The 30 Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time, Ranked

Bethany Quinn | May 29, 2019 Movies
The 30 Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time, Ranked

Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow in Se7en
Warner Bros. Entertainment

When it comes time to think about some of our favorite genres of film, it's hard not to immediately choose romantic comedies, Christmas movies, or the throwbacks we love so much. These films make us smile and laugh and swoon, and they will always hold a special place in our hearts. Plus, now with streaming services, we can watch our favorites any time we want! But if we think about it just a little bit more, it's the darker films -- the one that shock us, scare us, and really make us think -- that are also among some of our favorites.

These films are known as psychological thrillers, and they're captivating and keep us on the edge of our seats for the entire film. These are films that we don't want to miss even a second of -- not only because we are too scared to go to the bathroom alone, but also because every moment is important! These films have us trying to figure out what's happening (or keeping up with the characters every move) while at the same time biting our nails or clinging to our loved one's arm. These are the movies that truly make Hollywood history. Whether we're enraptured by epic and complicated characters like Travis Bickle or Patrick Bateman, or are desperately trying to follow the twist and turns in films such as The Usual Suspects or Shutter Island, these psychological thrillers are unmatched in so many ways. Many of them have won multiple prestigious awards and are beloved by critics and audiences alike.

Here are the top 30 psychological thrillers or all time, ranked.

  • 30. 'Falling Down'

    1

    Rated: R

    We all know that feeling of wanting to abandon our car in bumper to bumper traffic, but hopefully not the feeling of going on a rampage -- trying to off people. Michael Douglas stars as a man severely on the edge in this dramatic film.

  • 29. 'The Exorcist'

    2

    Rated: R

    Spinning heads, green puke, and a ton of expletives are just a few of the reason why this movie is famous. The other is that it has one of the craziest plots ever and features a young girl who is possessed by a demon!

  • 28. 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'

    3

    Rated: R

    If Single White Female took place in Italy in the 1950s -- and was replaced by two men -- it would be The Talented Mr. Ripley. Although we're joking (sort of), this film features Matt Damon as Tom Ripley, who attempts to fully take on the persona of his friend, Dickie Greenleaf, played by Jude Law. Damon does an excellent job of playing a creepy weirdo in this film.

  • 27. 'Identity'

    4

    Rated: R

    Ten strangers all find themselves stranded in a Nevada motel during a rainstorm. After they realize that they're slowly meeting their demise one by one, they also come to the realization that this is no coincidence. They must rush to stop the killer, but first they have to figure out who he is and why they're there!

  • 26. 'Cape Fear'

    5

    Rated: R

    Robert DeNiro plays a convicted rapist who, after 14 years behind bars, goes after the lawyer who defended him. Turns out the lawyer (played by Nick Nolte) had a key piece of evidence that could have gotten him acquitted.

    (OMG!)

  • 25. 'The Others'

    6

    Rated: PG-13

    Nicole Kidman plays a mom of two rather sick children in this film. She enforces a series of strict and borderline abusive rules for her children who must never come in contact with sunlight. Although the house appears to be haunted, we soon realize that Kidman's character -- nor anyone for that matter -- is really what they seem!

  • 24. 'The Machinist'

    7

    Rated: R

    Christian Bale is known for his intense dedication to his roles, and the dramatic weight loss he underwent for his character in this film proves it. He plays Trevor Reznik, a man who suffers from insomnia and has not slept in a year. He falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole until the tragic event that caused his downfall is revealed.

  • 23. 'No Country for Old Men'

    8

    Rated: R

    When a hunter stumbles upon the remains of a drug deal gone bad, $2 million and several dead bodies included, he decides to take the money and run. He is soon found out by a bloodthirsty killer who is after the money, and the hunter must do everything he can to stay alive.

  • 22. 'Zodiac'

    9

    Rated: R

    In Zodiac, a cartoonist and a journalist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., become friends as they share a mutual interest in the Zodiac killer, who is terrorizing San Fransisco. Together, they work toward catching the killer and discover a cover-up along the way.

  • 21. 'Mystic River'

    10

    Rated: R

    This movie features one of the most heartbreaking cinematic scenes ever. Sean Penn plays a father who's desperately trying to get some answers about his daughter's murder. During his investigation, he and his two childhood friends uncover dark secrets about their pasts.

  • 20. 'Fatal Attraction'

    11
    Glenn Close and Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction
    Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

    Rated: R

    We hate to say it, but we just might feel like Michael Douglas got exactly what he deserved in this film. Glen Close plays a woman obsessed with Douglas's character after they have an affair. Close's character becomes increasingly violent throughout the film, and it's clear that she is obsessed and dangerous!

  • 19. 'Primal Fear'

    12

    Rated: R

    In this film, Richard Gere stars as a lawyer who's defending a young man on trial for killing a priest. At first, Gere's character thinks his client is innocent, but all that quickly changes. In fact, he's in way too deep, and he must figure out a way to get out of this mess without compromising his job as a lawyer.

  • 18. 'Gone Girl'

    13

    Rated: R

    This movie has so many twists and turns, that it's easy to lose track of what exactly is going on. Nonetheless, Gone Girl is a great film that stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as a severely dysfunctional husband and wife. Pike's character gets kidnapped, but, of course, nothing is as it appears to the outside world!

