The 30 Best Thrillers on Netflix

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The 30 Best Thrillers on Netflix

The thriller has been a cinema staple ever since Alfred Hitchcock kept us in suspense with his silent serial killer film The Lodger in 1927. The story may be fictional, but if the telling is masterful enough, the tension we feel is real. From tales of the supernatural to spy chases to psychological dramas, the thriller is a broad and hard-to-define genre—you’ll see overlap with our Best Dramas on Netflix, Best Action Movies on Netflix, Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix and Best Horror Movies on Netflix lists—but the key element of a good thriller is keeping an audience member on the edge of their seat.

So, we’ve officially defined a thriller as anything that Netflix calls a thriller (excepting a few wildly mislabeled films), and any complaints or concerns can be directed to one of Netflix’s insufferable first-person Twitter accounts.

Here are the 30 best Thrillers on Netflix right now:


1. Uncut Gems

uncut-gems-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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The proprietor of an exclusive shop in New York’s diamond district, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) does well for himself and his family, though he can’t help but gamble compulsively, owing his brother-in-law Aron (Eric Bogosian, malevolently slimy) a substantial amount. Still, Howard has other risks to balance—his payroll’s comprised of Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), a finder of both clients and product, and Julia (Julia Fox, an unexpected beacon amidst the storm in her first feature role), a clerk with whom Howard’s carrying on an affair, “keeping” her comfortable in his New York apartment. Except his wife’s (Idina Menzel, pristinely jaded) obviously sick of his shit, and meanwhile he’s got a special delivery coming from Africa: a black opal, the stone we got to know intimately in the film’s first scene, which Howard estimates is worth millions. Then Demany happens to bring Kevin Garnett (as himself, keyed so completely into the Safdie brothers’ tone) into the shop on the same day the opal arrives, inspiring a once-in-a-lifetime bet for Howard—the kind that’ll square him with Aron and then some—as well as a host of new crap to get straight. It’s all undoubtedly stressful—really relentlessly, achingly stressful—but the Safdies, on their sixth film, seem to thrive in anxiety, capturing the inertia of Howard’s life, and of the innumerable lives colliding with his, in all of its full-bodied beauty. Just before a game, Howard reveals to Garnett his grand plan for a big payday, explaining that Garnett gets it, right? That guys like them are keyed into something greater, working on a higher wavelength than most—that this is how they win. He may be onto something, or he may be pulling everything out of his ass—regardless, we’ve always known Sandler’s had it in him. This may be exactly what we had in mind. —Dom Sinacola


2. Good Time

good-time-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

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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


3. The Game

the-game.jpg Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rating: R

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One of my more fortunate movie-going experiences was seeing The Game for the first time and not knowing a damn thing about it. I can’t even remember why I saw it; I really didn’t like Seven, felt indifferent to Michael Douglas, thought David Fincher was a cold-hearted megalomaniacal automaton (I still cling to that when it suits). In hindsight, I was in the perfect frame of mind to see it. My low expectations yielded wondrous surprise. And I got the perverse joy of watching mega-yuppie Michael Douglas get the mother of all come-uppances. All this presented in an icy noir-ish Fincher sheen that achieved the rather impressive feat of satirizing conspiracy theories on a purely visual level alone. But what puts this over-the-top for me is the sheer rewatchability of the thing. Sure, it’s a contraption movie, so you always want to see what you might have missed the first time round; but it goes beyond that. I’m convinced now that I want to play The Game. I wish I had a loony left-wing Sean Penn brother who wanted to mess with me. I want that love! I want to feel the ultimate middle-aged epiphany! (And I want to be able to afford it!) Well I want lots of things I can’t have, so I guess I’ll just watch The Game again. Hell, even that ridiculous ending doesn’t seem so bad now.—Harold Brodie


4. Zodiac

zodiac.jpg Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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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


