It’s fair to say that thriller films come in many different shapes and sizes. In the following list, for example, you’ll find flicks that depict limb-chopping action, nightmare-inducing horror and even a terrifying sci-fi-tinged dystopia. But one thing all of these pictures have in common is that they’ll keep viewers on the edges of their seats – regardless of whether the folks on screen are battling enemy forces on the other side of the world or simply attempting to escape from the malicious locals in backwoods Georgia. So, if you’re longing for a night with a film that may just leave your nerves in tatters, then look no further than our definitive guide to the very best thriller movies on Netflix as of August 2, 2019.
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If you also love explosions and fights aplenty, however, then take a look at our list of “The 25 Best Action Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you need something a little more kid-friendly, on the other hand, then check out our guide to “The 25 Best Family Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And for your pick of the most recent releases, you may want to see our list of “The 25 Best New Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Or do you simply require a chuckle or two? Then head towards our list of “The 25 Best Comedy Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
Fancy frightening your socks off? Then look if you dare at “The 25 Best Horror Movies On Netflix Right Now.” If you prefer fantasy, though, have a glance at our list of “The 25 Best Sci-Fi Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Need some love? Then head to our list of “The 25 Best Romance Movies On Netflix Right Now.” Or do you want to see life on the front line? Well, march right over to “The 25 Best War Movies On Netflix Right Now.” And for the cream of all genres, there’s our definitive guide to “The 50 Best Movies On Netflix Right Now.”
To establish which thriller movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of films currently available on Netflix. We then selected the 25 thrillers with the highest scores on that site. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those 25 movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each film an average score out of 100, and the 25 thrillers with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
25. The Night Comes for Us (2018)
Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us isn’t for the fainthearted. Certainly, that’s what can be surmised from Variety’s 2018 review, which claims the Indonesian thriller displays “the most inventive, gory and dazzlingly choreographed screen violence in recent memory.” And, naturally, there’s blood by the bucketload during those fight scenes, too, with enough red liquid spilled on screen to put many a horror movie to shame. So, if you have the constitution, sit back, relax and watch the exploits of a onetime Triad member – portrayed by up-and-coming star Joe Taslim – who abandons his life of crime in order to look after an orphaned child. Of course, though, the man’s former employers won’t let him go easily, and hence they unleash all kinds of hell to put a stop to him.
24. Super Dark Times (2017)
Super Dark Times centers around two thick-as-thieves teenagers whose lives are thrown into chaos after a shocking act of violence. Then, as the two young men attempt to separately deal with their angst, the secret that they share ultimately leads to further brutality – making the title of Kevin Phillips’ movie all the more fitting. The work certainly seems to have marked a milestone for the director, too. Judging by the critical acclaim heaped upon the crime drama, Phillips has successfully made the leap from short movies and music videos to feature-length fare. Veteran critic Brian Tallerico, for example, lauded Super Dark Times as “an effective thriller, anchored by great performances and a strong visual language for a debut film.” And Vulture’s Emily Yoshida also praised the sinister flick – for being “incredibly stylish” and showcasing “some unforgettable moments.”
23. In Bruges (2008)
It seems that Martin McDonagh has a failed date to thank for the success of his breakthrough movie, In Bruges. You see, after the writer-director was stood up by a girl in the eponymous Belgian city, he found himself at something of a loose end. And while McDonagh initially thrilled in the sights around him, Bruges’ splendor would ultimately lose its appeal. So too for Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s hitmen in the plot line as they struggle to kill time while waiting to hear about their next target. Yet McDonagh’s precursory loss appears to have been cinema’s gain – at least according to Roger Ebert. Yes, the late movie critic was a fan of In Bruges, calling it “an endlessly surprising, very dark [and] human comedy.” Farrell, meanwhile, took home a Golden Globe for his performance in the film, while McDonagh bagged a BAFTA for its script.
