When people are asked about their favorite thrillers, they usually name the ones from the imdb list or the movies that were released after the year 2000. However, there are many movies that were released in the 20th century that the general public might have overlooked or even never heard of before. In this article we will list the top 10 thriller movies (in no particular order) that were released back in the 20th century.
For the uninitiated, according to the definition of thriller on wikipedia, Thriller is a genre of fiction, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety.
Blow Out (1981)
Thriller | Mystery
Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is an excellent film to start the list with. This movie starts with the protagonist, John Travolta recording sound effects using his recording setup, as he works in this industry. However during this, he notices a speeding out of control car which skids off a bridge and falls into the river below.
All this is being recorded while he jumps into the river to tray and save the people inside, but is only able to save the other protagonist, Nancy Ellen, because the other person is already dead. Later when he listens to his tape, he discovers lots of dubious moments. While trying to solve this conspiracy, he is also romantically involved with Nancy, while being in the constant fear of losing his life because of this involvement.
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Thriller | Mystery
This movie was directed by the most influential and extensively studied filmmakers in the history of cinema, Alfred Hitchcock. This movie is a brilliant example of excellent screenplay. Even though it was mostly filmed in a couple of rooms but is still considered to be one of the best all time thrillers.
Tony(Ray Milland), a tennis player, somehow gets to know that his wife had an affair with someone, the previous year. He plans to murder his wife, in order to gain her inheritance. To accomplish this crime, he blackmails one of his old college associates, but this turns out to be a failed attempt. Now Tony has to try and outsmart the police and detectives, in order to protect this secret plot of his, from the police and his wife.
Thriller | Crime | Mystery | Drama
One look at the cast of this movie, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow and others, definitely indicates that the director David Fincher, who also directed the legendary psychological thriller Fight Club, paid a lot of thought to deciding the characters. The overall mood of this movie is very intense, and is beautifully complemented by a fabulous climax.
The serial killer (Kevin Spacey) in this movie has motives that are driven by 7 deadly sins. One after the other, each murder is more unsavoury than the previous. The retiring police detective (Morgan Freeman) and the newly transferred Brad Pitt try to solve this case by catching the killer but are awestruck, again and again ultimately leading to one of the most intense climax scenes in the entire history of cinema.
Strangers on a Train
Thriller | Noir | Crime | Drama
Directed by the legend Alfred Hitchcock, this movie is based on an ingenious plot taken from a Patricia Highsmith novel. This movie is said to be one of the most effectively suspenseful films of Hitchcock’s career. The excellent premise and buildup in the first half leads to one of the best murder scenes.
This masterpiece starts with 2 strangers meeting on a train. Bruno (Robert Walker) is a sociopath who meets a famous tennis player named Guy (Farley Granger) and they discuss a perfect murder.
The tennis player is manipulated by Bruno into executing a perfect murder. Bruno who wants to get rid of his wife, proposes a criss-cross scheme where Granger will murder Bruno’s father and Bruno will murder Granger’s wife, thus making it seem that there is no apparent motive, linking the killer with the victim.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Thriller | Horror
A psychological crime thriller, full of very gory and brutal scenes, is a scintillating movie which will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to end. This is a complete film, from cinematography to demonic portrayal of the character by award winning artist Anthony Hopkins, this movie is very thought-provoking, and we promise you will never be able to forget this character ever in your life.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is a brilliant psychiatrist, who is spending life behind the bars for his violent murders and cannibalism. He is interviewed by Clarice (Jordie Foster), the top student at FBI’s training academy because it is felt that the insights provided by Dr Lecter will be efficacious to apprehend a serial killer who has been claiming female victims.
The less we say about the movie, the better. This movie is said to be one of the most perfect films, this movie basically defies criticism, there is nothing that went wrong/could have been improved. No wonder this film has won multiple awards including Academy Award for Best Picture.
Thriller | Crime | Drama
This film with various kinds of traits, dark humor, crime, drama, suspense, violence, is a solid masterpiece by two of the foremost satirists of contemporary America, director Joel and writer-producer Ethan. This movie is as ugly as beautiful, as violent as funny and too great to not applaud.
This dramatic thriller is based on a true story and is set in Minnesota in 1987. Essentially, this movie can be described as a kidnapping plot gone wrong. A car salesman in dire need of money, decides to hire two thugs to kidnap his own wife and extract money from his wealthy father-in-law. In exchange, these thugs would get a piece of the ransom. But, all hell breaks loose when one of the thugs shoots a state trooper.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Thriller | Crime | Drama | Mystery
This is a movie which is said to be way ahead of its time, on many levels. This movie is an example of a thought-provoking courtroom drama, which is full of surprises and tense moments. Believed to be the best courtroom drama Cinema has ever seen, apart from the script, the brilliant acting is complemented by excellent direction from Otto Preminger.
Based on the popular novel from Robert Traver, this movie is about the case where a Michigan based Lawyer takes up the case of an army officer Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who had killed a local hotelier after his wife told him that he had raped her.
During the trial, the lawyer Paul Bieigler (James Stewart) tries to convince the judge to set his client free of all charges. However, a dark secret is being kept hidden, which unravels throughout the storyline.
The Killing (1956)
Thriller | Noir | Crime
This movie was the third film directed by the then 27-year-old Stanley Kubrick, but the brilliant writing, cinematography, suspense and intelligent characters helped provide the boost to his career, establishing him as one of the most notorious Hollywood Perfectionists. Starting off slow, this movie really turns into an unbearably tense suspense.
The long time criminal Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) forms a team of a bartender, a shooter, a police officer and a betting teller named George, in order to carry out one last crime, before he retires from this lifestyle and marries his fiancée. But when George’s wife gets to know about their plan of trying to steal money from the racetrack where he worked, she plots her own plan to do so.
Rear Window (1954)
Thriller | Mystery
Even though the entire movie is shot inside an apartment, it is said to be one of the greatest works of Alfred Hitchcock. This slow movie really picks up the pace and the audience has no option but to involve themselves in this tense environment and put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist James Stewart.
This movie is about a newspaper photographer, who due to a fractured leg from an accident, has to sit at home and has a lot of time to observe the lives of other people living around his neighborhood.
He spends the entire day gazing outside at the intricacies of the lives of his neighbors but finds out that one of his neighbors regularly leaves his house very late at night, and that this guy’s wife has gone missing.
Even though the actual murder scene is not shown, but James tries to solve this mystery from the comfort of his second-floor apartment, while in danger of losing his life. The impeccable acting, jaw dropping climax and beautiful direction from Alfred Hitchcock makes this movie, arguably his best thriller ever.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Crime | Drama | Neo-Noir | Psychological Thriller
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is a dark thriller that troupes under the Noir genre, but redefines the genre in its own way and takes the audience to an indelible journey.
Featuring the great antihero of cinema Tarvis Bickle, an ex-marine who worked in Vietnam, is now suffering from depression and extreme insomnia while working as a cab driver on the graveyard shift.
The performance of Robert De Niro has inspired many characters over the years (the most famous being Arthur Fleck from Joker 2019), but no one could ever outperform Deniro. It can be judged by how “I got some bad ideas in my head.” has become one of the most iconic dialogues of all times. In acting, it is truly a tour-de-force.
Liked our picks? Also check out: 10 Movie Franchises You Should Revisit in Quarantine.