- Published Date
- by Frank Wilkins
From Hitchock to Fincher, and Lang to Nolan, Hollywood has been hitting the psychological thriller genre early and often throughout the years.
And why not? After all, It's been one of the most consistent genres for providing unexpected chills and pleasantly fiendish little brain teasers sure to challenge even the most seasoned movie-goers. So it's no wonder Hollywood has found a way to capitalize on the warped and twisted minds of the best filmmakers the industry has to offer.
Following is our list of the best psychological thrillers of all time (in no particular order). Oh, and if your favorite doesn't make the list, let us know about it in the discussion threads at the end of the article. Who knows, we may decide to include it.
Don't Look Now (1973) - Elderly sisters, the occult, psychic flashes, and a girl walking the streets in a red cloak. What's not to like? Stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Directed by Nicolas Roeg.
Play Misty for Me (1971) - A very good reason to avoid one night stands. Things can go from normal to deadly in no time at all. Directed by and Stars Clint Eastwood with Jessica Walter as the psycho bitch.
May (2002) - A flawed little indie prize disguised as a modern day Frankenstein story that somehow manages to mesmerize with it's sound, intrigue with its visuals and numb with its ending. Yet another brutal demonstration of what happens to people with traumatized childhoods. Directed by Lucky McKee.
The Game (1997) - A lonely but successful Wall Street banker accepts an invitation to a place called Consumer Recreation Services. It turns out it's a place where weird and sadistic things take place. The lesson? Don't accept invitations to places with such generic-sounding names.
Vertigo (1958) - Alfred Hitchcock directs James Stewart and Kim Novak in this little film that collected two Oscar nods. Though the film received mixed reviews upon initial release, it has garnered much acclaim since then and is now frequently ranked among the greatest films ever made, and often cited as a classic Hitchcock film and one of the defining works of his career.
The Usual Suspects (1995) - A perfect example of how telling lies can set you free. Stars, Kevin Spacey, Chaz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, and Benicio Del Toro. Directed by Brian Singer. Also appears on our List of the Best Movie Twists of All Time.
The Night of the Hunter (1955) - Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters star in this Southern Gothic drama adapted from American author Davis Grubb's national best seller of the same name. Set in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Directed by Charles Laughton.
In Cold Blood (1967) - Based on Truman Capote's book that explores a botched robbery that results in the brutal murder of a rural family. Directed by Richard Brooks and stars Robert Blake... before he killed his wife.
Primal Fear Wow. Wow. Wow. The only way to describe Edward Norton's breakout role.
Psycho (1960) - Another Hitchcock classic makes the list. This one starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. A bit of trivia: this was Alfred Hitchcock's last feature film in black and white, filmed November 30, 1959 to March 1, 1960.
Klute (1971) - Stars Jane Fonda as a sexy prostitute. What more do you need to know? Oh.. and she won an Oscar for her leading role.
American Psycho (2000) - Another psychological thriller involving a Wall Street investment banker… this one moonlights as a serial killer. Not really that much of a stretch, huh? Debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on April 14, 2000. has gone on to haul in over $34 million worldwide. Directed by Mary Harron.
Jacob's Ladder (1990) - Stars Tim Robbins as a traumatized Vietnam war vet who finds out his post-war life isn't what he believes it to be when he's attacked by horned creatures in the subway and when his dead son pays him a visit. Directed by Adrian Lyne.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Brought Hannibal Lecter into the mainstream. Also appears on our List of the Scariest Movies of All Time, Best Villains of All Time, and The List of the Best and Most Famous Movie Quotes of All Time.
Manhunter (1986) - From back when Hannibal Lecter was just a shadowy figure behind the curtains… and before he looked like Anthony Hopkins. Hurry before the next full moon when the "Tooth Fairy" will strike again. Directed by Michael Mann and stars Brian Cox as the flesh-eating monster.
Peeping Tom (1960) - Another example of what happens to people with disturbed childhoods. They become sadistic, sexually repressed, compulsive murderers who kill women and record on film their contorted faces in the throes of terror. Directed by Michael Powell.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - The 1962 version with Frank Sinatra, not the 1997 one with Denzel Washington. Although that one wasn't a bad film either. Involves a Korean war POW brainwashed by communists to become a political assassin. Directed by John Frankenheimer.