22. In Order of Disappearance (2014)
In Order of Disappearance stars Stellan Skarsgård as Nils – a Norwegian who makes a living plowing snow. When Nils’ son turns up dead of an apparent overdose, though, something inside the humble man clicks, leading him to embark upon a one-man war against the crime bosses who seemingly did his boy dirty. Now while this precis may suggest that In Order of Disappearance is grim and gritty fare, the revenge movie is actually leavened by welcome moments of dark humor. Interestingly, too, in 2014 Skarsgård told Den of Geek that he hoped “someone really talented” would be at the helm if his film was ever remade in English. So it’s likely that the star’s wish was granted when the original picture’s director, Hans Petter Moland, chose to reboot the film himself – this time as 2019’s Cold Pursuit, with Liam Neeson in the lead role.
21. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
Writer-director Macon Blair was inspired to create I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore after being the victim of a real-life crime. A number of years before the film’s release, you see, Blair’s New York apartment was burglarized. And after finding out that there was little the cops could do to help, the native Virginian suddenly pictured himself going on a one-man quest to solve the case of the missing laptop. However, rather than immediately heading straight to the local pawnbrokers, Blair put his feelings down on paper instead – thus marking the beginnings of a movie that the Los Angeles Times would later praise as “delightful.” In the comedic crime drama, Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood star as neighbors who, in their attempt to locate the thieves who’ve targeted their area, soon discover that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew.
20. Calibre (2018)
Nearly a decade passed before Matt Palmer’s first feature-length movie, Calibre, was transformed from mere concept to fully fledged big-screen thriller. And yet according to the director, this drawn-out timeline wasn’t down to production delays or problems with casting. Rather, as Palmer told The Scotsman in 2018, he’s just “not a very prolific writer” – meaning the script took quite a while to get down on paper. In any event, though, the filmmaker was at least fortunate enough to land rising star Jack Lowden for his picture, with the Dunkirk actor having gone on to portray Calibre’s Vaughn – an ordinary guy who goes hunting with his best pal, Marcus, prior to the birth of his first child. But when Marcus and Vaughn’s excursion goes drastically wrong, the locals begin to turn on them – and the duo end up in a fight for their very souls.
19. A Most Violent Year (2014)
As 2014 drew to a close, The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr unveiled his favorite films of the previous 12 months – and A Most Violent Year sat pretty at the top of the pile. According to the critic, the gritty thriller not only “echoes the best of 1970s-era cinema” – high praise in itself – but it also contains an “astonishing, revelatory performance” from The Force Awakens’ Oscar Isaac, who takes the lead as the beleaguered Abel Morales. And it appears that the National Board of Review was similarly smitten, for the venerable organization’s cineastes likewise selected J. C. Chandor’s movie as the best of 2014. So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, the taut drama – set in 1980s New York – follows Morales’ attempts to keep his heating-oil business afloat without having to resort to the shady tactics of his competitors.
18. Green Room (2015)
In Green Room, a quartet of young punks perform a gig at what turns out to be a neo-Nazi bar. Then when the band members become witnesses to a killing, they quickly end up fighting for their own lives. Given the bloody battle that ensues, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 controversy magnet Straw Dogs influenced director Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller. But regardless, one of the movie’s biggest shocks doesn’t actually come by way of the action on screen. You see, the neo-Nazi gang’s top dog is played against type – yet with no small relish – by none other than Patrick Stewart. The veteran actor reportedly rose to the challenge because he assumed that his character, Darcy Banker, would add a little spice to the film – and he wasn’t wrong on that score.
17. The Survivalist (2015)
The Survivalist was in rather esteemed company when its screenplay was picked for the 2012 Black List. Yes, the thriller appeared alongside the ultimately multi-Oscar-winning Whiplash and future blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars in the industry poll of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. And in turn, such recognition enabled The Survivalist’s director and writer, Stephen Fingleton, to assemble some of the best in the business to help him bring his taut vision to life. The drama follows Martin McGann’s titular woodsman as he tries to keep his head above water in a post-apocalyptic world. When two interlopers discover his land, though, the loner soon becomes embroiled in an altogether different fight for his life. The different ingredients in Fingleton’s low-budget indie seem to have satisfied critics’ palates, too, as the film holds an excellent 95 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
16. Locke (2013)
Tom Hardy is the only actor to actually be seen by the audience during Locke’s taut 85 minutes. The majority of the thriller also takes place in just one location: the inside of a car. And nor are those the only risks that director Steven Knight and his team took, for the whole movie was additionally shot in real time; in effect, the crew approached the process as though they were filming a piece of theatre. All in all, then, Locke was set up to live or die on the strength of its central performance, and yet Hardy – playing a man whose life is slowly falling apart – knocks it out of the park. Don’t believe us? Well, the New York Daily News certainly praised the star’s portrayal, hailing it as “compelling, multilayered and terrific.” Plus, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Hardy its Best Actor trophy in 2014.
