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Best Psychological Thrillers, Ranked




by Xtreme HD IPTV

The best psychological thrillers are true to their genre: they are suspenseful and cerebral, forcing audiences to expand their minds while characters face suspenseful environments. Several of acting’s finest have graced the screen in a psycho thriller once or twice, and the genre as a whole can be applied to a plethora of films. We will be looking at the psychological thrillers that caused minds to bend and muscles to clench; the thrillers that birthed twist endings still living on in cinematic infamy. We will be breaking down the 15 best psychological thrillers in order.


While taking a look at some of the 20th and 21st century’s best, we will also take a dive into the directors on this list and their ability to solidify the genre as one of the industry’s most attractive types of narratives. From Fincher to Nolan, the psychological thriller is a genre that has been uniquely crafted by every filmmaker of its time, even all the way up to 2019 with Todd Phillips’ Joker and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. No matter which way they bend the story, these films get us invested and force us to try to resolve the conflicts before the characters do.

Not only can these thrillers play tricks on the minds of audiences, but they also break down our psyche and make us vulnerable to unlikely twists that we never saw coming. As complex as these films can get, so can the act of analyzing them. But when everything comes together for a film in this type of genre, it deserves to be remembered. Now let’s get into the 15 best psychological thriller films.

Updated Feb. 25, 2024: This collection of the best psychological thrillers has been updated with additional content, including where to stream each of the films featured.

15 Get Out (2017)

Get Out

Get Out

Release Date
February 24, 2017

Our list kicks off with an Oscar-winning original screenplay from one-half of Key & Peele. Get Out follows a young Black man, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), visiting his white girlfriend’s family estate, as he becomes ensnared in a more sinister reason for the invitation. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship. But as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. Watch the trailer for Get Out on YouTube

Get Out Put Peele On the Map

Equal parts gripping thriller and provocative commentary, Get Out was written and directed by Jordan Peele and produced by Blumhouse’s Jason Blum. Its themes of racial prejudice perfectly complement a welcome sense of humor, inventive cinematography, and palpable tension that slowly grows more and more intense as the film continues. To this day, most would consider this to be not only one of the best thrillers of the 2010s, but one of the best Black horror movies ever made. Let’s hope this dynamic duo continues to collaborate on future projects. Stream on Prime Video

14 Rear Window (1954)

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces, Rear Window is a calmer type of thriller that delves into the psychological effects that isolation and curiosity can have on the mind. In the film, a photographer named L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) has become bound to a wheelchair in his stifling apartment. His only entertainment is the view from his window into the courtyard behind his apartment building. He watches his neighbors through the frames of their windows, only to discover that one of them may have been murdered. Watch the trailer for Rear Window on YouTube

Hitchcock Toys With the Audience

Hitchcock plays with the audience throughout the entire film, starting them off with confidence that what they saw was real, only to make them question if they made up the whole thing. The iconic premise and terrific performances by Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, and James Stewart would inspire decades of homages and parodies to come. While Rear Window doesn’t have much horror to it, it is an almost noir-style film with plenty of suspense, making it an excellent example of the thriller genre. Stream on The Criterion Channel

13 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby set the template for many horror films about cults. In particular, Rosemary’s Baby efficiently holds back on the reveal of the cult and instead uses a steady build of mystery and paranoia, shifting from drama to horror along the way. Mia Farrow beautifully plays a pregnant woman who moves into a new apartment with her struggling actor husband (played charmingly by the great American director John Cassavetes) with overly friendly neighbors. As it turns out, people in Rosemary’s life are conspiring to bring the burgeoning mother into a Satanic world in preparation for the Antichrist. Watch the trailer for Rosemary’s Baby on YouTube

Polanski’s Classic Thriller

Farrow’s performance and Polanski’s masterful direction helped make the film a smash hit and an instant classic, and the greatest film about cults of all time. The film works as both a dedicated thriller and a shocking horror film, relying more on its unsettling tension than outward gore or loud scares to make your skin crawl. Ruth Gordon, who played the role of Minnie Castevet, would famously win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, with Polanski receiving several Best Screenplay nominations across a plethora of institutions. Stream on Paramount+

12 The Sixth Sense (1999)

While the shocking plot twist has become a facet of great storytelling in cinema, there was a time when the technique wasn’t so familiar to audiences. It has been explored for decades, but M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 paranormal thriller, The Sixth Sense, has redefined how pop culture interprets a film’s plot twist.

Avoiding all spoilers, despite the film’s biggest reveal and its cultural impact, The Sixth Sense is a lesson in storytelling and subverting expectations. There are colossal performances from Bruce Willis and a young Haley Joel Osment, who plays a child psychologist and a young boy with the bone-chilling ability to see ghosts, respectively. But that’s far from the twist. Watch the trailer for The Sixth Sense on YouTube

What a Twist!

