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The Best Thrillers on Netflix Right Now (July 2021)



Sometimes you want Netflix to provide comfort food, and other times you want it to give you a jolt to the system. When it’s the latter, you’ll want a good thriller that may not go heavy on the blood and gore, but still manages to rattle you to your core. The streaming service has a solid selection of picks from the genre, but they’ve also got a lot of other movies labeled under “thriller” that wouldn’t be the best use of your time (looking at you, Road to Perdition; you’re a period drama, not a thriller).

If you need a bit of guidance on what thrillers you should check out, look at our recommendations below.

RELATED: The 85 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Layer Cake

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Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writer: J.J. Connolly

Cast: Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Sienna Miller, and Michael Gambon

If you’re into British crime thrillers, then the 2004 indie Layer Cake is absolutely worth checking out. This is the film that put Daniel Craig on the main stage, as the story follows a man who wants to leave the drug business but finds it’s much harder than he thought. The film marks Kingsman and X-Men: First Class filmmaker Matthew Vaughn’s feature directorial debut, and he clearly draws heavy influence from the films of Guy Ritchie (many of which he produced) while also carving out a signature for himself. – Adam Chitwood

Chinatown

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Director: Roman Polanski

Writer: Robert Towne

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston

If it’s a classic you’re in the mood for, well 1974’s Chinatown is simply one of the best movies ever made. This neo-noir takes place in early 1900s Los Angeles and follows a private investigator who is initially hired to follow a woman’s husband, only to stumble upon a plot that involves disputes over Southern California’s water, deception, cover-ups, and family scandal. Jack Nicholson is excellent in the lead role, John Huston is cunning and terrifying as a potential antagonist, and Faye Dunaway does a terrific job of playing a character who’s tough to nail down. This one holds up. – Adam Chitwood

State of Play

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Image via Universal Pictures

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, and Billy Ray

Cast: Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, and Helen Mirren

Looking for a journalistic thriller? 2009’s State of Play is actually pretty solid, and boasts a terrific ensemble cast. Set in Washington D.C., Russell Crowe plays a veteran reporter for a fictional newspaper who is put on the beat of a seemingly innocuous murder that, he comes to believe, has ties to the presumed suicide of a woman who was having an affair with a congressman (Ben Affleck). As it turns out, Crowe’s character is an old college roommate of the congressman’s, who tasks him with looking into whether his mistress might have been murdered. The film is based on a British miniseries of the same name, but holds up quite well all its own as a journalistic crime thriller. – Adam Chitwood

The Manchurian Candidate

Image via Paramount Pictures

Director: Jonathan Demme

Writers: Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris

Cast: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine, and Simon McBurney

Jonathan Demme always made fascinating decisions as a filmmaker, and his 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate is well worth a look. The film came out in the immediate wake of the War in Iraq, and draws upon the terror gripping the nation with its depiction of a virtuous soldier (Denzel Washington) who may or may not have been brainwashed. The thriller tracks Washington’s character as he struggles to discover the truth of his time in the war, and Demme does an excellent job of drawing out the tension over the course of the film. This is a solid paranoid thriller in the vein of the 70s classics from which it draws inspiration. – Adam Chitwood

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

Image via Columbia Pictures

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Akiva Goldsman

Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno

Filmmaker Ron Howard’s adaptation of the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code was a huge deal when it was first released back in 2006, largely owing to the enormous popularity of Brown’s book. The film is a religious thriller in which Tom Hanks’ professor of religious symbology becomes the prime suspect in a murder, and in working to clear his name uncovers a massive conspiracy that goes back centuries. It’s a fun and taught thriller with some gorgeous European location shooting, and it’s no surprise it grossed nearly $800 million. – Adam Chitwood

Shutter Island

Shutter Island Leonardo DiCaprio

Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Laeta Kalogridis

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Max von Sydow

What happens when a master filmmaker like Martin Scorsese decides to make a twisty little thriller? You get Shutter Island, a great and underrated movie in Scorsese’s vast filmography. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as a pair of U.S. Marshals who arrive on the titular island to investigate a disappearance at an enigmatic psychiatric facility. From the get-go something feels off, and Scorsese delights in following DiCaprio’s character around this island through the darkness, revealing twists and turns along the way. It’s the kind of dramatic thriller you immediately want to watch again once it’s over, and DiCaprio gives a terrific as a man who seems to be unraveling. – Adam Chitwood

The Pelican Brief

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Image via Warner Bros.

