The thriller genre saw a genuine explosion of quality titles throughout 2023, no doubt due to the likes of bombastic theatrical releases and several streaming exclusives. In fact, a variety of films that incorporated other genres like romance (Fair Play) or comedy (The Origin of Evil) excelled the most at being tense thrillers, making this a very prolific year for the genre. Even biopics like Oppenheimer could be classified as a thriller by some audiences (not us, though). But what were the best?
We’ve combed through just about every thriller that was released in 2023 in order to solve this pressing issue. There was a bounty of thrillers from around the world, and you might just find your next favorite movie in this diverse list of titles. From domestic blockbusters to international streaming exclusives, these are our picks for the best thriller films of 2023.
- Release Date
- February 14, 2023
- Carter Smith
Swallowed is a thriller that preys on making you feel as uncomfortable as possible. The film follows Benjamin and Dom, played by Cooper Koch and Jose Colon respectively, as the two celebrate Benjamin’s foray into a new career. To help fund Benjamin’s journey, the two agree to pull off a small drug run across the Canadian border in order to acquire some extra cash. Unfortunately, when the two are forced to swallow their illicit drugs to get past the border, trouble heads their way as the delivery goes horribly awry.
Swallowed is a Body Horror Thriller
Writer and director Carter Smith previously dabbled in the body horror genre with his feature film debut, The Ruins, which veered into severe ick territory with monstrous plants. While Swallowed deliberately leans into being a thriller, this level of uncomfortable horror reaches a peak when it’s revealed what’s actually being delivered within our protagonists’ bodies. If you have a strong stomach, Swallowed is more than a worthwhile thriller to spend an uncomfortable night with. Buy or Rent Swallowed on YouTube, Prime Video and AppleTV+.
19 The Marsh King’s Daughter
Daisy Ridley stars in this tense thriller by director Neil Burger. Based on the book of the same name by Karen Dionne, The Marsh King’s Daughter sees Ridley playing Helene Pelletier: a woman who grew up in the captivity of the monstrous Marsh King. Having grown up in a life of isolation at the hands of a monster, Helena finds that the Marsh King’s sudden return may put her own daughter at risk. Venturing into the wilderness, she opts to use the Marsh King’s own teachings against him. Ben Mendolsohn, Garrett Hedlund, Caren Pistorius, and Brooklynn Prince play additional roles in this lush thriller.
Daisy Ridley Delights in The Marsh King’s Daughter
Though most may recognize Ridley for her role in the latest Star Wars film trilogy, she demonstrates a compelling range in The Marsh King’s Daughter, crafting an emotional performance that doesn’t rely on melodramatic acting. The film’s cinematography, which was shot in the forests of Ontario, is at times thoroughly beautiful, and made all the more effective through the film’s expedient editing. The Marsh King’s Daughter ended up being a serviceable thriller, elevated by its engaging lead and terrific villain portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Buy or Rent The Marsh King’s Daughter on AppleTV+, Google Play, YouTube, or Prime Video.
Despite being released on the horror-focused streaming platform Shudder earlier in the year, Attachment is a thoroughly engaging film that blends multiple genres together, including the thriller genre. We follow Maja and Leah, a young couple in love, before a sudden health scare prompts a move to London. As Leah is struck with a bizarre seizure, Leah’s Jewish mother, Chana, makes her presence known. Chana’s mysterious nature may be the key to Leah’s affliction, unveiling some deeply held secrets that would be better off undiscovered. Gabriel Bier Gislason made her feature-length directorial debut with this feature, with the main cast being comprised of Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick, Sofie Gråbøl, and David Dencik.
Attachment Blends All Genres
Attachment is a surprising thriller not only for its supernatural elements, but for its eclectic blend of comedy and romance on top of it. It’s a film that doesn’t necessarily stray too far into any particular genre, making itself stand out when compared to its contemporaries — even if it doesn’t necessarily excel in any single genre. Still, the sum of Attachment‘s parts amounts to a unique thriller that may have gone under the radar amid the numerous releases distributed throughout 2023. Stream Attachment on Shudder.
