By popular demand, I am re-posting my Top 21 Thrillers list. I made a few minor revisions, but since 2014 has not yet given us a thriller worthy of this list, I stand by my original content.
A family member gave me the idea of putting together a list of the best 21 thrillers for Halloween. I asked her, “Why 21?” To which she responded, “Because 21 is awesome,” so here is the awesome list of The People’s Critic’s top 21 thrillers!
21. What Lies Beneath – Robert Zemeckis comes out of no where with a trippy, spooky ghost story that is the sole reason that The Others doesn’t make the list. Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfieffer begin to sense something is not right in their house leading them to explore the paranormal. While the ending may not satisfy everyone, this is a strong thriller worth seeking out.
20. Halloween – This classic has took the slasher film from the periphery of popular culture and landed it smack dab in the center. John Carpenter’s story of a psychotic killer on the loose still sends chills down the spine, even after 35 years. Without Michael Myers, there would probably not be a Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger.
19. Open Water – This minimalistic independent film is one of the best explorations of primal fear I’ve ever seen. When two scuba divers are abandoned in the middle of the ocean with no apparent hope of rescue, they must rely on each other to battle the elements and hungry sharks. Supposedly based on true events, this film leaves you speechless. Avoid the sequel – at all costs!
18. Cape Fear – While Scorsese gave it the old college try, there’s no contest between the update and the original 1962 film with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Mitchum is excellent as Max Cady, who emerges from prison after serving 8 years, only to terrorize the life of the prosecutor who put him away. Mitchum was born to play roles like this.
17. The Omen – Gregory Peck gets back-to-back placement on the list with an even better thriller, Richard Donner’s The Omen. Perhaps the penultimate “creepy-kid” movie, Peck and his wife Lee Remick become the parents of little Damien through a strange series of events. As Damien gets older, people start dying, and they pretty much don’t stop. What is a parent to do? Check it out and you’ll see.
16. Alien – Regardless of how desensitized we have become to John Hurt’s character Kane having an alien burst out of his chest, this film has far more to offer than just that. The saga that introduced us to Ellen Ripley heightens our fears to nightmare proportions and obviously has given us one of the most legendary movie monsters of all time.
15. The Silence of the Lambs – Speaking of legendary, it doesn’t get much more legendary than Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s suspenseful thriller, The Silence of the Lambs. This film just makes your skin crawl, and it plays games with your head in ways that only the finest thrillers can.
14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Unlike Cape Fear, I prefer the remake in this case. The 1978 film starring Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum takes this “pod-people” story to another level. The cameo made by Kevin McCarthy (who played Sutherland’s character in the original) verifies that this film is a deserving update. Strangely enough, another film higher up on the list is another Jeff Goldblum remake of a Kevin McCarthy film.
13. The Conjuring – This film represents the newest film to make the list. 2013’s The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, is one of the best horror films in some time. It is tonally an homage to the psychological horror films of the 70s and in fact can likely cite most of the next 12 films as inspirations.
12. Rosemary’s Baby – Often cited as one of the finest horror films ever made, director Roman Polanski made his American film debut with the adaptation of Ira Levin’s world-wide best selling novel. Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes move into a New York apartment and find the other tenants taking a special interest in them. Most of the scares are subtle and work the imagination rather than obvious visuals.
11. The Shining – Stephen King has publicly condemned Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, The Shining, going as far as producing a TV mini-series in the 1990s simply so he could have his vision realized. Nonetheless, Kubrick may not have pleased King, but he did create a finely tuned, manic little movie that attempts to take the viewer down the same path that protagonist Jack Torrance heads down. “Redrum, REDRUM!”
10. Jaws – Here we are – the top ten. Surprisingly the second “shark” movie to make the list, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws invented the summer blockbuster and made everyone “afraid to go into the water.” Full of iconic characters and memorable lines, Jaws is a must see!
9. The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense. It quickly became the most talked about movie of the year. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is sought out by a young boy who “sees dead people.”
8. Zodiac – David Fincher is a director who I greatly admire, but has had tough luck figuring out how to end his movies. In his 9 major directorial jobs, he’s managed to have a strong ending maybe 3 times (and two of them are on this list). Zodiac is a focused, slow burn of a thriller. Fincher methodically recreates the mythology of the Zodiac killer and in the process makes a great film!
7. 28 Days Later – Zombies are currently having their heyday (again), but what sets Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later apart from the Romero-style “Living Dead” type movies is his frantic pace, making the film scary, fresh, and edgy.
6. The Descent – Director, Neil Marshall’s second film, The Descent, is a pillar of claustrophobic, B-movie greatness. But number 6? Yes! The Descent is great for how it “zigs” when many other similar films would “zag.” This is also a girl-power thriller, which is quite rare in this genre. The cast of 8 has only one male and that frees it up from all of the nutty clichés that often muddy up a good horror movie.
5. The Birds, Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo – They don’t call Hitchcock the master of suspense for nothing. His films are of the finest forms of “thriller” and thus, rather than single one of his best out, spot 5 on the list is reserved for a quadruple feature that will not disappoint.
4. Se7en – Fincher’s second film on the list is Se7en. Fincher is also only one of two directors on this list who have a new movie released this year. His film Gone Girl opened this month and Ridley Scott’s Exodus opens December 12th. Se7en is the film that answers the question, “What’s in the box?” Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman investigate a serial killer who is murdering his victims in the style of the seven deadly sins. This is a tense and grotesque thriller with, of course, a great ending.
3. The Fly – David Cronenberg is a master of the disturbing. His film, Dead Ringers was an early candidate for this list; however, it is The Fly that is without a doubt in the running for best thriller ever. This 1986 remake of the 1958 original pours on the gore, but in a stunning and obsessive way. Jeff Goldblum believes he has devised a form of teleportation, until something goes wrong…very, very wrong.
2. The Thing – John Carpenter nails it with his second film on the list, his 1982 remake of Howard Hawkes 1951 film, The Thing. This film was also remade again more recently, but what makes Carpenter’s film the best by far is the way Carpenter maximizes the paranoia and suspense. Kurt Russell is excellent as MacReady, an American helicopter pilot who arrives at a desolate Norwegian military base where he and his crew find themselves at battle with an alien foe that could be anywhere, or anyone!
1. The Exorcist – I wish I could say that over the past 40 years, someone was able to take the crown from William Friedkin’s outrageously scary film, The Exorcist, but I’m afraid not. It was nominated for 8 Oscars, but that’s not what makes it the best thriller of all time. Friedkin went out of his way to create a film that worms its way into your subconscious in order to disturb you on multiple levels. When it was first released, it sent people, literally, running out of the theaters. Now, the trendsetting horror film can be viewed in “safety” of your own living room – where no one can see you run away!