100 essential thrillers

For the bucket list: a selection of some of the best thrillers ever made. How many have you seen?

About Elly (2009)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

About Elly (2009)

As in his better-known A Separation (2011), Asghar Farhadi renders moral questions as nail-biting as a Fast and Furious car chase. Here, a law graduate’s white lies about the friend she invites on holiday open up divisions in a group of supposedly liberal Tehranis. Pivoting among a large ensemble of characters, Farhadi retains absolute command of his inquest into sexual repression and social conformity. PHo

See also: Killing Mad Dogs (2001); The Salesman (2016)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Director: John Sturges

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

The train hasn’t stopped in Black Rock for four years, but it does this time. A one-armed stranger gets off. He’s looking for a Japanese-American man named Komoko, but the residents of this lonesome desert town don’t want to know. They clam up, or else things get violent – you can usually depend on Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine for that. Spencer Tracy plays the stranger in this key ’50s thriller about festering racism in America’s lonely outposts. SW

See also: Violent Saturday (1955); In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Basic Instinct (1992)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Basic Instinct (1992)

Paul Verhoeven’s gloriously OTT erotic neo-noir caused a sensation on its release. Sharon Stone’s bisexual novelist is a controversial femme fatale for the ages, while Michael Douglas is the troubled homicide cop tasked with investigating the murder-by-icepick she may have committed. A pulsating and memorably sleazy blockbuster, packed with sex and violence. LT

See also: Jagged Edge (1985); Fatal Attraction (1988)

The Big Heat (1953)

Director: Fritz Lang

The Big Heat (1953)

As brutal as a Michael Mann thriller, without a drop of blood spilt. Written by former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, Fritz Lang’s revenge tale follows a cop (Glenn Ford) uncovering a plot between the police, politicians and crime boss Vince Stone, played with relish by Lee Marvin. Gloria Grahame is Debby Marsh, the mobster’s girl and his victim — most famously in a scene in which Stone throws hot coffee in her face. Lang holds the shot on the hob as the boiling pot is removed. It’s thrown, off-screen, over Debby. Explicit, no. Disturbing? Terribly. HB

See also: Kiss of Death (1947); The Big Combo (1955)

Blow Out (1981)

Director: Brian De Palma

unable to find video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU2JVVd9xRc

Brian De Palma’s gorgeously expressive style reaches its peak in this perfectly articulated murder mystery. A diffident sound-recording man (John Travolta) unwittingly records evidence of a politically motivated murder, and falls into harm’s way when he begins to investigate. Set against the patriotic American bicentennial, it builds to a memorably tragic conclusion and folds into itself with a startling sense of self-awareness. CN

See also: Dressed to Kill (1980); Body Double (1984)

Blue Steel (1989)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Blue Steel (1990)

In this early Kathryn Bigelow thriller, Jamie Lee Curtis is NYPD cop Megan Turner, who becomes the object of obsession for new lover Ron Silver (Eugene Hunt). Initially ignorant of Ron’s dark motives, Megan comes to realise that she will have to save her own life, in an explosive ending reminiscent of Curtis’s breakthrough film, Halloween (1978). NB

See also: Point Break (1991); Copycat (1995)

Le Boucher (1970)

Director: Claude Chabrol

Le Boucher (1970)

The most famous of a string of ice-cool thrillers that ‘French Hitchcock’ Claude Chabrol made with his wife Stéphane Audran. Here she stars as a provincial schoolteacher who befriends the local butcher (Jean Yanne) but begins to wonder if he’s behind a spate of brutal murders in the village. Among the subtlest of great thrillers, Le Boucher is meticulous, psychologically probing and deeply suspenseful. SW

See also: This Man Must Die (1969), La Rupture (1970)

Bound (1996)

Directors: Lana and Lilly Wachowski

Bound (1996)

The only film on our list with a sex educator on set (probably). The Wachowskis’ Bound is an erotic, violent directorial debut in which the romantic union between an ex-con (Gina Gershon) and a gangster’s girl (Jennifer Tilly) develops into a twisty plot to rob the mob. Joe Pantoliano, who the Wachowskis would later plug into The Matrix (1999), is on top form as the pair’s mafioso mark, while Bill Pope’s cinematography wears the influence of Sin City artist Frank Miller well. Best of all, the gay relationship is part of the film, not the whole film. And it feels genuinely sexy. Sex education money well spent. HB

See also: Blood Simple (1984); Wild Things (1998)

Breakdown (1997)

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Breakdown (1997)

Central to Jonathan Mostow’s thriller is Kurt Russell’s performance as a man driven by desperation as he tries to find his wife, who has disappeared after their car broke down on a desert road. Characters may be thinly sketched, but the scenario is effectively nightmarish, and Russell drives the narrative through raw emotion alone. NB

See also: Switchback (1997); Joy Ride (2001)

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

Director: Otto Preminger

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

Atmospherically set in 1960s London (watch out for a cameo from The Zombies), this unsettling missing-toddler case sees thriller master Otto Preminger experiment with lacing psychological thrills and social realism. The result is a tense, twisting tale, full of sinister suspects, unreliable witnesses and superb performances by an estimable supporting cast led by Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward. DP

See also: The Collector (1965); Gone Girl (2014)

Cairo Station (1958)

Director: Youssef Chahine

Cairo Station (1958)

Two years before Psycho ripped open film grammar, this layered masterpiece pored over similar psychosexual fissures – shockingly for an Egyptian film in 1958. But where Hitchcock crept into interior recesses, Youssef Chahine – who also plays a lame, tormented newspaper seller – made his film a communal trauma echoing with the tumult of newly republican Egypt. PHo

See also: Psycho (1960); Land of Fear (1999)

Cape Fear (1962)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cape Fear (1962)

Robert Mitchum plays a force of brute evil in this disturbing family-in-peril chiller. His lecherous ex-con Max Cady begins a campaign of terror on the household of the lawyer (Gregory Peck) whose testimony sent him down. With a threatening score by Bernard Herrmann and a sustained finale of onslaught in the Georgian backwaters, it out-thrills even Martin Scorsese’s superb remake. SW

See also: The Night of the Hunter (1955); Cape Fear (1991)

