Top 15 best psychological thrillers of all time

Top 15 best psychological thrillers of all time

Why do we like psychological thrillers? Well, the answer is simple – they challenge our minds and emotions. They make us feel as though our minds are playing tricks on us and make us question whether there is something evil going on. From the unsettling suspense to unforeseen dangers and characters who are not trustworthy, we cannot help but enjoy these films. For the ultimate entertainment, fans of thrillers should check out these best psychological thrillers of all time.

best psychological thrillers

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What are some good thrillers? A good thriller is one that has different genres that overlap. As a result, it heightens the viewer’s feelings and emotions of excitement, anticipation, surprise, suspense, and even anxiety. The best psychological thrillers temporarily disorient the psychology of the viewer, causing them to question everything they know about life.

Best psychological thrillers of all time

Which are the best brain twisting psychological thriller movies ever made? Below is a list of 15 best psychological thrillers that fans of this genre must watch. They are intriguing and invoke a high level of emotions.

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15. In a Lonely Place

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  • Release: 1950
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 94 minutes
  • Screenplay writer: Andrew Solt
  • Adaptation writer: Edmund H. North
  • Director: Nicholas Ray

Dixon Steele, a screenwriter, has the job of authoring a trashy bestseller. He seeks the assistance of Mildred Atkinson, a hat-checker, to tell him the story-line. Later that night, Mildred is murdered, and he becomes a prime suspect.

It is known that Dixon Steele gets ferocious even when slightly angered, and that he has a chilling sense of humor. Fortunately for him, Laurel Gray, his neighbor, gives him an alibi. What will his inner demons make him do?

Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Dixon Steele is stellar, making this one of the top suspense movies. Other actors who feature in the film include Gloria Grahame, Carl Benton Reid, Frank Lovejoy, Art Smith, Martha Stewart, and Jeff Donnell.

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14. Nightcrawler

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  • Release: 2014
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 117 minutes
  • Writer: Dan Gilroy
  • Director: Dan Gilroy
  • Rating: R (Contains some violence, graphic images, and some strong language)

This psychological thriller is set in a nocturnal underbelly of modern Los Angeles. Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a highly driven young man who gets to know about Los Angeles’ crime journalism industry.

He finds a group of freelance camera guys who record fires, crashes, murder, and any other mayhem. He decides to join them in night-crawling. Whenever there is a police siren, the freelancers make money.

He teams up with Nina (played by Rene Russo), a veteran in the media industry. Within no time, he crosses the line that separates being an observer and becoming the star of the story.

Other actors in the film include Michael Papajohn, James Huang, Marco Rodríguez, Bill Paxton, and Kent Shocknek.

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13. Black Swan

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  • Release: 2010
  • Country: Unites States of America
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Screenplay writers: Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Rating: R (Contains some drug use, strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, and strong language)

The list of best thriller movies is not complete without Black Swan. Ballerina Nina is engrossed in dancing, and she works in a New York-based ballet company. Unfortunately, she still lives with her mother Erica, a former ballerina, who is very controlling of her daughter.

At work, Thomas Leroy, the director of arts, replaces ballerina Beth MacIntyre in the first production of the upcoming new season, dubbed Swan Lake. Nina is his preferred choice, but she has a competitor, Lily.

The production needs a ballerina who can play both the white and black swans, one who portrays sensuality and craftiness. Nina is fit for the role of a white swan while Lily is fit for the black swan. The two ladies extend their rivalry into a weird friendship forcing Nina to get in touch with her dark side.

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Black Swan is one of the best suspense movies, and some of the actors in this film are Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and many others.

12. The Shining

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  • Release: 1980
  • Country: United Kingdom and United States of America
  • Runtime: 146 minutes (original)/ 144 minutes (cut)/ 119 minutes (cut) (European)/ 142 minutes (US DVD: B002VWNIDG)
  • Novel writer: Stephen King
  • Screenplay writer: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick

About four decades after its release, The Shinning is still one of the top thriller movies. It is about a family that goes to an isolated hotel during winter. The presence of disturbing things pushes the father to become violent. His son, a psychic, has horrible premonitions about the future and the past.

The father’s name is Jack Torrance, a writer, and former teacher. Before going to the hotel that has a violent history, he agrees to take care of the property. The happenings make him both anxious and angry as Danny, his son, tries to tell outsiders about what is happening in the hotel through his psychic abilities.

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The cast members include Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Philip Stone, Barry Nelson, among others.

