With the temps dropping outside and the sofa looking better than ever, it’s time to tuck in and get lost in a pulse-raising, can’t-look-away movie full of twists, turns, drama and lots of suspense. It’s thriller season, in other words, and fortunately, Netflix has you covered. While the streaming platform has a great lineup of whodunits, procedurals, true-crime flicks and other thrillers, let’s face it: They can be a bit hard to find behind that front screen. We’ve saved you the time and trouble of doing your own police work, and have this critic-curated list of the best thrillers on Netflix right now.
Bird Box (2018)
A viral sensation when it hit the streaming service back in 2018, The Night Manager director Susanne Bier’s survivalist nail-biter stars Sandra Bullock as a steely mother trying to save her kids from a bizarre threat: an evil force you can’t look at lest your worst self-harm impulses be realized. Teaming up with a team of fellow survivors (including John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver and Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes), the blindfolded Bullock tries to lead her also-blindfolded young’uns to safety. Bird Box wants to do for sightlessness what A Quiet Place did for sound, turning our senses into the source of our worst nightmares.
Watch it: Bird Box
Black Sea (2014)
Who isn’t a sucker for a good submarine thriller? Kevin Macdonald’s Black Sea came and went in theaters and deserved a much better fate than it received. Jude Law top-lines as a hard-luck mercenary sub captain who’s approached by a wealthy (and shady) speculator with a get-rich-or-die-trying mission (also shady): locate a multimillion-dollar stash of Russian gold bullion that went down with a Nazi sub during World War II. Full of double crosses and deep-sea claustrophobia (not to mention a couple of — even shadier — crewmates), this unsung, tense workout feels like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre under water.
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Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece popped up a while back on Netflix, but some may have missed its arrival, since it’s buried in the streamer’s vast catalog of titles. Chances are you’ve seen this influential future-shock thriller before, but even if you have, it’s worth revisiting, because this is a film that’s so twisty and layered you’re guaranteed to find new things in it every time. Harrison Ford is a futuristic private eye in Bogart mode trying to hunt down a bunch of renegade replicants (including Daryl Hannah) who seem as human as he is … perhaps more so. If you like your thrillers jigsaw-intricate, this is the ticket.
Watch it: Blade Runner
This taut little British indie was the breakout role that launched the career of Clive Owen. And it holds up as a murky descent into the nocturnal world of London’s casinos and after-hours dens of illicit thrills. Owen plays a quick-fingered dealer who wants to be a writer, but can’t seem to separate the two, leading him into darker and darker ethical waters as he plies his duplicitous trade at craps and blackjack tables, looking for material for the book he wants to write. It’s easy to see why Croupier made Owen a star. He’s seductive, smart and all too eager to sell his soul to separate suckers from their money.
Watch it: Croupier
A Fall From Grace (2020)
Tyler Perry, best known for his raucous Madea comedies, tries something very different in this deliriously entertaining Netflix original about a woman (Crystal Fox) who’s thrown in the slammer for murdering her husband (Mehcad Brooks). Sure, Perry loads on all of the lurid, Lifetime-movie trappings, but there’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned guilty pleasure, especially when it keeps you second-guessing whodunit and why and includes walk-ons from folks like Phylicia Rashad.
Watch it: A Fall From Grace
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Here’s another terrific puzzle box of a movie that deserved a far better fate at the box office than it got. Based on the first in Stieg Larsson’s string of Scandinavian bestsellers, David Fincher’s bruise-back procedural stars Daniel Craig as a disgraced Swedish investigative journalist who’s hired by a crusty old millionaire (Christopher Plummer, oozing entitled malice) to solve a decades-old murder in the family. With the help of an antisocial goth hacker (an outstanding Rooney Mara), their investigation takes the mismatched pair of sleuths to some very dark and perverse places. This is a clinical, cold movie (and not just because of the snowy setting), but it freezes your blood in all the best ways. If there was any justice in Hollywood, we’d be three or four sequels deep into this series by now.
