Best Thriller Movies: Top 5 Heart-Thumping Suspense Films Of All-Time, According To Critics

Today, we’re on a hunt. A hunt for blood. Just kidding … a hunt to find the best thriller movies ever, according to critics. That being said, they might even do more for you than just entertain you. Perhaps, prepare you for a global pandemic. A recent study conducted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed fans of horror films and other post-apocalyptic movies handled the real-life fear brought on by the coronavirus better than others. They’ve had practice courses. 

Thriller movies occasionally dip a toe in the water of horror. So, if you’re into that (and we know you are), you’ll love to know what flicks were picked as the scariest. A survey of 2,000 American adults revealed that the most terrifying film ever created was “The Exorcist”, followed by the first iterations of “Halloween”,Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. But what do the critics say? Find out in our list of best horror flicks.

So, why do people even watch scary movies? Perhaps for the villains. Fifty-one percent of Americans “always” or “often” root for the bad guy or gal when watching a movie or TV show. And in a survey of 2,011 U.S. adults, 60 percent say they watch a series or movie just for the villain. If you’re looking to watch a movie with the best villains, horror and thriller are of course in the go-to genres. 

What’s the difference between horror and thriller genres? Horror movies elicit fear or disgust in its audience, whereas thrillers are characterized by suspense and excitement. If you need some thrilling examples, you’re in luck! We searched 13 (not an accident) expert websites to find the consensus from critics on the best thriller movies. These movies are going to make you want to double check if your front door is locked! Leave your favorite flicks in the comments below.

silhouette of man inside the forest during dusk
(Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash)

The List: Best Thriller Movies Of All-Time, According To Critics

1. “The Silence of the Lambs”

Pinkvilla highlights the plot as the main reason to rank this movie as number one: “In this psychological thriller film, a young FBI cadet must enlist the assistance of a manipulative and imprisoned cannibal killer in order to help find another serial killer who skins his victims.” 

And Parade isn’t silent about picking this as their top thriller: “Jonathan Demme’s classic psychological thriller based on the popular book by Thomas Harris stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling. As a serial killer sweeps the midwest, Starling seeks the help of incarcerated Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, resulting in a ‘quid pro quo’ tête-à-tête that’s become Hollywood legend. The Silence of the Lambs is one of three movies in history to win the ‘Big Five’ Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best [Adapted] Screenplay, Best Director).” 

Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece sits between thriller and horror, and it’s one of the few films in the latter category to ever win Academy Awards. There isn’t too much gore or violence, but the subject matter is rather grisly. Clarice Starling enlists the help of incarcerated serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter in the hopes of hunting down a depraved serial murderer nicknamed ‘Buffalo Bill.’ While the gruesome hunt would be engaging enough, Demme uses this bloody backdrop to explore gender dynamics and the trauma-worn emotional life of the film’s protagonist,” The Manual writes.

2. “North By Northwest”

IGN raves about Alfred Hitchcock: “Truthfully, this list could be mostly Alfred Hitchcock films. An espionage adventure brimming over with intrigue and fun, and featuring some of the most copied sequences in film, North By Northwest stars the incomparable Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a man mistaken for a spy and forced to flee from relentless pursuit, providing a blueprint by which all thrillers can be judged.” 

TimeOut thinks this movie is in a competition all its own: “If there’s a thriller out there more exhilarating, sexier or packed with iconic moments than this one, we’ve yet to see it. The greatest joy in Alfred Hitchcock’s spy caper is how effortless it all feels: a gliding magic-carpet ride from New York to Mount Rushmore, via Chicago and a Midwestern bus stop, as Cary Grant’s ad man suffers a potentially fatal outbreak of Wrong Man-itis.” 

Cary Grant at the peak of his game – wearing one of cinema’s greatest suits, no less – joins Hitchcock at the peak of his in this classic crime caper. A New York ad executive is mistaken for a government agent and pursued across the country by a (real) spy, as Grant’s ineffable charm and Hitchcock’s flair for producing an iconic action sequence culminate in a thriller many have copied but few have equaled,” Esquire claims.  

3. “Psycho”

It’s not psycho to be a fan of this movie. In fact, it’s very common. Collider calls it one of the best of Hitchcock’s flicks: “Often considered among director Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, Psycho revolves around an unfortunate encounter between a runaway embezzler, Marion Crane, and a strange motel proprietor, Norman Bates. Things at the motel seem odd, and Marion soon finds out in the worst way that things are about to get much worse. The black-and-white movie is a genre-defining thriller that tackled taboos and produced iconic moments like the shower scene. It’s unsurprisingly still among the highest-rated films on IMDb despite premiering over sixty years ago, as it’s both an important and rewatchable masterpiece.”

IMBd ranks it highly because of the plot: “A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.”

Flickside describes it as masterful: “Psycho was the apex in the career of the ‘Master of Suspense.’ But what made Psycho an enduring work of cinematic art was the masterful way Hitchcock used sensory details to create suspense. From the monochromatic look to the extreme close-up shots and phenomenal foreshadowing elements, the film is a masterclass in tone and sustained tension.” 

4. “Mulholland Drive” 

Taste of Cinema recommends this movie, saying, “A journey into the troubled headspace of an aspiring starlet that spirals off into a mesmerizing world of make-believe, Mulholland Drive stands as the pinnacle achievement. Unlocking the unending abstractions of this puzzle-box mystery has become a subject of obsession and rigorous psychoanalytic readings, albeit the film is more cohesive than it may appear at first blush. And though many will argue that it does not strictly play by the genre’s rulebook, Mulholland Drive is the definitive thriller — one that chills to the bone unlike any other before or since.” 

“If you don’t know what insanity has just taken place after watching David Lynch’s career-defining surrealist mystery, let it linger for a few days. Mulholland Drive is the rare kind of movie that will have you going down mental rabbit holes years later to piece together its puzzle, only to quiet yourself with the crucial word: ‘Silencio.’ If that doesn’t work, just enjoy Justin Theroux’s performance as a buffoonish Hollywood director way out of his depth,” Men’s Health says.

5. “Rear Window”

Looper is obsessed with this pick: “At the center of ‘Rear Window’ is the oft-explored Hitchcockian theme of observation turning to obsession and the danger this poses when allowed to gestate. This is perhaps most keenly felt in the most nail-biting sequence of the film when we’re forced to watch from afar as the suspicious neighbor catches Jefferies’ girlfriend snooping in his apartment … and then catches Jefferies observing him. This scene is a boiled-down example of why this film is so effective — it’s a masterclass in tension-building, heightened further by the feeling of utter helplessness.” 

You definitely won’t be bored while watching. According to Bored Panda, “Rear Window is a mystery thriller film with events confined mostly to just one room and the view from its windows. The main protagonist here is a wheelchair-bound professional photographer who, having nothing better to do, spies on his neighbors from his apartment windows. In doing so, he witnesses a murder, and now he’s the only one who can stand for justice. Besides a truly suspenseful story and stellar acting, Rear Window also offers cinematography unlike anything else — the whole movie is an eyegasm of long takes and clever sets.” 

“The Master of Suspense was also a wizard at getting stellar performances out of great actors, and James Stewart is as powerful as he is effortlessly charming as photographer L.B. Jefferies, despite spending the entire film in a wheelchair. This is Grace Kelly’s most iconic role, and her transformation from a glamorous, passive, indoor girl to a risk-taking adventuress touches us more every time we see the film,” writes Parade.

If you want to make some popcorn to stress eat during your next thriller, check out the best popcorn makers. Let us know your recommendations of thrillers to watch, too!  

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