Best Thriller Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best thriller movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1955) – Alfred Hitchcock

Doris Day sang the Oscar-winning song “Que Sera Sera” across Jimmy Stewart in this Hitchcock thriller about an assassination turned kidnapping.

29. ‘Dressed to Kill’ (1980) – Brian De Palma

A mysterious blonde woman kills the patient (Angie Dickinson) of a psychiatrist (Michael Caine) in a brutal elevator murder, then goes after the call girl (Nancy Allen) who witnessed the murder.

28. ‘American Psycho’ (2000) – Mary Harron 

Christian Bale thrilled as New York City investment banker Patrick Bateman revealed to be psychopathic by playing Phil Collins to his apartment guests.

27. ‘The Handmaiden’ (2016) – Chan-wook Park

Before “Parasite,” this South Korean thriller followed a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who secretly hatches a scheme to defraud her.

26. ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (1943) – Alfred Hitchcock

Teresa Wright wishes something exciting would happen in her small town, sparking the arrival of her serial strangler Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten).

25. ‘Eyes Without a Face’ (1960) – Georges Franju

I don’t know what’s creepier: Alida Valli’s frozen porcelain mask or the surgeon who disfigures his daughter and tries to give her a new face.

24. ‘Knife in the Water’ (1962) – Roman Polanski

Few films pack as much tension with such little “happening” as this one.

23. ‘Strangers on a Train’ (1951) – Alfred Hitchcock

A sinister socialite shows a tennis star how two complete strangers can get away with murder in this “criss-cross” Hitchcock classic.

22. ‘Basic Instinct’(1992) – Paul Verhoeven

Few moments are as erotically iconic as Sharon Stone crossing her legs for interrogators as Michael Douglas investigates a murder.

21. ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935) – Alfred Hitchcock

Robert Donat is accused of killing a spy, goes on the run, and builds to a memorable MacGuffin in Hitchcock’s original “wrong man” scenario.

20. ‘Oldboy’ (2003) – Chan-wook Park

This riveting South Korean revenge thriller remains one of the most violent, engrossing and disturbing films ever made.

19. ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990) – Adrian Lyne

This supernatural thriller freaked out Tim Robbins as a hallucinating Vietnam veteran who sees glimpses of freaky faces and animal tails on the subway tunnels and gritty nightclubs of New York City.

18. ‘Dead Ringers’ (1988) – David Cronenberg

Jeremy Irons plays the dual role of twin gynecologists who test new operating procedures while swapping girlfriends in this Cronenberg chiller.

17. ‘Dial M for Murder’ (1954) – Alfred Hitchcock

Grace Kelly grabs a pair of scissors to escape a murder plot by her husband Ray Milland, who quickly devises a Plan B.

16. ‘Marathon Man’ (1976) – John Schlesinger

“Is it safe?” Laurence Olivier was chilling as an ex-Nazi dentist terrorizing Dustin Hoffman during an international conspiracy involving stolen diamonds and a rogue government agent.

15. ‘Rope’ (1948) – Alfred Hitchcock

Two young men strangle their classmate, hide his body in their apartment and invite their friends and family to a dinner party to test their “perfect crime,” as Hitchcock creates the illusion of one continuous take.

14. ‘Misery’ (1990) – Rob Reiner

Kathy Bates won a Best Actress Oscar as James Caan’s No. 1 fan Annie Wilkes, nursing him back to health after a car accident, forcing him to rewrite her favorite novel series and “hobbling” him with a sledgehammer and a 2×4.

13. ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ (1962) – Robert Aldrich

The real-life feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was brought to the screen playing an aging former child star who torments her paraplegic sister in their decaying Hollywood mansion.

12. ‘The Night of the Hunter’ (1955) – Charles Laughton

In his one and only directorial effort, Charles Laughton delivered a nightmare thriller from a child’s perspective about a pair of kids hiding $10,000 from Robert Mitchum’s religious fanatic with tattooed knuckles reading “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E.”

11. ‘Cape Fear’ (1962) – J. Lee Thompson

Robert Mitchum is unforgettable as Max Cady, who stalks the family of his former prosecutor (Gregory Peck) with Bernard Herrmann’s chilling score returning for Martin Scorsese’s remake with Robert DeNiro.

10. ‘Black Swan’ (2010) – Darren Aronofsky

Natalie Portman won a well-deserved Oscar as a two-faced ballerina consumed by the duality of her role in “Swan Lake,” upping the tension in Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece that can only be described by the final line: “Perfect.”

9. ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) – Nicolas Roeg

Grieving the drowning of their young daughter, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie take a much-needed vacation to Venice where they encounter a psychic and see flashes of a red raincoat that just might be their daughter.

8. ‘Room’ (2013) – Lenny Abrahamson

Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress as an abducted woman raising her son (Jacob Tremblay) within the confines of a small shed.

7. ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987) – Adrian Lyne

Glenn Close was “not going to be ignored” as clingy mistress Alex Forrest, seducing Michael Douglas, stalking his family, boiling bunnies and scaring an entire generation from cheating on their spouses.

6. ‘Parasite’ (2019) – Bong Joon-ho

South Korean master Bong Joon-ho made Oscar history by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture in this thrilling social commentary on class divides.

5. ‘Les Diabolique’ (1955) – Henri-Georges Clouzot

Hitchcock was reportedly frustrated when French filmmaker Clouzot beat him to securing the rights to the novel “Les Diabolique,” predating “Psycho” with its own chilling bathroom suspense and shocking twist.

4. ‘Deliverance’ (1972) – John Boorman

Beyond the pop-culture staples of “Dueling Banjos” and “squealing like a pig,” Burt Reynolds warns against man’s “rape of nature,” as tires squeal through the wilderness to brave a river before it becomes a man-made lake.

3. ‘Notorious’ (1946) – Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant convinces Ingrid Bergman to marry Claude Rains in order to spy on a group of Nazis in Rio de Janeiro, while Alfred Hitchcock weaves a master-class of suspense with nail-biting key rings, wine bottles and poisonous tea cups.

2. ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) – M. Night Shyamalan

Everyone remembers this supernatural thriller for its mind-blowing twist — foreshadowed by red imagery — but the real greatness lies in Haley Joel Osment’s bond with mother Toni Collette and psychiatrist Bruce Willis, who learns his secret: “I see dead people.”

1. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991) – Jonathan Demme

Jodie Foster is a feminist badass as Clarice Starling, braving a night-vision lair to slay Buffalo Bill with the help of Anthony Hopkins’ iconic Hannibal Lecter in one of only three films to win the “Big Five” Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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