From tiny microbudget indies that a first-time writer/director may have pitched to financiers for years to multimillion-dollar Hollywood tentpole flicks featuring A-list talent both on and off screen, thriller films come in all shapes and sizes. Every thriller deserves our full, undivided attention as an audience member, regardless of how much it cost to make.
It’s hard to know where to start when there are so many thrillers to choose from? Check out Amazon Prime Video’s awesome genre entries for starters. We’ve rounded up all the best thrillers on Amazon Prime Video you can watch right now to make things even easier.
If you like what you see, check back in a few weeks to see what new titles we’ve added!
1. The Silence of the Lambs
She’s being hugged by the camera as if it’s trying to protect her, and maybe it’s just trying to see inside her, to see what she sees, to understand why seeing what she sees is so important. Despite being only 30, Jodie Foster looks so much younger when she is surrounded in Silence of the Lambs by men who tower over her, staring at her, baffled by her, perhaps wanting to protect her as well, but more likely, ironically, intimidated by a world that would allow such a fragile creature to wander among monsters.
A warrior unsure of her prowess, Foster plays Clarice Starling, FBI agent-in-training. With the help of Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme, able to take on genres and shed them at will, corners Starling within a “Woman in Peril,” yet watches her shrug off every label. This is a testament to The Silence of the Lambs’ feminist status, not only because it thoroughly inhabits a female point of view, but also because its violence and fear are a toxic combination of masculine and female.
As only the second film to adapt Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector novels to the screen, Demme’s film draws clear distinctions between how men perceive Clarice Starling and how Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) projects his neuroses onto victims.
The film connects seeing to transformation to consumption, all pursued through a gendered lens, as Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins), an asexual borderline cannibal who literally eats those over whom he holds court, displays a seemingly omniscient view.
The difference between Buffalo Bill and Lector is that Lector, though he sees Clarice Starling, does not attempt to possess her, since he controls what he consumes. Bill isn’t; as a man, he believes that by consuming femininity he can become it, but he’s too stupid and self-absorbed to realize that consumption is deletion and that protecting a woman is only about admitting that the World of Men fails to uphold its own ideals. —Dom Sinacola
2. The City of Lost Children
It’s a story about a circus strongman who is looking for his adopted younger brother Denree (Joseph Lucien), played by Ron Perlman, while Marc Caro (Delicatessen) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, also Delicatessen) create a dystopian world. A mad scientist has created Krank (Daniel Emilfort), who harvests children’s dreams in order to stay young, so One must find an orphaned street thief (Judith Vittet) to help rescue Denree. A steampunk fever dream featuring clones, Siamese twins, circus fleas trained to behave like humans, and a cyborg cult called the Cyclops, this steampunk fantasy is sure to appeal to fans of Terry Gilliam and Michel Gondry.
3. The Prestige
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play competing magicians who are trying to achieve immortality in The Prestige. They are competing for the same audience’s faith, and they need all of it, since it cannot be shared (many religious institutions hold similar dogma for similar reasons). Whether or not the achievement is built on illusions and tricks, each seeks to invoke utter and absolute belief in their audiences, much as Nolan tries to do in his own.
In the beginning, Nolan begins the film with a trick. This is a shot of top hats littered throughout the forest floor, with the voice-over asking, “Are you watching closely?” This is a shot out of time and place from what has been shown so far in the film, a shot that mimics the pledge, turn and value of the ‘magic’ acts that the film represents. It also goes back to Nolan manipulating the perception of what we’re seeing and when to emulate the point of the story.
Nolan seems to posit that our faith is based on lies we tell ourselves and others, an argument he elaborates with his Dark Knight trilogy, insinuating that symbols are sacred not because of their truth, but simply because they inspire. —Chet Betz
4. The Handmaiden
It is rare for a filmmaker to craft movies like The Handmaiden so exquisitely while maintaining both plot inertia and a sense of humor. This is a truly enjoyable picture, which is sometimes surprisingly funny and often bleakly funny. (Yes, it’s true.) The film begins somberly enough, settling on a tearful farewell scene as Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) is transported to the reclusive and exorbitantly rich aristocrat Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), where she will serve Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) as a servant to him.
Despite her appearance, Sook-hee isn’t just any maid: she’s a pickpocket working for Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), a conman out to steal Hideko’s property. As The Handmaiden’s narrative itinerary unfolds, we learn that Sook-hee only wants her money. Hence the phrase “he only wants her for her money.”. The film is designed like a puzzle box where every step to reach the answer answers one question while posing a new one.
However, you’re here to read about s*x, aren’t you? The s*x scenes between the two Kims demonstrate Park’s true abilities as a filmmaker. Despite the s*xy content and the steamy scenes, there is a tenderness in each that invites us to read them as poetry rather than p0rn0graphy. The Handmaiden is at its most human when it’s a sexually expl!cit pantomime, which we’re not accustomed to looking for in pantomimes. In Park’s framing of deviance as embodied by the film’s masculine component, there’s something comforting about that. Although he doesn’t have to explain it to us, the message is still welcome. —Andy Crump
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Because of its brutal nature and heavy subject matter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remains David Fincher’s most underappreciated movie. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Swedish Millennium series. A recently disgraced journalist dealing with the fallout of a libel suit that destroyed his reputation and the publication he runs with long-time lover and business partner Erika (Robin Wright), Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig between James Bond duties).