Shyamalan plays with our expectations like a true entertainer and hits us over the head with the movie’s most important theme: the conflict between seeing and believing. It’s a rare instance of a movie completely recontextualizing itself after you see the ending, prompting you to watch it twice to pick up on all the clues you may have originally missed. Since Shyamalan’s breakout film, he hasn’t quite come out of its shadow, but his trademark storytelling techniques continue to reach the masses. Buy/Rent on Prime Video

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11 The Devil All The Time (2020)

Set in the Deep South after World War II, the secrets of several strangers cause their lives to collide in an unexpected and explosive way. The protagonist of The Devil All The Time, Arvin (Tom Holland), is a young man who must hold what’s left of his troubled family together. The film has a very unconventional structure, which is a key part of what makes it so suspenseful. Watch the trailer for The Devil All The Time on YouTube

A Cleverly Disguised Story

The majority of the film is more or less a bunch of cleverly disguised exposition. In a traditional three-act story structure, Arvin would be set on his quest within the first ten minutes or so. However, The Devil All The Time is an extremely slow burn, taking the time to set the finale up, so it shocks audiences. That isn’t to say that the film is boring before that point, as the amazing cast each plays their respective characters so well.

With a corrupt preacher, mentally broken soldiers, and highway serial killers, The Devil All The Time forces its audience to see if Arvin’s innocence can survive what must be one of the most suspenseful films of all time. While director Antonio Campos took a risk with the unconventional style of storytelling, it accomplished exactly what he meant it to. Stream on Netflix

10 American Psycho (2000)

Just a year after The Sixth Sense came a different type of psychological thriller; one based on social commentary. American Psycho, the only film on this list written and directed by a woman, makes a statement about yuppie (young professional) America. Based on the controversial novel by Brett Easton Ellis, and starring Christian Bale as the infamous Patrick Bateman, this film is a polished look at an anti-hero who kills for pleasure. Bateman is an unreliable narrator as we see the world through his eyes, with his escalating violent antics potentially putting his professional life at risk. Watch the trailer for American Psycho on YouTube

A Critique of Corporate America

Drawing from films before its time, like The Shining and Taxi Driver, and inspiring work after its time, like Dexter and Nightcrawler, Mary Harron’s psychological cult classic American Psycho keeps audiences guessing. It’s a commentary on corporate America, the facades of business people, and their pretentious behavior through a hyper-analysis of a corporate yuppie by day, and an axe murderer by night. Harron takes the anti-hero archetype and spins it on its head psychologically, delving into Patrick Bateman’s mind and thought processes, especially with help from his cringey but convincing narration. The film’s ending is a perfect cherry on top of a biting black comedy thriller. Stream on Peacock

9 Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut is the last film in Stanley Kubrick’s historical filmography before he died. And, although it was not as acclaimed when it came out, this film, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is now known as a definitive epilogue to a storied career. On the surface, the film has a simple premise. A physician, William Harford (Tom Cruise), discovers that his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), considered having an affair a year prior. Disturbed by this revelation, William finds his way into a bizarre secret society, whose sexual proclivities may throw the two into a world they’re not prepared to inhabit. Watch the trailer for Eyes Wide Shut on YouTube

Perfect Attention to Detail

While this won’t be Kubrick’s last appearance on this list, Eyes Wide Shut is a masterclass in attention to detail, exploring love, lust, cults, and more, with a dreamlike tone and pitch-perfect cinematography. While it is hard to compare Kubrick’s final film to its predecessors like 2001: A Space Odyssey, its cultural movement is shifting it into a classic. The performances are great, with both Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman putting on an absolute clinic. Kubrick is at his best late in his career, and he took his time to deliver a film that checks every box. Tragically, Kubrick would pass away only a few days after a viewing of the final cut.

With cinematographer Larry Smith (Only God Forgives) behind the camera, Kubrick and co. create a psychological thriller based on taboo subject matters like sex and prostitution, and the vulnerability that men have to become tempted by their vices. From its mysterious, iconic term fidelio to its intense study of the psyche of a man entering a “new world,” Eyes Wide Shut is Kubrick’s last and greatest contribution to cinema. Stream on Tubi

If you’ve already seen Eyes Wide Shut, but want a thorough breakdown of the film’s thematic ending, check out our video below:

8 The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse is a lesser-known film compared to the rest on this list, but it deserves recognition just the same. The film follows two lighthouse keepers as they attempt to remain sane during their time stranded at a remote lighthouse. However, with dwindling supplies, copious amounts of alcohol, and a growing distrust of each other, there’s a real possibility neither man will leave the lighthouse alive. The film has a small cast, but with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in the leading roles, as well as some incredible world-building found throughout, that is all The Lighthouse needs. Watch the trailer for The Lighthouse on YouTube

