Emily the Criminal
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Low Spark Films.

The 22 best thriller movies on Netflix

The best thriller films on Netflix that are guaranteed to get your pulse rate up and make your palms clammy

Matthew SingerPhil de Semlyen
Contributor: Phil de Semlyen
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It’s a universal experience in the age of streaming: it’s the end of a long work week, and you get yourself nice and cozy on the couch for a solo Netflix-and-chill session. You throw on a movie you’ve been dying to see, pull up a blanket… then wake up on the couch five hours later to the Netflix home screen, with not a single recollection of the movie itself. 

If you want a shot of cinematic adrenaline guaranteed to keep your eyelids open and pulse racing, nothing is better than a thriller, and Netflix has plenty of them. Of course, it also has plenty of catalogue-fodder that’ll make you regret not turning in sooner. So we’ve gathered together the 20 best thrillers currently streaming that you won’t hate yourself for watching the next morning.

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🍆 The 35 steamiest erotic thrillers

Best thrillers on Netflix

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  • Thrillers

The original Knives Out revived the old-school murder mystery in the most Clue-y sense of the term, investigating the death of a rich old man and relishing in every cliche of the genre. Its inevitable sequel modernises the details – a billionaire tech douche (Ed Norton) invites a bunch of his douchey friends to his private island, only to have one of them turn up dead – but the formula remains more or less the same, and thank goodness for that. Really, they could (and probably will) make a million of these things and they’ll all be fun, as long as Daniel Craig and his utterly unconvincing Southern accent keep returning as ace sleuth Benoit Blanc.

2. Bad Genius (2017)

Cheating on school tests is a trope from teen sitcoms, but this Thai production gives it high-stakes, heist movie energy. Criminally slept-on outside its home country, Bad Genius deserves delayed cult status for its whip-smart script and the direction of Nattawut Poonpiriya, who manages to make the act of sitting at a desk answering questions as heartracing as rappelling into the Louvre to steal the Mona Lisa. 

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3. I Care A Lot (2021)

You’re forgiven for not knowing that Rosamund Pike won a Golden Globe for her role in this jet-black comedy-thriller – it’s the Golden Globes, after all. But you really should see I Care a Lot, namely for Pike, delectably devilish in the role of a con-artist specialising in bilking seniors, until she defrauds the wrong gangster’s mother. 

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Every time it seems like Netflix has gone completely creatively bankrupt, it drops something like this must-see sci-fi Blaxploitation mash-up. After seemingly dying in a motel shootout, nice-guy drug dealer Fontaine (a great John Boyega) reawakens at home without a scratch, and enlists the help of a local pimp (Jamie Foxx) and sex worker (Teyonah Parris) to figure out just what the hell is going on. It’s among the most original movies you’ll see this year, and heralds the arrival of first-time director Juel Taylor as a talent to watch.  

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  • Film
  • Thrillers

Like a Greek tragedy with hammer fights, Korean firebrand Park Chan-wook’s international breakthrough is shocking, violent and, frankly, a little convoluted, but it’s delivered with such brutal intensity it takes on a dramatic weight that’s nearly backbreaking. A brutally intense Choi Min-sik stars as a man imprisoned by unknown captors for over a decade. Upon his sudden release, he finds himself spiralling to unimaginable depths in his quest for vengeance.

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Do not sleep on this jittery, Aubrey Plaza-led late-capitalism nailbiter. It emerged from Sundance and has found a home on Netflix where it packs all the raw materials for a nerve-zapping night in. Plaza plays the titular Emily, an LA dweller who falls behind on her student loans and finds herself drawn into wholesale credit card fraud, from where things go badly awry. Plaza layers her sarky on-screen persona with some no-shits-given edge as a kind of freedom fighter against a broken system. 

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7. Creep (2014)

In what will likely stand as the last, truly novel example of the found-footage fad, Mark Duplass plays the creep in question, an initially congenial, if eccentric, man dying from an inoperable brain tumour who hires a videographer (Patrick Brice) to help him shoot a keepsake for his unborn child. It only gets (wait for it) creepier from there.

8. Gerald’s Game (2017)

This Stephen King-penned thriller has an admittedly compelling logline: a married couple retreat to a remote cabin for a weekend of kinky sex, but then he dies of a heart attack while she’s handcuffed to the bedposts. The question is, how do you turn that premise into a movie anyone would want to watch? Somehow, director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) manages to take a nightmare scenario and turn it into an actual feature-length nightmare that stands among the better King adaptations to come along in a while. 