15. Train to Busan (2016)
Train to Busan’s title immediately reveals where the bulk of the action takes place in Yeon Sang-ho’s thriller. But, of course, this journey to South Korea’s second-largest city is far from uneventful. There’s an apocalypse unfolding outside the train’s doors, after all, and so zombies are a constant threat to the terrified passengers. Naturally, then, Yeon’s movie is a decidedly tense affair. Yet as Variety has explained, the “relentless locomotive momentum” isn’t all that’s on offer; according to the magazine, there’s a whole lot of “unpretentious fun” in store for viewers too. And that combination was ultimately a lucrative one to boot. Yes, Train to Busan shot to more than $87 million at the worldwide box office – and also became the sixth-most successful domestic production in South Korean movie history at the time of its release. Without doubt, it’s one of the best suspense movies on Netflix.
14. The Imitation Game (2014)
In his review for the New York Observer, veteran critic Rex Reed lauded The Imitation Game as “one of the greatest movies of 2014,” and the evidence suggests that he wasn’t alone. The Academy, for one, largely concurred, as the biopic earned eight Oscar nominations – with one win for Best Adapted Screenplay. The thriller stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing – the real-life British mathematician who helped decrypt German messages during WWII and so tip the conflict’s balance in favor of the Allies. Yet The Imitation Game doesn’t just focus on Turing’s part in winning the war; rather, Morten Tyldum’s work builds up a comprehensive picture of its brilliant but flawed protagonist. And neither does the film shy away from the tragic end to Turing’s life – a fate that was meted out without any seeming regard for the considerable mark the man had made on history.
13. Blue Ruin (2013)
Although Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair had been making movies together since their school days, the writer-director and his actor buddy still hadn’t hit the big time by the time they reached their thirties. Before the duo shot Blue Ruin, then, they’d realized that their chances of carving out filmmaking careers in Hollywood were becoming increasingly slim. So Saulnier and Blair poured everything they had – including their savings – into making this low-budget thriller the best that it could be. And the gambit paid off, too, as Blue Ruin eventually made it to Cannes, where it scooped the FIPRESCI Award. Mind you, the movie – about a man hoping to avenge his parents’ killer – was just as much of a hit with U.S. reviewers. The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday was just one of those to applaud Saulnier’s film, with the writer calling it “an exhilarating astonishment.”
12. The Stranger (1946)
While Orson Welles may be remembered as the architect of such big-screen classics as Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, only one of his directorial efforts actually made back its money upon release: The Stranger. This may have been to Welles’ chagrin, too, as the legendary auteur reportedly once said, “The Stranger is the worst of my films… There is nothing of me in the picture.” Still, others who have seen the film noir have been considerably kinder in their assessments – as indicated by its 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A contemporary review by Time, for instance, lauded Welles for his “adroit” directing and the movie itself as a “grade-A gooseflesh raiser.” The tense plot of The Stranger sees Edward G. Robinson’s war crimes investigator head out in hot pursuit of a Nazi who’s on the run.
11. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
When Bonnie and Clyde exploded into movie theaters in 1967, it certainly didn’t find favor among the entire critical fraternity. In its contemporary review, The New York Times, for instance, slammed Arthur Penn’s flick as being “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy.” But that opinion definitely wasn’t shared by two of the most illustrious film reviewers of recent times. Pauline Kael showered the crime caper with acclaim when writing for The New Yorker, while Roger Ebert praised Bonnie and Clyde as “a milestone in the history of American movies; a work of truth and brilliance.” Ebert’s words were arguably prophetic, too, as the film’s high-octane ending ushered in a new age of cinematic violence. The inspired-by-real-life story follows the exploits of its eponymous anti-heroes – played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty – as they flee cross-country, robbing banks and evading the law along the way.
