Lock your doors, make sure you have a weapon nearby, and settle in for these tales of the taken.
While combing to find kidnapping movies on Netflix, three things become clear. First, there are a ton of movies. It never dawned on me just how common a plot device kidnapping is. Second, most of the best or most prominent movies about or featuring kidnapping are not available to stream on Netflix. Lastly, differentiating between kidnapping and hostage-taking often comes down to semantics.
The idea of being taken or held against your will is about as simple and sturdy a dramatic conceit as you can find. It builds immediate tension and elicits sympathy from audiences, sometimes before you even know who the characters are. Lock your doors, make sure you have a weapon nearby, and settle in for these tales of the taken.
The best kidnapping movies on Netflix
1) Lucid Dream
A South Korean riff on Inception, Lucid Dream follows a journalist, Dae-ho, working to find his son, who was kidnapped three years earlier. The investigation has gone cold, but an experimental technique allows Dae-ho to relive the day his son was taken through lucid dreaming. For a premise as inherently grim as a parent searching for a lost child, Lucid Dream is surprisingly fun. The investigations taking place in dreamland and the real world intersect in interesting ways and the story is constantly upping the stakes. —E.S.
2) Boy Missing (Secuestro)
This Spanish thriller is about a mother doing whatever she can to save her kidnapped son. Pretty standard setup, but the execution is what separates Boy Missing. People usually throw around “formulaic” as a pejorative, but in this case, it’s meant as a positive, or at least a comforting descriptor. Boy Missing follows the blueprint for this kind of movie closely but mixes in twists to take advantage of the viewer’s knowledge. The acting and directing are strong enough to elevate the material and make Boy Missing worth your time. Most people have seen enough American versions of this story, but seeing a foreign perspective is enough to make it fresh.
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3) Who Took Johnny
Documentaries don’t get much more devastating than this. It tells the story of Johnny Gosch, an Iowa paperboy, who disappeared on his route one day over 30 years ago. Even if you don’t know the name, you’re subliminally aware of it. Johnny was the first missing child to be put on a milk carton. The case remains cold, but the documentary goes over all of the investigation’s odds and ends. It also focuses on Johnny’s mom, Noreen, and the effect her loss had on her life and her determination to find out what happened to her son. Obviously, it’s not an easy watch, but it is completely compelling.
4) King Kong
Peter Jackson’s King Kong features one of the biggest kidnappings in all of cinema, with the Eighth Wonder of the world being snatched from Skull Island and brought to New York. Alone in a foreign place with only one sympathetic person around, Kong is in an impossible position. King Kong features king-sized action scenes and strong characterization of the ape. Jackson wants you to root for his ape and only the coldest of hearts will be able to deny him.
South Korean thriller Forgotten is a slick, twisty yarn. It’s also a blast. Jin-Seok gets caught up investigating his brother’s kidnapping, and each new thing he learns makes him question everything about his own life. Nothing is as plain as it seems, and our protagonist comes face to face with long-forgotten demons. Action master Jang Hang-jun’s film is a well-executed genre exercise that delivers an emotional wallop to go with its thrills and jaw-dropping reveals.
This Renny Harlin-directed action comedy stars Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville. Chan plays a Hong Kong detective whose attempts to avenge his partner’s death lead him to Knoxville’s American con man. Knoxville ends up getting kidnapped, and Chan’s winding road to justice means he has to rescue the conman. The movie was a hit in China but barely made a blip in America. As an action comedy, Skiptrace is par for the course, but Chan and Knoxville are a fun duo.
Ellen Page stars as the titular character, a wayward woman who accidentally takes an unfit mother’s child. Tallulah aims for laughs and a lighter tone than most kidnapping-centric films, and it hits the marks more often than not. The movie is anchored by a strong cast, toplined by Page and Allison Janney, and a strong vision from writer-director Sian Heder.
Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.