17 Sympathy for the Devil
and Joel Kinnaman as The Passenger and The Driver respectively, Sympathy for the Devil sees the two going on a joyride from Hell. After arriving at a hospital to witness the birth of his first child, The Driver is suddenly held up at gunpoint by The Passenger. What follows is a tense battle of wits between the two as their hidden pasts come to a terrifying head. Yuval Adler directed this tense thriller, with additional supporting roles provided by Alexis Zollifcoffer, Cameron Lee Price, Oliver McCallum, and Kaiwi Lyman.Nicolas Cage is like MSG: add him to a movie, and the whole viewing experience is somehow made more flavorful. Take Sympathy for the Devil, for instance. Co-starring Cage
A Neon-Lit and Straightforward Nicolas Cage Thriller
A thriller such as this relies on the chemistry between our hero and villain to survive. Luckily, the manic energy of Cage and the gradual brazenness of Kinnaman amounts to a well-made thriller with an incredibly gracious runtime. Not a second is wasted on this nonstop thril lride, making it one of the most entertaining thrillers of the year — not one of the most deep thrillers, mind you, but entertaining. Stream Sympathy for the Devil on AMC+.
played by Letitia Wright, sets out to stake her claim on a gold mine located deep in the frontier. Unfortunately, when her stagecoach is ambushed by a group of virulent bandits, a hesitant partnership is formed between Mo and the outlaw Tommy Welsh (Jamie Bell) as they battle to survive the elements. The film was directed by Anthony Mandler, and features supporting roles played by Jeffrey Donovan, Kevin Wiggins, Brett Gelman, and the late Michael K. Williams.It’s getting rarer and rarer to see a modestly-budgeted Western hit the scene nowadays, especially one as tense as Surrounded. Set five years after the official conclusion of the Civil War, things are far from peachy as a caravan heads into the American West. A former Buffalo Soldier named Moses “Mo” Washington,
A Strong Modern Western
Surrounded is a refreshing revisit to the American frontier. Letitia Wright originally rose to prominence for her involvement with the MCU’s Black Panther, and Jamie Bell would see numerous accolades for his debut role in the 2000 film Billy Elliot, making them an excellent pairing in this tense battle for survival. It’s also worth pointing out that Surrounded features the last on-screen role performed by Michael K. Williams prior to his death in 2021, giving one last compelling performance as Will Clay. For that alone, Surrounded is more than worth the price of admission. Stream Surrounded on MGM+.
15 Full River Red
Full River Red is one of the few historical thrillers in this list, taking place in China’s expansive Song Dynasty in the 1100s. A murder case kicks off a dangerous game when Qin Hui, a prominent politician, is suddenly murdered in his residence. After discovering that the neighboring Jin Dynasty may be involved, two men from the Song Dynasty’s military dig into a tense conspiracy as bodies pile up, confidential materials go missing, and blood is spilled in the name of revenge. The film features notable Chinese actors like Shen Teng, Jackson Yee, Zhang Yi, and Lei Jiayin in its cast, making for an appropriate accompaniment to the film’s gargantuan runtime.
Rivers Run Red in Full River Red
Director Zhang Yimou is no stranger to period pieces, having previously directed the gorgeous, multicolored action epics Hero and House of the Flying Daggers. Combined with his direction, Rivers Run Red presents an interwoven story with no less than six separate characters at the forefront, jumping between different tones and set-pieces as if it were playing hopscotch. It makes for an incredibly entertaining watch. Rivers Run Red would ultimately go on to become the highest-grossing domestic Chinese film of 2023, a feat made all the more impressive considering how many incredible movies came out in the year.
