What is a thriller, anyway?
It’s a genre that lacks the typical signifiers that something like horror, comedy, or romance might, but you know it when you feel it. Thrillers are exciting — it’s right there in the name — whether they come from the world of crime, sci-fi, or something else entirely.
We’ve already put together a list of the best thrillers you can watch at home, but here’s the best of the best on Netflix. For more of the best movies on Netflix, check out our picks for the best horror movies, comedy movies, and action movies the platform has to offer.
This one leans more into the horror side of things than most of the thrillers on this list, but before The Raid director Gareth Evans goes full Grand Guignol in the film’s latter half, he builds up a mesmerizing period thriller about a man who’s in way over his head in a place where he doesn’t belong. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas, a traumatized and formerly institutionalized man who initially appears to be playing out a variation on Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man. The year is 1905, and Thomas is trying to infiltrate a remote Welsh island run by an obscure cult, which appears to have kidnapped his sister. He doesn’t know much about their beliefs, but he has to pose as one of them and investigate the island while keeping his own considerable demons at bay just long enough to save his sister’s life. And the more he learns about the place where he’s landed, the darker and eerier the film gets. This one’s perfect Halloween-month viewing: bloody as hell and startling right up to the final shot. But it’s also a crackerjack investigative thriller, an unraveling grim mystery that probably would have been better left unsolved. —Tasha Robinson
It’s hard to think of a scene more singularly electrifying and incredible than the one that opens Athena. This movie, about a police raid on a fictional French neighborhood, opens with a group of teens raiding a police station, starting a small riot, and stealing the cops’ guns, and it only grows bigger and more intense from there. Technically the scene is a oner, but rather than showy, the scene’s lack of visible cuts feels like a necessity, as if a single break from this one camera angle that’s deftly following the group’s leader might cause us to miss something critical. Almost as impressive as this singe scene is the fact that Athena is able to sustain this same momentum and nervy, furious energy throughout the entire movie as the police and the rebels clash with the same operatic intensity as a Greek epic. —Austen Goslin
Every James Bond movie is a time capsule of when it was made. For Casino Royale (technically the third adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond book, but the first serious one), it is also a glimpse back at the beginning of a new era for the iconic character.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond is unlike any of the others that came before him. He’s tired and worn down, cynical and bitter, but Craig’s unique screen presence means the character never loses his signature charm. Perhaps the most important element of Craig as Bond is his physicality — he’s an underrated screen fighter who did more than a few of his own stunts throughout the franchise, and Bond as a fighter has never looked quite so good as in his movies.
Craig is not the only reason to like Casino Royale — Mads Mikkelsen was basically created in a lab to play a Bond villain, and Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter has electric buddy chemistry with Craig’s Bond. The movie revitalized a stale franchise and was the first of many stellar entries with Craig in the 007 moniker. —Pete Volk
In many ways, Collateral is a slasher movie, and Tom Cruise is at his absolute scariest in it.
In Collateral, Cruise is Vincent, a hitman with a series of murders to commit on one Los Angeles night. Jamie Foxx is Max, a cab driver who drew the unlucky straw of being Vincent’s unwitting accomplice for the night. Michael Mann’s camera evokes the feeling of LA at night, filled with cool tones against the city lights. Foxx is pitch-perfect as a man stuck in a situation he does not want to be in, and whose encounter with a man who may as well be the devil himself helps him realize he’s not living the life he wants to. But it is Cruise that turns this into the horrifying thriller it is.
Cruise’s Vincent is cold and calculating, but also effortlessly charming. He’s able to wear different masks to meet the situations of the night, but never loses his ruthlessness. Mann’s skill with building tension both in his camera placement and music choices heightens this atmosphere, leading to a showstopping finale straight out of a more classical slasher. —PV
Clive Owen has made an entire film career out of being dapper, suave, smug, and just a wee bit condescending — basically being a James Bond type without ever actually getting to play Bond. But he’s never been all of the above things better or more intently than in the underseen 1998 gem Croupier, a crime thriller that sees Owen overseeing a table at a small casino, and mentally narrating his own experience as he coldly, politely judges everyone around him. That includes his fellow croupiers, who all seem to be on the take or on the make, breaking the casino’s rules and looking for an edge. Eventually, he’s drawn into a complicated heist scheme that proves he isn’t quite as in control of the world as he imagines, but much of Croupier isn’t about the criminal plot — it’s about all the effort that goes into what seems like effortless cool. —TR
Den of Thieves
Do you like bank robbery crime thrillers like Heat? Director Christan Gudegast’s feature debut is best described as “dirtbag Heat.” If that sounds like your jam you’re in for a great time.
Gerard Butler plays a Pepto Bismol-chugging dirty cop who is chasing a team of ex-military bank robbers, led by Pablo Schreiber and including O’Shea Jackson Jr. and 50 Cent. The team of highly skilled criminals are hoping to pull off their biggest job yet: robbing the Federal Reserve.