Cash on Demand (1961)

Director: Quentin Lawrence

Cash on Demand (1961)

A Christmas Carol reworked as a heist thriller. Peter Cushing stars as Harry Fordyce, the uptight manager of the Haversham branch of the City and Colonial Bank. Having humbugged the office Christmas party, Fordyce has his Marley moment when a suave conman (André Morell), posing as the bank’s security consultant, uses the threat of violence against Fordyce’s wife and child as leverage to rob the bank. The irony, of course, is that the sinner – charming to the staff, brutally honest with Fordyce – offers salvation. A stylish two-hander, simmering with tension. HB

See also: Hell Is a City (1960); The League of Gentlemen (1960)

La Cérémonie (1995)

Director: Claude Chabrol

La Cérémonie (1995)

The inexplicable nature of evil pervades this adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. Adding a dash of psychosis to his social satire, Claude Chabrol’s celebrated chiller details a creepy pact between gregarious Breton postmistress Isabelle Huppert and illiterate maid Sandrine Bonnaire, as they ritualistically prey upon an insufferably complacent bourgeois family. DP

See also: The Colour of Lies (1999); Merci pour le chocolat (2001)

The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

The Conversation (1974)

Multi-layered and enthralling, Francis Ford Coppola’s follow up to The Godfather (1972) eschews that film’s explicit violence to concentrate on the secrets and lies that can be equally as devastating. Gene Hackman is exceptional as a paranoid surveillance expert, while Walter Murch and Art Rochester were Oscar-nominated for the evocative sound design. NB

See also: Three Days of the Condor (1975); All the President’s Men (1976)

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

Fred Zinnemann was likely more famous for his westerns and romantic dramas than his thrillers, but he tackled big material in this 1973 political drama: the attempted assassination of French president Charles De Gaulle. With a lean, shifty-eyed Edward Fox as the anonymous hired gun (‘the jackal’), Zinnemann’s thriller marks itself with both psychological realism and exacting temporal construction. CN

See also: Suddenly (1954); The Parallax View (1974)

Dead Calm (1989)

Director: Phillip Noyce

Dead Calm (1989)

“High seas, deep terror,” promised the poster, and this Australian nailbiter more than delivers. Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill play the grieving couple whose recuperative sailing trip takes a deadly turn after they rescue a marooned man. Orson Welles never finished his own adaptation of Charles Williams’ 1963 novel, but Phillip Noyce’s version sets sail with a nervy energy all its own. SW

See also: Malice (1993); The Shallows (2016)

Deadly Pursuit (aka Shoot to Kill, 1988)

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Shoot to Kill (1988)

This now largely forgotten 1980s thriller throws together FBI agent Sidney Poitier and gruff wilderness scout Tom Berenger on the trail of a killer who’s escaping to the Canadian border via the Cascade mountains. Full of vertiginous peril, guess-the-psycho gameplay and fish-out-of-water fun, Deadly Pursuit was once the stuff that video-rental dreams were made of. SW

See also: Cliffhanger (1993); The River Wild (1994)

Deliverance (1972)

Director: John Boorman

Deliverance (1972)

The daddy of all weekend-gone-wrong survival thrillers stars Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds as Atlanta businessmen who get more than they bargained for on a canoe trip through the wilderness. John Boorman’s brutal, banjo-scored nightmare weaponises the great American outdoors, pitting man against nature and (infamously) city boys against backwoods yokels. Harrowing stuff, and a haunting film about our desecration of the land. SW

See also: Long Weekend (1978); Southern Comfort (1981)

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Les Diaboliques (1955)

A compelling, grisly thriller, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques is capped by an unforgettable twist ending. The wife and mistress of a repulsive man team up to remove their mutual problem, but disposing of the corpse is more difficult than they anticipate. A crime movie that encourages the audience to side with the murderers. PHu

See also: The Murderer Who Lives at Number 21 (1942); Le Corbeau (1943)

D.O.A. (1949)

Director: Rudolph Maté

D.O.A. (1949)

“I want to report a murder.” “Who was murdered?” “I was.” A killer opener and a concise introduction to a smart conceit. Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) has been poisoned. He’s had only days to find out who by, and now has mere hours to tell the police about it. Told in flashback, Rudolph Maté’s race-against-time thriller incorporates LA gangsters, stolen iridium and, during the scene in a jazz club where Frank is poisoned, one of the first on-screen depictions of Beat culture. HB

See also: White Heat (1949); Union Station (1950)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Director: Billy Wilder

Double Indemnity (1944)

Famed for its audacious, rapid dialogue, dripping with sexual innuendo, Double Indemnity places insurance salesman Fred MacMurray in the path of ice-blonde aspiring widow Barbara Stanwyck. Directed by Billy Wilder as a series of confessional flashbacks, from a script co-written by Raymond Chandler and adapted from a James M. Cain story, this is film noir at its finest. PHu

See also: Body Heat (1981); The Last Seduction (1994)

Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)

Director: Fritz Lang

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922)

A crime movie on an epic scale, Fritz Lang’s first Dr Mabuse film twists its way through myriad plot turns. Rudolf Klein-Rogge is the mad Mabuse — known to the public as a psychoanalyst, but also a hypnotist, a gambler and an arch-criminal. Nothing can be trusted and nothing stays still for long in this slick, excessive and hugely influential paranoid thriller. PHu

See also: Spies (1928); The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Duel (1971)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Duel (1971)

Not, in fact, Steven Spielberg’s debut feature — that being 1964’s homemade sci-fi Firelight — this road-to-hell movie is still a striking calling card for the prolific filmmaker. As commuter David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is randomly targeted by an unseen trucker, Spielberg utilises the isolated location and universal fear of the unknown to deliver a tense David and Goliath-esque thriller. NB

See also: Jaws (1975); Road Games (1981)

Fail-Safe (1964)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Fail-Safe (1964)

Escalating tensions over North Korea have given Sidney Lumet’s damning Cold War indictment of diplomatic sabre-rattling a chilling new relevance. Somewhat overshadowed on its release by Dr Strangelove’s darkly satirical depiction of our self-inflicted apocalypse, Fail-Safe remains a terrifyingly tense and authentic speculation on how the White House might react to a nuclear crisis. DP