- Release Date
- March 17, 2023
- Vasilis Katsoupis
the best in Willem Dafoe? We’re not so sure. If you loved his incredible performance in A24’s The Lighthouse, you’ll love him in his 2023 thriller, Inside. Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis, Inside sees Dafoe playing a professional thief named Nemo. In what would’ve been a lucrative job, however, Nemo sets off the security system of a lofty high-rise, which locks him inside. Left to his own devices after his partners in crime abandon him, Nemo finds himself battling his own psyche in addition to his primal needs just to survive. Gene Bervoets and Eliza Stuyck play supporting roles throughout this tense thriller.What is it about claustrophobic isolation that brings out
Willem Dafoe Delights in Isolation
Shot in chronological order, Inside is an intimate examination of isolation and a study of art’s meaning, if any, in relation to survival; it isn’t afraid to get a little experimental. Underneath what would’ve been a typical survival thriller, there’s an intriguing, introspective narrative to be found throughout its brisk runtime, examining Nemo’s wants and desires against his troubled past. Of course, Dafoe is a tour de force here as well, putting on a complete master class of a performance that you can’t look away from. Stream Inside on Prime Video.
13 Blood and Gold
Blood & Gold is as simple a thriller as they come; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. This grisly romp through the blasted streets of World War II fixates on the beloved pastime of fighting Nazis, albeit in a hilariously exaggerated fashion. The film follows a German soldier, Heinrich, as he attempts to abandon the war effort after years of fighting. When a Nazi squad attempts to execute him for treason, a sudden rescue organized by a woman named Elsa will lead the two into a merciless squabble against an occupying Nazi force. Though the Nazis may have come for gold, they’ll leave with oodles of pulpy violence. Robert Maaser and Marie Hacke play Heinrich and Elsa, respectively, with additional roles played by Alexander Scheer, Florian Schmidtke, Stephan Grossman, and Jördis Triebel.
Blood, Gold, Nazis, and Gore
Compared to similar films like Sisu or Inglourious Basterds, Blood & Gold‘s focus is incredibly pointed. If you want to see a violent, war-themed spectacle laden with blood and viscera, Blood & Gold is sure to keep your attention. Those who enjoyed director Peter Thorwath’s previous film, Blood Red Sky, will find a similar level of straightforward entertainment throughout. There’s no hiding what Blood & Gold is all about, making it a perfect film to fill a perfectly pulpy niche. Stream Blood & Gold on Netflix.
12 The Wrath of Becky
Remember the 2020 streaming exclusive Becky? A sequel was released in 2023 under the name of The Wrath of Becky, which features a lot more Lulu Wilson, and a lot less Kevin James. Set three years after the events of the first film, we follow an older Becky as she hitchhikes around the country, still reeling from the sudden death of her father after a traumatic home invasion. With her cute dog in tow, Becky takes refuge with an older woman to begin her life anew. But after a tense confrontation with neo-Nazis at a diner leads to some unexpected consequences, Becky will have to use her sadistic wits once more to rescue her dog and claim revenge. Lulu Wilson stars as Becky yet again, with additional performances provided by Seann William Scott, Denise Burse, Jill Larson, Michael Sirow, Aaron Dall Villa, and Matt Angel.
A Genuine Improvement Over the First Becky
Whereas the first Becky may not have been a massive hit, a comedic shift in tone caked in graphic hyper-violence makes for a terrific sequel in comparison, and Seann William Scott is genuinely brilliant as a menacing alt-right leader. Lulu Wilson’s portrayal of Becky is a lot stronger as a result, likely due in part to the ample focus on devious traps and ample violence. It’s a thriller that knows how to balance laughs with palpable tension. In essence, it’s a terrific example of how a sequel can not only expand upon the ideas introduced in a film, but improve upon what did and didn’t work originally. Stream The Wrath of Becky on Showtime through platforms like Paramount+.
With more suspense than dramas but less intensity than horror, these are the 35 greatest thriller movies ever made.
11 Medusa Deluxe
Do you like thrillers? Do you like whodunit mysteries, too? Do you like arthouse indies? In that case, Medusa Deluxe combines the best of all worlds with an abstract narrative. Set in the midst of a hairdressing competition, where big personalities clash with even bigger hairstyles, the sudden death of a contestant sparks a powder keg of intrigue and tension. As those who survive are forced to walk the catwalk, the search for answers may ultimately overshadow the event as a whole. The film was directed and written by Thomas Hardiman, and features Clare Perkins, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Kayla Meikle, Kae Alexander, Harriet Webb, Darrell D’Silva, and Luke Pasqualino in its cast.