11. The Game

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  • Release: 1997
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Writers: John Brancato and Michael Ferris
  • Director: David Fincher

Nicholas Van Orton, an affluent banker from San Francisco, is a loner. On his 48th birthday, his bother Conrad returns. 48 is a significant number because that is the age at which their father committed suicide.

Conrad, who has been involved in all kinds of addiction, gives his brother a card. It grants him entry into the Consumer Recreation Services premises. Out of curiosity, Nicholas Van Orton visits the place, and soon after, bizarre things start happening to him.

Like other top psychological thriller movies, both Nicholas and the viewer cannot tell the difference between mere games and reality. Michael Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton while Sean Penn portrays the character of Conrad.

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10. Seconds

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  • Release: 1996
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 106 minutes
  • Screenplay writer: Lewis John Carlino
  • Novel writer: David Ely
  • Director: John Frankenheimer

This film is based on one of the best psychological thrillers books by David Ely. Arthur Hamilton, a middle-aged banker who is unhappy in life, receives a call from Charlie, who is an old friend. Charlie offers him the chance to start a new life. Oddly enough, Charlie is supposed to be dead.

Eventually, Hamilton gets to join a firm that will fake his passing, alter his look, and give him a new life. After months of psychotherapy and physical transformation through surgery, Hamilton comes back as artist Tony Wilson.

Wilson owns a lovely home in Malibu, and he has a manservant who assists him in decision making. He discovers that his new life is not what he anticipated. Thus begins his battle with the company that transformed him.

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John Randolph acts as Hamilton while Rock Hudson acts as Wilson. Actor Murray Hamilton plays Charlie.

9. Audition

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  • Release: 1999
  • Country: Japan
  • Runtime: 115 minutes
  • Screenplay writer: Daisuke Tengan
  • Novel writer: Ryû Murakami
  • Director: Takashi Miike

This is one of the underrated psychological thriller movies today in some parts of the world. However, when one watches it, the intriguing plot makes them rank it among the best psychological thriller movies of all time.

Shigeharu Aoyama is a grieving widower who lives in Tokyo as he raises his son alone. Years later, his son, Shigehiko, asks why he refuses to remarry. Shigeharu confides in his friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, that he would wish to remarry, but he has difficulties approaching ladies.

Yasuhisa organizes a fake audition for the lead actress in a non-existent movie. He receives several portfolios, and Shigeharu is interested in one of the candidates, Asami Yamazaki. He asks her for a date only to find out that she is a mysterious woman.

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Some cast members in this film are Ryo Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, and Miyuki Matsuda.

8. Vertigo

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  • Release: 1958
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 128 minutes
  • Writers: Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock

After his early retirement, John “Scottie” Ferguson becomes obsessed with two ladies. His obsessions bother his old friend and ex-fiancé named Midge Wood. Wood designs women’s inner-wear.

The first of the two ladies is an affluent blonde named Madeleine Elster, who is his friend’s wife. Gavin Elster, Madeleine’s spouse, hires John to follow her because he believes that she is possessed, so she is a danger to herself.

The second lady is Judy Barton, who he spots on the street on a random day. She is a typical working-class brunette, but she has a very close resemblance to Madeleine. He wrestles with his inner demons.

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Vertigo is among the best thrillers of all time, and some of its cast members are James Stewart, Barbara Bel Geddes, Kim Novak, and Henry Jones.

7. Caché

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  • Release: 2005
  • Country: France, Germany, Austria, and Italy
  • Runtime: 117 minutes
  • Writer: Michael Haneke
  • Director: Michael Haneke

In the list of the best thrillers to be released in the history of film, Caché ranks high. The plot revolves around a couple that is terrified of the surveillance tapes that are often left at their front entrance.

Georges, a television literally reviewer, lives in a tiny but modern house with his spouse, Anne. Anne is a publisher, and the couple has a young son named Pierrot. The family starts receiving videotapes and child-like drawings via post.

Georges and Anne report the matter to the police hoping to capture their stalker. However, the videos become more personal, so Georges takes matters into his hands.

The main cast includes Daniel Auteuil (Georges) and Juliette Binoche (Anne.) Lester Makedonsky acts as Pierrot Laurent.

6. Memento

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  • Release: 2000
  • Country: United States of America
  • Runtime: 113 minutes
  • Screenplay writer: Christopher Nolan
  • Director: Christopher Nolan

Why is Memento ranked among the good thriller movies? Well, the plot is a combination of two different stories. Leonard, a former insurance investigator, decides to track down his late wife’s killer.

