15 Average Thrillers That Could Have Been Great

8. Jade (William Friedkin, 1995)

The erotic thriller genre was perhaps at its peak during the early and mid-90s, and it all started with “Basic Instinct”, written by Joe Eszterhas. “Basic Instinct” was a huge hit and was controversial for its raw depiction of sex. So another erotic thriller penned by Eszterhas and shot by the director of “The French Connection should have, in theory, been a hit as well.

But the end result, “Jade” fell short somewhere. Many critics felt this erotic thriller was a rehash of “Basic Instinct”, and that Friedkin was past his 70’s prime as a director. The love triangle with a murder mystery element to it had promise, with one of the men being the detective that is investigating his former lover, who is suspected of murder.

There are also some intense action scenes, but despite this, the film just is not that memorable. With both “Jade” and the aforementioned “Kiss of Death” being released and flopping in the same year, 1995 really was not David Caruso’s year as a lead actor.


9. Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

munich 2005

In the aftermath of 9/11, terrorism became a big factor in both the media and in movies. Perhaps as a way of showing that terrorism has been around for a long time, in 2005, director Steven Spielberg made his terrorism thriller “Munich”. Based on the horrifying true story of the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Israeli athletes were killed, and a death squad was formed to enact revenge on the terrorists by assassinating them.

While the premise of the film certainly sounds like cinematic gold, and the cast is superb, the end result was that “Munich” was a boring dud that has since been forgotten about in the decade following its release. It was quite slow paced, and even the action scenes were bland.

Spielberg went far away from the family schmaltz he is often known for, creating a great dark visual style for the film, mainly with its lighting. However, the ending is pandering with its tacked on final shot where you see the Twin Towers in New York, foreshadowing the September 11 attack years later.


10. The Cell (Tarsem Singh, 2000)

The Cell Movie

One fairly common aspect thrillers is that they try to take viewers into the mind of a serial killer, usually with mixed results. “The Cell”, however, literally has its protagonist psychotherapist Dr. Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) use experimental technology to go into the mind of a serial killer, in order to find out the location of a victim the killer has kidnapped before it is too late. The killer is in a coma and will never wake up, so Deane must face the killer’s mental demons and his twisted mind.

“The Cell” certainly had a great concept, and the visuals are certainly disturbing in its depiction of both mental illness and the delusions of a madman. One review on IMDb wrote about the film: “It is as if Salvador Dali decided to make a crime drama,” and that is absolutely spot on.

Besides the lavish yet dark visuals, “The Cell” is a forgettable serial killer movie where the good guys have to race against time before the villain’s plan is completed. If the scenes set outside of the killer’s mind had been more engaging, then perhaps “The Cell” would have been better received and more memorable over the years.


11. Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002)


Hollywood treads on dangerous territory when they remake successful foreign films, in that they try to Americanize a story and often the elements of what made the original film great are lost in translation. This is exactly what acclaimed director Christopher Nolan did in the early days of his career. After gaining attention with the excellent “Memento”, but before hitting the big time with his first Batman film,

Nolan made this remake of a Norwegian thriller of the same name. Will Dormer (Al Pacino), a detective from Los Angeles, is sent with his partner to a small Alaskan town called Nightmute, where it is always daylight due to the sun not appearing in that part of the world at that time of the year. They are assigned to pursue a serial killer, and at one point Dormer accidentally shoots his partner but pretends the killer did it to cover his own tracks.

The killer then reveals himself to be Walter Finch (Robin Williams), and taunts him since Finch can prove that it was actually Dormer who shot his partner, using blackmail to escape arrest. This blackmail and the insomnia Dormer suffers from the endless daylight affects Dormer’s sanity.

Although it had great leading actors with Pacino, Williams and Hilary Swank (the trailer emphasizes how they are all Oscar winners), and the basic plot is clever, this film just was not that interesting. It was too slow paced and there was not enough action to keep viewers hooked.

Although some Nolan fans may defend the film by saying he did not have the big budget he had with the Dark Knight films to make something extraordinary, take a look at “Memento”, which had an even smaller budget. “Memento” is a masterpiece, yet “Insomnia” is not.


