People love thriller movies. And last decade gave us plenty of reasons to believe the genre is still alive and well, with word-of-mouth sensations like “Get Out”, “Prisoners” and “Gone Girl” taking on a life of their own and carving out an audience despite the alarming dominance of multi-billion franchises at the box office and the emergence of streaming giants.
However, finding a genuinely great thriller that will get your blood pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat becomes increasingly hard once you’ve blazed through all the classic titles that routinely pop up on decade-end roundups. This is a list that aims just at fixing that; plucking out 10 underseen thriller movies that went largely unnoticed at the time of the release and you may not have heard much about but deserve a second look. From kidnappers and global hackers to deranged serial killers — keep reading for our selection of 2010s underseen gems worth your time.
1. Lost River (2014)
Ryan Gosling spent most of the past decade collecting accolades and seven-figure checks while shuffling between roles in all kinds of prestige studio tentpoles, from “Drive” and “La La Land” to “Blade Runner 2049”. But it’s a crying shame that while the perennial A-lister was being courted by the entire industry, his first big swing at directing didn’t make a significantly bigger splash after getting completely trashed at the 2014 Cannes festival.
Thinly-veiled nods to brand-name filmmakers (including David Lynch, Harmony Korine, Terrence Malick and Gosling’s three-time collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn) abound in this unorthodox thriller about a single mother and part-time hooker and his teenage son living in a decaying Detroit neighborhood who are swept into a dark underworld in order to make ends meet.
Buoyed by top-caliber performances by Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Smith and Saoirse Ronan, “Lost River” suggests something of a cross between “Mulholland Drive”, “The Tree of Life” and “Only God Forgives”, which on paper sounds like cinematic nirvana for a particular brand of movie junkie. Even if that might not sound like the kind of thing that floats your boat, Benoit Debie’s dazzling cinematography and Johnny Jewel’s dreamy score alone are enough to give you a head-rush on your first go-round.
2. Forgotten (2017)
Even in a decade capped off by Parasite’s groundbreaking sweep at the 2019 Oscars and an ever-increasing global appetite for Korean cinema, it’s unfortunate that not enough attention has been paid to this underrated 2017 mystery thriller by Jang Hang-jun, a must-see gem cut from the same cloth as “Oldboy” that offers rewards galore for anyone looking for some edge-of-your-seat thrills.
It’s hard to wax lyrical about “Forgotten” without delving too deep into spoiler territory. But suffice it to say that this gruesome tale about a young student whose sense of identity begins to unravel shortly after moving into a new house with his family will keep you hooked throughout. A masterclass in sustained tension that folds the story on itself many times over, Jang’s gnarly thriller remained in relative obscurity through no fault of its own before coming to Netflix, where it finally began to find the cult audience it always deserved. If nothing else, more so than any of the other movies on this list, “Forgotten” is ideally suited to reward multiple viewings, each more engrossing than the last.
3. Killing Them Softly (2012)
Aussie director Andrew Dominik has fallen out of favor with pundits and movie junkies alike following the disastrous “Blonde” press tour. And while he earned every ounce of scorn he received last awards season, we retain a lot of appreciation for his unfairly maligned second collaboration with Brad Pitt — a cold, clinical crime caper about trigger-friendly mob assassins, two-bit bookies and petty thieves all paddling frantically to keep their head above the water in the run-up to the 2008 US presidential election.
What starts as a Coen-esque comedy of errors triggered by a heist-gone-wrong slowly settles into a scathing indictment on corporate America that suggests that bureaucratic inertia and corruption ripples through every existing structure of power, regardless of which side of the law it may stand on. Subtlety isn’t really in Dominik’s wheelhouse, and the way he fits in some wry commentary about the 2008 market crash and financial crisis by bluntly juxtaposing it to the collapse of a local criminal underworld after three guys rob a high-stakes Mob card game may be challenging to swallow for certain viewers. But if the events of the past 11 years are anything to go by, we’d all be wise to take the film’s pointed message seriously.
4. Wild Tales (2014)
A wedding quickly turning sour after ugly secrets come to light, a food poisoning revenge plot gone awry at an abandoned restaurant, a car being towed triggering one man’s downfall, and a gardener pleading guilty to a crime committed by the son of his wealthy employer are all par for the course in this wildly unpredictable six-part anthology written and directed by Damián Szifron.
At once absurdly funny and deeply unsettling in its offhand brutality, this landmark of New Argentine cinema feels somewhat slept-on these days, even though it did heap near-universal praise and nabbed an Oscar nomination during its initial release. A movie ostensibly about revenge that concerns ordinary people under extraordinary pressure, “Wild Tales” might veer into more pitch-black comedy territory at times — it’s hard not to think of the Coen Brothers during certain segments — but will knock your wind out by switching gears and swerving to full-blown horror within a moment’s notice. All in all, this is a good title to add to your Netflix queue that should appeal to viewers who have seen “Fargo”, “In Bruges” and “Uncut Gems” too many times to count.
5. Blackhat (2015)
Michael Mann made his name and reputation with lean, mean shoot-em-ups that delved into the minds of unrepentant criminals and morally astray everymen. The director’s running fascination carried over from his highly productive ’90s run into the new millennium, which saw the mastermind behind “Thief” and “Heat” hit a second creative peak, first by moving from celluloid to digital (“Collateral” and “Miami Vice”) and later by transplanting the preoccupations of his early work into the realm of 21st-century cyber-terrorism with “Blackhat”.
Reviled by critics and unceremoniously pulled from most North American theaters by Universal only two weeks after its release, Mann’s techno-thriller finds Chris Hemsworth (at the peak of his movie-star celebrity) play against type as a professional hacker and convicted bank robber who’s released from prison in order to help Chinese and American authorities find the culprit behind a cyber-attack of a Hong Kong nuclear plant.
Forget “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning” — if you’re ever looking for a pulse-pounding cautionary tale about the looming threat of AI and the scary geopolitical risks of cybercrime writ large featuring an implausibly-competent secret agent that is also built like a Norse god, look no further.