When it comes to the best thrillers on Netflix, there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself: What’s the last horror movie that kept you up at night? That you found yourself thinking about days later? The best kind of thriller is often one where there’s no monster; instead, it’s an exploration of human nature that fills us with dread and makes us question if there’s any good in the world. These movies stumble down some dark avenues. Surprise! The monster is (usually) us.
The best thrillers on Netflix
Hush is an hourlong cuticle-ripper. The 2016 film centers on Maddie (Kate Siegel, who co-wrote the screenplay), a deaf and mute author who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. And there’s a killer on the loose, wearing a creepy white mask. This premise might sound awfully well-tread, but Hush upends the typical home-invasion thriller by letting us see the threat (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.) unmasked, forcing the tension to build as Maddie finds different ways to thwart his murderous advances. By immersing us in Maddie’s silent world, the tension is even more palpable, and the fact that she’s a writer of fiction allows the film to expand in some inventive directions, even as her fate remains unsure.
Netflix’s David Fincher-produced Mindhunter takes viewers into the depraved minds of history’s most notorious killers. Set in 1977, the series follows FBI agent Ford Holden through his groundbreaking research. The true crime series tackles a difficult question: Are criminals born, or are they formed? And the answers aren’t easy. But the real-life serial killers featured in the show make for helpful, transfixing interview subjects. With strong dialogue and cinematography, it’s a clinical series that’s already been renewed for season 2. —Danielle Ransom
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel didn’t see much movement in theaters, but then it’s not really a movie for everyone. Ballard’s tale of an apartment building that devolves into class warfare, floor by floor, is still pretty relevant in 2016, and Wheatley (who previously directed the impeccable Kill List) adds his trademark dread and style to the proceedings, which include decadent parties and dead dogs. Tom Hiddleston, as lightly chilled protagonist Robert Laing, attempts to break down what this literal class warfare means but gets lost in the mania, narcissism, and the need to belong. It’s a beautiful set piece, even if it lacks some of the novel’s philosophical corners.
Errol Morris’ latest opus is an extraordinary CIA murder mystery involving an unusual death and the consequential government secrets being swept away by the circumstances surrounding it. In the middle of it all, a son pursues closure about his father’s mysterious demise. —Kahron Spearman
From filmmaker Baran bo Odar and writer Jantje Friese, Dark is a show about several intertwining families in the German city of Winden, and the disappearance of several local children. Its half gritty crime drama, half supernatural thriller, all modern prestige television. In the tradition of a depressing amount of series about small towns with missing children, Dark is a sort of cross between Stranger Things, Twin Peaks, and True Detective. It manages to squeeze in plenty of ‘80s nostalgia, from warnings about the dangers of nuclear power to philosophical riffs on the nature of time. —Chris Osterndorf
6) The Witch
Writer-director Robert Eggers spent years meticulously researching 17th-century New England and getting his debut film made, then a year showing it at film festivals before its proper release in 2016. The patience and dedication to authenticity comes through in the final product. Eggers’ film is patient, atmospheric as hell, and deeply unsettling. It’s about a Puritan family expelled from their community and the trouble they encounter living on their own. The vision is uncompromising and distinct, qualities that have drawn excited comparisons to no less than Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson. That puts an unenviable amount of pressure on Eggers’ follow up, whenever that comes out, but his craft is undeniable and worth getting worked up over. —Eddie Strait
That cold panic you feel when your password doesn’t work? Cam takes that feeling and stretches it into a smart thriller about online identity and sex work. Written by Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl, Cam stars Madeline Brewer as Alice, a woman who performs as alter ego Lola and is trying to build a following like any modern content creator. Things take a turn when she’s locked out of her account and her doppelganger starts putting on a show, and Cam drills down into the fractured identities we (sometimes inadvertently) create online. —Audra Schroeder
8) Black Mirror, season 4
In season 4, the extended universe is built out even more. There are familiar explorations of memory (“Crocodile”), love (“Hang the DJ”), and technology gone wrong (“Metalhead,” “Arkangel”). But two episodes, “USS Callister” and “Black Museum,” explore even more relevant topics. The connective, collective thread is there, but the themes are still dark as hell. (You can find our definitive ranking of the best Black Mirror episodes here.)