See also: Seven Days in May (1964); Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher

Fight Club (1999)

“A thrill ride masquerading as philosophy”, wrote Roger Ebert. Sniffy, but – with hindsight – dead right. There’s not much depth to angry men battering each other, even coupled with an anti-consumerism spiel. The politics of David Fincher’s film, lifted from Chuck Palahniuk’s book of the same name, have become overwhelmed in our age of hyper-convenience (What would Tyler Durden make of the gig economy?). Still, Fincher’s film is as distinctive as Durden’s abs. The thrill of his revolution, however phony, endures. HB

See also: The Game (1997); American Psycho (2000)

The French Connection (1971)

Director: William Friedkin

The French Connection (1971)

William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning cat-and-mouse tale of cop and criminal is as economical and taut as thrillers come. Not a second is wasted in the director’s construction of action sequences, and the legendary car-chase scene feels as contemporary and hard-bitten as ever. Gene Hackman became an A-lister after his turn as the morally questionable NYPD officer Popeye Doyle – and deservedly so. CN

See also: Dirty Harry (1971); Serpico (1973)

The Fugitive (1993)

Director: Andrew Davis

The Fugitive (1993)

A critical and commercial hit in 1993, Andrew Davis’s chase movie endures because of the two names that were plastered in massive point across the marketing: “HARRISON FORD, TOMMY LEE JONES”. Jones, playing the dogged Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard, took the best supporting actor gong at the Oscars. But it’s Ford, as the doctor on the run after being wrongly convicted of killing his wife, who’s responsible for the film’s zip. Amazingly, this came just a year after Davis’s previous film, Under Siege. One is one of the best thrillers of all time, the other stars Steven Seagal. HB

See also: The Package (1989); Patriot Games (1992)

Gaslight (1940)

Director: Thorold Dickinson

Gaslight (1940)

“Gaslight: to manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” The term has been ushered back into popular usage during the Trump era, but its origins lie in the 1938 play Gas Light, on which Thorold Dickinson’s fine, creepy film was based. Paul (Anton Walbrook) is putting his wife, Bella (Diana Wynyard), through hell. He’s convinced her that she’s mad, that the noises she hears, the dimming of the lights, are in her head. Startling in its raw portrayal of abuse (“When I married you I thought you were a normal woman”), Gaslight lit the way for Darren Aronofsky’s tales of women pushed to the brink by men. HB

See also: Suspicion (1941); Gaslight (1944)

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

Director: Curtis Hanson

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)

One of a clutch of schlocky early 1990s thrillers, Curtis Hanson’s chiller effectively plays on themes of parental anxiety and home invasion. Rebecca De Mornay is suitably unhinged as the nanny wreaking bloody havoc on the family she believes responsible for the death of her husband and unborn child. Mary Poppins, she ain’t. NB

See also: Pacific Heights (1990); Single White Female (1992)

Harry, He’s Here to Help (2000)

Director: Dominik Moll

Harry, He’s Here to Help (2000)

There’s a touch of Tom Ripley to Harry (Sergi López), the supposed old school friend who insidiously soft-soaps his way into the lives of a young married couple during their holiday in the French countryside. Blackly comic, with a full serving of Hitchcockian thrills, this one’s like a Gallic answer to the ’90s Hollywood cycle of friendly psycho movies. With Lemming (2005) to follow, director Dominik Moll looked peerless for a brief spell in the early 2000s. SW

See also: Lemming (2005); Tell No One (2006)

The Headless Woman (2008)

Director: Lucrecia Martel

The Headless Woman (2008)

No cliffhangers or races-against-the-clock here. No beheadings either. Instead, the tension in Lucrecia Martel’s disconcerting drama comes from the unnervingly framed images and the detailed ambience of the soundtrack. Both seem to promise a clue to what’s happened. Was it a dog that Véronica (María Onetto) hit in the road? If so, why is there a child’s handprint on her driver’s-side window? The Headless Woman unfolds in a state of foggy concussion, with the facts hanging tantalisingly out of reach. SW

See also: Death of a Cyclist (1955); Under the Sand (2000)

Hell Drivers (1957)

Director: Cy Endfield

Hell Drivers (1957)

Echoes of They Drive by Night (1940) and The Wages of Fear (1953) reverberate around this testosterone-fuelled study of the risks taken by pittance-paid truckers. Seething with macho resentment, Stanley Baker leads an exceptional cast of British acting stalwarts (including Sean Connery and Patrick McGoohan) who ably square up to the reckless action sequences and no-nonsense realism. DP

See also: Thieves’ Highway (1949); The Long Haul (1957)

Hidden (2005)

Director: Michael Haneke

Hidden (2005)

The Laurents (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) are being watched. Someone is sending them surveillance videos of their Paris apartment. Who, and why, is the conundrum at the heart of Michael Haneke’s anxiety-inducing arthouse brainteaser. Shifting and ambiguous, Hidden is a movie that forces us to distrust even its own shots — and a whodunit that draws an entire society into the frame. SW

See also: Funny Games (1996); Lost Highway (1997)

High and Low (1963)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

High and Low (1963)

Honour is all in Kurosawa’s samurai stories, where morality was codified by the times. High and Low, set in 1960s Yokohama, offers a true test of nobility. Gondo (Toshiro Mifune), a wealthy executive at a shoe company, is forced to take on a series of moral challenges, from the day-to-day (whether to cheapen his product for greater returns) to the life-threatening (whether to pay the ransom for his chauffeur’s kidnapped son). The adventure lies in seeing which way a good man will turn, and whether he can retain his goodness, despite its absence around him. HB

See also: Stray Dog (1949); Ransom (1996)

High Noon (1952)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

High Noon (1952)

A race against the clock. Shot almost in real-time, Fred Zinnemann’s extraordinary western follows Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in a futile attempt to rally a posse to defend his town from a gang of outlaws arriving on the midday train. Written by Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the film’s production, it’s often seen as an allegory for McCarthyism, which was why John Wayne, a supporter of the blacklist, turned down the lead role. The final shootout romps through the town, leaving a trail of burned out barns and panicked horses in its wake. But it’s the spectacle of one man against the crowd that sticks. HB

