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The 25 best thrillers on Netflix (March 2019)

An image from Gravity - one of the best thrillers on Netflix

A sinister feeling of dread crawls up your spine, creeps over your back, and refuses to let you go. No, not that giant spider you assumed was dead in the corner of the living room. I’m talking about the best thrillers on Netflix. A good thriller is kinda like a chameleon: it can feel right at home in many genres, plucking elements from comedy, drama, action, horror, sci-fi, to craft a wholly new experience. One that mostly consists of seeing how long you can go without shouting at the screen or pointing out a small, overlooked tidbit that’s bound to come up again later. 

And, thanks to the joys of streaming, there’s a bounty of nerve-jangling treats to watch right now, at the touch of a button. No matter where you are - no, seriously, check our recommendations for best VPN for Netflix - the choices are plentiful. So when you need a jolt of adrenaline, or fancy testing how well your nails can grip onto the armrest, there really is no better option than settling down with one of the best thrillers on Netflix. Here’s 25 to get you started.

25. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Region: UK, US

The movie: We’ve all thought it when we hear of someone’s misfortune: I wouldn’t let that happen to me. That’s precisely what spurs Ruth into action, in this darkly comic thriller that’s in a world of its own. Melanie Lynskey tackles the main role as a nursing assistant whose life gets upended after her home is burglarised. Dissatisfied with how the police handle her case, she steps in to rectify the problem herself, along with the help of her oddball neighbour, Tony (Elijah Wood.)

Why it’s worth a watch: Lynskey and Wood are perfect as a mismatched pair of pals who veer into some crazy territory, all in the name of friendship. A seriously unique movie, that bends back and forward into various genre tropes, it riffs on typical thriller moments and injects them with shots of black comedy. Lynskey’s constant barfing during one scene will make you nod, and go: 'Yep, that’s totally what I would do.'

24. 46 Meters Down (2017)

Region: US

The movie: One of those you’ve no doubt scrolled past countless times thinking how “meh” it looks. While its cover doesn’t inspire originality, 47 Meters Down is a crackin’ little B-movie. Mandy Moore sheds her This is Us persona to play Lisa, one of two sisters vacationing in Mexico. After schmoozing with some local boys, the pair decide to try swimming with sharks. But don’t worry, they’re safely ensconced in a protective cage! Things go horribly wrong almost immediately as the boat’s winch snaps, sending their cage careening to the ocean floor. Yes, 47 meters down.

Why it’s worth a watch: This movie is way more tense than you’d expect! It shares a lot of similarities with The Shallows, which is understandable as they feature women being harassed by sharks, yet it packs in more creeps and hide-behind-your-pillow moments. Moore in particular gives a gut-wrenching performance. 

Read more: 11 big dumb shark movies to guarantee you'll never go swimming again

23. Cheap Thrills (2013)

Region: US

The movie: Two old school friends meet for a couple of drinks at a bar. A simple beginning that we can all easily see heading one way: a drunken cab ride home, right? Cheap Thrills is anything but predictable. This black comedy stomps into unchartered waters almost immediately for Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry), when another couple at the bar ask the pair to join them. What starts as a couple of innocent bets to make cash turns into a game of one-upmanship that’s ends in a bloody riot. 

Why it’s worth a watch: Such a simple idea is wrung of every possibility, using that key tagline ("What would you do for money?") to explore what humans are capable of and what they value most. The movie shifts from comedy to horror and back again like it’s no big deal, which is exactly the point; when do terrible things cease being funny?

22. A Most Violent Year (2014)

Region: UK, US

The movie: Ah, the one where Jessica Chastain somehow wasn't nominated for an Oscar. Hot off the superb Margin Call, director J.C. Chandor delivers a dark and unyielding glimpse into the brutal inner workings of a NYC business in the early '80s. Oscar Isaac stars as Abel Morales, a small oil company owner urged by his wife Anna (Chastain) to protect his livelihood and family whatever the cost. It simmers along at a steady pace, slowly pulling you in, as Abel must figure out how to get his business into the black without resorting to violence. 

Why it's worth a watch: Chastain puffing on a cigarette, wagging her fingers at thugs for being "very disrespectful" in a New Yawk drawl, is alone, worth it. Okay, apart from that, it’s the methods of slowly mounting tension that happen without you even realising. Before you know it, you’re clutching the seat. Who knew the oil business could be this riveting?

21. Cube (1998)

Region: US

The movie: Years before Saw dallied with the whole ‘strangers waking up in a horrible situation’ premise, we had Cube. Gritty and as lo-fi as they come, the movie is a late ‘90s gem that offers one of those absolute killer scenarios: what the hell would you do if you awoke in a square room with no way of getting out? Luckily, for these poor souls, they’re not alone: they’re each in a cube that’s connected to several others. Unluckily, they’re booby-trapped, meaning it’s not simply a matter of crawling out. As the characters grow acquainted, it turns out some of them know more than they’re letting on. 