A Fashionable Murder Mystery Set in One Take
Medusa Deluxe is a rare example of not only a murder mystery thriller, but one that is also presented in a single, continuous take. It’s such an eclectic combination of elements and ideas, you won’t really find an equivalent film elsewhere — especially in 2023. Seeing that Thomas Hardiman made his directorial debut with this creative effort, it’s a notable start to what will hopefully be a fruitful filmography in the future. Buy or rent Medusa Deluxe on YouTube, Apple TV+, or any other digital platform.
10 The Lesson
The Lesson is aptly named, as it’s a terrific lesson in how to make a compelling thriller. This British film sees Liam, played by Daryl McCormack, taking on the opportunity of a lifetime. Being an aspiring writer, he begins to tutor the family of his one and only idol, J.M. Sinclair. Unfortunately, over the course of five parts, Liam will find himself faced with a series of uncomfortable revelations as his tenure at the Sinclair estate draws out the family’s true inner workings. Richard E. Grant plays J.M. Sinclair, with additional performances provided by Julie Delpy, Stephen McMillan, Crispin Letts, Tomas Spencer, and Joseph Meurer.
The Lesson Teaches a Thrilling Lesson
The Lesson focuses less on bombastic action and more on interesting character dynamics, crafting tension through each character’s gradually warping and twisting relationships. Through the film’s methodical pacing, we’re given an in-depth look at how far we’re willing to stretch facades over our true desires. Richard E. Grant, in particular, does a terrific job of conveying a complex character, and his numerous interactions with Daryl McCormack elevates both of them into stellar performers. Stream The Lesson on Showtime through Paramount+ or rent and buy on digital platforms like YouTube. You can watch our video interview with Richard E. Grant below:
9 Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant
Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant – or simply just The Covenant – marked the second film directed by Guy Ritchie that was released in 2023. Set against the War in Afghanistan, we follow Jake Gyllenhaal as he plays John Kinley, a Green Beret fighting for his life against the Taliban. When he is successfully repatriated to the United States, Kinley discovers that his Afghan interpreter, Ahmed (Dar Salim), has been forced into hiding. Unable to let Ahmed fend for himself, Kinley takes it upon himself to return to Afghanistan under a new alias, reconnect with Ahmed, and successfully rescue his family from the Taliban’s reach. Antony Starr, Alexander Lugwig, Sean Sagar, Bobby Schofield, Emily Beecham, and Jonny Lee Miller make up the rest of the film’s main cast.
The Covenant is a Good Time All Around
As always, Jake Gyllenhaal is a treat to watch. His captivating performance alongside Dar Salim genuinely sells the depth of the duo’s relationship, making their tense encounters with the Taliban all the more spine-tingling. It’s this compelling partnership between our two leads that makes Guy Ritchie‘s The Covenant stand out from similar war films. The film is also an interesting reflection of real-world events, seeing as how the real-life takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is referenced in the film’s ending credits. Stream Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant on Prime Video. You can watch our interview with stars Gyllenhaal and Salim below:
8 The Killer
After three long years, David Fincher has returned with a brand-new action thriller. The Killer adapts the eponymous graphic novel series originally written by Alexis Nolent, with Michael Fassbender playing the role of our nameless assassin. He’s a cold, calculating man who deals in murder as if it were a luxury good. Split into multiple chapters, The Killer starts out with a typical assassination job gone horribly awry. After killing an unintended target, The Killer finds himself on the run when an ensuing international manhunt comes his way. Arliss Howard, Charles Parnell, Kerry O’Malley, Sala Baker, Sophie Charlotte, and Tilda Swinton round out the rest of The Killer‘s main cast.
The Killer Ultimately Kills It
The Killer marks Fassbender’s first major role following a lengthy hiatus after 2019’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix. As with most of Fincher’s previous films, there’s a unique visual style to be found throughout, emphasizing the distant performance of Fassbender while adding some much-needed weight to a comparatively simple premise. The soundtrack, primarily composed of songs by the Smiths, also adds to the unique atmosphere found throughout. Stream The Killer on Netflix.
