Thrillers never, ever, ever go out of fashion. No matter what else is happening in cinema, audiences always want films that get their hearts racing.
To be fair, we're never likely to get bored of chases, suspense and drama. But what's often forgotten is that thrillers are where a lot of the most innovative and distinctive writers and directors do their best stuff – after all, thrillers live or die by keeping audiences intrigued, so filmmakers are always exploring new ways to ratchet up the stress.
im电竞官网-The best thrillers all about that build-up and release of tension, which is, ultimately, the fundamental joy of cinema. With more than a century of thrillers to choose from, stretching back to pioneers like Harold Lloyd, you need a guide to the genre. You're very welcome.
The Conversation (1974)
im电竞官网-Surveillance expert Harry Caul does a routine job for a client, tailing a couple in a noisy San Francisco park. It's all pretty inconsequential, but one snippet of conversation won't leave him alone. The couple are in trouble, and he needs to come out of the shadows to help – or so he thinks. Impressionistic but gritty, poetic but cold-blooded, this is Francis Ford Coppola's other masterpiece of 1974, though as important as the direction is the way Caul's garbled recordings are reflected in David Shire's glitchy, oppressive electronic score.
Inside Man (2006)
Probably the most straightforward Spike Lee jointim电竞官网- of all Spike Lee's joints, this heist thriller is still more tricksy and witty than most. A New York bank is held up by a gang of men all calling themselves variants on 'Steve', who set about dressing their hostages as painters and decorators, exactly like them. They set about smashing through the floor – but what are they really after? The would-be thieves' motives turn out to be a lot more upstanding than your average cash-grab, and the cast – Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe – is top notch.
im电竞官网-Made by Jules Dassin during his exile from Hollywood while he was blacklisted for his brief dalliance with Communist Party USA, this Parisian noir follows the planning of a jewel heist by a pan-European alliance of crooks led by the ageing, cruel gangster Tony le Stéphanois (Jean Servais) and his protégée Jo le Suédois (Carl Möhner). The silently staged half-hour heist scene is still thrilling 65 years on, and is as much of a daring high-wire act in its execution as the plan to steal the jewels itself is. In fact, it was so beautifully planned and executed that it inspired actual, real-life heists.
im电竞官网-Steve McQueen's update of the 1983 Lynda La Plante TV drama transplants the action over to Chicago, but keeps the central spine of the plot: four widows find out their husbands died in the process of ripping off a mob boss, and decide to step in to complete their $5 million heist. The trouble is, they'll need to pinch it from inside the boss's own house. This is a slower burn than some other thrillers here, and one that will reward your patience. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Carrie Coon star, with Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Duvall among the support.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
John Carpenter's second film, a low-budget exploitation flick which followed gangland rioters in Los Angeles who attack a police station in the hope of taking out some officers, was an R-rated flop on release. But it gradually became a cult hit thanks to the things which would become Carpenter's trademarks: the invasion of an apparently unstoppable force; splenetic violence with an undercurrent of sly wit; and an absolutely belting soundtrack from Carpenter himself.
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Less a straightforward thriller than a feverish, hallucinatory 94-minute trip into the subconscious. Engineer and sound effects expert Gilderoy travels to Italy to work on a film about horses, but instead finds it's a giallo horror being made by an overbearing producer and an unnervingly exuberant director. We never see this apparently horrifying film, but director Peter Strickland lovingly catalogues the mechanics behind the camera. Don't go into it expecting to be guided by the hand – in fact, try not to expect a conventional plot at all – and just let it absorb you.
Uncut Gems (2020)
The Safdie Brothers – Josh and Benny – showed that they had the vision and unique tone to make an all-time great crime thriller with 2017's brilliant Good Time. Its follow-up, Uncut Gems, might very well prove to be that movie.
im电竞官网-Adam Sandler – yes, that Adam Sandler – is staggeringly good as Howard Ratner, a high-rolling, motormouth, diamond-dealing New Yorker who's deep in debt with all the wrong people and just about keeps the wolves from his door by making bigger and bigger bets. Until he gets his hands on an extraordinarily rare black opal, at which point the powder keg ignites. You're best off going in with no idea what's going to happen, but we'll just give you some key phrases: NBA star Kevin Garnett; mystical powers; naked kidnap; bum tattoo; diamond-encrusted Furby. Enjoy.