See also: Rawhide (1951); 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The Hitch-hiker (1953)

Director: Ida Lupino

The Hitch-hiker (1953)

A psychopath takes two friends captive after they offer him a ride, tormenting them mentally and turning them against each other, on a trip across the Mexican border. Inspired by the story of spree killer Billy Cook, The Hitch-hiker is a brutally chilling movie, and the first film noir to be directed by a woman, former actor Ida Lupino. PHu

See also: The Bigamist (1953); The Hitcher (1986)

The Hunt (2012)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

The Hunt (2012)

A fib grows fat on hysteria in Thomas Vinterberg’s story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of sexual assault by a female pupil. The thrill – horror, really – lies in the skill with which Vinterberg and his co-writer Tobias Lindholm develop each character’s rationale for their dizzying fall into group insanity. Lucas doesn’t have a chance. The girl cried wolf, the pack turned on its own. HB

See also: It Happened in Broad Daylight (1958); Prisoners (2013)

Illustrious Corpses (1976)

Director: Francesco Rosi

Illustrious Corpses (1976)

Keeping its secrets closely guarded between the eerie catacomb opening and shocking museum finale, Francesco Rosi’s adaptation of Sicilian Leonardo Sciascia’s novel slows the pace of the conventional ‘poliziotteschi’ to examine the corrupt establishment connections hampering world-weary cop Lino Ventura’s investigation into a spate of judge murders. A textbook example of the all-star conspiracy thriller. DP

See also: Army of Shadows (1969); The Mattei Affair (1972)

In the Cut (2003)

Director: Jane Campion

In the Cut (2003)

Notable for casting America’s girl-next-door Meg Ryan as a sexually adventurous writer who begins a steamy affair with Mark Ruffalo’s NYPD cop, Jane Campion’s beguiling film draws on intertwining themes of sex and murder to weave an intricate psychological web of lust, carnality and dangerous animal instincts. NB

See also: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978); Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Insomnia (1997)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Insomnia (1997)

Director and co-writer Erik Skjoldbjaerg expertly utilises his atmospheric Norwegian location for this tense murder mystery. Stellan Skarsgard is Swedish murder investigator Jonas Engstrom, who, struggling to cope with the 24 hours of daylight, makes a terrible mistake that has dramatic implications on the case. Christopher Nolan helmed an English language remake in 2002. NB

See also: Fargo (1996); Insomnia (2002)

Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (1970)

Director: Elio Petri

Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (1970)

A veteran Italian star of spaghetti westerns, Gian Maria Volonte plays a nasty, calculating police chief in this vicious satire of police corruption. When the chief kills his mistress, he leaves a trail of clues in his wake to see if he can actually get arrested for his crime. Petri and Volonte shared a leftist sensibility, and here they work to ferociously indict the endemic hypocrisy of the Italian powers-that-be. CN

See also: L’assassino (1961); The Conformist (1970)

Ittefaq (1969)

Director: Yash Chopra

Ittefaq (1969)

Due for an imminent remake, Ittefaq – shot by Yash Chopra in 28 days as a distraction from a postponed project – was not typical Bollywood. Adapted from 1964’s Signpost from Murder, it was one of the first song-less Indian films and came in at an unusually tight 105 minutes. It opts for sleuthy fun over noirish brooding every time, fired up by a feverish Rajesh Khanna performance that kickstarted his career. PHo

See also: Joshila (1973); Kaun (1999)

Kahaani (2012)

Director: Sujoy Ghosh

Kahaani (2012)

Vidya Balan – who already had a strong track record of female-centric works – turns Kolkata upside-down as a pregnant woman searching for her husband in the wake of a terrorist attack. Up with the best of recent Bollywood, it’s nearly as impressive for a sustained feat of intricate conspiratorial plotting as it is for its progressive politics. PHo

See also: No One Killed Jessica (2011); NH10 (2015)

Klute (1971)

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Klute (1971)

Ambiguity is the name of the game in the first of Alan J. Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’, completed by Watergate-era thrillers The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976). In Klute, he combines old-timey noir tropes and a thoroughly liberated attitude towards sex in the story of a high-class call girl (Jane Fonda) who helps a careworn detective (Donald Sutherland) to solve a mysterious homicide. CN

See also: The Long Goodbye (1973); Night Moves (1975)

Knife in the Water (1962)

Director: Roman Polanski

Knife in the Water (1962)

Roman Polanski’s sole Polish feature is a simmering study of social and generational antagonism. Set during a weekend sailing trip, it claustrophobically exploits its setting to expose the paranoia, cruelty and folly of a middle-aged sportswriter seeking to impress his wife by humiliating a teenage student. Moodily photographed and scored, this disconcerting psychological thriller remains one of the director’s best. DP

See also: Chinatown (1974); Frantic (1988)

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

In this pre-war Hitchcock thriller, Margaret Lockwood is a tourist crossing Europe by train who suddenly notices that one of her travelling companions, an eccentric old lady, is missing. None of the other passengers recall having seen her friend before. Is she going mad, or is there a wider conspiracy at work? PHu

See also: Rome Express (1932); Night Train to Munich (1940)

Laura (1944)

Director: Otto Preminger

Laura (1944)

Otto Preminger’s film noir stars Gene Tierney as a superlative femme fatale. Tierney is Laura, a beautiful Madison Avenue advertising executive. When she is found dead, the detective investigating her murder (Dana Andrews) becomes the latest man to fall in love with her, and to be betrayed by her. A paranoid New York murder mystery with a twist… in the middle. PHu

See also: Fallen Angel (1945); Whirlpool (1950)

Lift to the Scaffold (1958)

Director: Louis Malle

Lift to the Scaffold (1958)

Louis Malle’s tightly constructed fiction debut features a star-making turn for its female lead, Jeanne Moreau. The set-up is that of classic film noir: a wealthy husband, a conniving wife and a criminal lover willing to do her spouse in. But Malle’s approach is distinctively French and modern. He counters the jumpy suspense of the situation with percussive cuts and a celebrated, sensual jazz score by Miles Davis. CN