Director/Writer: Alan J. Pakula

Cast: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, Stanley Tucci, and John Lithgow

One of my favorite thriller subgenres is the legal thriller, in which characters use the law to try and solve some kind of mystery. If films of that ilk are your jam, you’ve gotta see The Pelican Brief. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the man behind All the President’s Men, Klute, and The Parallax View, this 1993 John Grisham adaptation stars Julia Roberts as a law student who writes a legal brief detailing a theory about why two Supreme Court justices were just murdered, which then puts her in imminent danger. On the run, she must team up with a reporter to uncover the truth before it’s too late. – Adam Chitwood

Nocturnal Animals

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Image via Focus

Director/Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen

If you’re in the mood for an overlooked thriller with a tremendous cast, twisty plot, and gorgeous aesthetic, check out Nocturnal Animals. The film is the second directorial effort from Tom Ford after the critically acclaimed A Single Man and follows an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) as she reads the new novel written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads the novel, the events inside play out on the screen and you being to connect the dots between this supposedly fictional story and the gallery owner’s real-life – and the reason her marriage fractured in the first place. – Adam Chitwood

Gerald’s Game

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Image via Netflix

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas

In novella form, Gerald’s Game makes for one of Stephen‌ King’s queasiest, most relentlessly gripping works. It’s the very definition of a page-turner, keeping you glued to the next word, following one woman’s seemingly impossible fight to survive a very slow, silent death while tending to the trauma she’s buried deep inside herself. It’s also entirely first-person, taking place inside the mind of a woman left handcuffed to the bed in a remote cabin after her husband dies of a heart attack in the middle of a tryst. Understandably, it was long thought unfilmable, but Mike Flanagan’s tender, terrifying 2017 adaptation proved the naysayers wrong with a heartfelt but oh-so-horrifying film that’s faithful to King’s work in all the right ways. Gore-phobes be warned though! At its core, Gerald’s Game is a lovely film about surviving trauma, but it is also a brutal survival film and one climactic scene (which was infamously hard to read, let alone watch) wins the gold star for the most vocal audience freak-out I’ve ever heard in a movie theater. – Haleigh Foutch

Nightcrawler

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Image via Open Road Films

Director/Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton

If you like your thrillers with a hint of prestige, then check out the 2014 film Nightcrawler. This movie takes great inspiration from Taxi Driver as it stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a hungrily ambitious freelance photographer named Lou who goes to grotesque lengths to capture exclusive footage of grisly crime scenes in Los Angeles. The film follows his path up the ladder as he’ll stop at nothing to gain fame and notoriety, and writer/director Dan Gilroy tackles the whole thing with a hint of dark comedy that keeps the audience on its toes. It’s absolutely nail-biting but also completely engrossing — you won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. – Adam Chitwood

Uncut Gems

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Image via A24

Directors: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

Writers: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, and Ronald Bronstein

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, and Eric Bogosian

If you don’t mind a thriller that will give you the most anxiety as its central character keeps making bad decision after bad decision, check out the excellent Uncut Gems. Released in 2019, the film stars Adam Sandler as a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict in New York City’s Diamond District who much track down an expensive gem he purchased in order to pay off his debts. As captured by directors Josh Safdie and Benny Safide, the film covers Sandler’s journey almost down to the minute, as the stakes grow more serious with each passing hour. Sandler gives one of the best performances of his career here, but be forewarned, this one is intense. – Adam Chitwood