9) Alias Grace
Sarah Gandon shines as Grace Marks, a demure domestic servant who became infamous in Canada after being convicted of a brutal 1843 double murder. The question of whether she did it, and why, and of what forces brought her to that point, shapes Netflix’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s twisting narrative… and leaves behind far more questions than answers. Gandon’s Grace is both victim and mastermind, a hypnotic vision of a woman trying to navigate a society that’s been stacked against her from the moment of her birth. —David Wharton
10) Gerald’s Game
It’s the year of the Stephen King adaptation, and Gerald’s Game might be the best one. Mike Flanagan (Hush, Oculus) takes a novel that has long been considered unfilmable and imbues it with tension and emotion. Carla Gugino gives a standout performance as Jessie, a woman who is left handcuffed to a bed in a remote cabin after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) dies unexpectedly. The bulk of this Netflix original movie concerns her survival and how deep into the past she can go, and it actually improves upon the novel.
11) The Bad Batch
Ana Lily Amirpour wanted her film The Bad Batch to be a “psychedelic Western Alice in Wonderland portrait of America.” That portrait includes Ace of Base, cannibalism, and bodybuilding. Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is our stand-in Alice, and after being branded as part of the “bad batch” and thrown down the rabbit hole, the opening scene happens in near silence. It’s one of the most stunning first acts in recent memory, the Texas desert an oppressively bright stage where monsters can approach from any direction.
12) The Innocents
The Innocents is a unique combination of Scandinavian mystery thriller and teen paranormal romance, starring a 16-year-old girl who discovers she has dangerous shapeshifting powers. Stylishly shot and cleverly written, it’s great for teens and adults alike. One of Netflix’s best. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
13) The Invitation
If you missed 2016’s twisty The Invitation, you’re not alone. But you’re also in for a treat. Karyn Kusama’s thriller about a group of friends at a dinner party is simplistic in premise but precise in execution. It’s a movie so intimate, so perfectly claustrophobic, you’ll feel, almost like the characters in the movie, trapped by a kind of relentless dread while watching it. As the plot unfurls and the party stretches on, secrets and ulterior motives are revealed, all the way up to a breathtaking climax. Intense as the experience is, you may immediately want to watch it again, if not because it’s great then at least to make sure you got everything. —Chris Osterndorf
Trey Edward Shults’ breakout debut tells the story of Krisha, a woman who returns home for Thanksgiving after 10 years estranged from her family. He upped the stakes by having his actual aunt play the titular role, and Shults’ mother and grandmother also star, giving a film about an addict trying to keep it together an authentic emotional resonance. But make no mistake: From the opening shot, Shults also frames Krisha as a horror movie, and delivers all the way to the bitter end. —Audra Schroeder
Directed by Julius Onah and featuring Black Mirror’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Selma’s David Oyelowo, The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t attempt to answer any questions from its predecessor. We never see that movie’s protagonist, but we know that power running out on Earth due to some sort of catastrophic event. A multinational space mission is above Earth, trying to find a new source of energy with a particle accelerator, but when that fails, the words of a keyed-up conspiracy theorist (Donal Logue) foreshadow monsters to come—otherworldly menaces that have been briefly featured in the previous two films but never explained. We do get a final “Oh, shit” shot that neatly sets up the next film, or ties it into the first Cloverfield, depending on your interpretation. —Audra Schroeder
This film takes the oversaturated found footage genre and adds a little improvisation. An aspiring videographer named Aaron (Patrick Brice, who also directs) answers an ad to film a man named Josef (Mark Duplass), who lives in a remote house in the woods and says he’s dying of cancer. Josef seems like a normal, affable guy, but then he puts on a wolf mask and a series of manipulations begins. If you’re not a fan of the jump-scare, this film will be pretty unnerving; however, it’s employed so much it almost becomes comical. As we see at the end, Aaron wasn’t the first to answer Josef’s call. (See also: Creep 2.) —Audra Schroeder
Moon is one of the best sci-fi movies of the 21st century. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut working a solo mission on the moon. With his assignment nearing its end, Sam finds out that his replacement is… himself. The more Sam tries to figure out the true nature of his work, and himself, the more his world upends. This is the best work of Rockwell’s career, and he has a blast playing multiple versions of his character. Director and co-writer Duncan Jones delivered a top-tier debut with Moon, and the resourceful filmmaking marked him as a bright new voice. But this is Rockwell’s show, and he crushes it. —Eddie Strait
Madalyn Murray O’Hair was one of the world’s most controversial atheists, and this new film from Tommy O’Haver and Irene Turner looks at her mysterious disappearance and death as well. Melissa Leo plays O’Hair as a bulldog who fought for religious freedom, but her life had some dark pockets too.