It’s got a great score from former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez (I often use it for background music while I write and edit), terrifically sleazy performances from the ensemble cast, and electrifying action sequences when the heists take place. —PV
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s last film, and one of his most exacting, precise, and claustrophobic. Eyes Wide Shut follows a young doctor named Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) who slowly drifts into the chaos of New York’s highest and most secretive society after fears that his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, is falling out of love with him. But as Bill glimpses higher into the clouds of the truly powerful people in the world, he also slips further from his wife, as if knowing the secret movers of the world and knowing the true depths of a single person’s heart are both impossible dreams. That the movie was filmed amidst the fraying of Kidman and Cruise’s real-life marriage just adds another layer to Kubrick’s fascinating, dreamlike, and eerily beautiful labyrinth of feelings and mystery. —AG
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s shaggy Western bottle episode of a movie has its notable flaws, which have been debated ad infinitum. It may come down to a simple case of “Tarantino is not for all tastes, particularly for people who don’t enjoy gleeful pile-on violence against women, or watching a white director stage provocative, deliberately button-pushing racial conflict.” All of which is entirely legitimate. (The same people who don’t enjoy those things don’t much enjoy Tarantino’s tone-deaf defenses of them, either.) But leaving aside how exactly a given viewer responds to Tarantino’s lifelong deliberate, conscious transgressiveness, it’s hard to deny that The Hateful Eight is a startlingly lush and beautiful movie, packed with indelible performances and big, room-filling tension. The contrivance that puts eight violent people with secret connections into a remote one-room cabin together in the middle of an impassible blizzard is carefully staged, and so is the series of face-offs and showdowns that inevitably leaves blood on the floor. It’s some of Tarantino’s most classic-Hollywood filmmaking, the profanity and gore aside: The characters’ personalities and passions shine through in every verbal sparring session, and the tension builds steadily up to the blowout ending. The all-star cast — Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Bruce Dern — is a tremendous overflow of talent in one tight, taut space, and Tarantino makes the most of it. —TR
Hell or High Water
In recent years, Taylor Sheridan has made quite the name for himself in the television Westerns, creating the extremely popular Yellowstone and its spinoff prequel 1883. But before all that, he wrote the excellent neo-Western crime thriller Hell or High Water.
Nominated for four Oscars (including Best Picture and for Sheridan’s screenplay), the movie follows two bank-robbing brothers and the Texas Rangers sent to hunt them down. The brothers, played with perfectly antagonistic sibling chemistry by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, are perfect foils for each other — Pine’s Toby is calm and collected, while Foster’s Tanner is out of control (a perfect fit for Foster’s natural intensity). Jeff Bridges (nominated for an Oscar for this) and the excellent Gil Birmingham (who reunited with Sheridan on Yellowstone and was also recently one of the main cast members in Under the Banner of Heaven) co-star as the aging Texas Rangers. Keep your eyes peeled for a brief appearance by future Prey star Amber Midthunder, too. —PV
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Sorry, Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is still Taika Waititi’s best and funniest film. It sprawls across a lot of genres — it’s arguably a family drama, a coming-of-age film, or just a straight-up comedy. But the second act is pure thriller, as a confident orphan (Julian Dennison, who went on to be one of the best parts of Deadpool 2) and his cranky foster father (Sam Neill) wind up on the run in the New Zealand bush. And the third act gins up some surprisingly explosive action for a film that starts out with such wry humor. This film is one of the big reasons Waititi got the Marvel Cinematic Universe nod in the first place — it’s a weird, silly, highly specific character piece that mixes tension and conflict with real hilarity. (Note Waititi’s cameo as a preacher who fumbles badly over metaphors about life and the afterlife.) It’s the rare family film that’s actually great viewing for all ages, whether they’re in it for the heartwarming sincerity, the Tupac jokes, or just to see Waititi’s longtime comedy partner (and Our Flag Means Death romantic partner) Rhys Darby get up to some really goofy shit. —TR
This French crime thriller executes a simple premise to absolute perfection. Lino (former stunt man Alban Lenoir) is an expert mechanic forced to work for dirty cops. When he’s framed for a murder he did not commit, he has to find the one thing that can prove his innocence: a lost bullet in a missing car. With high-octane action sequences and great car stunts, this is a 92-minute thrill ride through and through. —PV
This one’s a revenge story about the cruelties of for-profit health care. It features an unforgettable performance from one of the world’s most charismatic leading men in Vijay (playing multiple characters, and I’ll leave it at that), colorful dance sequences, and a searing (and all-too-relevant) political message. —PV
When Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins made her big-screen debut with Monster in 2003, the cultural conversation revolved so much around Charlize Theron’s transformation for the role (and her Best Actress Oscar win for it) that it almost drowned out the side chatter about how this is a really terrific movie. Yes, it’s still somehow considered “brave” for a pretty lady to de-glam herself for a movie and risk looking unattractive on screen, but Monster really isn’t about Theron daring to be unappealing. It’s much more about the queasy places self-justification can lead, especially when a longtime victim finds a way to make other people the victims instead. We’re in the middle of a weird, weird cultural place around serial killers right now, with true-crime explorations of the world’s Jeffrey Dahmers and John Wayne Gacys cropping up all over streaming services, but while Monster finds the human side of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Jenkins doesn’t shy away from the ways she turns misogynistic violence into an excuse to justify a lifestyle of premeditated murder. It’s a startling, graphically violent, deeply uncomfortable story, but it’s told compellingly and in ways designed to get audiences arguing. And Theron earns that Oscar through complexity and verve, not just through transformational makeup. —TR
The Night Comes for Us
Timo Tjahjanto is tasked with the upcoming remake of the smash zombie hit Train to Busan, and his gnarly martial arts crime thriller The Night Comes for Us is an excellent showcase for why he is precisely the right man for the job. Brutal and visceral, the movie features unforgettable characters (I’m still waiting on a spinoff focused on Julie Estelle’s The Operator), incredible martial arts (it doesn’t get better than Iko Uwais vs. Joe Taslim), and a wicked sense of humor. —PV