  • 17. 'Black Swan'

    14

    Rated: R

    Natalie Portman plays a ballerina who's absolutely obsessed with her craft in this thriller. She finds herself in competition for the lead in Swan Lake with another dancer (Mila Kunis). As we watch the unraveling of Portman's character, the lines of reality are significantly blurred. Both actresses are phenomenal in their roles.

  • 16. 'Taxi Driver'

    15

    Rated: R

    In this film, Travis Bickle is a Marine veteran that is hell-bent on saving the world -- or at the very least, New York City -- from the dark and corrupt place he believes it has become. Of course, he's mentally unstable and talks to himself in the mirror. It was the role that catapulted Robert DeNiro into superstardom.

  • 15. 'Vertigo'

    16

    Rated: PG

    James Stewart plays a retired police detective who thinks he might be losing his mind when he sees a woman who looks exactly like a woman who killed herself right in front of him. He suffers from vertigo, so he was unable to help the first woman, who jumped to her death into San Fransisco Bay. When things begin to unfold, the ugly truth is revealed.

  • 14. 'The Game'

    17

    Rated: R

    Michael Douglas plays a wealthy loner, Nicholas Van Orton, in this thriller. He's invited to play a "game" on his 48th birthday by his brother. The game blends reality and fantasy, and Van Orton must use his skills to escape situations that often turn deadly.

  • 13. 'American Psycho'

    18

    Rated: R

    A Wall Street bro goes majorly insane in this film starring Christian Bale, who plays Patrick Bateman. Audiences get invited into Bateman's dark and twisted world where sex and murder reign.

  • 12. 'Misery'

    19

    Rated: R

    James Caan plays a famous novelist who, after getting injured in a serious car accident, gets taken in by an obsessed fan (Kathy Bates). She tortures the poor author and gets more crazed by the minute when she discovers that he has killed off her favorite character in his latest book.

  • 11. 'Rear Window'

    20

    Rated: PG

    This classic Alfred Hitchcock film stars James Stewart as a wheelchair-bound man who spies on his neighbors. He enlists the help of his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, to help him find out if one of his neighbors murdered his wife. He thinks he saw the murder while spying and, of course, in true Hitchcock fashion, there is lots of suspense and lots of scares.

  • 10. 'Inception'

    21

    Rated: PG-13

    When thieves have the ability to time travel and inject thoughts and memories into other people's brains, we know we're in for one fun -- albeit confusing at times -- ride! Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt star in this movie.

  • 9. 'The Usual Suspects'

    22

    Rated: R

    This star-studded cast includes Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, and Benicio Del Toro. The Usual Suspects tells the story of five men who engage in a gun battle and the lone survivor. Of course nothing is what it seems; we never know who is telling the truth. Turns out this is one big revenge job plotted by a criminal mastermind.

  • 8. 'Fight Club'

    23

    Rated: R

    We're going to break the first rule of Fight Club and talk about Fight Club. This film had one of the craziest twists of any film ever, and after it's revealed, one can't help but immediately want to watch the film again. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton star in this film about an underground fighting ring and soap-making scheme.

  • 7. 'The Shining' 

    24
    Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd and Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining
    Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

    Rated: R

    Jack Nicholson is at his best in this horrifying film. His character, Jack Torrance, travels with his family to an isolated hotel, but something strange happens. He starts becoming crazy and violent and even attempts to kill his own family. Even his son's psychic ability isn't enough to save them!

  • 6. 'Psycho'

    25

    Rated: R

    This movie is horror and psychological thriller combined and is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous films. Janet Leigh's famous shower scene has been discussed for decades and is a crucial part of pop culture history. And the name Norman Bates is pretty much synonymous with, well, a psycho.

  • 5. 'Memento'

    26

    Rated: R

    How can a person with short-term memory loss possibly track down the person who murdered his wife? That's the premise for this mind-bending film that stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. Pearce's character uses a series of Polaroids to help him remember things, and the movie actually travels backward and forward, so just try to keep up!

  • 4. 'Shutter Island'

    27

    Rated: R

    When one of the patients of a mental institution goes missing, two US marshals, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, are sent to investigate. But viewers discover as the film goes along that these two might not actually be who they say they are. Are they patients? Is Shutter Island even a real place? This film does the psychological thriller genre justice!

  • 3. 'The Sixth Sense'

    28

    Rated: PG-13

    Psychological thrillers often have shocking endings that nobody saw coming, and The Sixth Sense is no exception. In fact, some consider it the best movie ending of all time. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment star, and this film really is a must-watch for anyone and everyone who enjoys suspense.

  • 2. 'Se7en'

    29

    Rated: R

    Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives on the hunt for a killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his MO. This film is graphic and has a heartbreaking conclusion. But if one can stomach it, it's pretty fascinating as well.

  • 1. 'The Silence of the Lambs'

    30
    Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
    MGM

    Rated: R

    This movie is best psychological thriller of all time -- and for good reason! Jodie Foster stars as an FBI agent who must enlist the help of a vicious cannibal murderer, played by Anthony Hopkins. During their time together, she questions him about another murderer whom she is tasked with finding, yet somehow audiences get the feeling that these two are really growing to like one another. So strange and so captivating! 

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