Films are often good enough to make you forget they’re inspired by previous works. Here are some of the most amazing thrillers adapted from books.
7 The Origin of Evil
The Origin of Evil is a French-Canadian dramatic thriller. Laure Calamy leads the film as a typical factory worker named Stéphane. When she discovers that she’s the heir of Serge Dumontet, a wealthy business mogul, Stéphane is subsequently invited into Serge’s family at his request. However, despite warm intentions, the rest of Stéphane’s newfound family is less than eager to accept their newest member. Jacques Weber, Dominique Blanc, Suzanne Clément, and Céleste Brunnquell make up the rest of the film’s main cast, with Sébastien Marnier both writing and directing behind the scenes.
Less Thrills, More Laughs
The Origin of Evil comes off less as a tense mystery and more like a morbid comedy, with each member of the family sticking out in the cast with a set of unique eccentricities. Like any good mystery film, especially a thriller to boot, you’ll never really find yourself knowing where the plot may head next. It’s ultimately a different kind of thriller film, one that relies more on the development of complex relationships between its numerous characters and their conflicting goals. Buy or rent The Origin of Evil on digital platforms like YouTube, Google Play, and Apple TV+.
6 Full Time
Sometimes, we don’t need extraordinary scenarios to feel tense. If you were lucky enough to catch Full Time when it debuted in the US for the first time, you’ll know this firsthand. Full Time is an eerily relatable thriller that centers on Julie Roy, played by Laure Calamy. Roy is a single mother who works a demanding job at a luxury hotel, with the stress of the situation compounded by her loving responsibilities and her attempts to find a better career path. Unfortunately, one small error is all it takes to knock her house of cards over, forcing her on a haywire journey that ultimately never relents. The film was directed by Éric Gravel, who previously directed the 2017 film Crash Test Aglaé.
Full Time Is an Eerily Relatable Thriller
Full Time is an engaging thriller due to its focus on a down-to-earth scenario. Many of us may feel the same as Julie, as we’re simply trying our best to get by while the world continues to turn ever faster. Much the same way that Uncut Gems presents a story with no breathing room, Full Time does so in a way that feels more sympathetic in comparison. Instead of ferrying drugs or shuffling gambling debt around, Julie is simply trying her best to move up in life in an honest way. Laure Calamy would later go on to win the Orizzonti Award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her lead performance. Stream Full Time on Prime Video and rent or buy on digital platforms.
5 Killers of the Flower Moon
It’d be fair to suggest that Martin Scorsese tends to hit much more than he misses. His 2023 crime film Killers of the Flower Moon has been a huge hit for many critics, topping critics’ lists for 2023, and yet has been divisive and disliked by some others (including many of us here). Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, and Lily Gladstone lead this tense film set in the midst of Oklahoma during the 1920s. The Osage Nation, a Midwestern tribe of Native Americans, finds itself afflicted by a spree of vicious murders following the discovery of oil on their land. What follows is a tense conflict between the tribal members and greedy opportunists as the FBI is compelled to intervene.
Martin Scorsese Delivers Once Again
Like Scorsese’s other crime-centric films, there’s an emphasis on the cultural and historical context that drives an individual to participate in such cruel acts of violence and greed. The performance of Lily Gladstone, in addition to the score provided by Robbie Robertson, are both exceptional aspects of the film, alongside Scorsese’s masterful direction. Though it runs for over 200 minutes, you’ll find yourself immersed in one of the most baffling true-crime stories from the previous century, with its depiction drawing polarized responses from members of the modern-day Osage Nation. Rent or buy on YouTube or other digital platforms, before the film streams on Apple TV+ for good.
R.M.N. is a wintry thriller set in the rural forests of Transylvania. We follow Matthias, played by Marin Grigore, as he returns to his home following a weighted resignation from his current job. Though he makes an effort to reconnect with his estranged wife and son, socioeconomic rumblings have a way of disrupting even the most idyllic of landscapes. The town’s factory recently employed a handful of foreign workers, bringing about discussions of societal structures that may ultimately boil over into violence.