See also: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946); La Femme infidèle (1969)

The Lives of Others (2006)

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

The Lives of Others (2006)

This realistic depiction of German Democratic Republic-era spy tactics on civilians and the trauma it caused is a poignant character study as well as a thriller. A Stasi agent (Ulrich Muhe) tasked with wire-tapping a young ‘subversive’ becomes increasingly enthralled with the man’s life – and disgusted with his job. Taken with the dismal settings of 1984 East Germany and its grey-green colour palette, this is a thriller of unusual historical specificity. CN

See also: The Man Between (1953); The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)

Locke (2013)

Director: Steven Knight

Locke (2013)

An inaction thriller, set entirely on the drive from Birmingham to London. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) has bunked off a job laying foundations to attend the birth of his baby, conceived during an extramarital affair. On the hands-free are his wife, his kids and his boss, who he’ll methodically betray over 85 excruciating minutes. It’s blood-free, peril-free and there’s loads of talk of concrete. Absolutely riveting. HB

See also: Buried (2010); All Is Lost (2013)

The Lodger (1927)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Hitchcock’s first real Hitchcock film, according to the man himself, The Lodger takes a cue from German Expressionism in adapting Marie Belloc Lowndes’s novel about a Jack the Ripper-type killer. As The Avenger slaughters blonde women in foggy London, a landlady suspects that her genteel tenant, Ivor Novello, has a dark and terrible secret. HB

See also: Blackmail (1929); The Lodger (1944)

Lust, Caution (2007)

Director: Ang Lee

Lust, Caution (2007)

In following up 2005’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee chose to tell this mesmerising Second World War-era story, in which Wei Tang plays a young woman who falls for Tony Chiu-Wai Leung’s influential politician. That she is embroiled in a plot to murder him adds a level of double-crossing intrigue to an already powerful emotional thriller. NB

See also: Notorious (1946); Black Book (2006)

M (1931)

Director: Fritz Lang

M (1931)

The first true serial killer film, and one of the creepiest, M was Fritz Lang’s first sound film and shows a brilliant, intuitive use of the form. Peter Lorre gives an unforgettable, humane performance as a child killer stalking Berlin. His crimes are presented elliptically, but Lang lingers on the hysteria surrounding them, and the epic police manhunt. PHu

See also: M (1951); While the City Sleeps (1956)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Director: John Frankenheimer

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

For a film with themes drilled into its times, The Manchurian Candidate flopped surprisingly hard on release. John Frankenheimer’s film, about a platoon of US veterans brainwashed by communists and embroiled in a plot to kill the president, only hit home on its rerelease towards the end of the Cold War. Frank Sinatra plays Captain Bennett Marco, on the trail of a platoon-mate, who, when triggered by the queen of diamonds playing card, becomes a mindless killing machine. The idea was insidious. Mind control has commandeered the plots of everything from the Bourne franchise to Zoolander since. HB

See also: The Ipcress File (1965); Seconds (1966)

Memento (2000)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Memento (2000)

Backwards and inside-out, Christopher Nolan’s calling-card puts the revenge thriller through contortions. Leonard (Guy Pearce) knows his wife was murdered, but – thanks to a crack on the head during the attack – can’t remember by whom. With no ability to create short-term memories, he tries to outfox his broken recall in order to find her killer. Nolan, long before Inception (2010), knew that there’s nothing as powerful, or as untrustworthy, as your own mind. HB

See also: Point Blank (1967); Following (1998)

Memories of Murder (2003)

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Memories of Murder (2003)

Highly influential within the Korean industry, widely admired outside it, Bong Joon-ho’s brilliantly cynical sophomore effort was a Rorschach test for a fast-modernising country: a serial-killer investigation turns up more on the hunters than the hunted. Their incompetence and brutality supplies black comedy, which mutates into an indictment of 1980s South Korean nationalism, then fades finally into a mute fatalism that scars each protagonist. PHo

See also: Zodiac (2007); Mother (2009)

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Director: Fritz Lang

Ministry of Fear (1944)

Ray Milland steps out of an asylum and into a whole heap of trouble in this delirious espionage thriller. In the topsy-turvy setting of London during the Blitz (completely imagined on Hollywood soundstages), cakes conceal microfilm, suitcases conceal bombs, and doorframes and windows constrain the characters in a dread world where nothing is as it seems. Peak Lang, with a spring in its step and little regard for sticking to Graham Greene’s original novel. SW

See also: Man Hunt (1941); Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Miracle Mile (1988)

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

Miracle Mile (1988)

Any number of quirky ’80s movies set a boy and a girl off on an uncertain route to romance. One of them made the end of the road the end of the world. Harry (Anthony Edwards) falls for Julie (Mare Winningham) at an exhibition about the extinction of the dinosaurs. Then, as suddenly as it might happen in real life, nuclear war breaks out. The bombs start falling. Another extinction begins. Harry and Julie try to outrun the inevitable. HB

See also: Seven Days to Noon (1950); WarGames (1983)

Miss Bala (2011)

Director: Gerardo Naranjo

Miss Bala (2011)

Catherine Hardwicke has been linked with a remake of Gerardo Naranjo’s loosely fact-based account of a Tijuana twentysomething getting caught up with crooked cops and vicious cartel thugs after entering a beauty contest. Combining searing social realism, melodrama and explosive set-pieces, this is a giddying snapshot of the poverty, crime, corruption and violence debilitating Mexican society. DP

See also: Traffic (2000); Sin nombre (2009)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Directors: Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The most dangerous game is man, as heinous huntsman Count Zaroff discovers when he sets his sights upon island castaways Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. Using the same jungle sets built for King Kong (1933), this man-as-prey marvel forged the template for films including The Naked Prey (1965), Punishment Park (1971), Turkey Shoot (1982), The Running Man (1987), Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012). JS

See also: Terror Aboard (1933); And Then There Were None (1945)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Director: Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler (2014)

Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s murky look at the LA news machine is bleak but extremely entertaining. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom like a malignant, more damaged version of the obsessive cartoonist he portrayed in Zodiac (2007). Bloom is a thief, a morally questionable opportunist and a shrewd camera op with a nose for what the TV stations require to really excite – and scare – their viewers. LT

