun, generally avoiding June throughout their time in Paris—that is until, in a hyper-violent revelation, he figures out exactly what he must do to preserve his matrimonial vowa. A cannibalistic nightmare of an exploitation film; an absurdist fairy tale; the bleakest rom-com you’ve ever seen—whatever angle one wants to pursure with Trouble Every Day, the path toward any semblance of meaning splits, refracts and multiplies, a precise understanding of what Denis intends obscured by mounds of flesh and torn viscera, by the ever-present knowledge that Denis is going to show you something you probably don’t want to see. Which must be the point: Human sexuality is an inscrutable thing, and monogamy strains against that inscrutability. Perhaps, Denis shrugs, we were never meant for one person; perhaps we were only meant to tear each other apart. —Dom Sinacola


handmaiden-movie-poster.jpg 4. The Handmaiden
Year: 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
There are few filmmakers on Earth capable of crafting the experience of movies like The Handmaiden so exquisitely while maintaining both plot inertia and a sense of fun. (Yes, it’s true: Park has made a genuinely fun, and often surprisingly, bleakly funny, picture.) The film begins somberly enough, settling on a tearful farewell scene as Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is carted off to the manor of the reclusive and exorbitantly rich aristocrat Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), where she will act as servant to his niece, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee). But Sook-hee isn’t a maid: She’s a pickpocket working on behalf of Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman scheming to get his mitts on Hideko’s assets. (That’s not a euphemism. He only wants her for her money.) The reveal of Sook-hee’s true intentions is just the first of many on The Handmaiden’s narrative itinerary. Park has designed the film as a puzzle box where each step taken to find the solution answers one question while posing new ones at the same time. But you’re here to read about the sex, aren’t you? It’s in the sex scenes between the two Kims that Park shows the kind of filmmaker he really is. The sex is sexy, the scenes steamy, but in each we find a tenderness that invites us to read them as romance rather than as pornography. We’re not conditioned to look for humanity in pantomimes of a sexually explicit nature, but that’s exactly when The Handmaiden is at its most human. There’s something comforting in that, and in Park’s framing of deviance as embodied by the film’s masculine component. We don’t really need him to spell that out for us, but the message is welcome all the same. —Andy Crump


jaws poster (Custom).jpeg 3. Jaws
Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T. but leaner and less polished-looking than either, which works in its favor. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making—the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back—maximizing the impact of what we do see. The first time that Roy Scheider glimpses the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has literally never been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via its memorable characters, but it’s a scary film care of its novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


blue-velvet.jpg 2. Blue Velvet
Year: 1986
Director: David Lynch 
Blue Velvet represents everything cinema can be: horrific, hilarious, heightened to inexplicable, nearly intolerable heavens. This is storytelling as symbology, a traditional American genre like noir picked apart with unsettling aplomb. David Lynch concocts an Oedipal nightmare out of Kyle MacLachlan’s innocent boy and Dennis Hopper’s evil “daddy,” with Isabella Rosselini’s sexy “mommy” as both an unobtainable feminine figure and a damsel in dire circumstances, demanding protection. As adorable Everyman Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) is seduced ever deeper into the disgusting underground of American domesticity, he tries to see the light in the world, while the psychopathic Frank Booth (Hopper) represents all that is dark—and yet, Lynch hesitates to allow Jeffrey to be a hero. “He put his disease in me,” Valerie Lyons (Rosselini) repeats in the middle of a psychotic episode. She’s a woman permanently broken by men both good and bad, and so, in black and white, Lynch finds blue: something deeply sad and normal. In the middle of Blue Velvet, Jeffrey, excited, exclaims, “I’m involved in a mystery, I’m in the middle of a mystery, and it’s all secret.” Horned up, he’s ready to dig into all the nasty dirt his hometown of Lumberton has to offer. By the end of the film, we’ve barely scratched the filthy surface. —Dom Sinacola


robocop.jpg 1. Robocop
Year: 1987
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Throughout the late-’70s and indulgent 1980s, “industry” went pejorative and Corporate America bleached white all but the most functional of blue collars. Broadly speaking, of course: Manufacturing was booming, but the homegrown “Big Three” automobile companies in Detroit—facing astronomical gas prices via the growth of OPEC, as well as increasing foreign competition and the decentralization of their labor force—resorted to drastic cost-cutting measures, investing in automation (which of course put thousands of people out of work, closing a number of plants) and moving facilities to “low-wage” countries (further decimating all hope for a secure assembly line job in the area). The impact of such a massive tectonic shift in the very foundation of the auto industry pushed aftershocks felt, of course, throughout the Rust Belt and the Midwest—but for Detroit, whose essence seemed composed almost wholly of exhaust fumes, the change left the city in an ever-present state of decay. And so, though it was filmed in Pittsburgh and around Texas, Detroit is the only logical city for a Robocop to inhabit. A practically peerless, putrid, brash concoction of social consciousness, ultra-violence and existential curiosity, Paul Verhoeven’s first Hollywood feature made its tenor clear: A new industrial revolution must take place not within the ranks of the unions or inside board rooms, but within the self. By 1987, much of the city was already in complete disarray, the closing of Michigan Central Station—and the admission that Detroit was no longer a vital hub of commerce—barely a year away, but its role as poster child for the Downfall of Western Civilization had yet to gain any real traction. Verhoeven screamed this notion alive. He made Detroit’s decay tactile, visceral and immeasurably loud, limning it in ideas about the limits of human identity and the hilarity of consumer culture. As Verhoeven passed a Christ-like cyborg—a true melding of man and savior—through the crumbling post-apocalyptic fringes of a part of the world that once held so much prosperity and hope, he wasn’t pointing to the hellscape of future Detroit as the battlefield over which the working class will fight against the greedy 1%, but instead to the robot cop, to Murphy (Peter Weller), as the battlefield unto himself. How can any of us save a place like Detroit? In Robocop, it’s a deeply personal matter. —Dom Sinacola

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