10. The Age of Shadows (2016)
After heading to Hollywood to film Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand, director Kim Jee-woon returned to his native South Korea for his next feature. Yet while The Age of Shadows may be a period piece – the action takes place in the 1920s – it’s no less thrilling than Arnie’s 2013 flick. Here, a police captain gets embroiled in a plot to help resistance fighters sneak explosives into then-Japanese-occupied Korea. And this element of rebellion may very well have helped The Age of Shadows become a hit with domestic audiences, as the drama debuted at number one at the South Korean box office. Meanwhile, it appears that critics on the other side of the Pacific liked the picture, too. In a 2016 review, for instance, Variety’s Jay Weissberg called Kim’s movie “an unabashed delight”; and the director, Weissberg added, also truly “delivers the goods.”
9. Deliverance (1972)
The stars of Deliverance certainly suffered for their art during the production of John Boorman’s thriller. In 2017 Jon Voight told The Guardian that he almost lost his life while attempting to perform a stunt. Burt Reynolds, meanwhile, did real damage to his tailbone during one ill-advised trip down a river. So, by contrast, Ned Beatty got off relatively lightly given that his only misfortune came from people telling him to “squeal like a pig” for many years after the film’s release. It seems that such hardships weren’t entirely in vain, though, as Deliverance still holds up today as an out-and-out classic. And the movie – about three buddies on a canoeing vacation gone very, very wrong – sure struck a chord with ’70s audiences as well, emerging as America’s fifth-highest grossing picture of 1972. In all, then, Deliverance has earned its place among the best thrillers on Netflix.
8. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
After A Clockwork Orange came out in 1971, it scooped no fewer than four Oscars. And in the decades since, the dystopian thriller has emerged as a revered cult favorite despite – or perhaps even because of – its often-harrowing violence. In fact, A Clockwork Orange’s legend may even have grown after Stanley Kubrick prevented anyone in the United Kingdom from viewing the film legally. It’s said, after all, that the movie prompted actual crimes in its wake – leaving the director to mull over the potential consequences of its release. Moreover, although the picture is now widely available to view, it definitely still retains some of its power to shock. That’s chiefly down to the unspeakable acts committed by Malcolm McDowell’s Alex and his cadre of “droogs,” although the attempts made to rehabilitate the gang leader are scarcely less chilling.
7. City of God (2002)
Interestingly, almost none of the cast in City of God were professional actors at the time of its filming. That’s according to Fernando Meirelles, who apparently auditioned around 2,000 Brazilian boys in a bid to find the right players. And the co-director, his colleague Kátia Lund, and their team took this unusual route for a purpose. As Meirelles explained at a 2012 event in Brazil, he felt that “authenticity” was key to the film’s success. It’s difficult to argue with that instinct, too, since the crime drama was a worldwide triumph both commercially and critically – with four Oscar nominations to its name to boot. What’s City of God all about? Well, the gritty thriller tracks the fortunes of two young men living in a Brazilian favela. But while one wants to become a photographer, the other chooses to take a less legitimate route to the top.
6. Mean Streets (1973)
After Martin Scorsese had finished work on his third feature-length movie, Boxcar Bertha, he received a tongue-lashing from John Cassavetes. Brutally, the influential director told his then-less seasoned counterpart, “You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of s**t.” So, Scorsese took the insult as a cue to mine more familiar territory for his next project: Mean Streets. Shot on a mere $480,000 budget, the crime drama partly drew inspiration from the filmmaker’s early life in New York’s Little Italy, with Harvey Keitel starring as pious street hood Charlie Cappa. And four decades on from the film’s release, it is, of course, an out-and-out classic. No less a figure than Roger Ebert hailed Scorsese’s picture as pioneering, writing, “In countless ways – right down to the detail of modern TV crime shows – Mean Streets is one of the source points of modern movies.”
