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The 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix

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The thriller has been a movie staple ever since Alfred Hitchcock kept us in suspense with his silent film The Lodger in 1927. The story may be fictional, but if the telling is masterful enough, the tension we feel is real. From tales of the supernatural to spy chases to psychological dramas, the thriller is a broad and hard-to-define genre—you’ll see overlap with our Best Drama on Netflix, Best Action Movies on Netflix, Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix and Best Horror Movies on Netflix lists—but the key element is keeping an audience on the edge of its seat. We’ve officially defined a thriller as anything that Netflix calls a thriller (excepting a few wildly mislabeled films), and since you can no longer view by highest rated, we’ve ranked our favorite thrillers on Netflix for you.

Also check out the 100 Best Movies on Netflix list.

Here are the 50 Best Thrillers on Netflix:

50. Lavender
Year: 2017
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Lavender’s building blocks are so well worn—mysterious discoveries, creaky houses, darting specters—they might well be invisible were it not for another of its defining features: the efficiency and assuredness with which the whole affair is presented. The movie is streamlined to the point that you have to admire its dedication to offering, without so much as a wink, a ghost story about the gradual opening of a locked memory and the catharsis that awaits its heroine. The film opens with a brief prologue in 1985 on an expansive rural property and the immediate aftermath of a murder scene in a family home. Shift to 25 years later, and we see Jane (Abbie Cornish) toting her school-age daughter Alice (Lola Flanery) on long drives through the countryside so she can take photographs of empty houses, most of them set back quite a way from the road. Jane has a romantic’s fascination with the houses, seeing them as epitaphs to the lives that once inhabited them. There’s a restlessness to Jane, and she’s distracted by her own preoccupation with houses, becoming enthralled with one in particular. Jane soon becomes caught up in a mystery surrounding these small white boxes wrapped in red ribbon. For a while it’s unclear whether their contents are intended as clues, or as methods of torment for her. Compounding Jane’s confusion are a car accident, a long-lost relative, and a hospital psychiatrist (Justin Long) with dubious motives. While it succumbs to a lot of clichés that blunt its impact, Lavender shows that there are interesting ways to apply genre elements beyond the bump and chills, and in the service of story about memory, trauma, and resolution. —Anthony Salveggi


49. Reservation Road
Year: 2007
Director: Terry George
Terry George runs in a completely different direction from his Hotel Rwanda, but this New England story of a family’s loss to a hit and run driver is no less heart-wrenching with gripping performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Connelly. The first few minutes (of Reservation Road) is an emotional experience, especially if you have children. But there’s depth beyond the family’s sadness in losing a son. There’s the moral dilemma that Mark Ruffalo’s character has to face as the movie unfolds. —Tim Basham


48. The Road
Year: 2009
Director: John Hillcoat
The Road, like any Cormac McCarthy adaptation, isn’t a picnic. What’s remarkable about the film is that it’s both softer and harsher than McCarthy’s original novel at the same time—a tad more sentimental, but by virtue of its medium it’s also more confrontational and visceral, which makes the experience of watching it soul-sucking as only cinema about the apocalypse can be. But consider the director, John Hillcoat, who made 2005’s The Proposition prior to The Road. In The Road, as in The Proposition, Hillcoat imagines the world around us as a blasted landscape, though here he has traded out his hellish portrait of the Australian outback for a desolate, ash-coated post-American landscape where trusting strangers is a death sentence and constant paranoia the key to survival. (He also shot on location in Oregon, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.) The most succor you’ll find in The Road is in leading performances from Kodi Smit-McPhee and Viggo Mortensen, playing a father-son duo making their way to the coast across a devastated nation. They give the film a heart that its scenery and action wholly lack.—Andy Crump


47. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Year: 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Steeped in the monochrome color palette and noir soundtrack of 1970s espionage cinema, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carré’s classic bestselling spy novel offers smart, nostalgic entertainment for a discerning adult audience. Set in 1973 at the height of the Cold War, the film turns on the suspicion that a double agent has infiltrated Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), a.k.a. MI6. Shortly after a botched operation to ferret out the mole ends his career, Control (John Hurt) dies, leaving his investigation in the hands of retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman). With grayed blond hair and owlish glasses, Oldman disappears into his role, not only physically but behaviorally. Smiley is a still man, watching and waiting, while his mind whirs, processing and analyzing years’ worth of data, information and memories.—Annlee Ellingson


