Top Ten Psychological Thrillers

For those who read these lists would know, I’m a huge horror fan (sure I say it often enough). But unfortunately horror can just delve in stupid one-dimensional characters, cheap jump scares, and some completely idiotic decisions that make you face palm yourself. But then when I’m in the mood for something along the same lines but much more thought-provoking, the psychological thriller rears its ugly head and shows the true dark side of human nature in much more realistic surroundings. So today I want to list off my ten favourite films of this genre that has had a profound impact on me. An honourable mention goes to one of my favourite films ever, Oldboy (2003) as although some would rank it for this list, it is more of a neo-noir to me. Also The Vanishing/Spoorloos (1988), but I have talked about that film enough as it is. So let’s begin with a good one…

10. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Okay, this film would lean more so in the horror category to most people. But I wanted to include it today because I think it is a really underrated classic. Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam Vet who suffers from increasingly violent and disturbing hallucinations, and tries to find out why. The visuals in this film are really horrifying, and Jacob’s emotional and mental breakdown is both harrowing and depressing. But it just makes the film all that more intriguing. However now they are working on a remake which just annoys me beyond belief. But hopefully that will turn people’s attention towards this film and understand how good it was.

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9. Fatal Attraction (1987)

I actually saw this film when I was quite young, and it truly terrified me. Michael Douglas plays a married man who starts an affair with a very unhinged woman played brilliantly by Glenn Close. When I discussed this film with my parents and several other people who first saw it upon release, they said that many men were so freaked out by Close’s performance, that people just stopped having affairs in their droves. Although many critics and feminists have argued about the portrayal of that character being seen in a negative light has not come across so well, they can’t argue about an effect like that happening, saving many marriages.

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8. One Hour Photo (2002)

I get the feeling that this film didn’t get too much of a mention after the sad passing of Robin Williams. I remember seeing this at the time not expecting what I was walking into. To be fair who did? Everybody knew Robin Williams as such a lovable guy, even in dramatic roles up until this point. And even after the first ten minutes, a switch went off in my head that actually made me very unsettled. He is so calm and relaxed in his demeanour and behaviour, that when we see little nuggets of something much deeper going on, you raise both your eyebrows and wonder “What the fuck is wrong with this guy?” A really worthwhile viewing to see another side of Robin Williams you would never have expected in a million years.

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7. Seven (1995)

David Fincher has established himself as one of the best thriller directors of our generation. Although his career began with a rocky start with the polarizing Alien 3 (1992), he quickly made a name for himself with this rather disturbing thriller. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play detectives looking into a murder case involving the deaths of people all linked to motives involving the seven deadly sins. The film itself is just great to look at even in the murky green saturation and heavy rain. But it just helps further establish the entire mood of the movie itself. With some rather memorable moments including the victim linked to Sloth, and that ending that still leaves people shocked. It can actually make you weep for humanity at times.

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6. Black Swan (2010)

Darren Aronofsky has yet to let me down as a director. From the intensity of Requiem for a Dream (2000) to the tragic look at the darker side of the wrestling industry in The Wrestler (2008), he is making some absolute masterpieces, which up to this point, reached his peak with this entry. Natalie Portman plays a ballerina desperate for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake, and must compete with rival Mila Kunis to get there, with some tragic consequences. Drawing inspirations from classic Italian Giallo’s and even from the likes of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), this is a perfectly crafted psychological thriller that I hold in complete high regard. I didn’t want to see this at first because I just thought it was a movie about ballerina’s competing with each other. It is, but it is so much more than I expected.

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5. Misery (1990)

I was first told the story to this film by my brother on a camping trip many years ago, and I didn’t sleep for the rest of the weekend. Then a few years later when I saw this film, I continued to have sleepless nights as all I could see was Annie Wilks face as she stood standing at the end of my bed in my dreams. The story follows a writer (James Caan), who during a snowstorm is involved in a car accident but is saved by his number one fan, former nurse Annie Wilks, who proceeds to keep him under her care, whatever it takes. Cathy Bates completely steals the show in this film, as her psychotic side is revealed very early on, and it is truly intense. So much so she received an Academy Award for her efforts, which was well deserved.

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4. Memento (2000)

Everybody knows Christopher Nolan nowadays for his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), but Memento is truly the film to make it to today’s list. Guy Pearce plays a man who suffers from amnesia every five minutes, so takes Polaroid’s and tattoos himself as often as he can so he can keep himself on his goal of finding out who murdered his wife. I actually love this movie as up until this point I have never seen a film done this way before. Playing the narrative in reverse while also playing another chronologically, it all joins together to form a rewarding cinematic experience that I had never witnessed before. And just laid the groundwork for a very promising career for the director who had better things to come.

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3. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

How could I make this list and not include this entry? Jodie Foster plays a young FBI agent who must track down a serial killer, but to do so needs the help of Hannibal Lecter played epically by Sir Anthony Hopkins. I even just had to watch some scenes as I was typing this, and something about that unblinking stare, it is like he is staring straight into your soul. My heart was racing, like you knew exactly how Jodie Foster’s Clarice felt when you saw her expression. And when you have a character that gets into your head like that, you have a solid example of a perfect psychological thriller right there. And just likes Bates for her performance in Misery, Hopkins won an Academy award, for being in a role with less than twenty minutes of screen time. Now that is impressive.

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2. Taxi Driver (1976)

I’ve talked about my love for Taxi Driver before, being one of my favourite films of all time. Martin Scorsese’s classic starring Robert DeNiro and the aforementioned Jodie Foster makes me appreciate it even more every time I watch it. DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam Veteran who takes a taxi job to help cope with his insomnia. But his mental state continues to deteriorate and makes it his mission to save a young prostitute in the process. Taking a look inside Travis’s psyche is one of the most unsettling things in cinema. His desperate need to feel close to someone, and yet underneath all of that is this boiling pot of anger and violence that is about to be unleashed under some very gruesome circumstances. As much as I would have put this at number one again, I’m afraid the spot goes towards a much more important film.

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1. Psycho (1960)

I think you can gather already the significance of placing this at number one. Janet Leigh plays a secretary who runs off with a large amount of money from her employer, and decides to spend the night at the Bate’s Motel. Where she encounters the disturbed owner Norman (Anthony Perkins), and the tragic aftermath that follows. Psycho is much more than a psychological thriller. It laid the groundwork for the future of modern horror and is noted as the earliest example of the slasher genre. Alongside the importance of the much overlooked Peeping Tom (1960), both films changed the way we look at the dark side of human nature. Taking us away from the horrors of alien invaders, or mystical monsters, these films showed us the monsters that hide inside all of us. Although it would take over a decade to see the full effects of what Psycho had accomplished with the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), most modern horror and thriller films would be nowhere near the level they would be if Hitchcock had not made this classic. And for that, I thank him.

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