5. No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coen Brothers’ multi-award-winning No Country for Old Men is memorable for being a great film, of course; however, it’s also known for the haircut worn by one of its stars; yes, that freaky bowl cut sported by Javier Bardem’s deadly Anton Chigurh. And yet in 2007 Bardem told the Los Angeles Times that the ’do actually helped inspire his ultimately Oscar-winning performance. “You don’t have to act weird if you have that weird haircut,” he said. Of course, though, No Country for Old Men – based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel – is about much more than the hair. During the movie’s tense 122-minute running time, Chigurh goes on a murderous rampage in pursuit of a bag of cash. But along the way, this force of evil comes up against Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), and their fates become forever entwined.
4. The Lives of Others (2006)
As Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck told The New York Times in 2007, The Lives of Others originally saw life as a mere film school assignment. In fact, the director penned the movie’s treatment in just two hours or so after a period spent listening to music and waiting for inspiration to strike. And while it took Donnersmarck a further five years to bring his vision to fruition, the result was worth it. That certainly seems to be the opinion of National Review commentator John Podhoretz, who in 2007 lauded the drama as “one of the greatest movies ever made.” And The Lives of Others evidently found favor with the Academy, too, as it scooped the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2007 Oscars. The German picture follows an East German Stasi agent who makes his way into the orbit of a couple upon whom he is spying.
3. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Even in a filmography chock-full of classics, Strangers on a Train stands out as arguably among Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest-ever movies. An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s tense novel, the thriller sees two men realize how they may be able to pull off the perfect murder plot. Yes, each will kill the target of the other, leaving the pair with impeccable alibis if they’re ever suspected of offing their own loved ones. In theory, anyway. But while one of the strangers actually goes through with the plan, the other struggles to do the same. And along the way come some of Hitchcock’s most memorable cinematic sequences, including the protagonists’ famous showdown on a carousel. Nor has time dulled Strangers on a Train’s luster, it seems, as 21st-century critics’ overwhelming praise for the film noir has earned it a near-flawless 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. A Separation (2011)
A Separation holds an amazing 99 percent “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Needless to say, then, that Asghar Farhadi’s film received exceptional reviews upon its 2011 release; Roger Ebert even claimed that the Iranian picture “will become one of those enduring masterpieces watched decades from now.” And the universal praise afforded to A Separation could well be chalked up in part to the director’s willingness to leave some aspects of his drama-thriller open-ended. “When you pose questions, your film actually begins after people watch it. In fact, your film will continue inside the viewer,” Farhadi told The Guardian in 2011. So, while at a surface level the movie depicts the deterioration of a marriage, it also has a great deal to say about the human condition – not least how we get to grips with both conflict and the real truth of the situations in which we find ourselves.
1. The Third Man (1949)
Orson Welles makes an appearance at the top of the best Netflix thrillers list with his unforgettable The Third Man. Here, though, Welles was only in front of the camera, playing Harry Lime – the figure around whom this noir revolves. Carol Reed’s work was certainly admired by Roger Ebert, who once singled it out as among his “Great Movies.” The British Film Institute, meanwhile, has touted it as the greatest British picture of the 20th century. Then again, maybe the pieces were all in place for the thriller to become a classic – not to mention one of the best thrillers on Netflix – given that it was scripted by the acclaimed novelist Graham Greene. In “The Third Man Theme,” the film also boasts one of the most iconic pieces of cinematic music of all time – courtesy of then-unknown zither player Anton Karas.
Not to be forgotten…
The following were previously on our list of the 25 best thriller movies on Netflix, but they’ve either now left the streaming service or have since been pushed out of the top 25. Even so, these films are still very much worth watching.