The Guilty (2021)
A Hollywood remake of 2018 Danish import, The Guilty stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 dispatcher for the LAPD whose evening on the phone bank is thrown for a loop when he receives a desperate call from a woman (Riley Keough) who has been abducted. Because her kidnapper can hear her, too, she’s forced to speak in code, and the cop in Gyllenhaal kicks into overdrive as he begins putting two and two together in a race against time to help her before she’s murdered. The movie is almost entirely close-ups of Gyllenhaal’s face, but director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) knows how to turn that limitation into a strength, ratcheting up the tension from scene to scene. If that sounds a bit thin as a story, just wait — there’s a twist coming in the final act. And no, I’m not spilling the beans.
In the Line of Fire (1993)
This is one of my favorite entries in the ’90s section of Clint Eastwood’s filmography. Eastwood plays an aging secret service agent who’s still haunted by the guilt of being on duty the day that JFK was assassinated in Dallas. Now, on the eve of his retirement, when a brand-new psycho-killer (John Malkovich, it’s no spoiler) begins taunting him about taking out the president, he gets a chance at redemption. That makes this electrically charged film sound cornier than it is. It’s actually one of those rare Hollywood blockbusters that manages to be slick and complex at the same time, with a handful of truly unforgettable action scenes thanks to director Wolfgang Petersen and Malkovich’s wonderfully unhinged lunatic on the loose.
Watch it: In the Line of Fire
Leon: The Professional (1994)
If you’re wondering if it’s possible for a film about a remorseless loner hit man to make room for tear-jerking emotional tenderness, well, here you go. Directed by Luc Besson, The Professional stars Jean Reno as Leon, a French contract killer, who witnesses a family in his building getting wiped out by a sadistic dirty cop (Gary Oldman, deliciously over the top). The only survivor is 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman in her first big role), whom he takes under his wing, protecting her and teaching her the ins and outs of his sordid business. If that all sounds wildly irresponsible, well, it is … but somehow it also manages to work remarkably well.
Watch it: Leon: The Professional
Mystic River (2003)
Another Clint Eastwood title for this list, although this time he stays behind the camera with this blistering adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s brutal bestseller. Three childhood friends who have grown up and apart (Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn) in the Irish neighborhood of South Boston are forced to reckon with their pasts when Penn’s daughter is murdered. Penn’s Oscar-winning performance is certainly the one you remember the most, but this is one of those movies where no matter which part of the screen your eyes fall on, there’s a great performance.
Watch it: Mystic River
Shutter Island (2010)
Easily the most frequently — and unjustly — dismissed collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island is a gorgeously haunting slice of ’40s pulp fiction. It’s also one of those movies where, as a viewer, you’re never quite sure where you stand — in a good way. DiCaprio plays a U.S. Marshall who, along with his partner (Mark Ruffalo), arrives at a creepy island-bound insane asylum to look into the disappearance of a murderer inmate. But once he begins sniffing around, other mysteries and dirty deeds start popping up. To say any more would risk spoiling some of Scorsese’s best twists, but trust us, they’re doozies.
22 July (2018)
Directed by Paul Greengrass, the man behind the best of the Jason Bourne films, 22 July is a true-crime procedural about the terrible 2011 massacre of 77 people in Norway by a deranged right-wing extremist. And while the movie manages to stay on the right side of being exploitative, its basis in reality makes every second that ticks on the clock feel like a gut punch. The mass killer’s main grievance is the country’s open borders to immigrants, but rather than dwell on politics, the film focuses more on how the police and politicians responded to the tragedy in real time. Like Greengrass’ early 9/11 drama, United 93, the story sweeps you up in its granular minutiae. It isn’t until it’s all over that you’re able to exhale and look at the bigger picture.
Uncut Gems (2019)
When you hear the name Adam Sandler, pulse-pounding thrillers aren’t exactly what spring to mind. But this gritty, vise-tightening changeup for Sandler is the kind of film that gets your nerves squirming and your heart threatening to leap right out of your chest. Sandler plays a gambling addict in New York’s Diamond District who seems to get off on the rush of seeing how close he can come to oblivion. Directed by the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems is the most anxiety-inducing night at the movies you may or may not be able to sit through. But there’s no denying the brilliance of Sandler’s tightrope-walking performance. A lot of movies get called “thrillers,” but here’s one that literally delivers cold sweats and goosebumps.
Watch it: Uncut Gems