19) The Angel
The Israeli-American historical spy thriller The Angel, Netflix‘s latest international original film, is a mostly well-done adaptation of Uri Bar-Joseph’s book, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. Capably directed by Ariel Vromen, with Marwan Kenzari and Toby Kebbell starring in exceptional performances, the sturdy film doesn’t attempt to be more than it is, living through the complicated backstory. —Kahron Spearman
Ennui, violation, ham-fisted vengeance: It all comes together in Macon Blair’s directorial debut, starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as two amateur detectives looking for justice in a world gone mad.
21) Small Crimes
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’s Macon Blair once again tackles the crime-thriller with this film adaptation of Dave Zeltserman’s novel of the same name. Co-written by Blair and Evan Katz (Cheap Thrills), Small Crimes focuses on Joe (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former cop who served time for murder and has just been released. He doesn’t believe in second chances, and he just can’t help but fall into old habits again.
The series stars David Budd (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden), a decorated Afghanistan war veteran now working as a protection officer for the London Police—a bodyguard. His latest assignment is to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), an ambitious and ascendant politician backing an expansion of Britain’s security apparatus, a move critics decry as infringing on civil liberties. What should be a standard operation becomes complicated by two things: 1) David suffers from near-crippling PTSD, and 2) someone is trying very hard to kill Julia. —David Wharton
Four shorts make up this anthology series from directors Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Roxanne Benjamin. It’s an homage to classic horror films but also signals a shift away from women as objects, victims, or survivors. And it points to an influx of exciting new directors (and ideas) in the horror genre.
24) Shimmer Lake
This Netflix original movie walks through a crime story backward, bringing Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally, and more with it. The details of a bank robbery are retraced and an ensemble cast trotted out to dust off some small-town true-crime tropes. Shimmer Lake doesn’t always hold together, but its pacing makes for a wild ride.
25) 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. —Eddie Strait
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-jung’s film is a well-executed genre exercise that delivers an emotional wallop to go with its thrills and jaw-dropping reveals. —Eddie Strait
Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film is an obstacle course for the senses, and it’s one of the most unique horror films of the year. Teen vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) is cast off to her first year of vet school and endures a hazing ritual that causes her to awaken in several ways. Raw is about a woman coming to terms with her nascent cannibalism but more fundamentally about a woman discovering desire and sisterhood. Marillier gives a stunning performance as she fights and gives in to her urges, and her transformation doesn’t need CGI to be terrifying and ascendant.
There’s yet another Stephen King adaptation landing on Netflix, and this one involves rats and murder. In Zak Hilditch’s take, Thomas Jane plays Wilfred James, a Nebraska farmer who has a crisis of conscience when wife Arlette (Molly Parker) says she wants to move to the city and take their teenage son. What follows is a signature King ghost story but it expands in Jane’s dead-eyed portrayal of Wilfred. Mike Patton provides the anxiety-inducing soundtrack, and it couldn’t have been a better choice. —Audra Schroeder
In this update on the techno-thriller, a teen named Tom (Bill Milner) is inadvertently turned into a vigilante superhero after an accident leaves smartphone shards in his brain. Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Penny Dreadful’s Rory Kinnear co-star. Forget the rush that comes with all the chase scenes; the real terror is that you know this kid has a phone lodged in his head.