An Unconventional A24 Thriller

Writer and director Robert Eggers made many unconventional choices with this film, such as keeping the aspect ratio of the screen small and tight, locking the audience in the small space with the lighthouse keeper. The unusual nature of the cinematography matches the strange and unnerving nature of the story. With a concept inspired by a story by Edgar Allan Poe and a local legend about an accident that took place at a real lighthouse, it is no surprise that the audience has a hard time discerning reality from insanity. Its positive qualities have to be seen to be believed, even if the film was famously snubbed at the Academy Awards. Stream on Tubi

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7 Memento (2000)

Christopher Nolan, one of the genre’s most influential filmmakers, has pretty much claimed it for his own and has been experimenting with different narratives within it, dating back to his earlier films like Memento. Being Nolan’s breakout movie, this murder mystery and psychological thriller explores the life of Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, who has severe short-term memory loss and can only remember things from as far back as a few hours before. As he attempts to secure justice for the death of his wife, Shelby will have to tackle his own perception of reality along the way. Watch the trailer for Memento on YouTube

An Unordered Thriller

Nolan uses Leonard’s condition to drive the story on a bit of an unusual road. Leonard’s condition takes us through his memories and the clues, like his various tattoos that he leaves himself to remember previous events. Nolan explores the technique of an unordered narrative structure and nails it, creating a payoff that you’ll have to remember. Memento would not only inspire other filmmakers but also himself, as he would go on to make some of the 21st century’s most memorable psycho thrillers. Stream on The Roku Channel

6 Parasite (2019)

What more is there to say about Parasite? It has all the awards and has made every top 10 list since. But Parasite’s multi-faceted exploration of the genre simply has to be discussed; the psychological thriller is one of those areas. Putting a microscope on two very different families in South Korea, director Bong Joon-ho breaks down class by portraying the thoughts and actions of the characters. You see deep into the characters and easily dissect their motives, their wants, and their needs. It follows two distinct families: one who is financially destitute but incredibly cunning, and the other who is financially well-off but a little too trusting. The poorer family manages to wedge themselves into a life of luxury via an impressive scheme, but their efforts may have disastrous consequences. Watch the trailer for Parasite on YouTube

The First International Best Picture Winner

While Parasite may not rank up to its psycho-thriller counterparts, it isn’t far off. With its incredibly global reception deeming it an instant classic, it simply explores several different genres, like dark comedy and drama, and cannot be held under one scope or interpretation. However, the film is a horrifying and surreal look into the lives of everyday people with completely different backgrounds. It creates the illusion that allows the audience to feel what the characters are feeling, as well as their suspense and anxieties. This is without mentioning Parasite’s incredible ending, closing the door on a caustic examination of class struggles and differing socioeconomic classes. Stream on Max

5 Psycho (1960)

psycho

Psycho

Release Date
June 22, 1960

Cast
Anthony Perkins , Vera Miles , John Gavin , Martin Balsam , John McIntire , Simon Oakland

With such an unforgettable movie title turned cinematic icon like Hitchcock’s Psycho under the psychological thriller genre, it was a no-brainer to add it to this list. Serving up one of the most iconic movie scenes and plot twists in history, this 1960 classic defined a legendary career for horror director Alfred Hitchcock. The film is about a young lady on the run, Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh), who meets Bates Motel manager Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins. Unfortunately, after she mysteriously vanishes after her brief stay, a group of individuals connected to Marion start to investigate. Watch the trailer for Psycho on YouTube

Defied Many Expectations

The film features one of the horror genre’s greatest and most influential scenes with the shower stabbing, as well as a mind-bending twist at the end. While films that followed took Hitchcock’s method and tweaked it decade by decade, he will always be notable as a pioneer of psychological thrillers and the horror techniques that would always have a place in cinema. The black and white film is still adored today and constantly examined by college professors and film scholars. Its depth goes beyond its claim as a psychological thriller masterpiece, but other filmmakers have made even more significant claims.

Not only did it change the genre of horror, but Hitchcock used Psycho to redefine what was acceptable for a film — in a lot of ways, it broke all the rules. Having the protagonist be a woman of questionable morals, at least for the time, was groundbreaking and shocking for audiences at the time. However, her fate in the shower scene left everyone shaken. What do you do if your protagonist is suddenly gone? That river of chocolate syrup going down the drain challenged everyone’s idea of what a film could be. Buy/Rent on Apple TV

4 Inception (2010)

Inception is a psychological thriller that still has audiences scratching their heads, and it’s all thanks to Christopher Nolan’s evolution in the genre. Films like Inception often need a unique world to exist in, and what better place to set a psychological action thriller than a dream.

