Many cinephiles loves a good, twisty psychological thriller, but even they may have missed gems like Take Shelter, Nocturnal Animals, or The Gift.
Audiences who love to be challenged by films will find a lot to like in the psychological thriller genre. While the average thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense, psychological thrillers add an extra mind-bending element that makes you question what is real.
Though it can be a very challenging genre, there have been plenty of psychological thrillers that have become mainstream successes and found critical acclaim. Of course, there are also those smaller examples that failed to reach the audience they deserve. But there is always plenty of time to catch up on these hidden gems that will mess with your head.
10 The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
The 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate is still considered a masterpiece of a thriller, but the 2004 remake is often overlooked in comparison. It stars Denzel Washington as a former military commander who suspects his former colleague and current presidential candidate is a brainwashed spy.
Though fans of the original found this retelling fell short, it is still a haunting, well-acted, and gripping story. Washington is excellent as always and Liev Schreiber is fantastic as the titular candidate. It is a worthwhile modern retelling that succeeds on its own merits.
9 Enemy (2013)
Denis Villeneuve is now known for massive films like Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming Dune, but he tackled a much more intimate story with Enemy. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a man stuck in a mindless routine who becomes obsessed with finding an actor he saw in a film who looks just like him.
Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal have proven themselves a compelling duo with the excellent kidnapping thriller Prisoners as well. Enemies is much more difficult to dissect yet remains a fascinating dark tale.
8 Take Shelter (2011)
Michael Shannon delivers one of his best performances in the intense and powerful film Take Shelter. He plays a caring family man who begins having visions of a destructive storm. As he tries to warn people and protect his family, others question his sanity.
Shannon’s performance really carries the film as he plays a complex and sympathetic character who can also be quite frightening. The questions of whether he is right or actually just losing his mind create tension throughout the film.
7 Burning (2018)
While Parasite was the South Korean thriller everyone has been talking about recently, just one year prior, the country delivered another brilliant genre film. Burning follows a young man who reunites with a girl from his childhood only for her to disappear briefly after introducing her new boyfriend.
The film is an intense slow burn that allows the audience to fall into a sense of comfort before ramping up the intensity. It keeps viewers guessing as to how dark this story really is. It also features a phenomenally unsettling performance from Steven Yeun.
6 The Game (1997)
Filmmaker David Fincher is responsible for some of the best thrillers ever made. However, The Game remains a very underrated gem in his filmography. Michael Douglas stars as a work-obsessed man who is gifted with an immersive game experience that takes over his whole life. but soon he doesn’t know where the game starts and ends.
Douglas is excellent as the unlikable protagonist who becomes endearing the more he is put through hell. Just when you think you might have it figured out, the film casts further doubt about what is really going on.
5 Nocturnal Animals (2016)
A star-studded cast was assembled for Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams plays a professional woman in a loveless relationship when she is contacted by her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal), asking her to read his new novel. As she reads the dark and violent story, she begins to see it as a response to how their relationship ended.
The film is split into two parts, one with Adams dealing with the disturbing implications of the book, and the second being a dramatization of the novel’s story. The two intertwine to create a compelling plot that lingers in your mind long after it is done.
4 Frailty (2001)
Bill Paxton made an impressive directorial debut with the horror-thriller Frailty. The movie begins with Matthew McConaughey as a man recounting a story from his childhood when his father (Paxton) claimed to see demons hiding in human form that he needed to kill.
The gothic tale of two young brothers dealing with their father’s apparent descent into madness is fascinating. Paxton maintains an eerie and disturbing tone throughout the film, leading up to an excellent twist ending.
3 Hard Candy (2005)
The little-seen thriller Hard Candy deals with some very dark subject matter which may be too much for some audiences to handle. However, it is a complex and intense story worth watching for Ellen Page’s terrific performance alone.
Page plays a young girl who meets a man (Patrick Wilson) online. However, the girl quickly takes control of the situation, turning the man into her prisoner and tormenting him for his alleged predatory behavior. Page is sensational and continuously makes you question if she is punishing a guilty man or if she is just deranged.
2 The Gift (2015)
Joel Edgerton stepped behind the camera to direct this gripping thriller The Gift. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall star as a couple who move into a new house. But when they happen to run into a man Bateman knew from his past, secrets are revealed and danger looms.
The cast is excellent and really sell the intimate and creepy tone. The Gift is another film where the audience is left unsure which character is the villain and which is the victim,
1 The Machinist (2004)
Christian Bale is known for his drastic transformations for his various film roles, but none have been as dramatic as what he achieved in The Machinist. Bale plays an emaciated man suffering from insomnia who finds himself threatened by an unknown assailant.
Bale is extraordinary in the lead role, committing to the intense performance so thoroughly. As the story gradually builds, the audience begins to feel the same loss of reality that Bale’s character is experiencing.
NEXT: 10 Of The Best Thrillers From The Last 5 Years
10 Directors Who Also Had Roles In Their Movies
About The Author