Now that 2023 is officially in the books, we present you with the absolute best of the best the thriller genre had to offer over the past 12 months. Amidst prolonged strikes and untimely production delays, 2023 wasn’t exactly a banner year for thriller movies, although the genre remained a steadforce at the multiplex, treating moviegoers with a hefty line-up of stand-out titles that got their hearts racing and kept them glued to the screen.
From a couple of high-octane shoot-’em-ups about professional hit men that ruled the box office and topped the streaming charts, a 00s-set “Talented Mr. Ripley” knock-off that stirred up controversy and became a bona fide online phenomenon to under-the-radar indie gems that deserve more attention — the following selection of 2023 thriller movies should come in handy if you’re looking for that adrenaline rush of a good scare or a mind-bending twist that will send shivers down your spine. Without further ado, let’s dig in.
1. The Killer (dir. David Fincher)
After a recent stab at serialized television and Oscar-bait prestige fare, we’re glad to have one of the major figureheads of the modern thriller back in form working in his signature genre. Far from being standard-issue streaming fodder, David Fincher’s graphic novel adaptation about a professional gun-for-hire (played by a pitch-perfect Michael Fassbender) who becomes a target himself after botching his last job is a wryly subversive, darkly comic genre pastiche that will keep you engaged all throughout.
There are no shortage of edge-of-your-seat moments of suspense to be found in “The Killer” — namely a bravado opening sequence that expertly details the in-and-outs of what seems to be on paper a flawlessly planned hit in Paris. But it’s in the quieter moments of downtime that carefully examine and poke fun at the Zen-like philosophy and near-sociopathic attention to detail of the movie’s titular lone wolf, that the mastermind behind “Se7en” and “Fight Club” finds a subject to really sink his teeth into. A must-see for Fincher-heads and thriller aficionados alike.
2. Anatomy of a Fall (dir. Justine Triet)
The good-ol’ days of prestige ensembles like “A Few Good Men” racking up $250 million at the global box office may be long gone, but last year’s Palme d’Or winner should be good enough to restore your faith in a near-extinct sub-genre like the courtroom drama.
French director on the rise Justine Triet earned glowing praise and jump started her career big time with this dazzling whodunit about a renowned German novelist living in the French Alps who’s accused of killing her husband after the latter fell from his attic window under suspicious circumstances. A long-winded trial and nation-wide media frenzy ensue, and it’s up to the only material witness in the case, the couple’s blind preteen son, to set the record straight and establish whether her mother actually committed the murder of his father, or if it was a deliberately suicide all along.
We could wax lyrical about Triet’s careful threading of the plot, and the many ways her film challenges conventional notions of marriage, trauma, and the slippery nature of truth. But at the end of the day, “Anatomy of a Fall” is worth watching if for no other reason than to see one of 2023’s best performances by one of the great actresses working today in Sandra Hüller. Don’t miss it.
3. Fair Play (dir. Chloe Domont)
Alden Ehrenreich stans, rejoice: After rotting away his career collecting checks while shuffling between roles in franchise schlock, the one-time Star Wars leading man has thrust himself back into the spotlight and steered his career back in the right direction. 2023 was quite a busy year for the American actor: Besides landing prominent roles in two of the buzziest studio blockbusters of the year (“Cocaine Bear” and “Oppenheimer”), he also earned raves for his sizzling performance opposite Phoebe Dynevor in this thorny battle of the sexes.
The push-pull dynamic between a Wall Street power couple vying for the same position at a cutthroat New York hedge fund supplies the spicy narrative bedrock for “Fair Play”, a festival indie standout that was acquired by Netflix for a whopping $20 million shortly after making the rounds at Sundance. Only when it was released on the streaming giant last fall did the erotic thriller eventually find the considerable audience it had always deserved (in fact, it actually topped the Netflix charts for a while following its streaming rollout). Forget “No Hard Feelings” and “Past Lives”; this is the must-see romance of the year.
4. Red Rooms (dir. Pascal Plante)
Thriller movies about deranged serial killers aren’t exactly hard to come by these days given the current media-craze for true crime serials and whodunits, but it’s rare to find one that goes to such ungodly lengths to prove its broader point and thoroughly interrogate the public’s morbid curiosity than Pascal Plante’s breakout hit.
Not a thriller for the faint-hearted, “Red Rooms” leads viewers down a twisty path as we watch the trial of Ludovic Chevalier, also known as The Demon of Rosemont and the man accused of kidnapping, torturing, and brutally murdering three underage girls in cold blood who’s at the center of a media frenzy that’s swept the nation. A face in the crowd attends every public session of the proceedings, carefully listening to his testimony and surfing the dark web scouring for clues and perhaps elusive video footage that might well prove Ludovic’s innocence. Why for? Delving too deep into plot specifics is a sure way to spoil the film’s fun, but suffice to say, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
5. Eileen (dir. William Oldroyd)
“Lady Macbeth” director William Oldroyd teaming up with the powerhouse acting duo of Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway to adapt the 2015 Ottessa Moshfegh novel of the same name is a match made in cinematic heaven.
Ambiguity is the name of the game in this 1960s-set potboiler about a 24-year-old Massachusetts woman who spends most of her time daydreaming while whiling away the hours working at a juvenile facility and taking care of her deadbeat alcoholic father. Enter Rebecca — the seductive blonde bombshell of a psychoanalyst doing shifts at the same prison who immediately turns Eileen’s humdrum life upside down before eventually getting her wrapped up in a messy criminal plot of her own wrongdoing.
Gushing comparisons to recent standout entries in the Lesbian movie canon such as Todd Haynes’ “Carol” and Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden” are not entirely without merit, but ultimately set up “Eileen” to fail. What we got here instead is a genuinely sensual and provocative nail-biter that juggles genre thrills while ratcheting up the erotic tension until it seeps from every frame. Come for the red-hot chemistry between the two lead actresses, stay for the unexpected turns and scorching third-act reveal.