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From Alfred Hitchcock to the Safdie brothers: The 10 best thrillers on Netflix right now

Alfred Hitchcock once explained the importance of building narrative tension in films to Federico Fellini: “Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.”

He continued with his theory, “Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the décor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen.” He concluded his hypothesis by saying that it is necessary for the public to be informed—whenever possible.

So, as it goes, what better way to build on the suspense, heighten our anxieties, get the blood pumping, and to reel in the excitement of watching pure crime unfolding before our eyes than to treat ourselves to some proper good-old thrillers? 

For that, we’ve looked at and compiled a list of the ten best thrillers you can catch up on Netflix right now.

The 10 best thrillers on Netflix:

10. Collateral (Michael Mann – 2004)

Although present with an incredibly star-studded cast—which includes the likes of Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, and Jada Pinkett-Smith—the real shine in Collateral arguably comes from its master-director, Michael Mann.

Described by film critic Roger Ebert as “a rare thriller that’s as much study as sound and fury,” this gritty film plays on in the dark LA underbelly, where the easy-going cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) finds his rather uneventful world turned upside-down when his hire, the cold-blooded assassin Vincent (Tom Cruise) persuades him with big bucks to drive around the city so that he can go about his ‘job’ and assassinate five people during the course of one night.

9. Gerald’s Game (Mike Flanagan – 2017)

One of the more faithful Stephen King adaptations; Mike Flanagan’s delightfully gruesome Gerald’s Game revolves around Jessie (played by Carla Gugino) who finds herself handcuffed to bed, alone and deserted in a far-off holiday home with little to no hope of being rescued after an erotic-sexual-foreplay-gone-wrong finds her sexually deviant husband (Bruce Greenwood) dead.

Stranded, she must find her way out of the seemingly impossible situation, all the while battling her brutal inner demons and confronting her terrorised past.

8. Argo (Ben Affleck – 2012)

Straight up, the premise of a brassy and tough-speaking CIA specialist masquerading as a Hollywood producer, who plans to make a “Star Wars-like sci-fi hit” in order to rescue hostages stuck in a revolutionary Iran does seem to be a bit of a stretch. In reality, however, it is anything but.

Ben Affleck swooned audiences and critics alike with his edge-of-the-seat masterful direction (as well as acting) in Argo. Based on real life events, Argo essentially juxtaposes the classical Hollywood tropes with political themes present during the Iran hostage crisis. The film managed to score big during the award season—winning the Academy for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

7. Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven – 1992)

Referred to by one film scholar as “a neo-film noir masterpiece that plays with, and transgresses, the narrative rules of film noir,” Basic Instinct has well and truly reserved a place for itself as a cult-classic in the history of contemporary Hollywood.

Perhaps most remembered, and inevitably controversial due to its overt depiction of violence and sexuality, the film starred Michael Douglas as San Francisco detective Nick Curran who finds himself entangled in a passionate love affair with Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell—the girlfriend of, and the prime suspect in the brutal murder of the rock star Johnny Boz.

6. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn – 2011)

Indie trailblazer Nicolas Winding Refn’s seminal feature Drive was the film that catapulted his status as a true auteur of modern cinema. He won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director the same year, along with various other accolades.

Stylistically indulgent and sprayed all over with the common elements found in most of Refn’s other works— gritty neon-dripped colours, electronica-pop infused soundtrack and ominously long takes—Drive was a runaway success. An exhilarating leading performance from Ryan Gosling, with able supporting turns from Carey Mulligan, Oscar Issac and Byran Cranston complemented the film well.

5. Gone Girl (David Fincher – 2014)

Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name, David Fincher’s postmodern mystery masterpiece/psychological drama Gone Girl follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) who finds his life turned upside-down when his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, in the process seemingly unlocking an entire Pandora box’s worth of revelations and deeply disturbing secrets.

Both Rosamund Pike, as well as Ben Affleck give outstanding performances as the two contrasting halves, who find themselves stuck in the constructs of another doomed and unhappy marriage.

4. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos – 2017)

As a follow-up to their previous film together, The Lobster, acclaimed Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos again teamed up with Colin Farrell to make the visually striking psychological-drama The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

With profound metaphorical undercurrents present throughout the film’s duration, Lanthimos through its brilliant cast and masterful writing, surreally explores the relationship between birth and death; Gods and mere mortals. The end result is that of a fascinating work of art which is not only spiritually riveting, but also in equal parts disturbing.

3. Uncut Gems (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie – 2019)

With the Safdie brothers fresh off the success of their exhilarating 2017 feature Good Time, they continued their tryst with crime-action thrillers with the hypnotically chaotic Uncut Gems.

Powered by a career-topping performance from Adam Sandler in an extremely unconventional and challenging role as the charismatic jeweller Howard Ratner, Uncut Gems treats for more than two hours of extreme panic; and pure, unrelenting anxiety. Set right in the midst of the New York City hustle, this film is an experience best enjoyed viewed.

2. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy – 2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal gave the performance of a lifetime as the extremely narcissistic stringer Lou Bloom—who makes a living by recording and selling late-night violent footage to the TV networks—in Dan Gilroy’s mesmerizing neo-noir feature Nightcrawler.

The film, which radically portrays ideas such as unemployment in the big cities, and the relentless pursuit of the ‘American Dream’, is a genuine modern tour-de-force ticking off all the timeless tropes of cinema—excellent story writing, stylistic cinematography, top acting, as well as spectacular direction.

1. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock – 1960)

One of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s magnum opus Psycho redefined the thriller genre and set the standard for the entire generations to come. An extremely frightening and insinuating horror, it is credited for bringing aboard a new level for violence and sexual behaviour in American cinema.

In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock created a cinematic masterpiece, opposing all advice and direction he was adamant that Psycho, based on the book by Robert Bloch, would be his next film, a risk following the staggering success of his previous work, North by Northwest.

This particular picture from the film industry’s one and only master of suspense took what were then viewed as obscene risks, using alternative techniques and visuals in order to make his film as intriguing and eye-catching as possible; a few of these techniques, however, baffled the contemporary audience.

The first introduction of a toilet in an American film, for example, caused confusion and controversy along with the suggestive nudity of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in that oh-so-famous shower scene we all know and love. 

Psycho is dripping in the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock, a sheer masterpiece that has redefined the horror genre until this very day.

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