5. Shutter Island

shutter-island.jpg Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s pulp thriller is a brainy and compelling take on that most hoary of film genres: psychological horror. Equal parts parable and cautionary tale, Shutter Island is an expertly-paced thriller that feels far shorter and more exhilarating than its lengthy runtime suggests. Federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio dressed to the nines as a scenery-devouring g-man) is sent to the eponymous isle—a maximum security mental-ward-cum-penitentiary off the New England coast called Ashecliffe—to investigate a criminally insane prisoner’s disappearance. It’s quickly apparent that there’s something amiss about this case, and a palpable sense of foreboding bleeds through Scorsese’s gorgeous and ominous establishing shots: brick buildings loom against murky skies, the prisoners’ screams echo through the facility’s crumbling corridors, and Daniels, a WWII veteran, is haunted by vivid and surreal flashbacks to his dead wife and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Scorsese’s knack for getting his audiences emotionally invested in the ride fosters a near-voyeuristic thrill at seeing DiCaprio (ravenous for what might well be an Oscar nod) break down, so the fragments of his psyche can be sorted out along with the plot. Which is why Scorsese hasn’t just crafted an admirable thriller—he’s damn near made the genre his own.—Michael Saba


6. Okja

okja-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Woo Shik Choi, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Rating: NR
Runtime: 118 minutes

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chet Betz


7. Under the Shadow

under-shadow-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 84 minutes

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For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


8. Creep

creep poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Stars: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice
Rating: R
Runtime: 77 minutes

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Trust is a valuable commodity online. Though the connective power of the Internet has made our world smaller, believing in what you can’t see is risky business. In Creep, Patrick Brice makes a mercurial study of these fears through the veneer of found footage. As genre niches go, the found footage conceit wore out its welcome in a deluge of Paranormal Activity imitators over the span of the past eight years. In Brice’s hands, the technique works: Unlike its low-fi kin, Creep is made with attention to detail and a dedicated consideration of motive. There’s a reason the camera stays on from scene to scene. If the web invites harm, Brice’s lens almost acts like a shield. Nothing bad can happen while we’re rolling, at least until it does. Even a casual horror fan knows the destination on Creep’s narrative itinerary, but Brice has a knack for making us second-guess ourselves at almost every juncture. The film stars Brice as Aaron and his comrade, mumblecore guru supreme Mark Duplass, as Josef. Aaron is down on his luck and looking for fast, easy cash. Josef is a vibrating ball of pent-up, charismatic energy. He’s also slowly dying, the victim of an aggressive, untreatable brain tumor. Hence Aaron, whom Josef has hired as his personal videographer. Josef wants to record a single day in his life for his unborn son, whom he may never get to meet. So the two men strike out on an adventure through hill and dale, which sounds fine and dandy except that Josef is weird. Really weird, in fact, and not the quirky, precious kind of weird that indie audiences find endlessly endearing. And Brice has a deft hand at fostering sustained terror. He’s equally as good at coaxing a chuckle out of us at the right moment to subvert our expectations. Creep is as intensely frightening as it is humorous, but Brice doesn’t use gags to let the air out of the room. Rather, he treats them as bait, and anticipation as a red herring, executing his many misdirections brilliantly. Even when the film ticks down to its final minutes, we can’t help but hope for a happy ending. —Andy Crump


9. The Nightingale

the-nightingale.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Jennifer Kent
Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
Rating: R

