The Best Psychological Thriller Movies And How To Watch Them

Over the years, filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, and Bong Joon-ho have crafted several of cinema’s most intense and cerebral thrillers that leave the audience in a state of disbelief following some sort of big twist. It happens in all of the best psychological thriller movies, even though not all directors walk the audience through the big reveal like a magician uncovering his biggest trick. These movies bring something out of us, or at least show us something that leaves us pondering on what just happened even after the house lights have turned on or the streaming service has gone to the next title.

Below is a list of more than 20 of the best psychological thriller movies available streaming, for digital rental, or on physical media like DVD and Blu-ray, including the likes of several Best Picture winners, cult classics, and other unforgettable films from around the world.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Get Out (2017) 

In 2017, Jordan Peele went from being one of the funniest comedians on TV to one of the strongest voices in horror with his frightening Get Out. This psychological horror film follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) as he realizes something is off with his girlfriend’s wealthy family. Peeling back the layers, the young photographer discovers a sinister plot that is beyond belief.

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The main star of Vertigo.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Vertigo (1958)

John “Scottie” Ferguson’s (James Stewart) fear of heights becomes the least of his worries as he is hired to follow a friend’s wife and report on her strange behavior. Often considered one of the best thrillers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo features a lot of the filmmaker’s staples, including a twist-heavy plot that will leave you guessing at every turn.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Haley Joel Osment crying while hiding in his blankets in The Sixth Sense.

(Image credit: Hollywood Pictures)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Sometime after experiencing a traumatic incident with a former patient, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) takes up the case of a young boy (played by Haley Joel Osment) who is at the center of a series of strange and unsettling events. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, one of the best ‘90s movies, is a terrifying, exhilarating, and unforgettable psychological horror film with an even more unforgettable ending.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon.

Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in Seven

(Image credit: New Line Cinema)

Seven (1995)

Though not his first film, David Fincher made a name for himself with the 1995 thriller, Seven. When a mysterious serial killer starts using the seven deadly sins as inspiration for a series of horrific murders, two detectives (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) attempt to thwart his plan. But just when the cops think they’ve solved the case, it takes an even deadlier turn.

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Leonardo DiCaprio and Elliot Page in a dream in Inception

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Inception (2010)

Before wrapping up his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan turned his attention to the world of Inception. This mind-bending 2010 psychological crime thriller follows a team of thieves who hatch a plan to sneak into a mark’s dreams to input a thought into his brain. Despite their skills, experience, and technology, the team isn’t fully prepared for the dangers that await.

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parasite cast

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Parasite (2019)

Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning thriller Parasite is one of those movies that rewards the viewer for not watching any trailers, reading any reviews, or really knowing what the movie is about (which makes it difficult to recommend to someone who’s never seen it). The 2019 Korean drama about the social and economic divide of two families on opposite sides of the spectrum is harrowing, and traumatizing, yet at times joyful and hilarious, well until the hammer comes crashing down.

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Hannibal Lecter all chained up

(Image credit: Orion Pictures)

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme’s 1991 thriller about an FBI agent (Jodie Foster) attempting to get into the head of a convicted murderer (Anthony Hopkins) to track down an on-the-run serial killer (Ted Levine) before he can claim another victim not only meets the hype, it exceeds it many times over. How Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter toys with Foster’s Clarice Starling throughout The Silence of the Lambs is still just as engaging and terrifying all these years later.

Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon.

The main star of Read Window.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece Rear Window is another movie that leaves you guessing the entire time. On one hand, there’s evidence that supports Jeff Jefferies’ (Jimmy Stewart) theory that his neighbor is a murderer, but there’s also evidence that points in other directions. And that’s what makes this movie such a gem. We are left questioning our actions and presumptions (even our own) the entire time, making us feel as crazy as the photographer with a broken leg and bored out of his mind.

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Get it on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men

(Image credit: Miramax Films)

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men, one of the best Westerns ever made, has a relatively straightforward plot involving a drug deal gone wrong, a suitcase of cash, and a ruthless killer pursuing the man who made the mistake of taking the money. Dig a little deeper, however, and you have one of the most psychologically traumatic movies in recent memory. This is a terrifying movie (thanks to Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh) that sneaks in a lot of talk about fate, luck, destiny, and one hell of an ending that leaves a lot up to interpretation.

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Tyler Perry and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl, David Fincher’s 2014 thriller based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name tells the story of a woman (played by Rosamund Pike) who vanishes on her fifth wedding anniversary, leaving her husband (Ben Affleck) clueless as well as a suspect in her disappearance. And while Fincher allows the audience to peek beneath the curtain a little bit, he never does so to the point of ruining what comes next.

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Guy Pearce in Memento

(Image credit: Sony)

Memento (2001)

Memento, one of Christopher Nolan’s best movies, was a sign of things to come from the director who would go on to give audiences films like The Prestige, Inception, and Oppenheimer. This 2001 psychological thriller stars Guy Pearce as a man with no memory as he tries to solve an increasingly intricate mystery. From the opening scene, the viewer knows just as much as Leonard Shelby, which is honestly what makes the ride so fulfilling.

Stream Memento on Peacock.
Stream or Rent Memento on Prime Video.