Freaks

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Image via Well Go USA

Writers/Directors: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park, Amanda Crew, Lexy Kolker

I’m going to save one of the major things that wows me about Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein’s Freaks for the very end of this blurb because I would suggest jumping into this story knowing as little as possible. But, do know that this is one of the best character-driven sci-fi thrillers of 2019. The movie features a show stopping performance from Lexy Kolker as seven-year-old Chloe. She’s spent her entire life completely isolated from the world inside her home with her father, Henry (Emile Hirsch). He’s always told her that the outside world is a dangerous place, but the older Chloe gets, the more tempted she becomes to venture out – and then she finally does. Okay, are you ready for that semi-spoilery detail to further emphasize how wildly impressive this film is? Here it goes; I love a good big-budget superhero film as much as anyone, but if you’re looking to see what can be accomplished with a limited budget in the genre, Freaks is an absolute must-see. It’s one of those movies that’ll have you leaning in more and more with its early curiosities before absolutely exploding with creativity as Chloe discovers more and more about her reality. – Perri Nemiroff

The Guest

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Image via Picturehouse

Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Ethan Embry, and Lance Reddick

The Guest is a tough movie to describe because it’s a bit of everything — horror movie, action movie, thriller, and dark comedy. But once you’re onboard, you’ll love this wild ride anchored by a chilling performance from Dan Stevens as a man who claims to be a combat veteran and friend of a fallen soldier who ingratiates himself into said soldier’s family. Twists and turns abound as the same filmmaking team behind You’re Next bring thrills, chills, and spills to the proceedings in delightful ways. – Adam Chitwood

Velvet Buzzsaw

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Image via Netflix

Director/Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, and John Malkovich

If you liked Nightcrawler, you should check out writer/director Dan Gilroy’s kind of insane Netflix movie Velvet Buzzsaw. One part thriller and one part slasher, the movie is set in the art world and revolves around a cache of art that is found to have been created by a mysterious and deceased artist. Once it’s put on display, people begin dying in grisly ways. The film has a lot of dark humor to it, and Jake Gyllenhaal gives a really colorful performance as Gilroy goes for the jugular as far as the art world is concerned. – Adam Chitwood

RELATED: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ Ending Explained: The Art of the Kill

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

the-killing-of-a-sacred-deer

Image via A24

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Flippou

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, and Bill Camp

If psychological thrillers are more up your alley, prioritize The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The movie hails from The Lobster and The Favourite filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Colin Farrell as a cardiac surgeon who secretly befriends a young man (Barry Keoghan), who then subsequently warns him that his entire family will slowly die. The film boats Lanthimos’ signature dialogue that only amps up the creepy factor, and and the performances all around are sterling. This isn’t your average thriller, so I would only suggest this one if you’re into thrillers that are a bit left of center. – Adam Chitwood

Bird Box

bird-box-sandra-bullock-image

Image via Netflix

Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, Rosa Salazar, Machine Gun Kelley, Lil Rel Howery, Sarah Paulson

Netflix squeezed in one last streaming sensation before the end of 2018 with Bird Box, the star-studded and meme-friendly new thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a mother trying to protect her children in an apocalyptic world Set across two timelines, Bird Box follows a group of survivors through the end of the world after a mysterious force starts causing people to kill themselves on sight. Naturally, that sets up director Susanne Bier for plenty of thrills and gags based on the anxiety of trying to survive without sight (some more believable than others) and she uses the opportunity for all its worth, staging some pulse-pounding set-pieces in the fight for survival. Bullock carries Bird Box with a commanding performance that reminds you why she’s an old-school movie star and she’s matched by Trevante Rodes, who sets his charm level to “dangerously high” and John Malkovich, who leans into his gift for playing smart men of a nasty disposition that you just can’t help but love/hate. — Haleigh Foutch

Apostle

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Image via Netflix

Writer/Director: Gareth Evans

Cast: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Kristine Froseth, Sharon Margan