46. Hush
Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan’s Oculus was a pleasantly ambitious surprise for horror fans when it landed a wide distribution release in 2013, so looking at his new Netflix-exclusive Hush, one sort of wonders if he’s taking a step back by directing a fairly classical home invasion thriller with limited cast and locations. There are, however, just enough twists on this especially trope-laden subgenre, starting with our heroine, who is deaf. That one disability, coupled with her remote residence in the woods, makes for a uniquely frightening handicap in repelling the masked intruder who comes calling. Unavoidably evoking The Strangers and Funny Games in particular, Hush nevertheless carves out its own spot in the niche. Our lead is an unusually intelligent, resourceful (but realistic) protagonist for this sort of setting, and her reactions to each new horror ring with truth. The stakes and tension rise in a palpable, organic way that has no need to resort to further gimmickry or a third act twist. It’s simply a battle for survival, featuring a character who is impressively well developed, considering that she never “speaks” a word. —Jim Vorel


45. Mudbound
Year: 2017
Director: Dee Rees
Director Dee Rees uses the uneasy partnership between a white family and a black family in postwar Mississippi as a bruising metaphor for modern-day America. In Mudbound, Jason Clarke is the patriarch of a recently relocated Tennessee clan that must work together with the Jacksons (led by Mary J. Blige) to cultivate farmland, but the poisonous economic, racial and social atmosphere surrounding them constantly threatens the crops they’re trying to sow. This somber, despairing film sees the world plainly: War veterans aren’t given the care they need when they return, bigotry runs rampant, and good people are outnumbered by the small-minded. And the performances are stellar—especially Garrett Hedlund, as a bomber pilot who’s a shell of himself now that he’s home, and Jason Mitchell as a black soldier who finds that America still won’t accept him, even though he fought valiantly for his country. —Tim Grierson


44. Cold in July
Year: 2014
Director: Jim Mickle
Richard Dane seems like a decent-enough man. Living in East Texas in 1989, he has a wife and child, and when he hears a noise coming from the living room late one night, he goes out cautiously, holding his dead father’s gun tentatively. He didn’t mean to kill anyone. And he certainly didn’t intend to have just about everything in his world change in the moment when he accidentally pulled the trigger. Michael C. Hall plays Richard, not overdoing the character’s regular-hick modesty. Adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Cold in July has a steely, slightly off-kilter vibe. Less extreme than the regional portraits preferred by the Coen brothers, the movie soaks up the period details, particularly in Jeff Grace’s wry nod to the synthesizer-driven scores of the 1980s. As in his past films, Mickle demonstrates an impressive degree of tonal control: Cold in July clearly pays homage to a certain style of bygone genre filmmaking, but not at the expense of the characters or the stakes. (Still, not for nothing is a crucial scene set at a drive-in theater.) Consequently, the film has both a giddy, escapist feel and a grim suspense, its self-conscious artificiality melding perfectly with its barebones emotional authenticity.—Tim Grierson


43. The Babysitter
Year: 2017
Director: McG
The Babysitter is a little guileless in its overt desire to be lovingly described as an ‘80s slasher homage, but simultaneously effective enough to earn a good measure of that approval it craves. With twists of Fright Night and Night of the Demons, it’s at its best not when trying to slavishly recreate a past decade but when letting its hyper-charismatic teenage characters run wild. Stylish, gory and profane to a fault, The Babysitter features a handful of bang-up performances by Judah Lewis as a late-blooming 12-year-old, Robbie Amell as a nigh-invincible football jock and Samara Weaving as the title character, the girl of Lewis’ dreams—right up until she tries to sacrifice him to the devil. Fast-moving (only 85 minutes!) and frequently hilarious, it’s probably the best unit of popcorn horror entertainment that Netflix has managed to put out so far. The Babysitter’s character chemistry actually justifies a second go-round, which I’d be happy to watch. —Jim Vorel


42. Omar
Year: 2014
Director:Hany Abu-Assad
More trenchant as a political allegory than a character drama, Omar is more interested in the ideas within this slow-burn thriller than in plot machinations. To writer-director Hany Abu-Assad, maniacal twists and cunning action set pieces would simply get in the way—better that we spend our time thinking about why the characters find themselves in this situation at all. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Omar stars Adam Bakri as the titular young Palestinian, who must daily scale the imposingly tall security wall that separates him from his girlfriend, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Though very much in love, they haven’t yet revealed their relationship to her brother (and Omar’s good friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani), who is planning with Omar and another close pal, Amjad (Samer Bisharat), to kill an Israeli soldier. The three friends’ mission is a success—it’s Amjad who pulls the trigger—but soon after, Omar is snagged by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Threatening Omar with imprisonment, Rami promises him freedom if he’ll deliver Tarek, the group’s leader, to them in exchange. What’s most resonant in Omar is that, just as we can’t always gauge the characters, they’re, too, concealing parts of themselves from each other, a byproduct of living in a part of the world where distrust is commonplace and secrecy a necessity. Which is why Omar’s startling ending is both somewhat mystifying and also oddly perfect—we don’t see it coming, and yet deep down, we’re not surprised at all that it happened. —Tim Grierson