When Scarface first came out in 1983, the crime drama received something of a critical pummeling. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, labeled the film an “empty vessel,” and that was among the kinder opinions. But it seems that time has proved contemporary reviewers wrong; after all, Brian De Palma’s work is now firmly considered a classic. Tony Montana, the drug lord at the heart of the story, has also since been cemented as one of cinema’s greatest antiheroes – largely thanks to his powerful portrayal by Al Pacino. And certain snippets of the movie’s dialogue – such as the oft-quoted “Say hello to my little friend!” – have passed into almost everyday usage. So if you’ve yet to witness Montana’s violent rise and fall, then sit back and brace yourself for a film that Pacino reportedly counts as his personal favorite.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Revenge may often be considered a dish best served cold, but Quentin Tarantino sure turned up the heat in 2003’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1. But, that said, creating the film – which sees Uma Thurman’s Bride seek bloody vengeance after being left for dead on her wedding day – was initially daunting for the writer/director. As Tarantino admitted to IGN in 2004, he had to first get his head around penning often wordless set pieces. “I was really trying to… throw my hat in the ring with other great action directors,” the filmmaker added. Regardless, Kill Bill: Vol 1 manages to blend Tarantino’s various influences – blaxploitation films and samurai flicks among them – to produce often dizzying brilliance. The film was a hit at the box office, too, ultimately earning $180 million worldwide.
Wind River (2017)
While Wind River nods to Western movies that have come before, there’s actually a crime story at its heart. The plot line involves a pair of U.S. government employees – played by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen – who delve deep into a killing on Native American-managed land. And it’s a situation that becomes ever more complicated as time goes on. Then, by way of context, there are the sobering real-life cases that inspired the thriller. As writer/director Taylor Sheridan told NPR’s Weekend Edition in 2017, he created Wind River in part to help shine a light on the issue of sexual abuse within U.S. reservations. So it’s commendable that Sheridan’s work manages to be “ultimately humane,” according to a 2017 review by The Times; The Guardian praised the film, too, for being both “smart and very satisfying.”
Even to this day, a couple of persistent rumors surround the production of legendary horror Poltergeist. It’s been said, for one, that co-writer and co-producer Steven Spielberg in fact directed the movie instead of Tobe Hooper – although both men have publicly denied that this was the case. Perhaps the most enduring urban legend, though, is that both the original Poltergeist and its follow-ups are in some way cursed – a theory prompted by the untimely deaths of two of the series’ child stars, Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne. But even if you don’t think such claims hold water, Poltergeist remains terrifying thanks to its titular spirit, which manages to wreak all manner of havoc on the distraught Freeling family. Indeed, given the destruction that takes place in the Freelings’ home, there could actually be more than one ghost in residence…
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Before production on Gone Baby Gone began, Ben Affleck envisioned himself in the leading role. In the end, though, he decided instead to make the adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel his directorial debut. Not only that, but Affleck tried to remove his name from the opening credits for fear that his fame would overshadow the finished product. Perhaps the actor needn’t have worried, though, since critics were ultimately convinced of Gone Baby Gone’s merit – leaving the thriller with a 94 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. The director even walked away with half a dozen awards for his work, which is indubitably among the best mystery movies on Netflix. And in case you were wondering, Affleck’s brother, Casey, was the one to play the male lead; he portrays private detective Patrick Kenzie, whose expertise is required to help solve the disappearance of a young girl.
According to a 2016 critical poll conducted by the BBC, Zodiac is the 12th-best film of the 21st century. And this highly impressive placing more or less reflects the glowing reception that the feature received upon its release. The New Republic’s Christopher Orr certainly seemed taken with David Fincher’s nailbiter, with the cineaste going on to write, “It’s difficult to think of a more perfect pairing of director and project than Zodiac, which attaches Fincher’s legendarily painstaking methods to a story about procedure and obsession.” Naturally, then, the filmmaker and his team embarked on research into not only the real Zodiac killings but also the time period and circumstances in which they took place. In effect, as Fincher told IndieLondon in 2007, he “didn’t want [Zodiac] to be kitsch” – and by that measure, he darn well succeeded. He also produced undoubtedly one of the best crime movies on Netflix.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
In part two of the Bride’s quest for vengeance, Uma Thurman’s former assassin tries to track down the film’s titular target in Mexico rather than Japan. Despite the director setting some of his 2004 film in Latin America, though, Quentin Tarantino’s influences appeared to remain firmly Eastern. With the introduction of fighting master Pai Mei – played by Chinese martial arts star Gordon Liu – for example, Tarantino pays tribute to the legendary Shaw Brothers’ kung fu films. Meanwhile, Thurman’s character’s final use of the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” is a further nod to Asian cinema. And while the Bride’s tale may seem to have reached its natural conclusion, Kill Bill: Vol. 2’s $152-million worldwide gross could mean that she yet returns to movie theaters one day. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bride made one more appearance [on screen],” Tarantino told Variety in 2015.
