What is a thriller, anyway?
It’s a genre that lacks the typical signifiers that something like horror, comedy, or romance might, but you know it when you feel it. Thrillers are exciting — it’s right there in the name — whether they come from the world of crime, sci-fi, or something else entirely.
We’ve already put together a list of the best thrillers you can watch at home, but here’s the best of the best on Netflix. For more of the best movies on Netflix, check out our picks for the best horror movies, comedy movies, and action movies the platform has to offer.
This one leans more into the horror side of things than most of the thrillers on this list, but before The Raid director Gareth Evans goes full Grand Guignol in the film’s latter half, he builds up a mesmerizing period thriller about a man who’s in way over his head in a place where he doesn’t belong. Dan Stevens stars as Thomas, a traumatized and formerly institutionalized man who initially appears to be playing out a variation on Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man. The year is 1905, and Thomas is trying to infiltrate a remote Welsh island run by an obscure cult, which appears to have kidnapped his sister. He doesn’t know much about their beliefs, but he has to pose as one of them and investigate the island while keeping his own considerable demons at bay just long enough to save his sister’s life. And the more he learns about the place where he’s landed, the darker and eerier the film gets. This one’s perfect Halloween-month viewing: bloody as hell and startling right up to the final shot. But it’s also a crackerjack investigative thriller, an unraveling grim mystery that probably would have been better left unsolved. —Tasha Robinson
It’s hard to think of a scene more singularly electrifying and incredible than the one that opens Athena. This movie, about a police raid on a fictional French neighborhood, opens with a group of teens raiding a police station, starting a small riot, and stealing the cops’ guns, and it only grows bigger and more intense from there. Technically the scene is a oner, but rather than showy, the scene’s lack of visible cuts feels like a necessity, as if a single break from this one camera angle that’s deftly following the group’s leader might cause us to miss something critical. Almost as impressive as this singe scene is the fact that Athena is able to sustain this same momentum and nervy, furious energy throughout the entire movie as the police and the rebels clash with the same operatic intensity as a Greek epic. —Austen Goslin
Den of Thieves
Do you like bank robbery crime thrillers like Heat? Director Christan Gudegast’s feature debut is best described as “dirtbag Heat.” If that sounds like your jam you’re in for a great time.
Gerard Butler plays a Pepto Bismol-chugging dirty cop who is chasing a team of ex-military bank robbers, led by Pablo Schreiber and including O’Shea Jackson Jr. and 50 Cent. The team of highly skilled criminals are hoping to pull off their biggest job yet: robbing the Federal Reserve.
It’s got a great score from former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez (I often use it for background music while I write and edit), terrifically sleazy performances from the ensemble cast, and electrifying action sequences when the heists take place. —PV
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Sorry, Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is still Taika Waititi’s best and funniest film. It sprawls across a lot of genres — it’s arguably a family drama, a coming-of-age film, or just a straight-up comedy. But the second act is pure thriller, as a confident orphan (Julian Dennison, who went on to be one of the best parts of Deadpool 2) and his cranky foster father (Sam Neill) wind up on the run in the New Zealand bush. And the third act gins up some surprisingly explosive action for a film that starts out with such wry humor. This film is one of the big reasons Waititi got the Marvel Cinematic Universe nod in the first place — it’s a weird, silly, highly specific character piece that mixes tension and conflict with real hilarity. (Note Waititi’s cameo as a preacher who fumbles badly over metaphors about life and the afterlife.) It’s the rare family film that’s actually great viewing for all ages, whether they’re in it for the heartwarming sincerity, the Tupac jokes, or just to see Waititi’s longtime comedy partner (and Our Flag Means Death romantic partner) Rhys Darby get up to some really goofy shit. —TR
This French crime thriller executes a simple premise to absolute perfection. Lino (former stunt man Alban Lenoir) is an expert mechanic forced to work for dirty cops. When he’s framed for a murder he did not commit, he has to find the one thing that can prove his innocence: a lost bullet in a missing car. With high-octane action sequences and great car stunts, this is a 92-minute thrill ride through and through — and the sequel rules, as well. —PV
This one’s a revenge story about the cruelties of for-profit health care. It features an unforgettable performance from one of the world’s most charismatic leading men in Vijay (playing multiple characters, and I’ll leave it at that), colorful dance sequences, and a searing (and all-too-relevant) political message. —PV
The Night Comes for Us
Timo Tjahjanto is tasked with the upcoming remake of the smash zombie hit Train to Busan, and his gnarly martial arts crime thriller The Night Comes for Us is an excellent showcase for why he is precisely the right man for the job. Brutal and visceral, the movie features unforgettable characters (I’m still waiting on a spinoff focused on Julie Estelle’s The Operator), incredible martial arts (it doesn’t get better than Iko Uwais vs. Joe Taslim), and a wicked sense of humor. —PV