Like the husbands in Hitchcock's Rebecca, Suspicion and Shadow of a Doubt from the same period, Gregory Anton isn't exactly the ideal spouse. You can't trust him as far as you could throw him. His new wife Paula (Ingrid Bergman, on absolutely sparkling, Best-Actress-Oscar-winning form) shacked up with him after a fortnight-long whirlwind romance. She's got no friends having just arrived in London, and when odd things start happening around her, she starts to feel like she's losing it. But why do the gaslamps keep dimming? It's full of Edwardian froideur and noirish style, as well as being such an effective portrait of psychological abuse that it's where the term 'gaslighting' comes from in the first place.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Are you after a violent, Scorsese-inflected character portrait of a man mentally checking out of a society that appals him and which is anchored around a virtuoso Joaquin Phoenix performance? Watch Lynne Ramsay's opus about a hitman who gets trafficked girls out of lives of abuse. It's the film Joker wishes it was. Hallucinatory, bold and frequently as beautiful as it is brutal, You Were Never Really Here is a modern masterpiece.
Utøya: July 22 (2018)
The 2011 terrorist attack at a Norwegian Labour Party youth camp which left 69 people dead formed the basis of two films that came out at about the same time in 2018. By contrast with Paul Greengrass's more sprawling July 22, which also follows the events of the day, Utøya doesn't give right-wing extremist Anders Breivik any screen time aside from a couple of brief glimpses. Instead, Erik Poppe's film follows a teenager, Kaja, in a single take as the horror unfolds in real time around her. It's not exactly an entertaining romp – Utøya is less a thriller than an act of witness – but it is incredibly well made and gripping, in the most chilling way possible, while centring the experiences of the victims and survivors rather than Breivik.
Rear Window (1954)
Yes, we've got a fair few Hitchcocks on here, but he's pretty indisputably the master. Get hold of Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps and The Lodger, but watch Rear Window first. It im电竞官网-follows LB 'Jeff' Jefferies, a magazine photographer cooped up in his New York apartment during a swelteringly hot summer. Jeff becomes obsessed with watching his neighbours through their open windows, and seeing their lives play out as a series of cute vignettes – until he witnesses a murder, and takes justice into his own hands. But is his mind playing tricks on him? Grace Kelly is magnetic as Jeff's girlfriend Lisa, as is the Fifties soundtrack of Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.
North by Northwest (1959)
Cary Grant at the peak of his game – wearing one of cinema's greatest suits, no less – joins Hitchcock at the peak of his in this classic crime caper. A New York ad executive is mistaken for a government agent and pursued across the country by a (real) spy, as Grant's ineffable charm and Hitchcock's flair for producing an iconic action sequence (the crop duster scene is one of the most influential in movie history) culminate in a thriller many have copied but few have equalled.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Suspicion and paranoia are quite big these days, as you might have noticed, so it's perhaps a good time to revisit The Manchurian Candidate. It's about the son of a prominent right-wing political family who becomes an unknowing assassin in a communist conspiracy, with Frank Sinatraim电竞官网- playing a tortured platoon commander.
Blood Simple (1984)
Blood Simple is a noir thriller about a bartender who starts an affair with his boss's wife only for it to end in gunshot and bloodshed – quite literally a tense affair from start to finish. Frances McDormand's terrified facial expressions and whispered scenes make the directorial debut of the Coen Brothers one that stands the test of time – even if it was grossly underrated when it was first released.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The film that launched the Nineties cinema obsession with psychopathic killers (Se7en, Screamim电竞官网-, etc) as well as one of the most memorable bad guys ever committed to celluloid, it's easy to forget that the second Hannibal Lecter film was a taut-as-hell thriller that also featured brilliant performances from Jodie Foster, as the cop playing psychological tennis with Anthony Hopkins's cannibal, and Ted Levine as 'Buffalo Bill'. A clean sweep of the major Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress) made it one of the most successful films of the decade and it stands up just as well today.
David Fincher's dark, seedy worlds are unrivalled in cinema and Se7en is up there with the best. A pair of detectives played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman investigate a series of gruesome murders, each one symbolic of one of the seven sins: pride, lust, gluttony, wrath, sloth, greed and envy. Brutal, brilliant and with a final twist that 12 years later will still drop your heart to your stomach.
A rabbit-warren of confusing flashbacks and twists, Christopher Nolan's Memento plays brilliantly with the unreliable and fractured narrator, Leonard, and his severe short-term memory loss. Intent on tracking down his wife's rapist and murder, he tattoos crucial clues to his body to guide him to the culprit.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
For our money the best film the Coen Brothers have ever produced, this majestically shot, thrillingly acted and unbelievably tense cat and mouse story sees Josh Brolin's chancer making off with some stolen money, pursued by a mercenary played by an utterly chilling Javier Bardemim电竞官网-. The set pieces are mini masterpieces in their own right, including a dog chase at dawn that they'll be showing at film schools for decades to come.
Denis Villeneuve (the mastermind behind Incendies, Sicario and Arrival) creates a gritty and guilt-ridden world in Prisoners, the story of a father whose six-year-old daughter and friends go missing only for the police to release the primary suspect. Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are a formidable trio in their portrayal of desperation and revenge.