41. Oculus
Year: 2013
Director: Mike Flanagan
When one hears that the central focus point of Oculus is a haunted mirror, you expect a fairly self-contained ghost story, but this recent release proved to be a surprisingly ambitious concept from a promising horror director, Mike Flanagan. It simultaneously juggles accounts of the mirror’s evil influence in two timelines, following the same characters as children and adults. The segments as children feel a tad by-the-books, but the pleasantly over-the-top performances in the adult portion are particularly enjoyable, as a young woman attempts to scientifically document and then seek revenge upon the source of her family’s misery. The film begins to peter out just a bit by the end, as the two stories become intertwined to the point of confusion in an attempt to blur the lines of reality, but in general it’s a stylish, creepy horror flick that goes out of its way to defy conventions. Look no further than the soul-sucking ending, which leaves the door wide open to all sorts of future possibilities if Flanagan ever wants to revisit the concept. —Jim Vorel


40. Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Year: 2014
Director: Lars von Trier 
“Which way do you think you’ll get the most out of my story—believing me or not believing me?” asks the central character in writer-director Lars von Trier’s new film. She’s an emotionally broken, physically beaten sex addict recounting her life less ordinary to an ascetic bachelor with a passion for fly-fishing, but the words might as well be from the filmmaker himself. In Nymphomaniac: Volume I, he’s inviting viewers to come along on a lurid trip, to submit to a survey of longing (emotional as much as sexual) threaded with intellectual riffs big and small, and allusions to dozens of other works. The movie’s sex scenes are indeed the fulcrum on which the movie turns. But the film’s graphic sequences are only shocking, really, insofar as how well they abut and serve the more discrete stories the narrator tells.—Brent Simon


39. The Imitation Game
Year: 2014
Director: Morten Tyldum
The historical thriller The Imitation Game is precisely the type of film studios love to dangle as Oscar bait. It focuses on a relatively unknown, yet significant, World War II code-cracking project and features a socially awkward genius as its protagonist. It doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned hero and his compatriots are Brits. Noted mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing is often considered the father of modern computer science, but his most consequential work—conducted as a WWII codebreaker—remained largely unknown until the British government declassified related documents in the 1970s. The Imitation Game, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric Turing, focuses on his wartime tenure at the Government Code and Cypher School in Bletchley Park, located about 50 miles northwest of London. In the confines of the nondescript Quonset Hut 8, Turing leads a team of prototype hackers to decipher Germany’s Enigma machine codes. Their work is said to have shortened the length of the war by several years. Cumberbatch gives an intense performance as the brilliant loner with behavior that registers along the autism spectrum. While he indulges in too much scenery chewing and stammering, Cumberbatch creates a memorable character who is at once fascinating and off-putting. The only person squarely on Turing’s side is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), an astute mathematician recruited for the testosterone-heavy team. Knightley shows off a dynamic range as she plays a dutiful daughter, torn between obligations to her parents and her country. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known best for 2011’s Headhunters, and scribe Graham Moore keep the tension high, even when the hackers and decoders are conducting tedious work. The supporting actors transcend their one-note characters and capture the audience’s attention.—Christine N. Ziemba


38. Cabin Fever
Year: 2002
Director: Eli Roth 
Cabin Fever is a darkly humorous story about a group of friends who head to an Evil Dead-style cabin in the woods and face not a slasher or demons, but a killer too small and invasive to avoid: A flesh-eating virus. It is, to describe in a single word: icky. People with phobias about communicable disease, especially in the wake of the Ebola panic, will find this movie especially horrifying, especially once peoples’ faces start falling off. Everyone else is likely to laugh at the plight of the largely unlikable teens suffering this fate, and their understandably hysterical reactions to it. There’s a lot to laugh at—the comic relief deputy, and especially the infamous and profoundly weird pancake kid. Of course, like most slashers, we ultimately want the villain to win. Even if the villain is a virus. —Jim Vorel