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Calling The Nightingale a revenge film sets an expectation of triumph, found in the satisfaction of grim justice done on the unjust. Let it be known that there’s no such catharsis in Jennifer Kent’s followup to her 2014 debut The Babadook. Revenge, while indeed a dish best served cold, tends to be prepared in one of two ways in cinema: with fist-pumping vigor or soul-corroding sobriety. The Nightingale sticks with the recipe for the latter. This is neither a pleasant movie nor a pleasing movie, but it is made with high aesthetic value to offset its unrelenting pitilessness: It’s fastidiously constructed, as one should expect from a director of Kent’s talent, and ferociously acted by her leading trio of Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr and Sam Claflin, respectively playing Clare, an Irish convict driven by rage; Billy, an Aboriginal tracker driven by vengeance; and Hawkins, a British military officer driven by cold ambition and bottomless malice, who’s also Clare’s master and rapist. They’re three peas in a horrible pod, being 1820s Tasmania during the Black War, when English colonists slaughtered Aboriginal Tasmanians to the latter’s near extinction. It’s an altogether dark time in the country’s long history. Thus, The Nightingale is an appropriately dark film—but Kent is too shrewd a filmmaker to argue that Clare’s suffering trumps Billy’s, or to make any equivalency between them. She understands what must happen to fulfill Clare’s part in the story, and what must happen to fulfill Billy’s part. That she’s able to so seamlessly achieve both is an incredible accomplishment. The Nightingale is a far cry from The Babadook on obvious grounds of genre and style, though there are horrors here aplenty: Nightmare beats where Clare dances with Aidan, then with Hawkins and her other attackers. But the film expands on Kent’s interest in women’s stories by telling Billy’s tale alongside Clare’s, and shows once more her gift for making well-tread genre elements feel unique. If The Nightingale denies the traditional satisfactions of revenge cinema, it discovers new ones as well. —Andy Crump


10. The Platform

the-platform.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Stars: Iván Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay
Rating: NR

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The Platform benefits immensely from the strength of its simple, high-concept premise and all the superfluous information that is withheld from the viewer. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know why exactly people are placed into this diabolical, vertical prison structure, in which the only sustenance arrives once a day in the form of a steadily descending, increasingly gross stone slab piled high with perishables. Nor do we really need to know how this apparent social experiment operates, although the repeated glimpses we get at cooks slaving over perfect dishes to be sent down to the doomed convicts is no doubt designed to needle at our curiosity. What matters is that we observe the differences in human reaction to this plight—the ways that different personalities react to adversity with an “us or them” mentality, or a predatory hunger, or a spontaneous drive toward self-sacrificing altruism. The fact that the position of the prisoners is constantly in flux is key—it gives them both a tangible reason to be the change they want to see in their world, and an almost impossible temptation to do the exact opposite out of distrust of their neighbors. One expects a nihilistic streak here, and you won’t be disappointed—but there’s a few glimmers of hope shining through the cracks as well. Just enough, perhaps, to twist the knife that much deeper. —Jim Vorel


11. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

sacred-deer-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Rating: R

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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


12. Hush

hush poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Kate Siegel
Rating: R
Runtime: 81 minutes

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Mike Flanagan’s Oculus was a pleasantly ambitious surprise for horror fans when it landed a wide distribution release in 2013, so looking at his new Netflix-exclusive Hush, one sort of wonders if he’s taking a step back by directing a fairly classical home invasion thriller with limited cast and locations. There are, however, just enough twists on this especially trope-laden subgenre, starting with our heroine, who is deaf. That one disability, coupled with her remote residence in the woods, makes for a uniquely frightening handicap in repelling the masked intruder who comes calling. Unavoidably evoking The Strangers and Funny Games in particular, Hush nevertheless carves out its own spot in the niche. Our lead is an unusually intelligent, resourceful (but realistic) protagonist for this sort of setting, and her reactions to each new horror ring with truth. The stakes and tension rise in a palpable, organic way that has no need to resort to further gimmickry or a third act twist. It’s simply a battle for survival, featuring a character who is impressively well developed, considering that she never “speaks” a word. —Jim Vorel