Many of Hitchcock’s films pit a man against forces beyond his control, and Vertigo is no different. It’s just that in this case, it’s his own mind which entraps him. James Stewart’s traumatised detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, must track a friend’s wife who is in danger – but then she vanishes, leaving him chasing shadows and questioning his sanity. The action winds and loops back on itself, each twist shifting the ground beneath the audience just as the disorientating camerawork shows Scottie’s terror and psychosis. In 2012 it was named the greatest film of all time in Sight and Sound’s critics’ poll – it’s The Master’s masterpiece.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Martin Scorsese once said that the only two films anyone needed to see to understand directing were Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 and Peeping Tom. When Michael Powell's tale of an obsessive photographer came out, though, it was savaged, and pretty much stopped Powell's career dead. It was too perverse, too sadistic, too strange. Critics hated it: Tribune magazine said that "the only really satisfactory way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer".
But Scorsese's advocacy led to a reappraisal of it as a dark masterpiece. Mark Lewis, damaged by being experimented on by his psychologist dad, starts killing women and documenting everything he does on film. As he continues killing, the net starts to close around him. It's not your usual slasher, though there's a kinship between Peeping Tom and Psycho, which came out the same year. It's about how cinema is inherently voyeuristic, and digs into post-war Britain's sexually repressed psyche. If you like your thrillers cerebral and ambiguous, start here.
Way before Alfie Solomons wished his first mazel tov to Birmingham's underworld in Peaky Blinders, Tom Hardy and writer Steven Knight had already worked together on this rock-solid thriller with a difference. It all takes place over the course of a car ride from Birmingham to London, with only Hardy's Ivan Locke ever on screen and other characters heard through the speakerphone.
im电竞官网-He's trying to do right by a woman he had a one-night stand with and who's now having his child, by trying to be with her at the birth. But he's also trying to supervise a gigantic pour of concrete in Birmingham at the same time. No, it doesn't sound like a high stakes game of life and death. It is utterly gripping though, with Hardy on extraordinary form and every one of its 85 minutes made to count.
The Exorcist director William Friedkin's South American odyssey tanked on release – partially thanks to Star Wars coming out at the same time – but it's since enjoyed a renaissance. Four men escape to a tiny village after various separate nefarious deeds, and live in absolute destitution. But then they get a chance to escape: a driving job, taking some dynamite to an oil well to stop a fire. The only catch is that the nitroglycerine is old, and is 'sweating'. Any knock, nudge or jostle could set it off. And they've got 200 miles to go. Gulp. If you can get through the scene where a truck has to inch its way across a splintering rope bridge without gnawing on something, you're stronger than most. The soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is a belter too.
The Night of the Hunter (1954)
Robert Mitchum's besuited sinister minister Harry Powell is one of cinema's most unsettling villains, a black widower who drifts around West Virginia marrying for money and then killing his wives. He gets wind of a $10,000 bank robbery haul, but the man who stole it won't tell him where it is. When he dies, the only people who know are the dead man's children. So, he sets about wooing their mum and earning the good opinion of the town while winding up to strike again and find that money.
Director Charles Laughton once described Powell as "a diabolical shit," and Mitchum's ability to flip between the placid, godly, charming preacher and the hell-bent, brimstone-spewing misogynist who would happily murder some kids for a few quid is mesmerising. The Night of the Hunterim电竞官网- is about all the good stuff – sin, redemption, desire and greed – and beautifully shot by Laughton to nod at German Expressionism and the silent film era. It doesn't look or feel much like many other films from the era, and it's ended up feeling timelessness.
The French Connection (1971)
William Friedkin’s bruising tale of drug smuggling and murky morality in Seventies New York packs a knuckleduster-punch and swept up at the 1972 Oscars. The uncompromising ‘Popeye’ Doyle (a thunderous, perpetually enraged Gene Hackman) and his partner ‘Cloudy’ Russo (Roy Scheider) are on the tail of a huge heroin deal and are happy to take liberties with the rules if it keeps the streets clean. The chase sequence, in which Popeye nicks a car and hares through New York’s traffic on the tail of a hitman on the L-train above him, is the film in a nutshell: taut, stripped down, and all the more gripping for completely avoiding OTT spectacle. Finally, a word on Popeye’s pork pie hat and navy wool overcoat combo. Magnifique.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s preternaturally greasy camera op, Lou Bloom, is a creep for the ages. He slithers around the grim underbelly of Los Angeles in search of crime and tragedy, selling his shocking footage on to unethical TV news stations. As a take-down of modern-media and its endless appetite for fear-mongering carnage, director Dan Gilroy’s movie is salient. As an exploration of how far one crazy-eyed man is willing to go to maximise his profit margins in the murder business, it’s downright unnerving.