The 20 Best Thriller Movies Of The 2000s

Ah, the 2000s, what a time to be alive. Flip phones and Myspace were still a thing, Brittney Spears and Eminem dominated Billboard’s charts, the world could not shut up about American Idol, the iPod came out, Tiger Woods won four straight majors, and Pottermania was in full swing.

The aughts were also a banner decade for Hollywood that witnessed significant progress in digital filmmaking and CGI, ushering in a new wave of blockbusters, franchises, and sequels that ruled the box office. However, moviegoers were still treated with a bevy of classic thrillers at the multiplex that not only kept them on the edge of their seats but helped define the decade altogether. Here are our picks for the very best the genre had to offer from 2000-2009, ranked from worst to best.


20. Mystic River (2003)

Mystic River (2003)

Yes, late-period Clint Eastwood movies have a tendency of banging you over the head with their themes, and most of the performances in “Mystic River” are bigger than the Hollywood sign (that includes Oscar-winning turns by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins by the way). But when shit hits the fan, good God, does it hit hard.

The lives of three childhood friends are shattered by two cruel twists of fate, including the murder of the 16-year-old daughter of hot-headed ex-con Jimmy Markum. Eastwood’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s page-turner could’ve played it relatively safe and it still probably would’ve been enough to wrangle in a handful of Oscar nods. But it’s so much more than award-season fodder: an astute neo-noir, a thought-provoking cross-section of trauma, and one of the darkest revenge thrillers in recent memory.


19. Gosford Park (2001)

Gosford Park

Mystery whodunits stuffed with A-listers are quite big these days, as you may have noticed doom-scrolling through Netflix, so here’s one for the “Knives Out” crowd: it’s 1930’s England, and a group of pretentious, blue-blooded aristocrats have gathered together for a weekend of relaxation at a hunting resort. But when a murder occurs, each one of them becomes a suspect.

If that premise sounds like the set-up for the next installment in the Daniel Craig-led mystery saga—mansion-on-the-hill setting and all—it’s because it very well could. Make no mistake, though, nobody does ensembles better than Robert Altman (sorry, Rian Johnson). The colossal ensemble at the director’s disposal rivals those of “Nashville” and “Short Cuts”: from “Harry Potter” alumni Maggie Smith, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Gambon to the likes of Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, and Bob Balaban.


18. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Around the halfway mark of Juan José Campanella’s Oscar-winning thriller, the camera flies into the air, hovering above a jam-packed soccer stadium and zooming over until we can see the cheering crowds from up close. What follows is arguably one of the greatest displays of camerawork ever put to film.

And though that breathtaking scene is worth the price of admission, the brilliance of “The Secret in their Eyes” lies in subtle, quiet moments that will tear your heart in a million pieces. A slow-burner drama about a retired legal counselor who is planning to write his first novel and chooses a decades-old murder case he worked on as his source material, this high-water mark in Argentinian cinema juggles many themes at its fold. At its core, though, it is a saw-edged love story that ponders on the age-old question: can someone find peace through revenge?


17. The Machinist (2004)


Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 19 years, you’ve most likely heard of Christian Bale’s dramatic 60-pound weight loss for his role in this 2004 thriller, which the actor achieved by subsiding on black coffee, a can of tuna, and one apple per day across the four months of pre-production.

Whenever he occupies the screen as Trevor Reznik, a skeletal 120-pound industrial worker haunted by visions, repressed guilt, and insomnia-riddled nights, Bale reminds you why some people still mention him in the same breath as Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix as the greatest method actor of his generation. His commitment to the role easily outshines the film’s reputation, but “The Machinist”—something of a cross between “Fight Club” and “Memento”—casts its own singular spell.


16. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke give top-notch performances as two bickering brothers who plan the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store in Sidney Lumet’s swan song. Oh, and Marisa Tomei, Albert Finley, and Michael Shannon round up an absolutely-stacked ensemble cast. What more could you want from a movie?