13. The Invitation

invitation-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 100 minutes

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The less you know about Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, the better. This is true of slow-burn cinema of any stripe, but Kusama slow-burns to perfection. The key, it seems, to successful slow-burning in narrative fiction is the narrative rather than the actual slow-burn. In the case of The Invitation, that involves a tale of deep and intimate heartache, the kind that none of us hopes to ever have to endure in our own lives. The film taps into a nightmare vein of real-life dread, of loss so profound and pervasive that it fundamentally changes who you are as a human being. That’s where we begin: with an examination of grief. It’s remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. The film starts in earnest as Will (Logan Marshall-Green in top form) arrives at a dinner party his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), is throwing at what once was their house. He has brought his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with him. But something is undeniably off at Eden’s place, and because Will is the lens through which Kusama’s audience engages with the film, we cannot tell what that something is. There is oh so much more to be said about The Invitation, especially its climax, where all is revealed and we see Will’s fears and Eden’s spiritual affirmations for what they are. Until then you’ll remain on tenterhooks, but to Kusama, jitters and thrills are sensations worth savoring. Where we end is obviously best left unsaid, but The Invitation is remarkable neither for its ending nor for the direction we take to arrive at its ending. Instead, it is remarkable for its foundation, for all of the substantive storytelling infrastructure that Kusama builds the film upon in the first place. —Andy Crump


14. Cop Car

cop-car-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Jon Watts
Stars: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, Shea Wigham
Rating: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

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A lean, rugged neo-noir that tweaks genre conventions by putting two young boys at the center of its attention, Cop Car opens with credits shimmering like police lights. Cut to snapshots of writer-director Jon Watts’ rural Colorado milieu, a place defined by barren storefronts, abandoned playgrounds, dilapidated trailer parks, and flat, dusty plains. Across the vast, barren land walk 10-year-olds Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford): Travis utters curse words that Harrison dutifully echoes in a kind of casual call-and-repeat bonding ritual, and from the first sight of the duo—orchestrated by Watts as one gorgeous, unbroken tracking shot which captures them dwarfed by the country’s big sky, even when they make their away through a barbed wire fence—it’s clear that the boys are on an odyssey of some sort, albeit one of initially undefined purpose. And it’s clear that Watts (co-scripting with Christopher Ford) wants Cop Car to serve as a downbeat commentary about the futility of escape. Coming upon a tree-shrouded area, the two are surprised to discover a county sheriff’s cruiser. They decide that the car has been abandoned. Up to no good, finding the driver’s side door unlocked and the keys inside, Travis and Harrison opt to take a joy ride. Apparently having both run away from home, the two speed around the cow-populated landscape like juvenile delinquents unconcerned about the potentially serious consequences of their actions. Such uninhibited, devil-may-care recklessness gives the material an immediate jolt of peril, even before Watts rewinds his tale to reveal the origins of the car and its owner. As it turns out, the car was left in this out-of-the-way locale by Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), its remote parking spot chosen so that the officer wouldn’t be seen hauling a body out of its trunk and onto a tarp, and then dragging it to a hole to be unceremoniously dumped. That corpse’s identity is left as vague as Kretzer’s reason for committing this apparent murder. Suffice it to say, when the sun does finally set on these characters, what’s left is a bleak portrait of the hopelessness of trying to change one’s circumstances, and the often-brutal punishment doled out by fate to those foolish enough to think they can alter who they are, where they come from, or where they’re going—even when those in question are just a couple of ne’er-do-well runaways looking for some mischievous kicks. —Nick Schager


15. The Hateful Eight

16.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demien Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern
Rating: R
Runtime: 168 minutes

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The Hateful Eight is a sprawling film with an intimate core and too much necessary material to trim. There’s a pomp and grandiosity to the weight of the film, and to Quentin Tarantino’s ambition in making it his way, that’s hard not to admire. More so than most marquee movies and tentpoles claiming to be “epic,” The Hateful Eight actually lives up to the word. With this whodunit—or who’s-gonna-doit—Tarantino is chiefly interested in the exchanging of barbs and threats more than he is in action. Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is insanely violent, but it’s fixated around violent talk and violent reverie before physical violence. Tarantino may lay his timely allegory on thick, but The Hateful Eight bears it out in subtle ways, too: With distrust as the film’s prevailing manner, the notion that you cannot truly know the people with whom you’re having dinner takes on increased gravity and meaning, particularly in the climactic showdown, when all is revealed and we see the film’s various humans for who they truly are. Frontier justice does quench our thirst, but the themes of social justice that drive the film are more satiating by far. It all adds up to a towering work, as profound as it is profane. —Andy Crump


16. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

el-camino.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Vince Gilligan
Stars: Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Jonathan Banks
Rating: NR
Runtime: 122 minutes

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Like many (though not all) TV shows that are able to plan their series finales, Breaking Bad’s “Felina” was pitch-perfect. It was the end of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), as it needed to be, but it allowed us to have some hope in a future for Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) as he sped off into the unknown. Viewers have hoped for and imagined a happy ending for Jesse since “Felina,” that he might actually make it to Alaska and find a life for himself that was his own. And that, essentially, is what El Camino gives us. It starts the moment that Jesse drives away from that compound, but for the rest of its runtime it goes back and forth through time, as Jesse works on getting Ed the Extractor (the late Robert Forster) to find him a way out of the chaos that Walt created around them. In some ways, the plot is like an RPG quest line, wherein Jesse must do a variety of tasks before he is allowed to go to the next stage. And in true Breaking Bad fashion, it’s also full of anxiety-inducing moments where Jesse seems cornered and done for. As he realized in a past conversation with Mike, he has a chance to start fresh, even though he can never make things right. Too much has happened; too many people have died. “I’ve gone where the universe takes me my whole life. It’s better to make those decisions for yourself,” Jane (Krysten Ritter) tells Jesse in the past. It’s time for Jesse to start living for himself. He’s ready, bitch! And I’m glad we got to see it. —Allison Keene


17. Mystic River

mystic-river.jpg Year: 2003
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon
Rating: R
Runtime: 137 minutes

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Based on Dennis Lahane’s novel, Clint Eastwood’s dramatic mystery is packed with great performances from Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and, especially, Sean Penn, who won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for leading actor. The Boston neighborhood where the characters live feels like a small town, where three childhood friends drift apart and find themselves at odds in the wake of a local murder.—Josh Jackson


18. Avengement

avengement-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Stars: Scott Adkins, Craig Fairbrass, Nick Moran
Rating: NR
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The second of three films directed by Jesse V. Johnson released in 2019, Avengement is as crystalline, as empirically precise, as micro-budget VOD martial arts action can aspire. With that kind of prolificacy, a journeyman director’s bound to do something right—which would be a valid assessment, were everything Johnson’s done not so undeniably solid. Thanks goes, of course, to Johnson’s muse, Vicious Beefcake Scott Adkins, a flawlessly sculpted humanoid so squarely planted in Johnson’s sweet spot—melodramatic, archly brutal action cinema with enough wit and heart to leave a bruise—a Johnson film without him as the protagonist doesn’t quite feel fully realized. Look only to Triple Threat, Avengement’s 2019 predecessor, to yearn for what could have been, mollified by a scene in which Adkins body slams a sedan going at least 40 mph. Triple Threat boasts three writers and a cavalcade of international action cinema stars, from Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa, to Tiger Chen and Michael Jai White (still in decent shape, but so outclassed by Adkins and his peers’ athleticism he seems pretty much immobile), while in Avengement Johnson works from his own script, winnowing the plot to a series of increasingly higher stakes brawls as wronged nobody Cain (Adkins) makes his bloody way through the criminal organization (led by his brother, no less) that left him to rot in prison. As is the case with Savage Dog and The Debt Collector (both on Netflix), Avengement thrives on the preternatural chemistry between director and star, the camera remarkably calm as it captures every amazing inch of Adkins in motion, beating the living shit out of each chump he encounters, Adkins just as aware of how best to stand and pose and flex to showcase his body. Charming character actors cheer from the sidelines; the plot functions so fundamentally we hardly realize we care about these characters until we’ve reached a satisfying end at their sides. Perhaps Scott Adkins is a better dramatist than we’ve come to expect from our kinetic stars anymore. Perhaps we’ve set our expectations too low. —Dom Sinacola