The late, great Christopher Plummer asks wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance and presumed murder of his then-16-year-old grandniece Harriet in exchange for a generous sum of money and, more importantly, information pertaining to the billionaire who destroyed Mikael’s career. In hopes of a win-win, he jumps at the chance.
It takes almost an hour for the narrative of the titular girl with a dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), to join Mikael. Despite never overstaying its welcome, Fincher’s adaptation is rich and well-crafted. Storylines are never rushed thanks to the unconventional five-act structure.
With Steven Zaillian’s script, we get to know the core pair before the action begins, giving Fincher the space to explore every detail. Through their editing, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall make Dragon Tattoo a fully absorbing experience: Even seemingly mundane moments (such as Lisbeth riding the subway or eating at McDonald’s) become absorbing.
In addition to balancing these elements with the stark setting, no detail is too small. It’s Fincher’s most accessible film, either in the crime-thriller genre or in his general filmography, even though it’s beautifully crafted, with stunning visuals capturing the dark, snowy Swedish backdrop and perfectly matched editing and score.
6. Ash Is Purest White
The story of Ash Is Purest White spans decades, a devastatingly beautiful epic as much as it is heartbreaking, that still feels impossibly intimate, confined by emotions instead of space or image. As China tumbles through modernization throughout the film’s decades, those unable to adapt to it are largely ignored.
Lastly, there is love, passion and crime: Ash Is Purest White revolves around a romance between two criminals, Qiao (Tao Zhao) and Bin (Fan Liao). Despite their serious demeanors, their lives oscillate between nothingness and violence on a daily basis. However, violence rarely appears – when it does, Zhangke Jia directs it with relentless desperation and urgency – and most of it is emotional in nature. Despite this, the film is also filled with a sense of human comedy, as Jia’s core characters reflect China as a whole: Everything is changing, nothing is sacred, and the past pales at the sight of the future. Although it is possible to fight reality, time will always encroach and pass us by.
7. Europa Report
Sebastian Cordero’s innovative thriller is enthralling not only because of its apparent scientific accuracy, but also because of the passion depicted among a class of people historically characterized by pocket protectors, taped eyewear and social awkwardness. The six scientists aboard the Europa One (Kubrick’s vessel was called the Discovery One) are living, breathing human beings with families and fears, ambitions and emotions.
In addition, they’re smarter than most of us and on a mission more significant than any of us will ever experience. In this mock documentary/faux found-footage mystery, Europa Ventures issues a documentary on the fate of its first manned mission to investigate the possibility of alien life in our solar system. Europa Report believes-and wants to convince you-that exploring such frontiers will require a certain amount of horror.
With the film Minnesota Nice, the Coen Brothers explored one of the unsavory implications of “Minnesota nice.”. The film explores the tension and desperation often hidden behind polite social norms, setting up one awkward scene after another. While characters such as Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) and Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) display a thin and disingenuous veneer over their yearnings for money and companionship, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is clearly the foil of them, since she is that nice, hardworking, and downright ordinary. As the Coens make you cringe at the sound of wood chippers as well as appreciate the art behind postage stamps, they strike a careful balance between gentleness and stark gruesomeness underneath a typical all-American veneer.
9. You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay is known for being uncompromising. It is a common industry slang term to describe her as “difficult,” but the best way to describe her is “unrelenting.” Filmmakers as passionate about their aesthetics as Ramsay are few and far between. It is rarer still to find filmmakers able to exert so much control without leaving any traces of ego on screen. Her three films between 1999 and 2011 (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin) all demonstrate her dogged commitment to her vision, regardless of whether it’s haunting, horrific, or simply bizarre.
Both forceful and delicate, she is a force to be reckoned with. She has arguably achieved her greatest success with her fourth film, You Were Never Really Here, which treads the line between violence and tenderness all at once. I wouldn’t call it a revenge movie. It sounds more like a sustained scream.
First, the title describes the composure of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix, sporting a beard that would make the Robertson clan jealous), a former federal agent and military veteran whose savagery is as blistering as his self-belief. A narrative of Joe’s life flits between the past and the present, hallucination and reality.
On a non-stop, simultaneous loop, he relives horrors he encountered in combat, the field, and in his childhood. In each of her previous films, she has captured human collapse in slow motion. A breakdown shot in hyperdrive, lean, economic, ruthless, and crafted with fire. We can use this language to describe her reputation as one of the best filmmakers working today.
In director Dan Gilroy’s superb thriller Nightcrawler, Nina (Rene Russo) describes her news program as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” It’s tempting to adopt that as a metaphor for the entire film—Gilroy’s first, by the way, which is doubly impressive—but despite the fact that is a big part of it, what drives this movie is the threat lurking beneath a calm exterior personified by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.
Lou is a nocturnal rambler who scrounges for anything he can steal and sell. A whirlwind of meaningful acronyms manufactured self-confidence, and drive fueled by self-improvement seminars, catchphrase wisdom, and insight, he’s looking for a career to break into.
He has the ambition, opportunity, and, most importantly, the moral flexibility to excel when he comes across the lucrative field of nightcrawlers, and freelance stringers who chase breaking news stories. Gyllenhaal, who shed over 30 pounds for the role, has rarely looked better. While Lou is calm, frank, goal-oriented, and even charming at times, this measured exterior masks the inherent violence we spend the entire movie anticipating. Tense, intense, ferocious, and filled with dark humor, Nightcrawler crackles with energy.
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