12. Identity (James Mangold, 2003)


“Identity” was one of the most hyped movies of 2003 thanks to its all-star cast, its enthralling suspense, and the big twist at the end. The film has a group of strangers all brought into one isolated location in which they cannot escape, and one of them is a murderer who will kill the others sooner rather than later.

If “Identity” sounds like a generic thriller, it’s because that is exactly what it is. The film is simply another thriller where one member of the group is not who they say they are, and the characters suspect one another of being the killer. It is a story many films have told before, and “Identity” does not add anything new to the genre. It is a shame, because it had the potential to be great.

The all-star cast does give the film a sense of coolness and is engaging in that viewers get to see a big group of excellent actors spar off dialogue with one another. However, “Identity” fell victim to the post-“Sixth Sense” trend of having a twist at the end for the sake of having a twist that was crammed into so many thrillers in the early 2000s.

In fact, the film’s advertisements heavily emphasized what a “great twist” it had, ruining the impact of the twist that the audience will anticipate the whole time. The twist in question will make viewers feel cheated, as it is very bizarre and doesn’t seem to fit in with the context of the rest of the film.


13. The Forgotten (Joseph Ruben, 2004)

The Forgotten

There is no worse fear for a parent than having their child go missing or die. This basic fear was the basis of “The Forgotten”, where Julianne Moore plays the mother of a son she adores, only to wake up one day with all evidence and acknowledgement of her son’s existence gone.

“The Forgotten” had a great premise, but its very average execution made the film, indeed, forgotten. Moore excellently portrayed a grieving mother supposedly going crazy at the loss of her son, and the sudden doubt of whether he ever even existed. The acting is all around great, but ultimately, the mystery of the story is the focus here.

Creepy children are a common trope in thriller and horror films, but the fact that the children in “The Forgotten” are innocent but possibly dead is unsettling. Having said that, it is a trope so common that it has lost its impact with moviegoers.


14. The Watcher (Joe Charbanic, 2000)

Yet another forgettable serial killer thriller on this list is “The Watcher”, the 2000 thriller starring James Spader, Marisa Tomei, and Keanu Reeves. Reeves plays a serial killer who watches and studies his female victims before abducting and murdering them.

Reeves often gets criticized for his seemingly wooden acting, but “The Watcher” puts his famous blank facial expression and sense of detachment to great use as a serial killer. It is unsettling to see someone who does not appear to emote one way or another be out and about murdering people.

The actors are in fine form, and the final showdown was actually well executed, but that was ruined by the very fake CGI explosion. The film has Spader as the jaded detective trying to track down the killer with help of the psychologist Tomei plays, whose characters are pretty typical of a thriller like this.


15. D-Tox (Jim Gillespie, 2002)

While most serial killer movies naturally have the police trying to catch the killer, “D-Tox” is unique in that the killer is hunting down cops, so the cops who are tracking down the killer could very well be the next victim. Add to the mix the fact that the main police officers in the film are alcoholic cops who are sent to a rehab facility in the middle of nowhere, and the killer has the perfect hunting ground to use.

“D-Tox” has a good cast with Sylvester Stallone, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Patrick leading the film, who are all in fine form as disgraced alcoholic cops. The film has a great isolated and cold setting, being an abandoned missile silo in the middle of the snowy mountains of Wyoming, which gives the film a similar vibe to “The Thing”.

Perhaps where the film went wrong is the fact it was directed by Jim Gillespie, who also made “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, a teen slasher from the late 90s. So it was perhaps inevitable that this film was going to try to do jump scares and kills that are ultimately lame. To add insult to injury, the killer’s reason for killing people was really silly.

“D-Tox” was made at a time when Stallone’s career was in a slump, just before he made mostly straight-to-DVD films in the mid-2000s before his career revival with “Rocky Balboa” in 2006. Although Stallone’s career is better off now, his star power could have been restored earlier if “D-Tox” had more edge to it, which it was very capable of doing had it been in better hands.

Author Bio: Matt Wilson is a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. His passion for cinema has always been a part of him and he aspires to be a screenwriter or a novelist. He particularly enjoys the films of Michael Cimino, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Verhoeven, David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.