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver is one of those movies you don’t necessarily want to watch all that often, not because it’s bad or anything like that, but because the Martin Scorsese classic knows how to get into your head and make you feel a lot like Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). Seriously, this movie will find any insecurity or negative thoughts you have and make it all the more intense as you watch the unhinged cab driver find himself taking a path of no return.

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Get it on Blu-Ray on Amazon. 

Jack Nicholson in The Shining

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is technically a ghost movie, but there is a strong psychological presence featured throughout the movie, especially as Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) slowly begins losing touch with reality. This descent into madness, brought on by the aforementioned supernatural presence of the Overlook Hotel, as well as the isolation of a winter spent in a closed resort, makes one of the most terrifying cinematic experiences of all time.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Gene Hackman in The Conversation

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 drama about surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) hired to tail a young couple starts like any thriller. But when Harry discovers a mysterious and presumably coded message, his mental state, and just about everything else in his life, begins to slip away, leaving him in a mad, unstable, and obsessive way.

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Jake Gyllenhaal smiling and pointing in the office in Nightcrawler.

(Image credit: Bold Films)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Dan Gilroy’s 2014 nocturnal thriller Nightcrawler follows freelance videographer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he starts capturing footage for a local news station. What starts off as a relatively normal yet odd job slowly morphs into an obsession for Bloom who stops at absolutely nothing to be the first on the scene, even if that means becoming a part of the shot.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Joker (2019)

The first time I saw Joker was an experience like never before. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into before watching Todd Phillips’ 2019 take on Batman’s most notorious foe, but nothing could have prepared me for how Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck as he transitions into Joker. I still don’t know if that’s a good thing or something more troubling, but it’s a feeling I haven’t been able to shake.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Nocturnal Animals

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Some movies forever change the way we see certain actors. For me, the movie is Nocturnal Animals and the actor is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who gave a sickening performance as the sick and twisted Ray Marcus. Even though the character’s actions are set within a book written by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Edward Sheffield, I see the sadistic leader of a fictional gang whenever I hear his name.

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Shelley Winters' Willa inraptured by Robert Mitchum's Preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (1955)

(Image credit: Paul Gregory Productions, United Artists)

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter, which features screen legend Robert Mitchum portraying a religious fanatic and serial killer who tracks down the widow of his former cellmate and does everything in his power to locate $10,000 the condemned man confessed to hiding shortly before he was captured. The way that Mitchum’s character preys on the struggling family and toys with them throughout the film makes for one terrifying game.

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natalie portman black swan

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight)

Black Swan (2010)

Darren Aronofsky already had a history of tackling psychological issues with movies like Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but his 2010 film Black Swan, which centers around a production of Swan Lake, takes things to the next level. Watching as Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) transforms from a dedicated and talented dancer to a damaged, obsessed, and psychotic “Swan Queen” is just as traumatic now as it was when the film was first released well over a decade ago.

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman in Prisoners

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Prisoners (2013)

There is something about Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 tour de force, Prisoners, that turns the movie into the cinematic equivalent of a car crash: you don’t want to watch but you can’t look away. The movie, which centers on the kidnapping of two young girls and the fallout experienced by their respective families, especially one of their fathers (Hugh Jackman), shows just how far someone will go to get “justice,” whatever that may mean to them.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Michael Douglas in The Game

(Image credit: PolyGram Films)

The Game (1997)

You never really know what to believe in a David Fincher movie, and that is best seen in the 1997 psychological thriller The Game, which follows successful banker Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas in a career-defining performance) after his estranged brother (Sean Penn) buys him a mind-bending and unorthodox birthday present. Just like Douglas’ character, you’ll be questioning your own reality by the end of this one.

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Get it on DVD on Amazon. 

Norman Bates at the end of Psycho.

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Psycho (1960)

Psycho, the quintessential Alfred Hitchcock movie as well as the most notable psychological thriller is still just as much of a thrill ride now as it was when it was released 61 years ago. The story of the happenings of the Bates Motel, its proprietor, and their victim (who wasn’t as innocent as some may think) sinks its teeth into you from the opening shot and doesn’t let go until that menacing laugh fills your ears in the final moments.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Kathy Bates in Misery.

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Misery (1990)

Misery, Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, is one of the most traumatizing movie experiences most of us have had in our entire lives (well, those who aren’t obsessed with Eastern European body horror flicks). Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the terrifying Annie Wilkes, goes beyond terrifying in her treatment of injured (those not as injured as he will be later on in the movie) writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) and gets into your head here.

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Get it on Blu-ray on Amazon. 

Choi Min-sik in Oldboy

(Image credit: CJ Entertainment)

Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy, the 2003 original Korean film based on the manga series of the same name, follows Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) as he is imprisoned by an unknown person for unknown reasons for 15 years. When released from his hotel room / prison cell, he goes on a journey to discover the nature of his imprisonment, but what he finds is much worse than being locked away all those years.

Stream Oldboy on Netflix.
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Get it on DVD/Blu-Ray on Amazon.

Each and every one of those movies will surely affect you in one way or another, and while some are hard to watch, they all have their own merits. And in the event you’ve seen all those, go ahead and check out CinemaBlend’s list of upcoming 2024 movie premiere dates

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or chatting about professional wrestling to his wife. Writing gigs with school newspapers, multiple daily newspapers, and other varied job experiences led him to this point where he actually gets to write about movies, shows, wrestling, and documentaries (which is a huge win in his eyes). If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.