The 10 Tensest Movies of All Time

5. The Vanishing (1988)

The Vanishing

On the note of “hidden danger,” The Vanishing immediately comes to mind. Very few movies have the ability to scare viewers long after the credits, but this film succeeds. The brilliance of it is the fact that it captures the terror of everyday life without resorting to outlandish special effects, etc.

This film does a great job at illustrating the simple concept that; at any given moment, something awful could happen when you least expect it. After watching The Vanishing, going to a gas station will never feel the same way again.


4. The Tenant (1976)

the Tenant

I last saw this movie over a decade ago. But it has stayed in my mind ever since; that’s how effective it is at creeping the viewer out. The Tenant has a little in common with Don’t Look Now in the sense that it’s a psychological horror film. The creepiness of both films stems from the idea that what is going on in our brains may be scarier than what is actually occurring.

“Fear of the unknown” is a cliche, but it makes for thrilling movies; Repulsion is another great masterpiece of tension by Polanski. (And as a side note: The Shining is another great tense film that has been compared to both The Tenant and Don’t Look Now).


3. Diabolique (1955)


Diabolique is another case of a film on this list that makes the most of a limited budget. What is a director to do when resources are limited? The things you do have access to become heightened.

In the case of Diabolique, narrative twists and the idea that “nothing is what it appears to be” is taken advantage of. The film relishes in manipulation of the viewer; Henri-Georges Clouzot was one of the few filmmakers that made Hitchcock nervous.


2. Psycho (1960)


Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most well known films of all time, but it’s worth mentioning because it set such a high bar when it comes to discussing “tension” in film. Hitchcock was famously referred to as, “the master of suspense,” and it’s partly due to this film.

Not only was the film painstakingly shot (the shower scene alone took 6 days to shoot), Hitchcock was so obsessed with controlling the audience he took great efforts to make sure the surprises weren’t spoiled. Psycho still holds up as being an example of the archetypal “suspense” film.


1. The Wages of Fear (1953)

The Wages of Fear

Another Henri-Georges Clouzot film on this list. This one predates both Diabolique, and Hitchcock’s Psycho. For modern audiences, the film may slightly remind you of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

However, The Wages of Fear is more of an outright thriller. Both films deal with being thrust into dangerous situations, and characters forcing themselves to muster up the fortitude to deal with them. It’s one of the most stressful films ever made. William Friedkin would later adapt his own version in Sorcerer (1977).

Author Bio: Dilair Singh is a film lover from Toronto. He particularly enjoys screenwriting, and hopes to sell a screenplay someday. You can find him on Twitter: @dilairsingh.