See also: Drive (2011); Nocturnal Animals (2016)

The Night of the Sunflowers (2006)

Director: Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo

The Night of the Sunflowers (2006)

Set in a remote region of western Spain, The Night of the Sunflowers adopts a Rashomon-like structure to unravel its story of a rape and the complicated aftermath from various perspectives. Sadly the sole feature to date by Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, who’s since settled in TV, it’s a slippery, sun-baked noir with disturbing implications. SW

See also: Jindabyne (2006); Once upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

Night Train (1959)

Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Night Train (1959)

On a crowded sleeper train to Hel (the Baltic resort, not the hot place), two strangers – one of whom may be a murderer – are forced to share a compartment. It’s a Hitchcockian set-up, but suspense takes the lower bunk in this Polish classic, which plays like an atmospheric, cool jazz riff on the train thriller. SW

See also: Strangers on a Train (1951); Trans-Europ-Express (1966)

Nine Queens (2000)

Director: Fabián Bielinsky

Nine Queens (2000)

At times making David Mamet’s House of Games (1987) look like a cheap three-card trick, Fabián Bielinsky’s debut feature is a masterclass in cinematic sleight-of-hand. It dares the audience to spot the scam as Buenos Aires small-timer Gastón Pauls teams up with ruthless hustler Ricardo Darín to make a quick killing on some counterfeit Weimar stamps. DP

See also: House of Games (1987); The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

North by Northwest (1959)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant stars in Hitchcock’s outlandish chase thriller, which hinges on a case of deliberately mistaken identity. Grant’s innocent ad man is pursued across country by a sinister, criminal outfit. Beaten, arrested and targeted by a low-flying crop-duster plane, he finds comfort only in the arms of Eva-Marie Saint, a characteristically cool Hitchcock blonde. PHu

See also: Charade (1963); Family Plot (1976)

Obsession (1949)

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Obsession (1949)

Screenwriter Alec Coppel (Vertigo) adapts his play A Man about a Dog into this effective postwar thriller, directed by Edward Dmytryk. Robert Newton stars as Dr Clive Riordan, whose discovery that his wife is cheating on him pushes him to extreme action. Though tame by modern standards, excellent performances and a chilling atmosphere ensure this still packs a punch. NB

See also: Murder, My Sweet (1944); Dear Murderer (1947)

Oldboy (2003)

Director: Park Chan-wook

Oldboy (2003)

Grisly and fantastic, Park Chan-wook’s film writhes across genres. The plot – a drunken businessman is kidnapped, locked in a room for 15 years and released to track down his tormentor – betrays the film’s manga roots, but there are elements of Greek tragedy, Sam Peckinpah and Deadliest Catch in there too. The big scenes – the hammer fight, the octopus gobble – have become iconic. The rest is a horrific fable about violent trauma and its fallout. HB

See also: Lady Vengeance (2005); The Handmaiden (2016)

Omar (2013)

Director: Hany Abu-Assad

Omar (2013)

Hany Abu-Assad’s gripping second feature is as nimble as its young Palestinian protagonist. A rare blend of immersive action, intriguing deception and romantic tribulations combine in striking fashion as the eponymous baker tries to stay one step ahead of the Israeli security services. Essential viewing for fans of pugnacious, politically charged cinema. LT

See also: The Battle of Algiers (1966); Paradise Now (2005)

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Director: Nicholas Ray

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Nicholas Ray’s frigid noir doubles as a fable of moral redemption, as roughhouse NYC cop Robert Ryan is sent upstate to cool off on a wintry manhunt for the killer of a local schoolgirl. Shot through with Ray’s trademark feeling for life’s loners, the results are moving and exciting in equal measure, with footsteps in this snow leading to later white-out thrillers Fargo (1996) and A Simple Plan (1998). SW

See also: In a Lonely Place (1950); Nightfall (1957)

One False Move (1992)

Director: Carl Franklin

One False Move (1992)

Co-written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, alongside Bill Paxton, this neatly packaged thriller from director Carl Franklin transplants western sensibilities into a modern American small town. Paxton is the ambitious young sheriff preparing to head off a gang of violent criminals on the run from the LAPD. Events unfold as a masterclass in slow-burning tension. NB

See also: Red Rock West (1993); Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

The Passenger (1975)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

The Passenger (1975)

While his arthouse milestone L’avventura (1960) presents a missing-person scenario in which the mystery simply gets forgotten, this later Antonioni classic offers an antihero (Jack Nicholson) who – by switching identities with a dead man in the Sahara – similarly slips between the cracks of his own story. After stops in Bloomsbury and Barcelona, the globe-trotting intrigue culminates in a devastating endgame in Andalusia. SW

See also: Blowup (1966); Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Plein Soleil (1960)

Director: René Clément

Plein Soleil (1960)

Loosely adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and directed by René Clement, Plein Soleil is a sadistic, slow-burn psychological thriller. In his breakthrough role, Alain Delon is Tom Ripley, an American in Italy, sponging off his wealthy friend Philippe. Philippe bullies Tom, and in return Tom plots to kill him and steal his identity. PHu

See also: La Piscine (1969); The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Rear Window (1954)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window (1954)

Hitchcock’s seductive classic is a thriller about the pleasure of watching thrillers, and the excitement of decoding meaning and motive from a drama playing out in front of your eyes. James Stewart plays the convalescent with a broken leg who, in his boredom, takes to spying on his neighbours across the way. Before long he uncovers a murder – the ultimate gift for any curtain twitcher. SW

See also: The Window (1949); Monsieur Hire (1989)

The Reckless Moment (1949)

Director: Max Ophüls

The Reckless Moment (1949)

In this peerless, female-led film noir, a California housewife (Joan Bennett) is forced to hide a dead body for her troubled teen daughter – and then defend her family from the blackmail threats of a sinister stranger (James Mason). One of the handful of American releases by the German-born Max Ophüls, it’s a film that continues his fascination with quietly fearsome women protagonists. CN

See also: Leave Her to Heaven (1945); Mildred Pierce (1945)

Rififi (1955)

Director: Jules Dassin

Rififi (1955)