District 9 (2009)
In 2009 The Guardian labeled District 9 as “a sci-fi blockbuster that’s also an allegory [for] apartheid.” There’s more than a grain of truth to that assertion, too. For one, the aliens in this version of 1980s Johannesburg are ultimately coerced into dwelling in slums; and not only that, but they also face a considerable amount of prejudice. Yet even so, the publication added, Neill Blomkamp’s picture “wears its politics most lightly.” In fact, it’s entirely possible to just kick back and enjoy the action on display as hapless pen-pusher Wikus van de Merwe – played by Sharlto Copley – finds himself turning from hunter to hunted. And whatever your take on the movie, it’s clear that it was a hit with audiences. The Oscar-nominated feature earned more than $210 million worldwide after being produced on a budget of just $30 million.
Mother appeared in 2009 to considerable critical praise, judging by its exceptional 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not only that, but the South Korean thriller has since scooped an astonishing 38 awards, with Kim Hye-ja having taken her fair share of the honors for her portrayal of the desperate central character. What prompted such adulation? Well, Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed movie sees Kim’s protagonist fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds to clear her adult son’s name – a task made all the more onerous given that he has seemingly confessed to the murder. Yet despite the bleakness of this premise, there’s dark comedy to be found in Mother’s lighter moments too. And in all, as Time Out wrote in 2010, the result is a “bold, unpredictable and quietly devastating… masterpiece.”
The Wailing (2016)
In The Wailing, a stranger’s arrival in a rural South Korean community appears to mysteriously usher in violence and disease. And even if this premise sounds rather bleak, it didn’t stop Na Hong-jin’s chiller from becoming a major global success; the movie took worldwide box-office receipts of over $52 million, in fact. Critics, meanwhile, largely commended The Wailing too, with The Hollywood Reporter singling out its director for particular praise. The magazine’s Deborah Young wrote, “[Na] expertly swings the film’s dark set pieces between the teeth-chattering and the absurd.” Fans of Quentin Tarantino may also recognize star Jun Kunimura, who appeared in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. And the horror-thriller’s eerie look is down to Kyung-pyo Hong, who additionally served as cinematographer on Snowpiercer.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs remains the only horror movie to have taken home an Academy Award for Best Picture. And Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster were also each awarded Oscars for their turns in the 1991 chiller. However, the film would likely have been very different if Jonathan Demme had managed to convince his first choice for the iconic role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The director had, you see, initially asked Sean Connery to portray the flesh-eating killer – a perhaps bizarre move in hindsight. After all, thanks to Hopkins’ scene-stealing performance, it’s now difficult to conceive of anyone else in the part. Meanwhile, the critical response to The Silence of the Lambs was laudatory, with The Boston Globe lauding it as “stylish, intelligent… and stolen by a suave monster you’ll never forget.” The movie, of course, centers on an FBI rookie’s attempt to catch elusive serial murderer Buffalo Bill.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
During her acceptance speech for the 2010 Best Director Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow described receiving the award as “the moment of a lifetime.” The win had significance beyond that felt by Bigelow, too, as it made her the first female filmmaker ever to have been honored in this way by the Academy. Nor was this the only prize that Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker took home on the night, for the war-themed work scooped a further five Oscars, including the gongs for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps inevitably, then, the critical reaction to the film was glowing as well; in a 2009 analysis for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert even deemed the drama “very nearly flawless.” And that’s all despite the often-weighty themes explored by the movie, which tells the story of bomb disposal expert William James (Jeremy Renner) as he contends with the dangers of the Iraq War.