19. Cam

cam-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Stars: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey
Rating: N/R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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As so many films in 2018 have shown us, the identities we create online—that we digitally design, foster and mature, often to the detriment of whatever we have going on IRL—will inevitably surpass us. The horror of Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, based on the Isa Mazzei’s script (in turn, based on her real experiences as a sex worker), is in this loss: that no one is ever truly in control of these fabricated identities; that the more real they become, the less they belong to the person most affected. Welcome Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl who compensates for the exhausting rigor of online popularity (and, therefore, economic viability) with gruesome stunts and a rigorous set of principles dictating what she will, and won’t, do in her capacity as female fantasy. She’s successful, tossing funds to her mom (Melora Walters) and brother (Devin Druid) without being totally honest about her job, but she could be more successful, trying whatever she can (within reason) to scale the ranking system enforced by the site she uses to broadcast her shows. With dexterous ease, Mazzei’s script both introduces the exigencies of camgirl life while never stooping to judge Alice’s choice of employment, contextualizing an inevitable revelation to her family not as one of embarrassment, but as an impenetrable morass of shame through which every sex worker must struggle to be taken seriously. So much so that when someone who looks exactly like Alice—who operates under her screen name but is willing to do the things Alice once refused—gains leaps and bounds in the camgirl charts, Goldhaber and Mazzei derive less tension from the explanation and discovery of what’s really going on rather than the harsh truth of just how vulnerable Alice is—and we all are—to the cold, indifferent violence of this online world we’ve built for ourselves. —Dom Sinacola


20. Gerald’s Game

geralds game list poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel


21. Army of Thieves

Year: 2021
Director: Matthias Schweighöfer
Stars: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, Jonathan Cohen
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Army of the Dead is a film full of pleasant surprises, but Matthias Schweighöfer, playing a German safecracker with a hair-trigger for impassioned speeches about locks and bolts, is perhaps the most pleasant surprise of them all. The man has a twitchy sort of charm easily misidentified as “quirkiness.” In reality he’s well-mannered to a fault and polite to the point of timidity, but with one other propulsive quality buried beneath the affable veneer: Intensity. Everything Schweighöfer does in Army of the Dead is informed by a vigor belied by his nervousness. He’s a squirrely burglar, quivering one moment over flesh-eating ghouls and doing a heroic sacrifice the next. This intensity carries over into Army of Thieves, the prequel film to Army of the Dead, where Schweighöfer replaces Zack Snyder in the director’s chair. To allay any fears that Schweighöfer might copy Snyder’s style, don’t worry: Schweighöfer is not Zack Snyder, because nobody is. Everything that singled out Schweighöfer’s work under Snyder’s guidance is infused into Army of Thieves on a molecular level, as if he managed to get his hands on Shay Hatten’s screenplay and bleed all over its pages. Army of Thieves replaces the doom, gloom and zombie chaos with deep-rooted joy, as if Schweighöfer, behind the camera, can scarcely believe he’s directing a film this big established by a filmmaker like Snyder. It’s impossible to resist that sort of bubbly, crackling enthusiasm, which makes Army of Thieves’ predictable elements easier to countenance. —Andy Crump


22. Creep 2

creep-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Stars: Mark Duplass, Desiree Akhavan, Karan Soni
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 80 minutes

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Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


23. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

i-dont-feel.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling. —Dom Sinacola


24. Rust Creek

rust-creek-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Jen McGowan
Stars: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