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  • Film
  • Comedy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Melanie Lynskey, the breakout star of Yellowjackets, delivers a powerfully caustic performance in this darkly comic thriller that plays like a gender-flipped, backwoods take on the ’90s Michael Douglas revenge fantasy Falling Down. After her home gets robbed, nursing assistant Ruth Kimke (Lynskey) teams up with the neighbourhood weirdo (Elijah Wood) to figure out who took her stuff – and allowing her long-simmering rage over the direction of her life to finally boil over. 

10. Calibre (2018)

A kind of Deliverance in tweed, this indie nerve-shredder follows the aftermath of a Highland shooting outing gone horribly wrong. Jack Lowden is great as a man whose arrogant best friend leads him into a whole mess of bloody problems in a tight-knit Scottish community. The woodland setting makes a particularly effective arena for the game of cat-and-mouse that ensues.

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  • Film
  • Thrillers

In a year of bad news for Netflix, the Russo brothers’ spy thriller is a big, brash, bodacious victory for the streamer. Just about the most fun action flick the streamer has ever produced, it stars Ryan Gosling as a convicted killer turned CIA assassin codenamed ‘Sierra Six’ who breaks away from the Agency after learning of some nefarious dealings and finds himself duelling it out with a highly trained hitman (Chris Evans). 

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  • Thrillers
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Adapted from the French graphic novel of the same name, with clear allusions to the Jean-Pierre Melville classic Le Samourai, David Fincher’s action noir has strong nouvelle vague vibes, mixed with the director’s signature antiseptic touch. Michael Fassbender plays a hitman in the midst of an existential crisis following a botched job. It’s a bit cold, as many of Fincher’s films tend to be, but also stylish and alluring – a psychological thriller heavy on the psychology.

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13. Hold the Dark (2018)

A wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) is summoned to a remote Alaskan village and asked to hunt down a lupine pack thought to have killed three local children. What he uncovers amidst the whiteout, however, is much more unsettling. If you’ve seen writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Green Room, then you know to expect a movie that’ll leave you shaken. 

14. I Am Mother (2019)

Nodding unambiguously toward the high-minded sci-fi of Ridley Scott and early James Cameron, this Australian production stars Clara Rugaard as the ‘daughter’ of a robot tasked with repopulating the earth following an extinction-level event. But when a stranger (Hilary Swank) shows up outside their bunker, the true nature of their relationship is cast into doubt. Its reference points may be obvious, but director Grant Sputore keeps things lean, focused and suspenseful.

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15. Cam (2018)

An internet cam girl suddenly finds herself competing for views with her own doppelganger. Now that’s a deep fake! It sounds like the plot of a Black Mirror episode, but the knotty script and strong lead performance from Madeline Brewer give it an identity all its own.

16. The Platform (2019)

One of those pandemic-era time wasters that was actually well worth revisiting, this Spanish sci-fi comes with a high concept: a platform slowly descends through a multi-tiered prison laden with food. If everyone takes only their share, the convicts on the lower levels get to eat. It’s a metaphor for capitalism with a helping of Trading Places, because prisoners swap levels at random. Imagine Snowpiercer, only vertical.

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Did this movie-length coda to the Breaking Bad saga really need to be made? Not really. After all, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) laugh-sobbing as he speeds off towards an uncertain future is a satisfying enough ending for the character. But as with every addition to Vince Gilligan’s great American crime story so far, the kinetic visual language and tight, tense storytelling more than justifies its existence. 

18. The Stranger (2022)

Sean Harris is a profoundly jittery presence as suspected child murder Henry Teague in this Aussie undercover cop thriller, delivering an unsettling performance even by his own edgy standards. Joel Edgerton’s detective goes deep cover as part of a phoney criminal organisation to try to get a confession out of Harris’s scary drifter. The way it all plays out would be unbelievable if you didn’t know it was based on a true story.

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19. Oxygen (2021)

Those prone to claustrophobia should probably avoid this sci-fi thriller from French sicko Alexandre Aja, but if you’re the sort of viewer who enjoys the vicarious thrill of being slowly suffocated, well, here’s the flick for you! Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) stars as a woman who awakens inside a cryogenic chamber with no memory of how and only a small amount of rapidly depleting oxygen left. She’s able to communicate with the outside world, but that doesn’t make finding a way out any easier.

20. Shimmer Lake (2017)

For his debut feature, director Oren Uziel brought together a bunch of recognisable – if not entirely identifiable – TV comics for a reverse-chronology murder mystery that plays like the Coen brothers remaking Memento. A small-town sheriff (Benjamin Walker) is investigating a bank robbery gone wrong that involves both his brother (Rainn Wilson) and two sketchy locals. Its backward narrative and ‘hey, I know that guy!’ casting make for a surprisingly engrossing watch on a do-nothing Saturday night. 

The 100 Greatest Thrillers of all Time

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