Are you searching for the best psychological thrillers? It could be said that we go to the movies in the first place for the thrills. The desire to experience new stories put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and live out exciting events that might otherwise never be possible. We long for escapism. From Fincher to Park Chan-wook, let’s take a look a look at a killer two decades in thriller movies.
But that’s not what psychological thrillers are all around. Psychological thrillers concentrate less on outside adventure and threat and more on the inner worlds of heroes and villains whose hold on reality is dangerously close to failing. They are stories of paranoia, delusion, phobias, and abuse. They exploit the anxieties of the audience while providing much-needed catharsis, putting our fears out in the open and revealing that they can either be conquered or, at the very least, have genuine validity.
However, it can be challenging to pin down which films are psychological thrillers and just thrillers. The characters – as they would in any other genre – are motivated by their psychology. Like many storytelling genres, the criteria can be a little nebulous, and we’re not going to get hung up on that.
Best Psychological Thrillers
The Sixth Sense
Even if you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, you may be familiar with a famous quote from one of the film’s lead characters, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment): “I see dead people.”
Sear’s strange claims lead to psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), but through their meetings, Crowe discovers more about himself than he could’ve ever imagined.
Ari Aster’s folk-horror/psychological-thriller, Midsommar, is the kind of film that haunts your dreams (and waking hours) for days to come. The movie tells a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a fabled mid-summer festival.
Things start peaceful, though one of the travelers (Florence Pugh) shows apprehension from the start. The idyllic getaway devolves into a violent nightmare involving the ancient rituals of a pagan cult.
Many of Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into movies, but Gerald’s Game is one we’ve changed to time and time again for some bone-chilling thrills. A husband and wife, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), decide to spend quality time at a remote lake house in Alabama.
The two immediately head to the bedroom, where Gerald restrains Jessie to the bed with handcuffs in an attempt to spice things up. Jessie grows uncomfortable and asks Gerald to remove them, but within minutes Gerald has a heart attack and stops, leaving Jessie to fend for herself while handcuffed to the bed. Jessie begins hallucinating and eventually spirals into nights of absolute horror.
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! Is a psychological horror that tests the bounds of viewers’ minds while drawing from the Bible and Victorian literature to tell a tale of a woman, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), who is a housewife to a writer (Javier Bardem), recognized as Him.
When unwanted guests begin entering their home without Mother’s approval or acceptance, their existence becomes tested, ultimately spiraling out of control.
If a high heart rate is your mark of success when watching a psychological thriller, then Phone Booth should be combined with your watch list ASAP. When Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) picks up a ringing phone in a booth in the center of New York, an anonymous caller threatens to shoot him if he hangs up or disobeys his rules.
What happens from there is a cinematic rollercoaster: he must reveal the many hidden truths of his life—or watch it come to an end.
Jordan Peele’s debut psychological thriller tells the story of a man whose meeting-the-parents experience goes wrong. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) heads upstate to meet his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) parents, but their overwhelming kindness soon reveals itself to be a complete disguise.
From the time Uncut Gems begins, viewers become fully immersed in the anxiety-ridden story of a New York City jeweler (Adam Sandler) with a gambling problem and a lot of debts—all of which come crashing down on him at once.
While this psychological thriller doesn’t include traditional horror, the movie makes you feel like you’re really in it, keeping you on the edge of your seat from start to end.
An especially passionate ballerina named Nina (Natalie Portman) is preferred to replace the prima ballerina as the White Swan in Swan Lake. But shortly after she is given the good news, Nina is met with competition from a new ballerina, Lily (Mila Kunis), who is set to play as the Black Swan. The first rivalry takes a dark turn, and the connection between Nina and Lily devolves.
When U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is tapped to examine the disappearance of a murderer at Ashecliffe Hospital—an insane asylum located on a remote island—he joins powers with investigator Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to push the investigation forward. Over time Daniels discovers that he must look in to make it out alive.
When a troubled teenager (Shia LaBeouf) on house arrest becomes transfixed by a neighbor he suspects is a serial killer, he uses his free time at home to obsess over what may be happening across the street. But spying on the neighbors shows to be nothing but trouble.
Rear Window is supposed to have inspired Disturbia, and the Hitchcock classic follows a news photographer, Jeff (James Stewart), who thinks he witnessed a murderer.
Defined to a wheelchair, Jeff spends countless hours watching his neighbors, which only further proves his theory that a murder has taken place.
Another thriller based on a Stephen King novel, The Shining, tells the story of a passionate writer (Jack Nicholson) who decides to take his family along with him to the Overlook Hotel, where he assumes the role of caretaker in an attempt to cure his writer’s block.
It’s not long before Jack discovers the hotel’s dark history, as his son, Danny, develops disturbing visions that may tell some terrifying truths.
Silence of the Lambs
If you enjoy the jump-out-at-you kind of horror but still want the depth of a psychological thriller, Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs is for you. The film adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name tells the story of a young FBI trainee, Clarice (Jodie Foster), who pursues a serial killer named Buffalo Bill.
To get a firm grasp of the inner workings of the murderer, she seeks advice from another (imprisoned) serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, with unexpectedly dire consequences.
This movie gets the lake-house-in-the-middle-of-nowhere thriller to the next level. A deaf writer (Kate Siegel) lives in a secluded home in the woods when a masked murderer discovers the quaint house.