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Trouble is fleeing into the Kentucky woods in winter to elude a pair of rednecks with bad intentions. Big trouble is fleeing into those same woods and taking shelter with another redneck running a meth lab from a decrepit trailer hidden deep within the trees. Suffice to say, Sawyer (Hermione Corfield), the heroine of Jen McGowan’s excellent Rust Creek, is in big trouble, caught out in the middle of nowhere in the Bluegrass State and beset upon by Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill). She’s on her way to a job interview, driving around highways to dodge Thanksgiving traffic, and of course, as happens to young women traversing backwoods in thrillers, finds herself stuck, and then attacked, and then in uncertain company with Lowell (Jay Paulson), cousin to Hollister and Buck, as well as their meth cook. McGowan paces Rust Creek with unease worth savoring, directing with feral confidence. She identifies with Sawyer as a symbol of civilized American life, but she’s compelled by Lowell, whom Sawyer at first judges using the same criteria by which she judges his kin. But Lowell understands the difference between an acid and a base, and she doesn’t. Together trapped in the same pitiless wilds, they bond, and as they bond McGowan builds an argument that the civilized world—not just the world immediately outside Lowell’s door, but the world that creates demand for his trade in the first place—isn’t all that civilized. —Andy Crump


25. Mudbound

mudbound.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Dee Rees
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Garrett Hedlund
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

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Director Dee Rees uses the uneasy partnership between a white family and a black family in postwar Mississippi as a bruising metaphor for modern-day America. In Mudbound, Jason Clarke is the patriarch of a recently relocated Tennessee clan that must work together with the Jacksons (led by Mary J. Blige) to cultivate farmland, but the poisonous economic, racial and social atmosphere surrounding them constantly threatens the crops they’re trying to sow. This somber, despairing film sees the world plainly: War veterans aren’t given the care they need when they return, bigotry runs rampant, and good people are outnumbered by the small-minded. And the performances are stellar—especially Garrett Hedlund, as a bomber pilot who’s a shell of himself now that he’s home, and Jason Mitchell as a black soldier who finds that America still won’t accept him, even though he fought valiantly for his country. —Tim Grierson


26. The Perfection

the perfection poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2019
Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber, Alaina Huffman
Rating: N/A
Runtime: 90 minutes

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What should horror movies be judged by? Airtight narrative logic, or imaginatively deranged imagery? Scores matter, scripts matter, but by the end of the movie what tends to matter most are the visuals, and Richard Shepard’s new movie, The Perfection, sears its visuals into the viewer’s mind like branding on livestock, right up to its final shot, one of the genre’s most indelible since horror became the taste of the day in the mid 2010s. It’s a twisted kind of miracle that anyone who watches The Perfection will never be the same, and a testament to horror’s power to bend minds and spur nightmares with a single picture. But the movie also reminds us that as much as pictures often come first, plotting usually should come a very close second. The film begins promisingly enough: After abandoning her career to care for her dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) returns to the music world to reclaim her standing as the Bachoff Academy of Music’s star pupil, which means sabotaging the current title holder, Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte reaches out to her old teachers, Anton (Steven Weber) and Paloma (Alaina Huffman), travels to Shanghai as Bachoff selects its latest student, and cozies up to Lizzie. They flatter each other. They flirt. They drink, go partying, then make passionate love in a hotel, filmed with cinematographer Vanja Cernul’s lurid gaze. Maybe Charlotte bears Lizzie no grudge. Maybe they really do admire each other to romantic heights. And then they travel to rural China, where Lizzie grows increasingly sick, starts puking up bugs, discovers yet more bugs dithering about under the skin on her arm, and, when offered a butcher’s cleaver by Charlotte, chops off her hand. This is the climax to The Perfection’s first half hour, ruined by a single viewing of the trailer. It’s also where Shepard springs the first of several fakeouts, stealing a page from Michael Haneke’s playbook. At its best, The Perfection is an homage to 1970s horror movies and 1980s thrillers, a glorious, multi-hewed mind screw. When Shepard sticks to this aesthetic, the movie soars on grotesque wings. When he commits the cardinal sin of demystifying the mysterious, it’s a major drag. A little ambiguity goes a long, long way in horror. —Andy Crump