He has short term memory loss. When one story takes some steps forward, the other tells the story in retrospect and reveals more details about the characters. Memento is among the best psychological thrillers Netflix.

Guy Pearce portrays the character of Leonard while Carrie-Anne Moss plays Natalie. Other actors and actresses in this film include Joe Pantoliano, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jorja Fox, Russ Fega, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Mark Boone Junior.

5. Possession

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  • Release: 1981
  • Country: France and West Germany
  • Runtime: 124 minutes
  • Original screenplay: Andrzej Zulawski
  • Director: Andrzej Zulawski

During a secret business trip, Mark finds out that his wife is becoming increasingly restless in their marriage. When he goes back home, Anna asks for a divorce.

The pair goes through different emotions, and Mark is curious to know the reason why Anna wants to divorce him. He uses their infant son, Bob, to assess Anna’s mental state. He finds out that she has a lover named Heinrich.

Fate plays a hard trick on him when he meets Bob’s teacher, Helen, who is the spitting image of Anna but has an opposite temperament. He and Helen become an item, and his interaction with Anna becomes more violent and emotional.

Isabelle Adjani plays the dual role of Anna and Helen while Sam Neill acts as Mark.

4. Mulholland Drive

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  • Release: 2001
  • Country: France and United States of America
  • Runtime: 147 minutes
  • Writer: David Lynch
  • Director: David Lynch
  • Rating: R (Contains some strong language and some strong sexual content)

A car accident along Mulholland Drive leaves a woman with amnesia. A youthful actress relocates to Hollywood in search of better opportunities only for her to be trapped in a murky conspiracy involving the lady with amnesia.

The two women become entangled in a psychotic illusion that involves a night club in Silencio, a blue box, and a director named Adam Kesher. The ladies are in for a ride of their lifetime.

Naomi Watts plays the dual role of Betty and Diane Selwyn, while Jeanne Bates features in the film as Irene. Some of the other cast members include Dan Birnbaum, Laura Harring, Robert Forster, and Brent Briscoe.

3. Oldboy

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  • Release: 2003
  • Country: South Korea
  • Runtime: 120 minutes
  • Writers: Garon Tsuchiya (story) and Nobuaki Minegishi (comic)
  • Director: Chan-wook Park
  • Rating: R (Contains some intense violence and pervasive language)

In 1988, Oh Dae-Su, an obnoxious drunkard, gets kidnapped. He is imprisoned in a hotel room that does not have a window and is in a dilapidated state.

The people who are tasked with feeding and clothing him are ruthless. They sometimes sedate him to prevent suicide. During his dark days, the television in his cell keeps him company.

After 15 years in the hotel room, he is released and encouraged to track down the person who tormented him for all those years in just five days. Who caused him all that agony?

Some of the actors and actresses who star in this film are Min-Sik Choi, Ji-Tae Yoo, Hye-Jeong Kang, and Dal-Su Oh.

2. The Silence of the Lambs

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  • Release: 1991
  • Country: USA
  • Runtime: 118 minutes
  • Novel writer: Thomas Harris
  • Screenplay: Ted Tally
  • Director: Jonathan Demme

Clarice Starling, an F.B.I. Cadet is determined to advance her career. She tries her best to hide the fact that she comes from West Virginia because if people discovered that, they would form the perception that she is White trash or backward.

She desires to work in the Behavioral Science Unit that is headed by Jack Crawford. During her time as a trainee, Crawford asks her to question an imprisoned serial killer psychiatrist named Dr. Hannibal.

She figures out that her task is to find Lecter’s brains to help them to unravel another serial murderer, Buffalo Bill. Bill has killed five young women by drowning them in natural water.

Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling while Scott Glenn plays Jack Crawford. The film also features Kasi Lemmons, Anthony Heald, Don Brockett, Frankie Faison, among other cast members.

1. Se7en

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  • Release: 1995
  • Country: Unites States of America
  • Runtime: 127 minutes
  • Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
  • Director: David Fincher

What is the best psychological thriller? Se7en is arguably the best. It is about two homicide detectives who are desperate to capture a serial killer who believes in killing to get pardon for the world’s ignorance of the seven deadly sins.

Somerset, one of the detectives, studies the seven deadly sins, to understand how the killer works. His partner, detective Mills, mocks him for his efforts.

Are you looking for the best psychological thrillers of all time to binge-watch over a weekend or holiday? We have you covered. You will enjoy the twists and turns in the story-lines of each of the movies above.

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