The 10 Greatest Psychological Thrillers to Date

In preparation for the anticipated psychological thriller, Joker, I’d like to give the ten greatest psychological thrillers, to date.

This list hopes to show not necessarily the best, but the greatest of all time. By greatest, I’ve combined many areas that include the following:
1) The average rating the movie received from critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes (this is NOT the “Tomatometer” percentage)
2) The average rating the movie received from users on Letterboxd.
3) Any number of Oscar nominations the movie received
4) Any number of Oscar wins the movie received
5) Box Office Success (adjusted for inflation) the movie had

To give much more weight to the ratings and awards the movie has than its box office success, I’ve multiplied the average score out of ten on Rotten Tomatoes by 2, and the average score out of five on Letterboxd by 4. I’ve also given one point for every Oscar nomination and 1.5 points for every win, regardless of category.

You may see that the order is different than you would have guessed, or that some films aren’t even listed. This list, as many others I’ve made, seems to shed a mixed light on both how big it was in its time with how positive its legacy has been. I think this shares something unique that most rankings don’t look at as much.

This won’t be my personal ranking, and the list will simply give brief synopses, not commented on by me as I do with movie reviews. As with all of my lists I’ve posted elsewhere, I’ve ran many films through, though only the ten greatest are listed here. As such, feel free to let me know or ask if I’ve checked a certain film! 

Oh, and a final word: these are psychological thrillers specifically. I attempted to present movies that are not horror exclusively or other subgenres of thrillers, like sci-fi thriller or adventure thriller, for example.  Enjoy!

1. The Silence of the Lambs  (1991)

closeup photo of mayfly

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Synopsis: Clarice Starling is a top student at the FBI’s training academy. Jack     Crawford wants Clarice to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who is also a violent psychopath, serving life behind bars for various acts of murder and cannibalism. Crawford believes that Lecter may have insight into a case and that Starling, as an attractive young woman, may be just the bait to draw him out.

2. Rebecca (1940)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis: Story of a young woman who marries a fascinating widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife, Rebecca, who died mysteriously several years earlier. The young wife must come to grips with the terrible secret of her handsome, cold husband, Max De Winter. She must also deal with the jealous, obsessed Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, who will not accept her as the mistress of the house.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

closeup photo of yellow taxi

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.



4. Black Swan (2010)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Synopsis: A journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by: David Fincher

Synopsis: This English-language adaptation of the Swedish novel by Stieg Larsson follows a disgraced journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, as he investigates the disappearance of a weary patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago. He is aided by the pierced, tattooed, punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. As they work together in the investigation, Blomkvist and Salander uncover immense corruption beyond anything they have ever imagined.

golden gate bridge photo

6. Vertigo (1958)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Synopsis: A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

7. Memento (2000)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: Leonard Shelby is tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The difficulty of locating his wife’s killer, however, is compounded by the fact that he suffers from a rare, untreatable form of short-term memory loss. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he’s going, or why.

8. Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Directed by: Anthony Minghella

Synopsis: Tom Ripley is a calculating young man who believes it’s better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody. Opportunity knocks in the form of a wealthy U.S. shipbuilder who hires Tom to travel to Italy to bring back his playboy son, Dickie. Ripley worms his way into the idyllic lives of Dickie and his girlfriend, plunging into a daring scheme of duplicity, lies and murder.

9. The Handmaiden (2016)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Synopsis: 1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a young woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering uncle. But, the maid has a secret: she is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese count to help him seduce the heiress to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan until the women discover some unexpected emotions.

10. Fatal Attraction (1987)

Directed by: Adrian Lyne

Synopsis: A married man’s one night stand comes back to haunt him when that lover begins to stalk him and his family.

Honorable Mentions: Gone Girl and Fight Club 

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