Brace yourself for some bloody, brutal thrills with Apostle, the horror-thriller from The Raid director Gareth Evans, who turns his attentions from breathless action to stomach-churning tension. Legion star Dan Stevens delivers another swing-for-the-fences performance as a man who infiltrates a rural cult that’s taken his sister hostage and discovers some deeply disturbing truths behind the utopian facade. Evans’ slow-burn pays off with a mighty explosion of viscera, and a strong stomach is required for the blood-soaked finale, which veers from suspense to full-on carnage. — Haleigh Foutch

Cam

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Image via Netflix

Writer: Isa Mazzei

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Samantha Robinson, Melora Walters, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey

A tense thriller about ambition, identity, and survival in the internet age, Cam stars Madeline Brewer stars as Alice, a successful cam girl intent on climbing to the top of the ranks — an ambition that’s going rather well until she logs on one day to find she’s been replaced by a cheerful doppelganger who’s taken her face and her career. From there, Cam follows Alice down a surreal rabbit hole as she tries to discover who’s behind her new web clone and how to reclaim her life, building a growing sense of unease and sick helplessness as Alice’s reality drops out from under her. Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and director Daniel Goldhaber are a dynamite creative team, who bring a refreshing sex-positive, non-exploitative approach to the often untouched subject matter while staging a dazzling and disorienting plummet through the pitfalls of internet identity and the intensity of ambitious careerism. — Haleigh Foutch

Berlin Syndrome

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Image via Vertical Entertainment

Director: Cate Shortland

Writer: Shaun Grant

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt,

Clare Havel (Teresa Palmer) is a young Australian photojournalist on vacation in Berlin. She’s living the dream. Taking in the sights, falling in love with a new city, and just maybe falling in love with a handsome local man, Andi (Max Riemelt), who strikes up a passionate romance with her. But after she goes back to his place for a romantic night, she wakes up to the next morning to realize he’s locked her in his apartment on his way to work, and with a slow dawning terror, she understands that he never intends to let her out. This is how we enter Berlin Syndrome, Cate Shortland‘s taut thriller, which takes us through every step of their courtship and Clare’s subsequent imprisonment in a slow burn portrait of psychological terror and the human capacity for survival.

Palmer is excellent in the role of a smart woman in captivity, who discovers new depths of strength with each passing day, and Shaun Grant‘s script gives her great material to work with, never treating Clare like a fool. She makes clever, assertive choices the whole way through, a fact that incites you to root for her and drastically notches up the tension at the same time. Her instinct for survival is met by Andi’s capacity for cruelty, unfolding a bit each day as Clare realizes how dire her predicament truly is. Consummately tense and emotionally challenging, Berlin Syndrome kicks up a slow boil battle of the wits that constantly notches up the dread and pays off in a breathless finale. — Haleigh Foutch

The Invitation

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Image via Drafthouse Films

Director: Karyn Kusama

Writers: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso

Karyn Kusama displayed a knack for genre filmmaking with the wildly underrated teen possession pic Jennifer’s Body, but with The Invitation, she showed a more mature, refined hand for horror and sickening, stomach-churning tension. The film stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, a man still stuck in the dregs of grief after the death of his young son when his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) invites him to a special dinner party, hosted at his old home. Will’s suspicions flare the moment he arrives — his ex-wife is too happy, her new lover (Michiel Huisman) is a slick creep, and their guests are acting supremely weird, but Kusama keeps you on a piano wire-taut leash wondering if Will’s grief is spinning out into paranoia or if they really are trapped in a suburban cage with a death cult.

Marshall-Green is outstanding as a man at the end of his rope, and Kusama’s eye for sinister detail pierces through even the quietest moments with a slick of cold sweat terror. Throughout the oh-so-polite dinner, she needles at social anxiety and the sickening dance of repressed aggression with precision until the persistent paranoia boils over. Sharp and smart, and occasionally downright creepy, The invitation proves it was a crime Hollywood kept Kusama in director’s jail for so long. — Haleigh Foutch


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