37. Wind River
Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
2017’s Wind River marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and it stars Jeremy Renner as Cory Lambert—a veteran tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. After discovering the dead body of a young Native American woman, he joins Elizabeth Olsen’s jane Banner, an FBI Agent, on a quest for answers and, for Lambert, personal redemption for something that happened in his past. What follows is nearly two hours of pure white-knuckle tension as the duo tries to solve the murder. It is a sparse, desolate thriller—a snow-covered neo-western—where violent acts bring about violent repercussions. In a land where hope hasn’t existed for a while, or maybe it was never there to begin with, heinous acts go unpunished. Lambert and Banner want to fix that, trying to bring justice and redemption to the condemned few on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The film flirts with the all too real problems of life on Native American reservations, the blind-eye America turned to their once-perpetrated genocide and the real fact that the rape of young Native American women is a crime that rarely sees the perpetrator convicted. Wind River’s thematic resonance and tonal texture is nearly post-apocalyptic in its spatial desperation and tangible sorrow. It is a quiet, methodically paced thriller where a metaphorical kettle is at a constant near boil until it reaches a fever-pitch punctuated by extreme violence, and one of the tensest and most nerve-wracking stand-offs in cinematic history. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s somber score interrupt the film’s haunting silence with equally haunting melody. Sheridan proves himself a capable director who frames most of the film in striking wide shots that capture the sheer nothingness of the landscape, and when lead starts flying, he keeps the camera steady—all of the action remains in frame, adding to the sense of desperation, sloppiness and overall pointlessness that each outburst of violence seems to harbor. As a whole, it may fall victim to an all-too-common “white savior complex,” but it’s a thriller that feels as necessary as it is riveting. —Cole Henry


36. Let Me In
Year: 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Practically more supernatural a creature than its starring monster, Let Me In is not only an Americanized adaptation of a foreign film that isn’t a waste of everyone’s time, it’s arguably superior than the film it’s based upon. Like the original Swedish film, Let the Right One In, Matt Reeves’ update teases a remarkable amount of tension and intrigue through meticulous plotting and arresting imagery. Though set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, rather than Stockholm, the choice of place for relocation initially seems an odd one—but it turns out it’s not the icy Swedish darkness that harbors the sense of unease. It’s the isolation of a 12-year-old boy, neglected by parents and any real parental figure. Owen’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bond with the eternally youthful vampire Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) is as effective and chilling here as it is in the original, thanks in no small part to its two phenomenal young leads. No question there’s a modern horror classic here, from the unlikeliest of origins. —Scott Wold


35. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Year: 2017
Director: Macon Blair
Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, writer-director Macon Blair’s debut feature is a tonally audacious genre outing unafraid to slip for a moment or two into the sweet relief of magical realism. Blair’s premise is simple—Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, cast to perfection), a quiet loner, comes home to find her house robbed, and when the police won’t help, she seeks vigilante justice with equally socially inept neighbor, Tony (Elijah Wood)—but his ever-increasingly sprawling plot is fueled by a myopic moral perspective rendered in black and white. Ruth wonders aloud why everyone is an asshole (moreso, why assholes so easily get away with being assholes), and Blair seemingly wonders the same thing, punctuating his mundane neo-noir with gruesome violence and unexpected physical comedy (a projectile vomit scene, in particular, rivals the classic back-alley puke-fest from Team America). Blair’s worked extensively with his friend Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room), so the two share a startling sense of pace and a knack for making even the most sloppy action sequences feel precise, but Saulnier is so much bleaker, whereas Blair allows each of his film’s supposed assholes a chance to redeem, or at least explain, themselves. A crappy cop is going through a messy divorce; a delinquent son acts out against the specter of an absentee father; a guy whose dog craps on your lawn just wasn’t really paying attention—as Ruth struggles to confront the callousness of her cold world, she realizes that we’re all pretty much doing the same thing too: We’re struggling.—Dom Sinacola


34. Creep 2
Year: 2017
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep was not a movie begging for a sequel. About one of cinema’s more unique serial killers—a man who seemingly needs to form close personal bonds with his quarry before dispatching them as testaments to his “art”—the 2014 original was self-sufficient enough. But Creep 2 is that rare follow-up wherein the goal seems to be not “let’s do it again,” but “let’s go deeper”—and by deeper, we mean much deeper, as this film plumbs the psyche of the central psychopath (who now goes by) Aaron (Mark Duplass) in ways both wholly unexpected and shockingly sincere, as we witness (and somehow sympathize with) a killer who has lost his passion for murder, and thus his zest for life. In truth, the film almost forgoes the idea of being a “horror movie,” remaining one only because we know of the atrocities Aaron has committed in the past, meanwhile becoming much more of an interpersonal drama about two people exploring the boundaries of trust and vulnerability. Desiree Akhavan is stunning as Sara, the film’s only other principal lead, creating a character who is able to connect in a humanistic way with Aaron unlike anything a fan of the first film might think possible. Two performers bare it all, both literally and figuratively: Creep 2 is one of the most surprising, emotionally resonant horror films in recent memory. —Jim Vorel


