While a gory horror movie has its place, there’s nothing quite like the unnerving feeling of watching a great suspense movie. Practically any director can get you with a jump scare. It takes true skill to unravel you with a psychological thriller.
From box office blowouts to film festival successes, here are some of the best movies that use suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Best Suspense Movies of All Time (In Our Opinion)
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Seven, or stylistically spelled Se7en, features multiple award winning actors at the top of their game. Morgan Freeman plays Detective Lieutenant William Somerset working alongside Brad Pitt’s Detective David Mills in this suspense movie. They’re working together to catch a serial killer choosing victims based on the seven deadly sins. Gwyneth Paltrow plays David Mills’s wife, who is unsure about her pregnancy considering how unsafe the new town feels.
Unfortunately, Kevin Spacey plays John Doe, the suspected serial killer. If you’re avoiding films with him in it, you’ll have to skip this one.
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In the genre of “woman smiles through tears as she puts on makeup in the mirror so she can meet society’s expectations as she experiences a psychological breakdown,” Black Swan is the psychological thriller crown jewel.
See also I, Tonya and Jennifer’s Body.
Nina, played by the dynamic Natalie Portman, has paid her dues as a dancer in the New York City ballet company. She’s ready to become the star.
In order to do so, her director wants to see her let loose and encompass both the white and black swan. As a sweet, innocent girl, he doesn’t see her encompass the duality of the Swan Queen. She proves herself and gets the part, but the psychological toll of the role creates utter psychosis. Watch her discover and embrace the chaos inside herself at the ultimate cost.
Did you ever think one of the best thriller movies out there would be about ballet?
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An unlikely set of wanted men with a practically impossible task: one of the best suspense movies on Amazon Prime.
In Porvenir, a remote Colombian village, an oil well explodes. The only way to extinguish a fire of this type is through dynamite. The only dynamite was improperly stored in a remote depot, leaving the nitroglycerin extremely unstable. The smallest vibration could detonate it.
Kassem, Victor, Jackie, and Nilo take the job to drive two trucks over 200 miles with the nitroglycerin to the oil well. Trucks offer the only solution for possible transportation without detonation. They’ll either die trying or win a handsome reward in the end.
They face perilous conditions with men they have no choice but to trust in order to survive. The entire time you’re holding your breath, terrified that the smallest jolt will detonate their payload.
Kiss Me Deadly
If you’re one for classic noir sci-fi films, Kiss Me Deadly fills your need for suspense movies made before the turn of the 21st century.
Mike Hammer works with his associate and lover Velda as a rough and tough private investigator. One night, Hammer stops his car abruptly as a psychiatric patient runs from the hospital into the road. He lets her into the car as she’s alone and only wearing a trench coat. She quotes a poem and says no matter what happens, “remember me.”
Thugs attack the car and drag the girl away, with Hammer and Velda listening as she gets tortured to death.
They decide to pursue her case and get to the bottom of what just happened. They discover the case has ties to the Manhattan project.
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If you like Steven Spielberg and suspense movies more than Stephen King and horror films, try out one of Spielberg’s under-appreciated historical dramas. This film is based on the 1984 book Vengeance by George Jonas on the real-life Operation Wrath of God.
In the 1972 Summer Olympics, a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September killed 11 Israeli Olympians. A team of five, led by Avner Kaufman, is tasked with the assassination of the Palestinians suspected of the massacre.
In between each of the assassinations, the members of the team all grapple with the morality of their own killings.
The Night of the Hunter
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Another classic suspense movie from 1955, The Night of the Hunter is based on true events. However, this movie was simply inspired by the true crime of one person, rather than a pivotal historical event.
The screenplay and novel it was based on both draw inspiration from the real life killer Harry Powers.
The film follows Reverend Harry Powers, a misogynistic serial killer. He appoints himself as a minister and travels along the Ohio River to marry women for their money before killing them with a switchblade. He justifies these actions as God’s work.
He’s working on charming a widow of his previous cellmate. The cellmate took part in a robbery and his family knows where he stashed the $10,000. Harry plans to infiltrate the family, murder the wife, and steal the cash as soon as she gives up the location.
Taking inflation into account, $10,000 in 1955 would have the buying power of $104,400 in 2022.
The Plague Dogs
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The Plague Dogs is an interesting addition to the list, as it’s the only animated one. So an animated movie about dogs; should be cute, right?
Be prepared for the very first non-family-friendly MGM animated movie and all the emotions that come with it. Follow Rowf and Snitter, two dogs abused in a Great Britain research lab. They escape together, after almost dying in an incinerator. After the thrill of their newfound freedom wears off, they discover the difficulties of surviving on their own. Beyond the basics of food and shelter, they have to contend with news outlets sparking outrage across the country about two murderous dogs carrying the bubonic plague.
The film sheds a light on the cruelties of vivisection and animal testing with no end goal.
The Silence of the Lambs
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Hannibal Lector inspires suspense in any story, from novels to TV shows. The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most uncomfortable.
Rotting behind bars, Hannibal Lector gets called upon to help catch Buffalo Bill. Only someone as sick as Lector could get into the mind of a man serially killing young women and removing their skin.
Clarice Sterling, an FBI trainee, gets pulled from the academy to interview Lector. Jack Crawford thinks she might be the only one able to pull information from him, as the ex-psychologist rarely lets anything slip.
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I know what you’re thinking. An Adam Sandler movie. Who co-stars in it, Kevin James and a loveable animated animal side-kick?
How about Adam Sandler playing a gambling-addicted jeweler who needs to find a rare black opal in order to pay off his debts?
Also, the Weeknd is there? Playing himself?
If you want to see someone break so far out of their traditional character that you don’t even recognize them, watch Uncut Gems. You might surprise yourself and find it’s one of the best suspense movies on Netflix.
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Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and Martin Scorsese work together to give the audience a wild ride to Shutter Island. If you thought Inception blew your mind, Shutter Island is here to unravel your expectations once again.
DiCaprio as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels works with Ruffalo as Chuck Aule to find the truth about a missing patient of Shutter Island. Ashecliffe Hospital houses the criminally insane on this remote island along the Boston Harbor. They only have one clue, and as they arrived right before a massive storm, they have no means of escape.
The staff refuses to cooperate, and Daniels and Aule are met with roadblocks everywhere they turn. When they finally uncover the truth, will they be able to accept it?
Your Favorite Suspense Movies
With so many amazing contenders, it’s tough to make a list of just the 10 best suspense movies. So what did we miss?
Did we pick the right Martin Scorsese movie? Should we have included a Stephen King adaptation? Do you think a Netflix Original like Bird Box deserves a place on the list?
Tell us your favorite suspense movies in the comment section below!