Cape Fear (1991) - Both makes of this film are actually very good, but here we're specifically addressing the 1991 version that stars Robert DeNiro as Max Cady, the psychopathic ex-prisoner who dreams of doing bad things to Juliette Lewis while mumbling "I am going to chop you into 42 pieces." Also stars Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange. Directed by Martin Scorcese. Also appears on our List of the Best and Most Famous Movie Quotes of All Time.
Rear Window (1954) - Alfred Hitchcock makes his third appearance on our list with this thriller that received four Academy Award nominations, and is currently ranked #42 on the American Film Institute's 100 years… 100 Movies list. Was also recently added to the United States Film Registry. Does that convince you? Stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
Phone Booth (2002) - The film floated around for years and years before it was finally made into a movie. It wasn't a minute too early either as one of its main props was a phone booth. You know… one of those little private glass enclosures that people used to enter to make a phone call. Any longer to get this one on the market and no one would have even known what a phone booth was. Directed by Joel Schumacher and stars Colin Ferrell, Keiffer Sutherland, and Radha Mitchell.
M (1931) - a 1931 German drama-thriller directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. Though it was Lang's first sound film, he had directed over a dozen films previously. M has become a true classic which Lang himself considered his finest work. Stars Peter Lorre.
Memento (2000) - Christopher Nolan's breakout film. Though the film runs for 113 minutes, if the scenes were played in sequential order, and not duplicated, it would be about 20 minutes long.
Les Diaboliques (1955) - Also frequently called Diabolique. Henri-Georges Clouzot directed this French Language thriller that featured the following tagline: See it, be amazed at it, but... BE QUIET ABOUT IT! The plot focuses on a woman and her husband's mistress who conspire to murder the man; after the crime is committed, however, his body disappears, and a number of strange occurrences ensue.
Suspiria (1977) - A Dario Argento film that is the first of a trilogy that he refers to as The Three Mothers. It's about evil forces attempting to break through to the earth and wreak merciless havoc. Delicious!
Angel Heart (1987) - Fantastic film starring Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cyphre (Lucifer). The big controversy of the time was The Cosby Show's Lisa Bonet and her steaming nude scenes. Squeaky-clean Denise Huxtable to Epiphany Proudfoot the nude voodoo priestess… overnight. Also appears on our List of the best Movies Set in New Orleans.
The Conversation (1974) - A Francis Ford Coppola directed film that stars Gene Hackman and Cindy Williams. Hackman considers this his favorite film in which he's acted.
Fight Club (1997) - Did you know you can make soap from liposuction fat? Also included on our List of the Best Movie Twists of All Time.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - The complete U.S. title was The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley. Aren't you glad they shortened it? Stars Matt Damon, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Fatal Attraction (1987) - Everyone remembers where they were when they first saw this one. From Adrian Lyne, the master of romance.
Straw Dogs (1971) - Was considered so violent at the time, the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) banned this Sam Peckinpah thriller from release on video/DVD from 1984 until 2002. Stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.
Mulholland Dr (2001) - So confusing, but oh, so good! We've got a complete plot explanation and decoding matrix here. From writer/director David Lynch.
Taxi Driver (1976) - Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro team up to bring us the #10 quote as voted by the American Film Institute. The "you talkin' to me" line is also included on our list of best and most famous movie quotes of all time. That scene was a complete DeNiro ad-lib, by the way.
Transsiberian (2008) - A Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder. Stars Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley. It's US DVD release in November 2008 went largely ignored. Now that's the crime!
The Prestige (2006) - Yes, Christopher Nolan was awesome even before The Dark Knight.
Donnie Darko (2001) - A confusing little gem. In fact, so much so, the film had trouble finding a US distributor due to its myriad genres and tones. The distributors didn't know how to market it. The word-of-mouth "cult" underground has done just fine, thank you.
The Sixth Sense (1999) - M. Night Shyamalan's only great movie. We keep coming back to his films, like a dog to vomit, waiting for the next The Sixth Sense.
Black Swan (2010) - Natalie Portman gives a knockout performance in this Darren Aronofsky thriller.The destruction of a kind soul sure is a beautiful thing to watch.