33. Creep
Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Creep is a somewhat predictable but cheerfully demented little indie horror film, the directorial debut by Brice, who also released this year’s The Overnight. Starring the ever-prolific Mark Duplass, it’s a character study of two men—naive videographer and not-so-secretly psychotic recluse, the latter of which hires the former to come document his life out in a cabin in the woods. It leans entirely on its performances, which are excellent. Duplass, who can be charming and kooky in something like Safety Not Guaranteed, shines here as the deranged lunatic who forces himself into the protagonist’s life and haunts his every waking moment. The early moments of back-and-forth between the pair crackle with a sort of awkward intensity. Anyone genre-savvy will no doubt see where it’s going, but it’s a well-crafted ride that succeeds on the strength of chemistry between its two principal leads in a way that reminds me of the scenes between Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina.—Jim Vorel


32. Killing Ground
Yaer: 2016
Director: Damien Power
The term “slow burn” is most often applied to movies where nothing of note happens for about the first hour, and everything happens in the last ten to twenty minutes. But Damien Power holds our attention throughout Killing Ground. It’s build-up is essential to the pay-off. Really, this isn’t a slow burn at all: It’s a really well-made genre movie, the product of a smart, obviously skilled filmmaker with a good sense of economy. Power treats every beat in the narrative as an opportunity for disquieting his viewers, using a collection of techniques to progressively raise the hairs on our arms, but more importantly he maintains an enduring harmony across multiple plot threads and perspectives without losing either himself or us. The film begins with our designated protagonists, married couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), and slowly, precisely expands to include two other involved parties. They’re on a camping trip, heading for a waterfall on New Year’s to celebrate, take a load off and maybe even get engaged. As soon as they arrive at their destination, they notice that someone else has beaten them there, setting up their own campsite at the same spot Ian and Sam had in mind.Killing Ground’s grand artistic statement isn’t made until its final image, so just enjoy the film as an exemplary exercise in tension as you wait for Power to suck out your soul. Power hasn’t re-invented the Australian outback thriller, but he has put his personal stamp on it, and in so doing distinguished his works from similar fare, a’la Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright. Killing Ground doesn’t burn slowly. It just burns. —Andy Crump


31. Scream 2
Year: 1997
Director: Wes Craven
It was going to be hard to follow up the original Scream for plenty of reasons: Aside from it being one of the more innovative, self-aware horror films in years, Wes Craven killed off all of its bad guys in the final scenes of the movie. Here’s where Scream 2—a respectable follow-up and one that sets the stage for all of the film’s lesser sequels—comes into play. It follows a new string of “ghost face” murders, this time centering around the creation of Stab, a film based upon the Woodsboro murders. As always, the film is painfully critical of the horror movie genre while still scaring the pants off audiences in voice-morphed, quizzical phone calls and Ghost Face pop-ups. It remains the only Scream sequel to approach the original in terms of overall quality, thanks to its ability to turn over new leaves in examining the conventions of film sequels. —Tyler Kane


30. Gerald’s Game
Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel


29. The Transfiguration
Year: 2017
Director: Michael O’Shea
Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration refreshingly refuses to disguise its influences and reference points, instead putting them all out there in the forefront for its audience’s edification, name-dropping a mouthful of noteworthy vampire films and sticking their very titles right smack dab in the midst of its mise en scène. They can’t be missed: Nosferatu is a big one, and so’s The Lost Boys, but none informs O’Shea’s film as much as Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s unique 2009 genre masterpiece. Like Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration casts a young’n, Milo (Eric Ruffin), as its protagonist, contrasting the horrible particulars of a vampire’s feeding habits against the surface innocence of his appearance. Unlike Let the Right One In, The Transfiguration may not be a vampire movie at all, but a movie about a lonesome kid with an unhealthy fixation on gothic legends. You may choose to view Milo as O’Shea’s modernized update of the iconic monster or a child brimming with inner evil; the film keeps its ends open, its truths veiled and only makes its sociopolitical allegories plain in its final, haunting images. —Andy Crump


28. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Year: 2010
Director: Eli Craig
Let’s face it, hillbillies and their ilk have been getting the short end of the pitchfork in movies since the strains of banjo music faded in 1972’s Deliverance. And whether due to radiation (The Hills Have Eyes) or just good old determined inbreeding (Wrong Turn and so, so many films you’re better off not knowing about), the yokel-prone in film have really enjoyed slaughtering innocent families on vacation, travelers deficient in basic map usage skills, and, best of all, sexually active college students just looking for a good time. But fear not, members of Hillbillies for Inclusion, Consideration & Kindness in Screenplays (HICKS)—writer/director Eli Craig has your hairy, unloofahed back. His film, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, answers the simple question: What if those hillbillies are just socially awkward fellows sprucing up a vacation home and the young college kids in question are just prone to repeatedly jumping to incorrect, often fatal, conclusions? Think Final Destination meets the Darwin Awards. —Michael Burgin