This impeccable heist movie, directed by American Jules Dassin on a tiny budget, is an enjoyably gritty French film noir in which four audacious criminals break into a high-end Paris jewellery store. Rififi’s undoubted highlight is a nail-biting, near-silent sequence, half an hour long, which details the intricate manoeuvres of the heist itself. PHu

See also: The Asphalt Jungle (1950); The Red Circle (1970)

Runaway Train (1985)

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy

Runaway Train (1985)

This could easily have been another thick-eared Cannon Films actioner. But, drawing inspiration from a screenplay originally drafted by Akira Kurosawa, director Andrei Konchalovsky uses the locomotive hurtling through the frozen Alaskan wastes to intensify the battle of wits between escaped prisoners Jon Voight and Eric Roberts and sadistic warden John P. Ryan. DT

See also: Narrow Margin (1990); Transsiberian (2008)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

In only his second US-set thriller, Hitchcock took evident glee in bringing a sociopath into the heart of a sweet-as-pie family home. Fleeing police out east, ‘Merry Widow’ killer Joseph Cotten comes to California to stay with his unsuspecting sister and her family, including his doting niece and namesake, Charlie (Teresa Wright). The ensuing clash between light and darkness foreshadows David Lynch’s later intrusions into small-town life. SW

See also: The Stranger (1946); The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Sicario (2015)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Sicario (2015)

Emily Blunt is on superb form as a steely FBI agent fighting the war on drugs in Denis Villeneuve’s stylish narco-thriller. Roger Deakins’ stunning US-Mexico borderlands cinematography provides the aesthetic ballast, while an ominous Jóhann Jóhannson score evokes a dread atmosphere across a succession of pulse-quickening set-pieces. LT

See also: Border Incident (1949); Hell or High Water (2016)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Director: Jonathan Demme

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

One of only three films to win the big five Oscars, Jonathan Demme’s riveting adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel is justifiably acclaimed. Jodie Foster’s turn as FBI cadet Clarice Starling is an understated masterclass, while Anthony Hopkins is pumped up and utterly unforgettable as cannibal psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter. Chilling, dark and a ’90s cultural touchstone. LT

See also: Manhunter (1986); Se7en (1995)

The Spiral Staircase (1946)

Director: Robert Siodmak

The Spiral Staircase (1946)

Stepping in for Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak casts a noirish pall over Ethel Lina White’s tale of a bedridden widow and her mute companion being stalked by a serial killer who preys on the disabled. Ethel Barrymore and Dorothy McGuire excel, while Siodmak uses shadows, canted angles and thunder-cracks to send gothic chills through the deep-focus visuals. DP

See also: The Leopard Man (1943); Secret beyond the Door (1948)

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965)

Director: Martin Ritt

Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)

John Le Carré’s book revealed the realities of espionage. Ritt’s film adds layers of what the trailer called “dirt and dazzle”. Richard Burton played Alec Leamas, a British spy looking to devastate the East German intelligence services while pretending to defect. Screenwriters Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper catch Le Carré’s tone perfectly. People are assets, running through a game-plan drawn up by anonymous men in high places. “We have to live without sympathy. You can’t do that forever,” Leamas is told. Human beings weren’t made for this work. HB

See also: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011); A Most Wanted Man (2014)

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Director: Alain Guiraudie

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Under blue skies and beside a glistening lake, gay men meet for casual sex over a long, idle summer. Befriending Henri, Franck is meanwhile blindsided with desire for handsome Michel, but there are signs of trouble in paradise: talk of a killer on the loose, or something in the water. As subtle in mood and character as it is sexually frank, Stranger by the Lake makes most Tinseltown erotic thrillers look prehistoric by comparison. SW

See also: Cruising (1980); Swimming Pool (2003)

Suspense (1913)

Directors: Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber

Suspense (1913)

In this taut, short and inventive early home-invasion thriller, Lois Weber masterfully juggles three planes of action. A woman (played by Weber herself) and her baby are trapped in a lonely house as a menacing tramp circles the property, brandishing a knife. As the woman’s husband races to the rescue, a car chase augments the action. PHu

See also: The Lonely Villa (1909); Sparrows (1926)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director: Joseph Sargent

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Grimy, profane, sour on authority, Joseph Sargent’s crime thriller could only come out of 1970s New York. A gang of four men – Mr Blue, Mr Green, Mr Grey and Mr Brown – have taken the passengers of the 1:23 from Pelham station hostage and are holding the city to ransom. With the mayor’s office broke and ineffectual (“We’re trying to run a city here, not a democracy”), it falls on Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to handle the crisis. A thrill ride, a period piece and a showcase for the spirit of a city. HB

See also: Juggernaut (1974); Black Sunday (1977)

The Tall Target (1951)

Director: Anthony Mann

The Tall Target (1951)

In Anthony Mann’s 1951 historical thriller, a New York police sergeant (Dick Powell) gets wind of a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln and takes a tension-filled train trip to Baltimore to foil the conspirators. Lady Vanishes-worthy intrigue ensues, amid a thrifty depiction of a nation on the verge of civil war. Oh, and the sergeant’s name? John Kennedy. SW

See also: The Narrow Margin (1952); In the Line of Fire (1993)

Tesis (1996)

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Tesis (1996)

Alejandro Amenábar’s assured debut, though not without its contrivances, is a grisly white-knuckle ride as Ana Torrent’s bookish film student teams up with a prickly porn- and horror-loving classmate while working on her thesis about violence in the media. Together they make the shock discovery that their university campus is the epicentre of a snuff-movie ring. JS

See also: Live Flesh (1997); Open Your Eyes (1997)

They Drive by Night (1938)

Director: Arthur B. Woods

They Drive by Night (1938)

Shorty (Emlyn Williams) can’t catch a break. Released from prison, he goes to an ex-girlfriend’s to find her strangled in her bed. Off he goes on the run, fleeing into a shabby, brutal world where the real killer moves on with his plan to rid London of undesirables. James Curtis’s source novel included prostitution and gore, police corruption and class prejudice. Woods’ film tones it down, but a shabby world of skin-of-the-teeth existence remains. HB

See also: The Last Journey (1936); Young and Innocent (1937)

Thief (1981)