The 2010 epic, Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is about a group of highly professional “dream artists” who are attempting to hijack the dreams of a rightful company heir, played by Cillian Murphy. However, the seemingly simple act of invading someone’s dreams quickly goes south, leading the dream artists to slowly lose their tenuous grasp on what is and isn’t real. Watch the trailer for Inception on YouTube

Twists, Turns, and an Ambiguous Ending

With stellar performances that help boost the magnitude of this film, Inception relies on a complex narrative structure that seems to complicate audiences’ thought processes. While the clichéd plot twist seems to be littered within the genre, several psychological thrillers like to leave their resolutions up for interpretation, like American Psycho. And, this is the main reason why movies like Inception are revisited so often, with fans searching for different answers on every rewatch. While on the surface, it’s our interpretation that allows our imaginations to run wild, Inception is unique in that the dream world it portrays takes us out of our own world and into the film, and Nolan does this effortlessly. Buy/Rent on Apple TV

If you want to see what Christopher Nolan had to say about Inception‘s deliberately ambigious ending, check out our video below:

3 The Shining (1980)

Coming in at third spot is Kubrick’s second nod to the psycho-thriller, but this time, it’s his 1980 Stephen King adaptation of The Shining that is messing with our psyche. The film, which delivers some of cinema’s most iconic lines and shots, like “Here’s Johnny” and the intricately-patterned Overlook Hotel carpets, is about a man and his family’s descent into madness while watching an eerie Colorado hotel over the winter months. Though it seems like a perfect opportunity for Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) on the surface, the Overlook Hotel’s unsettling atmosphere and horrifying secrets may bring to the Torrance family to ruin. Watch the trailer for The Shining on YouTube

A Psychological Masterpiece

While performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall tend to live on, it’s Kubrick’s take on psychological horror and his keen attention to detail that always has film scholars circling back to it. The Shining is visually stunning, yet slow-burning. It hits all the right narrative marks and Nicholson flawlessly consumes audiences, helping them feel his character’s psychological breakdown. The film, although criticized by the likes of Stephen King himself, is the epitome of films that follow a protagonist’s fall into absolute madness; a true psychological marvel. Buy/Rent on Prime Video

2 Fight Club (1999)

David Fincher is no stranger to psychological thrillers, but it’s his 1999 cult classic, Fight Club, that is almost always mentioned when discussing this specific sub-genre. This film has a slew of subversions, a major, decade-defining plot twist, and a multi-character study of two complex, yet similar characters in Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s performances. At a glance, Fight Club is about a dejected, nameless man played by Edward Norton, whose dissatisfaction with his current circumstances prompts a drastic change. With the help of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the two form a “fight club” to vent their frustrations. However, hidden truths soon reveal themselves, turning this simple premise on its head. Watch the trailer for Fight Club on YouTube

A Nearly Perfect Thriller

With films like Zodiac and Gone Girl, Fincher has proved his mastery of the psychological thriller genre, but it’s Fight Club that stands the test of time in the best possible way. Everything comes together in this film, including the acting, the score, the dark but visually-striking tone, and much more. When an already-mentally-gone protagonist starts to spiral in the midst of new friends and interactions, we begin to question our own psychosis as audience members.

While some may feel Fight Club hasn’t aged well compared to some of cinema’s classics, like The Shining and Psycho, the film nails the genre unlike any other. That is, except for one film that has paved its own way within the genre and cinema greatness alike. Buy/Rent on Apple TV

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1 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

American Psycho has serial killers, Inception has an intense psychological narrative, and The Sixth Sense has an unforgettable plot twist. But, few movies have all three quite like Jonathan Demme’s 1991 Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs. Along with captivating performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, this film is about a young detective searching in a maximum security psych ward to find a serial killer. She seeks his aid in order to track down a serial killer (Ted Levine) still roaming the streets, with the life of his latest victim hanging in the balance. Watch the trailer for The Silence of the Lambs on YouTube

One of the Greatest Psychological Thrillers Ever Made

Enter Anthony Hopkins’ iconic character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. With one of the shortest screen times for any Best Actor winner, Hopkins brings his character’s psychological disorder to life and is an absolute thrill, rightfully so. The film is adored by scholars, critics, and fans alike. While it stands alone as one of the greatest films of the 1990s, it ranks high on all-time lists of horror films, crime dramas, and especially psychological thrillers. Aside from Silence of the Lambs being mind-bending, psychologically straining, and bone-chilling all at the same time, it is simply an A+ lesson in filmmaking, from visual storytelling to unforgettable suspense. Buy/Rent on Apple TV

For some interesting facts about The Silence of the Lambs, check out our video below:

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