The Best Thrillers on Netflix Right Now (May 2021)

Sometimes you want Netflix to provide comfort food, and other times you want it to give you a jolt to the system. When it’s the latter, you’ll want a good thriller that may not go heavy on the blood and gore, but still manages to rattle you to your core. The streaming service has a solid selection of picks from the genre, but they’ve also got a lot of other movies labeled under “thriller” that wouldn’t be the best use of your time (looking at you, Road to Perdition; you’re a period drama, not a thriller).

If you need a bit of guidance on what thrillers you should check out, look at our recommendations below.

RELATED: The 85 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

Image via Columbia Pictures

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Akiva Goldsman

Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno

Filmmaker Ron Howard’s adaptation of the Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code was a huge deal when it was first released back in 2006, largely owing to the enormous popularity of Brown’s book. The film is a religious thriller in which Tom Hanks’ professor of religious symbology becomes the prime suspect in a murder, and in working to clear his name uncovers a massive conspiracy that goes back centuries. It’s a fun and taught thriller with some gorgeous European location shooting, and it’s no surprise it grossed nearly $800 million. – Adam Chitwood

Training Day

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Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: David Ayer

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington, Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Eva Mendes

The film that won Denzel Washington his first Best Actor Oscar also still holds up pretty well as a nail-biting crime thriller. Training Day follows an LAPD officer named Jake (Ethan Hawke) on his first day as part of an evaluation by an esteemed narcotics officer named Alonzo (Denzel Washington), but as the day goes on Jake discovers that not only is Alonzo corrupt, but the entire day is a set-up for which he could take the fall. Washington give a phenomenal performance as an antagonist who is both charming and terrifying at the same time, while Hawke hods his own opposite the veteran actor. The third act is still a bit incredulous, but the film is worth watching for Washington’s performance alone. – Adam Chitwood

Shutter Island

Shutter Island Leonardo DiCaprio

Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Laeta Kalogridis

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Max von Sydow

What happens when a master filmmaker like Martin Scorsese decides to make a twisty little thriller? You get Shutter Island, a great and underrated movie in Scorsese’s vast filmography. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as a pair of U.S. Marshals who arrive on the titular island to investigate a disappearance at an enigmatic psychiatric facility. From the get-go something feels off, and Scorsese delights in following DiCaprio’s character around this island through the darkness, revealing twists and turns along the way. It’s the kind of dramatic thriller you immediately want to watch again once it’s over, and DiCaprio gives a terrific as a man who seems to be unraveling. – Adam Chitwood

The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief Julia Roberts Denzel Washington

Image via Warner Bros.

Director/Writer: Alan J. Pakula

Cast: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, Stanley Tucci, and John Lithgow

If you’re in the mood for a legal thriller, The Pelican Brief is one of the absolute best of the genre. Written and directed by legendary filmmaker Alan J. Pakula, the man behind All the President’s Men, Klute, and The Parallax View, this 1993 John Grisham adaptation stars Julia Roberts as a law student who writes a legal brief detailing a theory about why two Supreme Court justices were just murdered, which then puts her in imminent danger. In hiding, she teams up with a reporter to uncover the truth before it’s too late. The film is a nail-biting thriller starring two of the best actors of their generation, and absolutely scratches that “90s thriller” itch for those who are fans of this particularly excellent subgenre. – Adam Chitwood

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Image via Columbia Pictures

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Steven Zaillian

Cast: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer

Hollywood took a big swing at adapting the beloved Swedish book The Girl with the Dragon in 2011, and while director David Fincher’s adaptation may not have been the huge box office hit Sony Pictures was hoping for, it remains a taught and incredibly compelling thriller made on a big budget. Rooney Mara stars as the titular tattooed girl, an adept hacker and sexual assault survivor named Lisbeth Salander who is enlisted to help a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) track down a killer of women. Fincher’s attention to detail serves the icy Swedish setting well, and the film does a tremendous job of immersing you in a world that further wraps you up in the mystery at hand. Handsomely crafted and terrifically well-acted, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is somewhat underrated. – Adam Chitwood

RELATED: David Fincher and the Anatomy of a Defiant Woman in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Nocturnal Animals

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Image via Focus

Director/Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen

If you’re in the mood for an overlooked thriller with a tremendous cast, twisty plot, and gorgeous aesthetic, check out Nocturnal Animals. The film is the second directorial effort from Tom Ford after the critically acclaimed A Single Man and follows an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) as she reads the new novel written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads the novel, the events inside play out on the screen and you being to connect the dots between this supposedly fictional story and the gallery owner’s real-life – and the reason her marriage fractured in the first place.