27. Stowaway

stowaway.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Joe Penna
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Toni Collette, Shamier Anderson
Rating: R
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Science-fiction writers have imagined just about everything that could wrong as we travel to Mars, and Joe Penna’s Stowaway adds “accidental extra passenger” to that list. Three astronauts, played by Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim, are unprepared for the appearance of an engineer (Shamier Anderson) who’d been knocked unconscious while preparing for their ship for the long journey. There’s not enough oxygen for a fourth voyager, and the crew faces increasingly dangerous dilemmas of both moral and technical varieties. The story can drag a bit for a space adventure, but the top-notch cast—especially Collette, free to settle into her native Australian accent—elevates this suspenseful drama, making it worth two hours of your time. —Josh Jackson


28. Velvet Buzzsaw

velvet buzzsaw poster (Custom).jpg Year: 2018
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

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With 2014’s chilling Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy and stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo created a potent critique of the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Four years later, the same team is back with Velvet Buzzsaw in order to ostensibly skewer the shallowness and materialism of art profiteering, told through a gaudy blend of pretentious B-horror and on-the-nose satire. Nightcrawler’s solidly structured and thematically laser-focused existence makes Velvet Buzzsaw that much of a baffling experience, since what we get from Gilroy here is the exact opposite: A muddled, morally confused and, worst of all, woefully predictable genre rethread with a laughably transparent art house veneer. Hidden underneath Gyllenhaal and Russo’s scenery-chewing cartoon versions of highfalutin art expert types, the premise of a mysterious collection of apparently haunted paintings killing all those who try to profit from it presents not much more than a typical slasher flick. Whenever a character is left alone every 20 minutes or so, you can bet they’ll be toast or mince meat—in one case literally—by the time the scene’s over. One can expect such a flimsy narrative used solely to prop up a series of exuberantly gory set-pieces from a medium-grade giallo auteur of the ’70s, but more cohesive work is expected from the likes of Gilroy and his powerful cast. If you’re a horror fan who’s in it only for the blood, go for it. Other buyers, beware. —Oktay Ege Kozak


29. I Am Mother

i-am-mother-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Grant Sputore
Stars: Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 113 minutes

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Almost all of I Am Mother takes place inside a secure, post-apocalypse facility where a robot named Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) raises a human child simply named Daughter (Clara Rugaard). Mother has provided an idyllic upbringing for the girl, who represents the hope for humanity with thousands more embryos ready to become her little brothers and sisters. She learns everything from engineering to medicine to ethics (that latter subject key to the questions the film will eventually raise).Grant Sputore’s Australian/American production is constructed around plot twists as much as characters, and although some of them are exactly what any sci-fi fan was probably expecting, there’s enough original thought to keep the tension level high. Everything Daughter knows is thrown into question by the arrival of a nameless woman (Hilary Swank) whose description of the outside world doesn’t match Mother’s. (There’s definitely a little 10 Cloverfield Lane going on here.) Daughter must balance her loyalty to Mother, to her future siblings and to her species, all while trying to uncover the truth. —Josh Jackson


30. 1922

1922.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Zak Hilditch
Stars: Thomas Jane, Molly Parker, Dylan Schmid
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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A chameleonic performance from Thomas Jane anchors this understated, gothic story set in Depression-era Middle America, told in the style of a confession by the husband who we can tell right from the get-go is haunted by some horrible crime. When his wife insists on selling the land she’s inherited rather than work it, Jane’s unsophisticated field hand harangues their son into becoming an accomplice in her grisly murder. As with every Grand Guignol tale, though, we already know that the worst part isn’t the act of killing, but the endless paranoia of living with it. In the case of the movie’s guilty narrator, that means a vengeful and inevitable haunting filled with all the foreboding and creepy imagery you came to see. Stephen King adaptations have their hits and their misses, but this is a solid, straightforward story that gets by on the power of a dread-steeped plot and some compelling performances by good character actors you’ll most likely always be happy to see get screen time. —Ken Lowe