27. Okja
Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chet Betz


26. The Conjuring
Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


25. The Lost Boys
Year: 1987
Director: Joel Schumacher
If vampires are among the original heartthrobs, it makes all the more sense for Joel Schumacher—he of Brat Pack and other generic onscreen glossiness—to have doubled down with a Tiger Beat collage of ’80s teen idols: Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz and the Coreys (Haim and Feldman). Patric and Haim are siblings who sense something is amiss in their new coastal California town, where a lot of people have gone missing lately. While Patric’s Michael falls in with hottie Star (Gertz) and her gang leader/vamp BF David (Sutherland), Haim’s Sam bonds with the nerdy vampire-hunting Frog brothers, Edgar and Allan (get it?), at the local comic book store. It’s super slick, cheesy and a nostalgia trip for the pre-Twilight generation. Schumacher scores bonus points for casting Dianne Wiest as a newly single mom, Edward Herrmann as her suspicious new suitor, and Barnard Hughes as the boys’ curmudgeonly gramps. Despite its titular hat tip to J.M. Barrie, The Lost Boys is about as deep as a baby’s premolars, but don’t let that stop you from “vamping out.” —Amanda Schurr


24. Donnie Darko
Year: 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Apparently, at some point in its burgeoning cult ascendency, director Richard Kelly admitted that even he didn’t totally get what’s going on in Donnie Darko—going so far as to release a “Director’s Cut” in 2005 that supposedly cleared up some of the film’s more unwieldy stuff. Yet another example of a small budget wringed of its every dime, Kelly’s debut crams love, weird science, jet engines, superhero mythology, wormholes, armchair philosophy, giant bunny rabbits and Patrick Swayze (as a child molester, no less) into a film that should be celebrated for its audacity more than its coherency. It also helps that Jake Gyllenhaal leads a stellar cast, all totally game. In Donnie Darko, the only thing that’s clear is Kelly’s attitude: that at its core cinema is the art of manifesting the unbelievable, of doing what one wants to do when one wants to do it. —Paste Staff


23. The Gift
Year: 2015
Director: Joel Edgerton
Actor Joel Edgerton’s debut feature as director, The Gift, is the best kind of great movie: It doesn’t announce itself as great at all. Edgerton, who also wrote the screenplay, knows he’s got the goods in his grasp, content to let his ideas slowly get under the audience’s skin and gestate, rather than ram them down our throats. Edgerton begins with a set of familiar conventions and then overturns each one scene by scene, letting his characters and themes evolve in a manner far more naturally than one might expect from a thriller—which of course makes it all the more terrifying. Edgerton lays out his core situation with clarity and concision in The Gift’s opening scenes, in which his subtle, gliding camera pulls the audience into the world of married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall). Edgerton’s eerily still and angular compositions, in which Simon and Robyn are repeatedly framed through glass, like bugs under a microscope, create a sense of unease right from the start, implying that the couple is on shaky ground even before Simon’s old high school classmate Gordon (Edgerton) shows up. Gordon quickly insinuates himself into Simon’s and Robyn’s lives, and by the time Simon takes action to try to rid himself of the socially awkward and clingy friend, it’s far too late. Edgerton is wrestling with big ideas here, not only psychological but social and political: The perverted sense of American striving that characterizes both Simon and Gordon is peculiarly of its moment, though as with much else in the movie Edgerton has the confidence to let this ideas rest at the margins. —Jim Hemphill


22. The Wailing
Year: 2016
Director: Na Hong-jin
The U.S. title of Na Hong-jin’s new film, The Wailing, suggests tone more than it does sound. There is wailing to be heard here, and plenty of it, but in two words Na coyly predicts his audience’s reaction to the movie’s grim tableaus of a county in spiritual strife. Though The Wailing ostensibly falls in the “horror” bin, Na trades in doubt and especially despair more than in what we think of as representing the genre. He isn’t out to terrify us—he’s out to corrode our souls, much in the same way that his protagonist’s faith is corroded after being subject to both divine and infernal tests over the course of the film. You may not leave the film scared, but you will leave it scarred, which is by far a more substantive response than naked fear. —Andy Crump