R.M.N. Has no Real Winners or Losers
Cristian Mungiu’s previous films, like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, often address the complex intersections between regional histories, societal expectations, and cultural taboos. R.M.N. is no different. While we can’t necessarily boil down something as complex as Romania’s cultural history in just a few sentences, R.M.N. utilizes a varied cast of characters in order to illustrate the many different perspectives faced by those participating in its main conflict. Given that the film is loosely based on real events, there’s a realistic weight behind each of the film’s numerous viewpoints, not necessarily painting one side as inherently good, but giving us an understanding of how they’ve come to their current position. Stream R.M.N. on AMC+ and rent or buy on Google Play, Apple TV+, or other digital platforms.
3 How to Blow Up a Pipeline
With a title like How to Blow Up a Pipeline, this film was bound to get some eyeballs attached to it. Based on the eponymous nonfiction book by Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline reshapes Malm’s writings into a tense narrative involving oil pipelines, improvised explosives, and eight downtrodden individuals. When their mutual misery, brought on by a variety of cultural and socioeconomic factors, unites them under a single cause, they opt to protest via violent means in order to get their message across. Daniel Goldhaber directed this feature, having previously directed 2018’s Cam. Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, and Irene Bedard make up the film’s main cast.
An Uncomfortable, Captivating Thriller
Though How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an effective thriller first and foremost, its depiction of a controversial subject is something to be genuinely lauded. Whether or not you agree with the rationale of our protagonists, the film presents some uncomfortable questions that force you to reflect on an increasingly divisive issue. It’s hard to deny that How to Blow Up a Pipeline certainly caused quite a stir among internet discussions and regulatory bodies when it was originally released. Stream How to Blow Up a Pipeline on Hulu.
2 The Beasts
The Beasts is a film whose title leaves little to the imagination. Though it may come off as a horror film initially, this is very much a thriller through and through. We follow a French couple, Antoine and Olga, as they live their days in a small Galician village. On the surface, everything seems to be as idyllic as can be. However, when a potential wind turbine project is duly rejected by Antoine and Olga, an escalating series of tensions between them and the village’s residents may boil over into bloody violence. Marina FoÏs and Denis Ménochet play our main couple, with additional roles played by Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, and Marie Colomb.
The Beasts Will Leave You Breathless
This slow-burner thriller is one that’ll leave you squirming in your seat. For as unsettling as the film’s story eventually becomes, neither side is placed in a binary “good or evil” position. Instead, we get an interesting examination of the deep divisions that may not present themselves on the surface, with some absolutely incredible performances by Ménochet, FoÏs, Anido, and Luis Zahera. It’s a thriller whose tension comes from a genuine place, taking real-life sociocultural divisions and making them the crux of its intense scenes. The Beasts is streaming on MUBI and through Prime Video, and available to rent on digital platforms like AppleTV+ and Prime Video.
1 Anatomy of a Fall
A murder accusation is no laughing matter, especially when the circumstantial evidence is stacked against you. Anatomy of a Fall is a terrifyingly tense examination of such an idea. After a seemingly innocuous spat somehow ends with the death of Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), Sandra Voyter (Sandra Hüller) is pinned as the sole culprit in his untimely demise. A third witness – her blind son, Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) – is the only other pair of eyes that can attest to what truly happened. Justine Triet directed and co-wrote this international thriller, with additional performances provided by Jehnny Beth, Swann Arlaud, Antoine Reinartz, and Saadia Bentaieb.
Anatomy of a Fall Is a Perfect Thriller
The best thrillers often force the audience to make some pretty uncomfortable decisions. The ambiguity found throughout Anatomy of a Fall, compounded by the compelling performances from Hüller and Machado-Graner, makes the surrounding mystery all the more tense. Not a single shred of evidence, nor any provided testimony, can be taken at face-value — it ultimately boils down to what you, the viewer, are willing to believe. This ambiguity, combined with some stellar cinematography, allows Anatomy of a Fall to tell two distinct stories: one of a murder mystery, and the other of a relationship gradually falling apart at the seams. Rent or buy Anatomy of a Fall on digital platforms like Prime Video and YouTube.
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