Director: Michael Mann

Thief (1981)

Unsurprisingly, a nocturnal crime thriller marked the beginning of Michael Mann’s film directing career. Featuring a gruff James Caan as a veteran safecracker, Thief is a twisty, stylish affair. With a soundtrack from Tangerine Dream and the rain-flecked, neon environs of Chicago as its setting, Mann’s debut is exciting, humane and beautifully rendered. CN

See also: The Driver (1978); To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

The Third Man (1949)

Director: Carol Reed

The Third Man (1949)

Everything in The Third Man – Orson Welles’ performance, Robert Krasker’s cinematography, the zither soundtrack – wobbles between the playful and the sinister. Welles plays Harry Lime, a crook who’s running a black market in dodgy penicillin amid the wreckage of postwar Vienna. Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli play the friend and former lover who believe he’s dead, moving through a world that’s had its order pulled away. The film twists and turns, yo-yos from the top of a ferris wheel to the sewers below. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and a golden rule of the genre: the thriller thrives in a moral hinterland. HB

See also: Odd Man Out (1947); Touch of Evil (1958)

The 39 Steps (1935)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The 39 Steps (1935)

Adapted from the novel by John Buchan, this black-and-white espionage thriller is an excellent example of the classic wrong-man scenario that director Alfred Hitchcock made his own. That man is Robert Donat as Londoner Richard Hannay, who goes on the run across the Scottish highlands when he is wrongly accused of murdering a spy. NB

See also: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); Saboteur (1942)

Tsotsi (2005)

Director: Gavin Hood

Tsotsi (2005)

The slum-favela-township backdrop that added globalised flava in the 2000s to well-worn thriller tropes also grouts gritty imperfections on the redemptive arc of Gavin Hood’s 2005 Oscar-winner. The conceit is pure Hollywood – Soweto’s little Caesar is made human when he kidnaps a baby – but its abdication of thriller responsibilities in favour of a gentler path never feels like moral showboating. PHo

See also: Cry, the Beloved Country (1995); Stander (2003)

The Vanishing (1988)

Director: George Sluizer

The Vanishing (1988)

Infinitely superior to its 1993 American remake, also directed by George Sluizer, this Dutch thriller takes a straightforward premise – the abduction of a young woman, and her partner’s three-year search to find her – and kicks it up a gear with an intriguing structure. With the audience knowing more than the characters, this is a fascinating psychological puzzle with a terrifying twist. NB

See also: The Wicker Man (1973); The Fourth Man (1983)

Vertigo (1958)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Vertigo (1958)

Ditching the genre’s rulebook, Vertigo reveals its twist halfway through – and a mind-bogglingly convoluted one it is too. Yet Hitchcock’s masterpiece remains the most dizzyingly rich thriller ever made, its story of a heights-fearing detective (James Stewart) trailing an apparently possessed blonde (Kim Novak) inducing the same compulsive trance every time you watch it. SW

See also: Obsession (1976); Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Victoria (2015)

Director: Sebastian Schipper

A one-shot wonder filmed in a (genuine) continuous take. Victoria (Laia Costa), a Spanish café worker new to Berlin, meets a gang of Germans while clubbing in the Mitte district. She follows them from the club, to a rooftop, to her café, to a car, to their meeting with a mob boss, to a bank robbery, to a shootout. The dialogue is improvised; it’s shot by a single camera op. Can the crew pull off the robbery? Can the crew pull off the movie? The tension is unbearable. HB

See also: Rope (1948); Run Lola Run (1998)

Viva Riva! (2010)

Director: Djo Munga

Viva Riva! (2010)

Considering the Democratic Republic of Congo only made its first feature in 1987, there was no reason to expect such a slick and infectious first thriller. Where too many African-set western films flog dark continent miserablism, Djo Munga’s sally in search of contraband fuel and intrepid cunnilingus makes Kinshasa feel like the place to be. PHo

See also: City of God (2002); Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema (2008)

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

For one of the most legendary suspense films of all time, The Wages of Fear takes its sweet time getting going. But having stretched the beginning to paint a trudgingly grim picture of expat existence in a dead-end Latin American village, this white-knuckle adventure then mercilessly turns the screws. As four desperate truckers take treacherous work delivering a highly volatile cargo of nitroglycerine to a blazing oil-field, Clouzot makes us feel every damned bump in the mountain road. SW

See also: Ice Cold in Alex (1958); Sorcerer (1977)

Wait until Dark (1967)

Director: Terence Young

Wait until Dark (1967)

Audrey Hepburn was Oscar-nominated for her role as Susy Hendrix, a blind woman terrorised by a trio of robbers (including a psychopathic Alan Arkin). As the men pretend to be various characters, including a cop and an old college pal, Susy’s slow realisation of the danger she’s in makes for a compelling, increasingly tense watch. NB

See also: Dial M for Murder (1954); See No Evil (1971)

Z (1969)

Director: Costa-Gavras

Z (1969)

A unique fictionalisation of real events, Z combines true Greek political intrigue (the assassination of politician Grigoris Lambrakis) with the talents of Greek-French director Costa-Gavras. Fast-paced and stylish, the film enters the divisive political terrain of a country embroiled by right-wing conspiracy. Z won best foreign language film at the Oscars in 1970. Watched today, it’s as rage-inducing as ever. CN

See also: Days of ‘36 (1972); Missing (1982)

Zero Focus (1961)

Director: Yoshitaro Nomura

Zero Focus (1961)

This compelling and beautifully shot mystery thriller centres around a missing person’s case, as a young newlywed sets out on the trail of her husband after he vanishes on a business trip barely a week into their marriage. Sadly, director Yoshitaro Nomura has been woefully overlooked in the west. Zero Focus is one of his best, and was remade by Isshin Inudo in 2009. JS

See also: Stakeout (1958); The Demon (1978)

HB = Henry Barnes
NB = Nikki Baughan
PHo = Phil Hoad
PHu = Pamela Hutchinson
CN = Christina Newland
DP = David Parkinson
JS = Jasper Sharp
LT = Lou Thomas
SW = Samuel Wigley

BFI Player logo

See something different

Free for 14 days, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Get 14 days free