What makes a great thriller is often a subjective thing. Sometimes, a great thriller is something that presents visceral scares or violence, while other thrillers present psychological or emotional conflicts for their characters. Many great thrillers take elements of other genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, historical, or comedy, and blend them to create unique subgenres.
This decade has seen many truly excellent thrillers, and the most memorable thrillers are often the ones that leave lingering questions or emotions that last far longer than when the credits are over. Due to the high volume of great thrillers being released, some get swept under the rug and remain overlooked. Here are ten more great recent thriller films that you probably haven’t seen.
Many films deal with getaway drivers, such as Drive, Baby Driver, or even some moments in Snatch, but Wheelman does something different in that it completely traps the viewer in the vehicle with driver for the entire runtime, only showing the interior of the car.
While this was also done in the Tom Hardy film Locke, that was a more dramatic film that focused on a character’s slow emotional breakdown, whereas Wheelman is a fast paced action thriller that puts a morally flexible driver through the worst night of his life. The unnamed driver, played by Frank Grillo, begins to suspect that he is just a pawn in a larger scheme when his partners in a bank robbery betray him.
Grillo is excellent at playing an ordinary guy placed in extraordinary circumstances; while he is obviously a proficient driver, he’s completely in over his head when he’s faced with a larger conspiracy, and Grillo makes it clear that he’s a foot soldier and not a criminal mastermind.
Conversations between Grillo and his daughter add a lot of humanity to the role, and while at first his fatherly concerns over his daughter’s new boyfriend are comedic, the family bond becomes more impactful when his family’s life is endangered. The setting allows for Grillo to be very flexible with his emotions, and the complete intimacy lets him give a great performance. Due to the untraditional way it is shot, Wheelman’s third act is surprising and takes common heist movie elements and does them in a new way.
9. Ready or Not
A compelling satire of wealth and tradition, Ready or Not turns the idea of a rich family’s induction ceremony into an extreme that includes violent murder. Grace (Samara Weaving) is a poor girl who is excited to marry into the family of her new husband Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), but the Le Domas’ idea of welcoming her into the family includes trapping their potential new relative in a creepy mansion and forcing her to survive a night as they track her down and try to kill her. The family’s blind acceptance of this twisted tradition is darkly funny, and seeing the incompetent family turn from hapless to deadly makes for awkward situations where the hunter and the hunted are both inexperienced in the art of murder.
While this satirical edge gives the film personality, is is still a gripping thriller with some truly gruesome body horror. Grace is broken down both physically and psychologically by her new in-laws; she begins to realize that all the promises of her husband helped to shroud this secret, and as she’s left on her own and forced to turn this family’s ignorance and pride against them.
One scene, in which Grace’s hand is impaled by a nail as she escapes the family barn, is one of the most shocking gore moments in a mainstream film since the original Evil Dead. Equally funny and scary, Ready or Not has the makings of a future cult classic thriller.
8. Man Down
While Shia Labeouf has not always made the best films, he’s usually great in whatever role he takes, and in the past few years Labeouf’s transition from big budget studio projects to smaller and more daring independent films has been quite impressive.
Man Down is a very original take on PTSD and military service, and follows Labeouf’s character Gabriel Drummer across two separate timelines, with one following his training and first tour as a U.S. Marine, and the other taking place after his service as he attempts to survive in a post-apocalyptic future. At first it’s not clear how these two storylines will intersect, but once they do the film draws interesting conclusions about the lasting effects of trauma and the need to be a hero in your own story.
The flashbacks are shot with hyper realism, and the film does a good job at pairing Drummer’s initial perspective of what service will be like with the harsh reality of what it actually is. These scenes are largely driven by the relationship between Drummer and his best friend Devin (Jai Courtney), and Devin’s disappearance from the story sparks an interesting mystery when he unexpectedly returns in the post-apocalyptic hellscape.
Labeouf and Courtney have great chemistry, and even when their relationship sours, the two actors are able to imply an entire history of friendship that is never explicitly spelled out. While the plot twists in Man Down have been divisive, they do find a way of showing how fantasy wish fulfillment can be a dangerous method of coping, and shows the importance of reaching out for help.
7. Triple 9
While it unfortunately bombed at the box office, Triple 9 is an uncommonly gritty and complex examination of corruption within the police force, and features enough great actors and expansive source material for an entire miniseries or television show.
A botched armed robbery involving the Russian mafia forces straight laced cop Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) to question the motivations of his partner Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie), who leads a team of corrupt officers. Allen’s by the book way of investigating is quickly contrasted when he enlists the help of his uncle Jeffrey (Woody Harrelson), an eccentric sergeant detective who is hell-bent on weeding out the corrupt officers in the force.
Affleck and Harrelson are able to gauge the audience’s interest in the investigation with their wildly different performances, and the subtle work of Affleck paired with Harrelson’s more bizarre behavior provides two different takes on law and justice. Kate Winslet also gives a scene stealing role as Russian mob boss who uses the heist to get revenge on her husband, and Aaron Paul is also excellent as a corrupt cop who comes to regret his actions. The action scenes are often quite violent and are clearly researched to be accurate to actual police procedures, giving Triple 9 an edge over other pulpy crime thrillers.
6. The Discovery
Time travel is a very complex subject to depict onscreen, as a lack of internal logic can be very irritating, but on the other hand too much emphasis on explaining the rules can be alienating and emotionally opaque. The best time travel films are the ones that ground the actions in legitimate character motivations, and The Discovery explores a world where suicide has reached an epidemic due to the scientific evidence of an afterlife being discovered by scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford). The story revolves around Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segal), who enters into a relationship with the suicidal woman Isla (Rooney Mara) during an extended stay at his father’s mansion as he unveils his next research project.
Both Will and Isla see their lives as unresolved, and their search to find answers in life after death and to travel within the past is rooted in their desires to redo past traumatic events. Segal has proven that he can be a talented dramatic actor, and he does a great job at showing what it’s like to live within the shadow of a genius father.
Mara’s performance is purposefully removed and distant, but once her backstory is explained, her entire performance can be viewed in a different context. The nuances behind what exactly The Discovery’s version of time travel is prove to be complex, and Will and Isla serve as great narrators on this search for answers.