30) The Ritual
This indie flick stars Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Hot Fuzz), Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey), Arsher Ali, and Sam Troughton as four friends on a lads’ holiday hiking in Sweden after a recent tragedy. As you might’ve already guessed, given that this is a horror movie, the trip does not go as planned. One of the men hurts his foot, sending them off the main trail and onto a shortcut through the woods. The third feature from director David Bruckner, the film is essentially a mythological riff on Deliverance. —Chris Osterndorf
John Woo gets back to basics with the melodramatic and ridiculously entertaining Manhunt. After waking up in bed next to a dead woman, Du Qiu finds himself accused of her murder. To prove his innocence he must go on the run while he looks for evidence. On his trail is detective Yamura. The two men find himself in shootout after shootout and chase after chase. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of Woo’s action movies, you’ll get a kick out of Manhunt. —Eddie Strait
32) The Gift
Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is a nasty thriller about a man who antagonizes a new couple in the neighborhood in increasingly unsettling ways. The script is constructed on sturdy genre blueprints and builds something that is recognizable yet hard to predict. The lead trio of Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as the married couple and Edgerton as the creeper is terrific. Edgerton is well-established as a leading man, and he brings the same vigor and terseness to his work behind the camera. The Gift delivers the goods and offers enough twists to throw you off its scent. —Eddie Strait
33) Seven Seconds
This anthropological crime thriller from Veena Sud tackles the controversial issues of race relations between law enforcement and the people they serve. It’s Netflix’s statement about the Black Lives Matter movement: The 10-episode miniseries follows the aftermath of 15-year-old Brenton Butler’s death from a hit-and-run accident in Jersey City, committed by a white cop. Straying from the classic whodunnit formula, the show explores each characters’ decisions and motives to show how the killing of an innocent Black boy shakes a community to its core. Despite pacing and acting flaws, Seven Seconds raises a compelling question about when—and for whom—justice is served in this country. —Tess Cagle
34) The Rain
Created by Danish filmmakers Jannik Tai Mosholt, Christian Potalivo, and Esben Toft Jacobsen, The Rain follows two siblings as they emerge from their bunker six years after a lethal virus spread by rain wipes out almost everyone in Scandinavia. The duo joins a group of survivors and travels to Sweden in search of their father—who they believe can cure the disease—and other signs of life. Along the way, the group struggles to cope in the post-apocalyptic world and find that the only thing from their former lives that remains is their humanity—their ability to feel fear, love, and grief. —Tess Cagle
Jessica Jones returns for a second season of Marvel’s gripping, feminist thriller. With her nemesis Kilgrave gone, Jessica (Krysten Ritter) investigates the mystery of how she gained her powers as a child. Unlike some of Marvel’s other Netflix series, this show is too intense to binge-watch in one sitting—and that’s definitely a good thing. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Mute is the spiritual successor to Duncan Jones’ acclaimed 2009 thriller Moon, although it may disappoint some of Moon‘s sci-fi audience. Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in a noir mystery with Blade Runner influences. Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux are characteristically fun as a duo of Tarantino-esque criminal surgeons, but Mute doesn’t quite measure up to the originality of recent neo-noir hits like Drive. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
In Cargo, the zombie apocalypse is intimate, compelling and showcases the best and worst of humanity in the Australian Outback. And for one father (Martin Freeman), the stakes have never been higher as he only has only 48 hours to find someone to take care of his young daughter before he turns into one of the undead. —Michelle Jaworski
A python has never choked me out, but I imagine watching Netflix’s Calibre is a reasonable approximation. The movie starts with hedonistic bachelor Marcus (Martin McCann) and nebbish father-to-be Vaughn (Jack Lowden) getting away for a weekend hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. When you have a person reticent to shoot a gun prodded along by someone excited to shoot, well, bad things tend to happen. Writer and director Matt Palmer shows restraint throughout by keeping the story tightly contained, making Calibre a thrilling descent into darkness. —Eddie Strait
A French co-production between Netflix and Canal+, Safe has just arrived on streaming in America while France will air it on channel C8. The series is not set in France or America, though, instead taking place within a gated community in England. It’s there that Michael C. Hall’s Tom Delaney, a surgeon with two daughters, is trying to put his life back together after the death of his wife. As you probably could have guessed, not all of Tom’s neighbors are who they appear to be, and everyone within the community’s secured fences has secrets—including Tom. Things take another turn when Tom’s daughter, Jenny (Amy James-Kelly), goes missing one night after a party. —Chris Osterndorf
40) Annihilation (international only)
In Alex Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation, we still get to explore Area X, a quarantined area of land besieged by mysterious environmental changes. That’s about where the similarities to the book end. The film uses author Jeff VanderMeer’s spectral setting to get in its characters’ heads. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former soldier who is grieving the loss of her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac). He was sent into Area X on a secret mission and feared dead but suddenly returns home—altered. Lena’s mission there is one of truth and redemption, but Portman plays her with appropriate detachment. We don’t really know her true motives, and fellow travelers Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Cass (Tuva Novotny), Josie (Tessa Thompson), and Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) have their own reasons for going on an apparent suicide mission. —Audra Schroeder
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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