In a way, thrillers are a difficult genre to define because there's so many subsections to it.
You can have horror thrillers, psychological thrillers, comedy thrillers, erotic thrillers. The key point that almost everyone can agree on is that a thriller is all about the atmosphere; how it's built by the characters and the story itself. If there's a general feeling of unease and clawing tension, then it's a thriller.
10. BLACK SWAN (2010)
Darren Aronofsky's known for making bleak and traumatic films; there's even a theory that all his films are about self-harm. Just look at Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan. Natalie Portman is a tightly-wound ballerina that is thrust into the limelight as the lead dancer of Swan Lake. The dance company's manager, Vincent Cassel, is driving Portman over the edge with constant pressure. You can almost see Portman's body - and she really is a waif in this - crack under the pressure. What makes Black Swan really interesting is how, as you watch, you feel the clawing sense of panic that Portman's character is feeling throughout. It's not so much that Black Swan is violent. It's just so unsettling, which is what makes it one of Natalie Portman's best films.
9. BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
If you can get over the scene with Sharon Stone's vagina and the horrifically '90s nighclub scene, Basic Instinct is actually a pretty decent thriller with some unforeseen twists. Sharon Stone is Catherine Tramell, an ice-cold seductress who's handy with ice-picks and toying with people's emotions. There are parts (ahem) of Basic Instinct that are laughable, but it's worth watching for the amazing camerawork, Jan De Bont's spectacular cinematography and the unintentionally campy soundtrack. Just, uh, don't watch it with your parents.
8. CAPE FEAR (1991)
When The Simpsons base an entire episode on your film, you know it's a classic. This film does get overlooked as it's a remake, but it works on so many more levels than the original did. Robert DeNiro plays Max Cady, a tattooed rapist, recently released from prison. His public defender, Nick Nolte, is now living an idyllic life with his wife and teenage daughter. After Nolte botched DeNiro's defence and made sure he went to prison, DeNiro's character returns to seek vengeance on him. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film harks back to the original, as well as drawing influence from Alfred Hitcock and other 1960's thrillers. It goes on a little bit and DeNiro can be accused of, well, over-acting. Nevertheless, it's a gritty, nerve-wracking thriller and one of the best films Scorsese and DeNiro worked on together.
7. THE CONVERSATION (1974)
If you've never heard of The Conversation, don't worry. It's often overlooked and it's a real shame. It was released the same year as Francis Ford Coppola's other film, The Godfather Pt. II. As such, when people talk about his early work, this always gets pushed to one side. Gene Hackman is a lonely, walled-off surveillance specialist who's hired by a shady politician to secretly record a conversation between two lovers in a crowded area. Hackman gives an incredible performance as a man who, slowly but surely, completely unravels when confronted with the realities of what he does. He worms his way into people's private moments for money. The Lives Of Others, a great Cold War-drama, completely rips off The Conversation and it's hard not to see why. It's an underrated and overlooked thriller with some amazing actors and performances.
6. PANIC ROOM (2002)
David Fincher features twice on the list, but being honest, he could have featured way more. Panic Room, his first, substantial hit since the not-as-bad-as-you-think Alien 3 and the not-as-good-as-you-remember The Game. Jodie Foster is a newly-divorced mother, living with a pre-teen and barely recognisable Kristen Stewart. Having bought a massive New York brownstone, her first night in the place is pretty memorable. The previous occupant, a reclusive millionaire, installed a “panic room” and stashed a massive wad of bearer-bonds (what are they, exactly?) in said panic room. Jared Leto, Forrest Whittaker and Dwight Yoakam break in to the house, expecting it to be empty and simply a case of finding the secret stash. Fincher uses all of his camera tricks to put you on edge from the very first scene and Foster works well as an unlikely action heroine. Who didn't want their own panic room after watching this?
5. THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974)
In the '70s, during the Watergate scandal and in the aftermath of the two Kennedy assassinations, there was a raft of conspiracy thrillers, political thrillers and more. There were two main films that stood out. One was All The President's Men. The other was this. Warren Beatty plays a washed-up journalist who witnesses the murder of a political candidate. One by one, those present at the event are knocked off in seemingly innocent circumstances - car crash, drowning accident. When a former girlfriend who was present at the murder arrives at his house, terrified that she's next, Beatty's character sets out to find those behind. What he finds is both bizarre and more than a little terrifying. The TV series Lost referenced The Parallax View in their creepy-ass Orientation films and Matt Damon has compared The Bourne Identity to The Parallax View.
4. MEMENTO (2000)
“Now, where was I?” Before Christopher Nolan reinvented the superhero genre and became one of the biggest directors of our generation, he began his career with Memento. Guy Pearce is Leonard, a man suffering from short-term memory loss. After his wife was raped and murdered by someone named John G., he himself was injured and finds that he can't create new memories following the event. The story winds and twists through the story as it's not shown in chronological order - although those who have it on DVD will know there's an Easter egg that allows you to watch it in order. However, it's never so confusing that you're completely lost. Memento just needs to be seen again to be completely understood. It's much more subdued and subtle than Nolan's later films, but there are certain flashes of Inception and The Dark Knight.
3. FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)
You've heard the term Bunny Boiler, right? This film is where it got its name from. Glenn Close, who's been all kinds of awesome lately in TV series Damages, plays an attractive but mentally unstable woman who's become obsessed with Michael Douglas (really?) after a short-lived affair. The film's not even a thriller, as such. Like Se7en, it really does veer sharply into horror film territory in places. Fatal Attraction will have you on knife-edge throughout because the film's worked towards putting you ill at ease from the word go. Director Adrian Lyne, who also directed honourable mention Jacob's Ladder, uses lots of small visual cues here and there to put the viewer on the edge of their seat. We interview potential director John Carpenter some time ago about his involvement in the film and, to be honest, he wasn't a fan of the finished product. We are, though. Don't let the fact Glenn Close's wild-as-shit hair put you off.
2. SE7EN (1995)
"What's in the box?" Back when Brad Pitt wasn't starring in crap arthouse films with Angelia Jolie, he was a pretty decent actor who picked his roles very well. This dark thriller, directed by modern-day Hitchcock David Fincher, is Brad Pitt's best film we think. Yes, over Fight Club. Teamed up with veteran detective Morgan Freeman, Pitt is pitted (see what we did there?) against serial killer John Doe. There's one problem - John Doe is a criminal genius who leaves no fingerprints at the scene of the crime and is particularly fond of killing people in inventive ways. Using the seven deadly sins as his inspiration, Doe's plan is years in the making. Why Se7en is so effective is because it shows, believe it or not, the realities of dealing with someone like this. You can't really fight someone like John Doe on any level. They're way too clever for that. You simply have to stand back and marvel at the sheer horror and brilliance of it. And what a film Se7en is. It's twisted, bleak but unbelievably powerful stuff. If you're like us, you can only sit through it once every few years. It's that heavy.
1. MARATHON MAN (1976)
The 1970's really was the decade for thrillers. You had great actors at their prime and directors were given far more leeway than they currently have now. Dustin Hoffman is 'Babe' Levy, a college student who is drawn into a plot by a former Nazi war criminal to smuggle diamonds into America. His brother, Roy Scheider, is not a businessman as he believes but is, in fact, a secret agent tasked with aiding the Nazi war criminal in his efforts. Why? Well, we'd be giving the whole thing away. Laurence Olivier, oft considered one of the greatest Shakesperean actors, is the Nazi war criminal known only as Doctor Szell. The centrepiece of the film involves Hoffman being tortured by Olivier with dentist equipment. Like Fatal Attraction, you're on knife-edge from the first part. For a film that's nearly forty years old, it still holds really well. Again, don't let the fact that it's an old one put you off. Marathon Man pretty much wrote the book on spy thrillers in Hollywood for the next forty years. You can see little nods to it here and there in some films.
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Body Heat (1980)
All The President's Men (1976)
Straw Dogs (1971)
The Pelican Brief (1993)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Original / Remake)