Why it’s worth a watch: Here, the low budget works in the film's favour as the less than slick sets are worked into the scum and grime of the Cube universe. Before his budgets were moderately upped on the likes of Splice (genius!) Canadian director Vincenzo Natali made Cube for less than $400,000. It’s worth watching simply to see how far ingenuity can take you when you’re running on fumes.

20. The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Region: US

The movie: A schlocky horror set in a New York City law firm with Al Pacino as the company’s wide-eyed, bonkers head. What’s not to love? Keanu Reeves co-stars as a Southern defence attorney, wooed by Pacino’s charms, and the bright lights of the big city, and promises of even more money than he made from defending years of guilty crooks. This is not your typical thriller, by any stretch, with so many wacky moments that you will indeed wonder, much like Charlize Theron’s character Mary Ann, WTF is going on? You won’t see the final twist coming.

Why it’s worth a watch: This one’s easy: Al Pacino’s performance. Hammier than a plate of pigs-in-blankets, the method actor cranks up the crazy moreso than ever before, igniting a fierce glint in his eye and a monstrous roar from his inimitable vocal chords. Well, of course, what would you expect when you learn who he’s playing.

19. CAM (2018)

Region: UK, US

The movie: Imagine if you tried to login to your digital presence one day, to find that not only were you locked out, but someone else, an impostor, had taken over your online identity. CAM revolves around that scenario, following the life of a camgirl named Lola (Madeline Brewer) who makes a living as a webcam model on a popular live girls site, racking up tokens and likes from her devout followers. Her hopes of hitting the site’s top ten are dashed when she wakes one morning to discover her profile has been taken over… by an exact copy of herself.

Why it’s worth a watch: It’s the extended Black Mirror episode you never knew you wanted. Brewer, who you’ll recognise from Orange is the New Black - or mistake for Anna Faris - is terrific as the terrified Lola, aware that something is drastically wrong and keen to uncover the truth. And this has some killer twists and turns as she delves deeper into the site’s seedy backstory.

18. Copycat (1995)

Region: US

The movie: A copycat killer stalks young women in the Bay Area, leaving clues at crime scenes, taunting psychologist Helen Hudson. Why? That’s the question the cops, Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney, want answered. Housebound after an attack on her life, Hudson’s severe case of agoraphobia is only trounced by booze, making her a questionable consultant. Yet her expertise in serial killers is key to figuring out the man behind the crimes, and of course where he’ll go next. Fans of Mindhunter will dig this.

Why it’s worth a watch: It’s a whole lot of fun. Does it pack the same heft as Seven? No. But that doesn’t make it any less tense. Plenty of its most gripping sequences have played out in straight-to-video dirge, but the performances here are so playful, you’ll get utterly taken in. Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter, together add a level of sheer experience that further bolster this simple thriller’s aspirations. 

17. Wind River (2017)

Region: UK, US

The movie: Easily one of the best movies of 2017. Taylor Sheridan’s Hell or High Water follow-up opens on wildlife officer Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) as he discovers the body of a young woman on an isolated reservation. The freezing plains of Wyoming provide a deliciously icy backdrop for this bleak, chilly tale, that soon finds FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) assigned to the case when its revealed the woman was raped. Over the course of several weeks, Banner uncovers the truth, with twists that you won’t expect. 

Why it’s worth a watch: Slow-burners get a bad rap for being, well, so leisurely about things. Make no mistake: Wind River takes its time. And yet, it steers itself into unusual territory, making its final punch work because of its earlier attention to detail. Olsen is terrific handling a role that you’d expect a more seasoned actor to tackle, adding real authenticity to her FBI rookie.

16. Moon (2009)

Region: US

The movie: Picture the scene: you’re a remote technician reaching the end of a very lonely three-year cycle on the moon. I know, just stick with me. That’s the scenario Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) finds himself in at the outset of Moon. As his solitary mining gig is about to end, however, he discovers a sobering truth about his predicament… which I won’t spoil here. Duncan Jones’s debut is simply gorgeous, part-Solaris, part-Sunshine, with a dash of his own sparse aesthetic thrown it. 

Why it’s worth a watch: With Jones’ latest sci-fi outing Mute also on Netflix, now's as good a time as any to rewatch Moon. Why? Well, without heading too far into spoiler territory, I will say this: *whispers* they’re connected! Of course, it helps that Moon is a solid film on its own merit. Haunting and scary, with a brilliant performance from Rockwell who carries the entire film, it’s astonishing what Jones achieves on a miniscule budget. 

Read more: Mute ending explained - everything you need to know after watching

Continue to Page 2 for more of the best thrillers on Netflix

Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.