Just when it seemed we’d already seen the last from him, the mastermind behind “Network” and “Serpico” tied an elegant knot in his legendary career at the wise age of 82 with a ‘70s-inspired heist flick that only gets better over time. Things go from bad to worse for the Hanson brothers, who manage to be at once sympathetic and deplorable as they deal with the fallout from their ill-conceived scheme. Granted, it may not be Lumet’s best hour, but it still would make a helluva double feature with “Dog Day Afternoon”.


15. Irreversible (2002)

It takes a certain type of filmmaker, the kind of bad-boy provocateur who loves to play his audience like a flute and push good taste to its limits, to come up with something as shocking as “Irréversible”. The films of Argentinian enfant terrible Gaspar Noé have often come hand in hand with controversy, but few, if any at all, have managed to cause such a stir as this one.

Not a movie you recommend to someone so much as one you inflict on them, this New French Extreme gem plays out in reverse chronological order, revisiting tragic events of one fateful Parisian night in which a man exacts revenge against his girlfriend’s assailant. Viewer discretion is advised: you’ll need a strong stomach to sit through the film’s infamous 10-minute-long rape scene, which allegedly caused massive walkouts at Cannes.


14. A History of Violence (2005)

A History of Violence

That this brutally uncompromising morality play about a former hitman gone-straight who comes head-to-head with the Irish Mob is considered to be one of David Cronenberg’s tamer and conventional movies to date tells you all you need to know about the undisputed king of body horror.

Based on a graphic novel of the same name, “A History of Violence” drives a stake through the heart of American suburbia, suggesting no one can truly outrun their past by way of Tom Stall, a small-town family man who’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight after committing a heroic act of self-defense at work. Even in a decade when Viggo Mortensen had solid performances in “The Lord of the Rings”, “Eastern Promises” and “The Road”, this was his personal best.


13. Lust, Caution (2007)

Lust, Caution

Park Chan-wook’s 2022 crime procedural “Decision to Leave” simultaneously cemented the South Korean auteur as one of the figureheads in the thriller genre and introduced a whole lot of westerners to the unique talents of Tang Wei. Whether you fell head over heels in love with the Chinese actress and can’t wait to see her wreak havoc again as the deadly femme fatale, or simply at a loss for what to watch, you should consider seeking out this enthralling WWII espionage thriller by Ang Lee.

In “Lust, Caution”, Tang Wei sets the screen aflame as a former college student-turned-deadly secret agent on a mission to seduce and eliminate a high-ranking government official (Wong Kar-wai’s stalwart Tony Leung) in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Purists will point to “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, but there’s a real argument to be made for this one as the crowning jewel in Lee’s filmography.


12. Collateral (2004)


As much as we admire Tom Cruise for somehow continuing to find new ways to defy Father Time, whether it’s climbing the tallest building in the world or holding his breath for six minutes as IMF Senior Agent Ethan Hunt, nothing tops his performance under the thumb of “Heat” director Michael Mann as ruthless silver fox hitman Vincent.

By turning the face of Hollywood into an unstoppable force of nature, “Collateral” delivers one of the capital-V Villains of the early aughts. Watching Jamie Foxx’s put-upon everyman cab driver Max reluctantly chauffeur Cruise all across L.A.’s criminal underworld makes for a legit nail-biter as well as a late-career masterpiece for the king of American crime drama. More than anything, though, “Collateral” makes you wish Cruise would roll the dice and take on risky roles again in the future.


11. Children of Men (2006)

Science fiction nail-biters are their own particular strain of thriller—some inspire hope by providing a glimpse into the near-future, while others evoke anxiety by reflecting the daunting uncertainties of our present age. This adaptation of PD James’ dystopian political-fable novel happens to do both: offering just enough hope to keep you from sinking into total despair.

Alfonso Cuarón’s first major project after dipping his toes into franchise-filmmaking transports viewers into 2027 London, where a global fertility crisis has pushed the world order all but to the brink of collapse. With the survival of the human race hanging by a thread, it’s up to Clive Owen’s former activist-turned-crestfallen civil servant to save the day and smuggle a pregnant refugee out of the country. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re legitimately missing out on at least two or three of the best-shot scenes of the century.