Streaming platforms are often the best way to catch up with underrated films that never got the praise or acclaim they deserved during their initial theatrical run. Netflix in particular has accumulated a great library of recent releases that either never found their audience or underperformed compared to expectations. Hopefully, film fans will flock to these hidden gems and give them the love they’d previously been denied.
The term “thriller” is often thrown around, and it can come to mean many different things; sometimes a thriller can be an elevated horror film, sometimes it can be a more relentless action film, and sometimes it can be a film that is psychologically challenging in a way that defies the expectations of all other genres. It’s a broad genre that has come to encapsulate a wide variety of great films.
Some of these films passed by completely unnoticed, and while some received modest box office returns or awards nominations, they still haven’t permeated the larger consciousness of the film fan community. Here are ten great recent thrillers on Netflix you may have missed.
10. Molly’s Game
It’s hard to think of a more influential writer in Hollywood today than Aaron Sorkin. In addition to writing some of the best films of the decade, including The Social Network, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs, Sorkin also revolutionized television with The West Wing and later with The Newsroom. Sorkin finally got the chance to take the director’s seat with Molly’s Game, a film with a true story so incredible that it couldn’t be fictionalized; the film follows former Olympic skater Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as she organizes and runs an elite underground poker tournament that attracts everyone from famous athletes to Hollywood actors to members of the Russian mob.
Sorkin shows a confidence behind the camera that matches his writing style; he establishes a relentlessness from the opening scene, in which Molly recounts the events that led her to where she is now, and he continues to throw fast and funny dialogue at the audience as the film barrels on at its lightening fast pace. Thankfully, Sorkin also assembles an incredible ensemble of actors to work with the great script, including Chastain with the performance of her career.
9. Sand Castle
There have been many films about the Iraq War, and Sand Castle is a strong example of a war film that works best due to simplicity. The film doesn’t try to summarize the events of the entire war or condense it into one simple message, but rather it focuses on one soldier’s experience, which was loosely based on a true story that happened to the screenwriter Chris Roessner. Nicholas Hoult stars as Matt Ocre, a private who witnesses his battalion’s failed attempts to provide water to a small village in Iraq.
Hoult is an immensely talented young actor, and though he has proven to be excellent in supporting character roles in films like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Favourite, he proves here that he can be a believable everyman. However, if there is one truly surprising performance in the film, it is that of Henry Cavill, who sheds his good guy persona to deliver a chilling performance as the ruthless Captain Syverson.
8. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier has slowly risen through the ranks of today’s filmmakers and emerged as an uncompromising auteur who excels at telling pulse pounding, violent stories of intrigue and vengeance. Saulnier’s previous film Blue Ruin proved to be a major cult hit that turned the revenge thriller genre on its head, but Green Room was an entirely different beast. A claustrophobic nightmare, the film follows a group of punk rockers who are trapped in a green room surrounded by a hostile group of white supremicists.
Saulnier does a great job at gradually building the anxiety of the situation as things get more extreme, and the claustrophobic nature of the story makes the audience feel like they’re trapped with the band the whole time. The late great Anton Yelchin gives one of the finest performances of his career as Pat, the bassist who must lead his band to an escape, and Patrick Stewart gives an unexpectedly terrifying performance as the skinhead leader that initiates the conflict.
7. Shimmer Lake
While Netflix produces more original films than any other studio, they often do a poor job at marketing some of their smaller projects that are produced by up and coming filmmakers. One thoroughly underrated Netflix film is the mind bending heist thriller Shimmer Lake, a noir story in which a sheriff (Benjamin Walker) searches for a bank robber in a small town. In the style of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the scenes play out in reverse, with the fateful robbery serving as the ending of the story.
The format works well to build tension, and seeing events occur before they are explained helps to shroud the story in mystery. Walker delivers a breakout performance and makes for an engaging lead character, and the film also features a terrific ensemble of great character actors, including Ron Livingston, Wyatt Russell, Rainn Wilson, and Rob Corddry. Once the film delivers on its satisfying conclusion, the viewer may want to immediately give the film a rewatch so they can view the events again knowing the outcome.
One of the few genuinely great gambling movies in recent memory, 21 is a slick crowd pleaser that is surprisingly clever in its depiction of the Vegas scene. Based on a true story, the film follows MIT math student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a promising candidate for Harvard Medical School who joins a secretive blackjack team led by his professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey). Ben is initially in it only to pay for school, but he becomes seduced by the excitement of the night life and ends up getting in over his head when he discovers ties that his team has to the club security officer (Laurence Fishburne).
The film is able to capture the complexity of a blackjack table while still pulsating with a kinetic sense of energy; as Ben rides high and crashes hard, the audience is with him every step of the way. Sturgess is an underrated actor who proved himself in controversial films such as Across the Universe and Cloud Atlas, and he does a great job here at showing Ben’s transition from geeky student to Vegas big player.