21. Train to Busan
Year: 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Love them or hate them, zombies are still a constant of the horror genre in 2016, dependable enough to set your conductor’s watch by. And although I’ve probably seen enough indie zombie films at this point to eschew them from my viewing habits for the rest of my life, there is still usually at least one great zombie movie every other year. In 2016, that was Train to Busan, a film that I sadly hadn’t yet seen when I wrote the 50 Best Zombie Movies of All Time. There’s no need for speculation: Train to Busan would undoubtedly have made the list. This South Korean story of a career-minded father attempting to protect his young daughter on a train full of rampaging zombies is equal parts suspenseful popcorn entertainment and genuinely affecting family drama. It concludes with several action elements that I’ve never seen before, or even considered for a zombie film, and any time you can add something truly novel to the genre of the walking dead, then you’re definitely doing something right. With a few memorable, empathetic supporting characters and some top-notch makeup FX, you’ve got one of the best zombie movies of the past half-decade. —Jim Vorel


20. High-Rise
Year: 2016
Director: Ben Wheatley
High-Rise begins with the past tense of Wheatley’s traditional mayhem, settling on tranquil scenes of extensive carnage and brutal violence inflicted before the picture’s start. Dashing Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) wanders waste-strewn halls. He goes to have a drink with his neighbor, Nathan Steele (Reece Shearsmith), who has enshrined a dead man’s head within a television set. Seems about right. But the film’s displays of squalor and viscera are a ruse. Spoken in the tongue of Wheatley, High-Rise is a tamer tale than Kill List or Sightseers. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, but if you go into Wheatley films anticipating unhinged barbarity, you may feel as though the film and its creator are trolling you here. High-Rise is based on English novelist’s J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel of the same name, a soft sci-fi dystopian yarn fastened to a through line of social examination. In context with its decade, the book’s setting could be roughly described as “near future England,” and Wheatley, a director with a keen sense of time and place across all of his films, has kept the period of the text’s publication intact, fleshing it out with alternately lush and dreggy mise en scène. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that High-Rise is a lost relic of 1970s American cinema. —Andy Crump


19. The Invitation
Year: 2015
Director: Karyn Kusama
The “dinner party horror movie” is not quite frequent enough a thing to warrant its own, personal subgenre, but they do seem to pop up with regularity. They’re the perfect setting for psychological thrillers and horror films, bringing together a diverse group of people into a small, confined area where tensions can reach a boiling point. In Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, it’s a man who lost his son, invited along with a large network of friends to reconnect with his ex-wife and her new husband at the dinner party. Once the guests arrive, the suspicions begin to mount. Why are there bars on the windows? Where’s that one, missing friend? And how much of this is all in our protagonist’s head, as he’s eaten up by the memories and profound guilt he feels for the accidental death of his son? It’s a bit of a meandering film that could likely lose a few minutes of introspection and be stronger for it, but it’s simultaneously suspenseful and visceral when it should be. It takes a bit too long for the pot to boil, but when it does, things get out of hand quickly. Unrelated note: There’s a great appearance by creepy, unnerving character actor John Carroll Lynch, who also played the suspected serial killer in David Fincher’s Zodiac. —Jim Vorel


18. Raw
Year: 2016
Director: Julia Ducournou
If you’re the proud owner of a twisted sense of humor, you might tell your friends that Julia Ducournau’s Raw is a “coming of age movie” in a bid to trick them into seeing it. Yes, the film’s protagonist, naive incoming college student Justine (Garance Marillier), comes of age over the course of its running time; she parties, she breaks out of her shell, and she learns about who she really is as a person on the verge of adulthood. But most kids who come of age in the movies don’t realize that they’ve spent their lives unwittingly suppressing an innate, nigh-insatiable need to consume raw meat. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “that’s the name of the movie!” You’re right! It is! Allow Ducournau her cheekiness. More than a wink and nod to the picture’s visceral particulars, Raw is an open concession to the harrowing quality of Justine’s grim blossoming. Nasty as the film gets, and it does indeed get nasty, the harshest sensations Ducournau articulates here tend to be the ones we can’t detect by merely looking: Fear of feminine sexuality, family legacies, popularity politics, and uncertainty of self govern Raw’s horrors as much as exposed and bloody flesh. It’s a gorefest that offers no apologies and plenty more to chew on than its effects. —Andy Crump


