10 Great Thriller Movies Recommended By Denis Villeneuve

6. Under the Skin (2013)

Watching Jonathan Glazer return from the longest sabbatical of his career and muscle his way into the best picture race for his gripping Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” has been easily one of the most rewarding storylines to follow leading up to this year’s eventful awards season. We suggest you turn to his 2013 sci-fi thriller, starring a pitch-perfect Scarlett Johansson as a shape-shifting alien seductress who roams the streets of Glasgow preying on unsuspecting male hitchhikers if you’re looking for another slow-burner by the London-born director that will send shivers down your spine and (excuse the pun) get under your skin.

In providing the New York Times with a curated list of his favorite movies of the 21st century so far, Villeneuve revealed that he’d be hard-pressed to come up with any cinematic shot in recent memory that was as powerful or memorable as the one in which Scarlett Johansson’s wolf-in-sheep’s clothing lures her male victims into a pool of darkness. One’s mileage with “Under the Skin” is likely to vary, as this is the type of metaphor-heavy brainteaser that demands your undivided attention. But as long as you tune into its unique wavelength, it’ll leave you with plenty to chew on after the screen fades to black.


7. Jaws (1975)

The Indianapolis - Jaws (1975)

Few movies in any genre have ever provided such evergreen rewatchability value as “Jaws”, a landmark achievement in American cinema hailed today as the original blockbuster that almost single-handedly reshaped the film industry as we know it. It’s nothing short of a miracle what Spielberg and his crew accomplished with merely $9 million in budget and a malfunctioning 25-foot animatronic shark that derailed production many times over at their disposal, but the film’s legacy lives on as one of the most quotable and wildly influential of all time.

Despite industry-wide advancements in CGI, no dust has settled in Jaws’ effective blend of practical effects and on-location shooting. Villeneuve kept the film’s technical ingenuity in the back of his mind when he took up the colossal undertaking of adapting Dune, with the privilege of shooting into the real desert being one of the few requirements he demanded to the studio upfront.

“They didn’t shoot “Jaws” in a swimming pool. It was difficult for Spielberg to shoot the film on the ocean, but he did, and it was a fantastic movie!” Villeneuve noted. “I wanted to go in the real environment, to inspire myself, the crew, and the actors. And it had a tremendous impact. It would have been absolutely impossible to do this movie any other way.”


8. Dogville (2003)

DogvillePhoto Credit: Rolf Konow

Another film that was identified as a personal favorite during Villeneuve’s NYT interview, Lars von Trier’s early-aughts crime thriller about a desperate runaway (Nicole Kidman) being sheltered and later exploited by the cutthroat citizens of a small mountain town in Depression-era Colorado endures 21 years on as a timeless cautionary tale about the dangers of herd mentality.

Though it does take some time to get used to, the unorthodox idea to shoot the film entirely with a handheld camera in a stage-like set without walls struck Villeneuve as “genius”, because in his estimation it effectively conveys one of the biggest themes of the story: “the cowardice of a community”.

Despite a lengthy runtime that almost stretches past the three-hour mark, “Dogville” is actually one of the most straightforward and viewer-friendly entries in von Trier’s controversial catalog, and the film is worth seeking out if for no other reason than to watch one of the greatest A-list casts ever assembled, with top-shelf names like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, and the late James Caan popping up in brief but memorable roles.


9. mother! (2017)

A few years before being tapped to play Stilgar, the fundamentalist leader of the desert-dwelling Fremen tribe in Denis Villeneuve’s two-film space saga, Javier Bardem set the screen aflame opposite Jennifer Lawrence in this 2017 psychological thriller about a married couple whose dysfunctional relationship implodes from within when an array of uninvited guests arrive unexpectedly at their doorstep.

Unaccustomed viewers still working their way through Darren Aronofsky’s polarizing filmography should find in “mother!” a pretty accurate litmus test as to how well they’ll respond to the director’s abrasive style and claustrophobic editing. Despite earning mixed reviews upon release, the film landed on Villeneuve’s year-end round-up list for 2017. And while the stellar lead performances are certainly the draw and enough to keep first-time viewers locked in for every beat, your overall enjoyment will probably correlate with your appreciation for wonky Biblical metaphors and a deliberately obtuse narrative designed to ruffle feathers.


10. The Hurt Locker (2008)

As part of Arrival’s press cycle in late 2016, Villeneuve told The Hollywood Reporter that he had a lot of respect for Jeremy Renner as an actor before he worked with him and that he’d been interested in getting in touch with him to collaborate for a long time because he was blown away by his lead performance in this 2008 war thriller by Kathryn Bigelow.

Whatever your thoughts on the American filmmaker in the year 2024 — not to mention the fact that she took home a whopping 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture for this — it’s undeniable that Renner carries the movie on his shoulders with a convincing turn as Staff Sergeant William James, a maverick American soldier deployed into enemy lines and assigned to a bomb disposal unit during the second year of the Iraq War.

Gushing comparisons to time-tested anti-war movie staples surely didn’t do “The Hurt Locker” any favors back then — let’s be honest here, this is no “Apocalypse Now” — but watching the film over again with fresh eyes will make you wish Renner took up more serious roles nowadays that didn’t involve taking down CGI-aliens in a spandex suit.