Gerald’s Game

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Image via Netflix

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas

In novella form, Gerald’s Game makes for one of Stephen‌ King’s queasiest, most relentlessly gripping works. It’s the very definition of a page-turner, keeping you glued to the next word, following one woman’s seemingly impossible fight to survive a very slow, silent death while tending to the trauma she’s buried deep inside herself. It’s also entirely first-person, taking place inside the mind of a woman left handcuffed to the bed in a remote cabin after her husband dies of a heart attack in the middle of a tryst. Understandably, it was long thought unfilmable, but Mike Flanagan’s tender, terrifying 2017 adaptation proved the naysayers wrong with a heartfelt but oh-so-horrifying film that’s faithful to King’s work in all the right ways. Gore-phobes be warned though! At its core, Gerald’s Game is a lovely film about surviving trauma, but it is also a brutal survival film and one climactic scene (which was infamously hard to read, let alone watch) wins the gold star for the most vocal audience freak-out I’ve ever heard in a movie theater. – Haleigh Foutch

Nightcrawler

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Image via Open Road Films

Director/Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton

An utterly dark yet compelling thriller in the vein of Taxi Driver, the 2014 film Nightcrawler features one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performances ever. He plays an odd and hungrily ambitious freelance photographer named Lou who goes to grotesque lengths to capture exclusive footage of grisly crime scenes in Los Angeles. Riz Ahmed is heartbreaking as Lou’s assistant and Rene Russo gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the morning news director at a local station. It’s cerebral and intense, but also darkly funny and involving — at times you’ll forget you’re watching a thriller. But it all clicks into gear in the extremely unsettling third act, which will have you on the edge of your seat. If you’re into dark thrillers with standout performances, give this one a watch. – Adam Chitwood

Uncut Gems

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Image via A24

Directors: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

Writers: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, and Ronald Bronstein

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, and Eric Bogosian

The must-see thriller Uncut Gems contains quite possibly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career. He plays a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict in New York City’s Diamond District who much track down an expensive gem he purchased in order to pay off his debts. The film chronicles his journey pretty much minute-by-minute, with directors Josh Safdie and Benny Safide maintaining a masterful sense of tension throughout. Seriously, from pretty much the first scene to the last this is a nail-biting thriller that will have your stomach in knots but your brain riveted. You’ve been warned. – Adam Chitwood

Freaks

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Image via Well Go USA

Writers/Directors: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park, Amanda Crew, Lexy Kolker

I’m going to save one of the major things that wows me about Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein’s Freaks for the very end of this blurb because I would suggest jumping into this story knowing as little as possible. But, do know that this is one of the best character-driven sci-fi thrillers of 2019. The movie features a show stopping performance from Lexy Kolker as seven-year-old Chloe. She’s spent her entire life completely isolated from the world inside her home with her father, Henry (Emile Hirsch). He’s always told her that the outside world is a dangerous place, but the older Chloe gets, the more tempted she becomes to venture out – and then she finally does. Okay, are you ready for that semi-spoilery detail to further emphasize how wildly impressive this film is? Here it goes; I love a good big-budget superhero film as much as anyone, but if you’re looking to see what can be accomplished with a limited budget in the genre, Freaks is an absolute must-see. It’s one of those movies that’ll have you leaning in more and more with its early curiosities before absolutely exploding with creativity as Chloe discovers more and more about her reality. – Perri Nemiroff

The Guest

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Image via Picturehouse

Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Ethan Embry, and Lance Reddick

