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The 20 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

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Matthew Singer
Contributor
Phil de Semlyen
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Comfort viewing is great, but at some point there comes a time when you want to watch cinema that will actually make you feel something again. It’s in that moment when you’ll ask, ‘What are the best thrillers on Netflix’? Indeed, the streaming platform has a lot of them. But as anyone who’s taken a chance on some unknown action flick with an image of, say, Sam Worthington in mid-sprint knows, the genre encompasses a wide range of quality, and rolling the dice can lead to losing two hours of your life you’ll never get back. That’s why we’ve combed the Netflix library and picked out the 12 most pulse-pounding, mind-bending, knuckle-whitening, sometimes darkly comedic thrillers on offer. Just make sure you’re well deodorised – you’re likely to end up sweating through your shirt. 

The Best Thrillers on Netflix

  • Film
  • Drama

‘Thriller’ doesn’t begin to describe this feature-length panic attack from the Safdie brothers. Adam Sandler puts in career-best work – yes, even better than Little Nicky – as a jeweler with severe risk addiction who starts the movie juggling several dangerous debts and whose only solution is to add a few more to his hands.

Bad Genius (2017)
Jor Kwang Films

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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I Care A Lot (2021)
Photograph: Black Bear Pictures

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. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Sony

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

He’s a disgraced journalist with a closetful of expensive-looking cardigans. She’s a tattooed cyberpunk with no eyebrows and a tacklebox of metal in her face. In David Fincher’s chrome-cool adaptation of the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel, this odd couple must put aside their generational and sartorial differences to solve a 40-year-old cold case… and maybe find love?

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Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Film
  • Drama

An angry sociopath gains access to a firearm and decides to make America great again. Forty-six years on, Martin Scorsese’s portrait of alienation and delusion remains disturbingly relevant in ways even the director could have envisioned. If Travis Bickle existed today, he wouldn’t just end up lionized by the press – he’d run for Congress. 

  • Film
  • Drama

High finance has not been this thrilling since Wall Street. First-time director JC Chandor maintains piano-wire tension throughout a night of crisis as a Lehman Brothers-alike bank goes under and drags an ensemble of fully drawn characters down with it. Jeremy Irons is worth the streaming time alone, with an imperious, vampiric turn as a CEO who demands to be spoken to 'as you would a two-year-old or a golden retriever'. Admirably, this is a thriller that always speaks to you as an adult.

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  • Film
  • Drama

Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook is a story of personal and cultural revenge set in early 1800s Tasmania, and in terms of extremity it’s up there with any torture-porn atrocity you can name. But the brutality isn’t empty: Kent was careful to accurately depict the violence committed against indigenous Australians by British colonisers – a history rarely shown on film, and one that does not deserve the mercy of revisionist sanitation. That doesn’t make it any easier to get through, but it does justify the attempt.

Gerald’s Game (2017)
Netflix

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
  • Drama

Before he started dressing like a pirate dandy onscreen and off, Johnny Depp gave his best performance wearing a different kind of costume: that of a cop going undercover to bust a mob boss, played by Al Pacino. Like Keanu Reeves in Point Break and Paul Walker in Fast and the Furious, though, the mission gets complicated when he starts to develop feelings – friendly? Familial? Something more? Who’s to say? – for the guy he’s supposed to be taking down. 

Calibre (2018)
Netflix

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

As a novel respiratory virus spreads across the globe, scientists and world governments mobilise to identify its origins and vaccinate a panicked public. Despite that far-fetched scenario, director Steven Soderbergh’s depiction of a highly unlikely worldwide pandemic is frightening in its near-clinical realism. Good thing it will never actually happen! 

Hold the Dark (2018)
Netflix/David Bukach

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. 

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Public Enemies (2009)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

Even shot by the inestimable Dante Spinotti and crafted by the ultra-meticulous Michael Mann, this high-def crime biopic of '30s bank robber John Dillinger's joust with G-Man Melvin Purvis is not exactly beautiful to behold. But look beyond the ugly and the splashes of violence are given a real immediacy by the digital treatment, while the performances, from Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Graham and Billy Crudup, all sing like the proverbial canary.

  • Film

If you thought the London crime thriller was just heavy-set men with tattoes shouting 'fack!' at each other, this thoughtful addition to the genre will give you serious pause. In the spirit of Michael Corleone, Carlito Brigante and a host of other on-screen gangsters, Eddie Franks (Craig Fairbrass) emerges from prison determined to go straight, only for the life of crime to call him back.  

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Sweetheart (2019)
Universal Pictures

Sweetheart (2019)

Sort of like Castaway in miniature – and with a ravenous sea beast instead of a friendly volleyball – this indie quick-hitter about a woman trying to survive alone on a deserted island while being stalked by a hungry amphibious monster is one of Netflix’s true hidden gems. 

The Hateful Eight
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Coming between the controversy-courting Django Unchained and the mid-career high-point of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s claustrophobic but overlong western could be considered ‘minor Tarantino’, if such a thing exists. Still, it’s hard to stick Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins et al inside a snowed-in cabin, give them reason to be suspicious of one another and not come away with something entertaining.

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Cam (2018)
Netflix

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.

  • Film
  • Drama

A well-to-do businessman winds up doing time for the drunk-driving accident that killed his friend and joins a neo-Nazi gang in order to survive. It’s probably been long enough that no one will notice or care that the plot is lifted straight from a character arc in HBO’s Oz, right? Either way, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance is strong enough to elevate the movie above its many cliches and deliver a blunt-force message about how the prison system creates worse criminals more often than it reforms them.

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Bird Box (2018)
Netflix

Bird Box (2018)

A lot of apocalyptic thrillers nail the electrifying-opening-sequence bit, but this Sandra Bullock vehicle also keeps its nerve for those tougher stretches where others so often go off the boil. The premise of beasts that, once glimpsed, cause death by suicide is given a Hitchcockian obliqueness (the critters are never sighted). But it's not a monster movie, more of a survival thriller about a mum protecting her kids that keeps your heart racing throughout.

  • Film
  • Thrillers

A well-done – if still inferior – American remake of a 2018 Danish film, The Guilty sees Jake Gyllenhaal playing a cop turned 9/11 dispatcher who can’t ignore his police instincts when he receives a call from a distressed woman in the back of a van claiming she’s been kidnapped. 

The 100 Greatest Thrillers of all Time

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