If you thought You’re Next was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, might I suggest that film’s director/writer combo’s follow-up, a twist on the action-thriller genre called The Guest. One part Terminator and one part classic John Carpenter, the film stars Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as a creepy, potentially sinister war veteran who shows up unexpectedly at the home of one of his fellow soldiers, who died in battle. The family can’t decide if the titular guest’s intentions are good, bad, or a little bit of a both, but as far as the audience is concerned, this is a wildly entertaining riff on classic tropes, with a cheeky finale that’ll leave you smiling. So if you’re in the mood for something thrilling, a little scary, and a lot of fun, look no further. – Adam Chitwood

Velvet Buzzsaw

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Image via Netflix

Director/Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, and John Malkovich

The best way to approach Dan Gilroy’s crazy Velvet Buzzsaw is to see it as a slasher film that takes place in the art world. Instead of a masked madman rampaging through a summer camp full of horny teenagers, it’s disturbing art rampaging through the art scene full of greedy profiteers. The plot centers on a group of art dealers who stumble upon the work of a deceased, criminally insane artist and find that his art could be highly profitable. However, proximity to the art causes other art to come alive and murder those who would seek to make money off art rather than engage with it. Gilroy’s targets a very clear, but it never feels like he’s preaching at the audience because Velvet Buzzsaw is so much fun. It’s a movie with art and commerce on its mind, but never at the expense of giving the audience a good time. – Matt Goldberg

RELATED: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ Ending Explained: The Art of the Kill

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Image via A24

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Flippou

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, and Bill Camp

Heads up: There is a chance you will absolutely hate The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But there’s also a chance you’ll love it. This wholly original psychological thriller hails from The Lobster and The Favourite filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Colin Farrell as a cardiac surgeon who secretly befriends a young man (Barry Keoghan), who then subsequently warns him that his entire family will slowly die. This is a weird movie. At certain parts, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or vomit—but I wholeheartedly recommend it for its impeccable filmmaking and originality. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you… – Adam Chitwood

Bird Box

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Image via Netflix

Director: Susanne Bier

Writer: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, Rosa Salazar, Machine Gun Kelley, Lil Rel Howery, Sarah Paulson

Netflix squeezed in one last streaming sensation before the end of 2018 with Bird Box, the star-studded and meme-friendly new thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a mother trying to protect her children in an apocalyptic world Set across two timelines, Bird Box follows a group of survivors through the end of the world after a mysterious force starts causing people to kill themselves on sight. Naturally, that sets up director Susanne Bier for plenty of thrills and gags based on the anxiety of trying to survive without sight (some more believable than others) and she uses the opportunity for all its worth, staging some pulse-pounding set-pieces in the fight for survival. Bullock carries Bird Box with a commanding performance that reminds you why she’s an old-school movie star and she’s matched by Trevante Rodes, who sets his charm level to “dangerously high” and John Malkovich, who leans into his gift for playing smart men of a nasty disposition that you just can’t help but love/hate. — Haleigh Foutch

Apostle

apostle-dan-stevens-michael-sheen

Image via Netflix

Writer/Director: Gareth Evans

Cast: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Kristine Froseth, Sharon Margan

Brace yourself for some bloody, brutal thrills with Apostle, the horror-thriller from The Raid director Gareth Evans, who turns his attentions from breathless action to stomach-churning tension. Legion star Dan Stevens delivers another swing-for-the-fences performance as a man who infiltrates a rural cult that’s taken his sister hostage and discovers some deeply disturbing truths behind the utopian facade. Evans’ slow-burn pays off with a mighty explosion of viscera, and a strong stomach is required for the blood-soaked finale, which veers from suspense to full-on carnage. — Haleigh Foutch

Cam

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Image via Netflix

Writer: Isa Mazzei

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Samantha Robinson, Melora Walters, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey

A tense thriller about ambition, identity, and survival in the internet age, Cam stars Madeline Brewer stars as Alice, a successful cam girl intent on climbing to the top of the ranks — an ambition that’s going rather well until she logs on one day to find she’s been replaced by a cheerful doppelganger who’s taken her face and her career. From there, Cam follows Alice down a surreal rabbit hole as she tries to discover who’s behind her new web clone and how to reclaim her life, building a growing sense of unease and sick helplessness as Alice’s reality drops out from under her. Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and director Daniel Goldhaber are a dynamite creative team, who bring a refreshing sex-positive, non-exploitative approach to the often untouched subject matter while staging a dazzling and disorienting plummet through the pitfalls of internet identity and the intensity of ambitious careerism. — Haleigh Foutch

Mute

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Image via Netflix

Director: Duncan Jones

Writer: Michael Robert Johnson

Cast: Paul Rudd, Alexander Skarsgard, and Justin Theroux

Mute is a weird-as-hell movie, but if you’ve ever wanted to see Paul Rudd play a despicable character and knock it out of the park, this is for you. The second in an unofficial trilogy of loosely connected films, this thrilling sci-fi noir follows in the footsteps of Duncan JonesMoon and takes place in the year 2035. Alexander Skarsgard plays a mute bartender named Leo searching for the woman he loves who has mysteriously disappeared. Rudd and Justin Theroux, meanwhile, play pretty deranged surgeons who play a major role in the film. Mute is a gnarly film that doesn’t exactly offer up an optimistic portrait of the future, but if you’re on its wavelength it’s a darkly fun ride. – Adam Chitwood

RELATED: ‘Mute’ Proves Paul Rudd Is Still Somehow Underrated

Berlin Syndrome

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Image via Vertical Entertainment

Director: Cate Shortland

Writer: Shaun Grant

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt,

Clare Havel (Teresa Palmer) is a young Australian photojournalist on vacation in Berlin. She’s living the dream. Taking in the sights, falling in love with a new city, and just maybe falling in love with a handsome local man, Andi (Max Riemelt), who strikes up a passionate romance with her. But after she goes back to his place for a romantic night, she wakes up to the next morning to realize he’s locked her in his apartment on his way to work, and with a slow dawning terror, she understands that he never intends to let her out. This is how we enter Berlin SyndromeCate Shortland‘s taut thriller, which takes us through every step of their courtship and Clare’s subsequent imprisonment in a slow burn portrait of psychological terror and the human capacity for survival.

Palmer is excellent in the role of a smart woman in captivity, who discovers new depths of strength with each passing day, and Shaun Grant‘s script gives her great material to work with, never treating Clare like a fool. She makes clever, assertive choices the whole way through, a fact that incites you to root for her and drastically notches up the tension at the same time. Her instinct for survival is met by Andi’s capacity for cruelty, unfolding a bit each day as Clare realizes how dire her predicament truly is. Consummately tense and emotionally challenging, Berlin Syndrome kicks up a slow boil battle of the wits that constantly notches up the dread and pays off in a breathless finale. — Haleigh Foutch

The Invitation

the-invitation

Image via Drafthouse Films

Director: Karyn Kusama

Writers: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, John Carroll Lynch, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso

Karyn Kusama displayed a knack for genre filmmaking with the wildly underrated teen possession pic Jennifer’s Body, but with The Invitation, she showed a more mature, refined hand for horror and sickening, stomach-churning tension. The film stars Logan Marshall-Green as Will, a man still stuck in the dregs of grief after the death of his young son when his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) invites him to a special dinner party, hosted at his old home. Will’s suspicions flare the moment he arrives — his ex-wife is too happy, her new lover (Michiel Huisman) is a slick creep, and their guests are acting supremely weird, but Kusama keeps you on a piano wire-taut leash wondering if Will’s grief is spinning out into paranoia or if they really are trapped in a suburban cage with a death cult.

Marshall-Green is outstanding as a man at the end of his rope, and Kusama’s eye for sinister detail pierces through even the quietest moments with a slick of cold sweat terror. Throughout the oh-so-polite dinner, she needles at social anxiety and the sickening dance of repressed aggression with precision until the persistent paranoia boils over. Sharp and smart, and occasionally downright creepy, The invitation proves it was a crime Hollywood kept Kusama in director’s jail for so long. — Haleigh Foutch

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The 85 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now (May 2021)

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