17. Moon
Year: 2009
Director: Duncan Jones
First-time director Duncan Jones is overt about his stylistic appropriations of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to the sweeping orchestral music that frames the opening shots of the titular satellite and Earth. Yet where Kubrick tapped into existential fears about human extinction and the future of civilization, Jones hypothesizes the logical conclusion of that dark vision: a world where the need for more energy has rendered humanity a manufactured cog of multinational corporations whose reach now extends beyond the boundaries of Earth. The film’s plot centers on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the only human on a lunar mining facility that harvests Helium-3, a clean fuel that can meet a near-future Earth’s ballooning energy demands. Base computer system GERTY (Kevin Spacey doing yeomen’s work as a less homicidal version of HAL) is his sole companion on Sam’s three-year caretaking mission, since a supposed satellite failure means he can only send and receive pre-recorded messages. When an accident nearly kills Sam, he’s saved by a clone of himself and begins to unravel the sinister nature of the base, and his existence. Moon cribs heavily from the retro-futuristic look of ‘60s and ‘70s sci-fi for its claustrophobic and sanitized depiction of the moon base. But this high-tech eye candy is only the backdrop to a larger morality tale about humanity’s ever-shrinking position within a technologically-saturated society: when the human experience can be synthesized (and thus made disposable,) does such a thing as “humanity” even exist? There’s a host of challenging philosophical threads throughout—cloning, masculinity, energy, corporate power—but those individual issues complement rather than engulf the larger narrative. Moon is a superlative example of science fiction that hearkens to the genre’s roots: social commentary on the human condition, without the easy catharsis of overblown special effects and space opera. It’s the ultimate rarity in modern cinema: a mature, engaging and thoughtful sci-fi movie, and proof that there’s life yet left in the genre. —Michael Saba


16. It Follows
Year: 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
The specter of Old Detroit haunts It Follows. In a dilapidating ice cream stand on 12 Mile, in the ’60s-style ranch homes of Ferndale or Berkley, in a game of Parcheesi played by pale teenagers with nasally, nothing accents—if you’ve never been, you’d never recognize the stale, gray nostalgia creeping into every corner of David Robert Mitchell’s terrifying film, but it’s there, and it feels like Metro Detroit. It Follows is a film that thrives in the borders, not so much about the horror that leaps out in front of you, but the deeper anxiety that waits at the verge of consciousness—until, one day soon, it’s there, reminding you that your time is limited, and that you will never be safe. Forget the risks of teenage sex, It Follows is a penetrating metaphor for growing up. —Dom Sinacola


15. Beasts of No Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky


14. Evolution
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Year: 2015
Hadžihalilovic’s gorgeous enigma is anything and everything: creature feature, allegory, sci-fi headfuck, Lynchian homage, feminist masterpiece, 80 minutes of unmitigated gut-sensation—it is an experience unto itself, refusing to explain whatever it is it’s doing so long as the viewer understands whatever that may be on some sort of subcutaneous level. In it, prepubescent boy Nicolas (Max Brebant) finds a corpse underwater, a starfish seemingly blooming from its bellybutton. Which would be strange were the boy not living on a fatherless island of eyebrow-less mothers who every night put their young sons to bed with a squid-ink-like mixture they call “medicine.” This is the norm, until Nicolas’s boy-like curiosity begins to reveal a world of maturity he’s incapable of grasping, discovering one night what the mothers do once their so-called “sons” have fallen asleep. From there, Evolution eviscerates notions of motherhood, masculinity and the inexplicable gray area between, simultaneously evoking anxiety and awe as it presents one unshakeable, dreadful image after another. —Dom Sinacola


13. Michael Clayton
Year: 2007
Director: Tony Gilroy
The parade of high-profile business scandals in the 21st century make the central thesis of Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut all the more discomforting to accept: that even those callous corporate masterminds and their big-shot lawyers have conflicts of conscience, too. Gilroy introduces his three leads in short order, each one a pawn in a $3 billion class-action lawsuit against fictional agrochemical giant U/North: Attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) gets reduced to a manic-depressive wreck. Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), U/North’s lead counsel, internalizes her anxiety, masking it with carefully constructed appearance and well-rehearsed press responses. Then there’s Michael Clayton himself, played with world-weary resolve by George Clooney, who must face a series of moral dilemmas in which his corporate instinct for self-preservation collides with his sense of humanity. Gilroy maintains a fine balance as he portrays the lives of these three lonely souls while keeping his intricately crafted plot in constant motion. Blending elements of crime drama, paralegal thriller, and a dash of the espionage action he perfected while working on the Bourne trilogy, Gilroy delivers a script that reflects his rare ability to pose complex moral questions while simultaneously drawing his audience deeper and deeper into the action. Shot against the cold, hive-like palaces of Manhattan’s Corporate Row, Michael Clayton deftly portrays the bewilderment of the people who find themselves trapped within the corporate culture. It’s scary to think that the mega-conglomerates that dominate America’s economy are heartless machines, but even scarier to imagine that they just might be human after all. —Jeremy Goldmeier


12. A Dark Song
Year: 2016
Director: Liam Gavin
In Liam Gavin’s black magic genre oddity, Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grief-stricken mother, and the schlubby, no-nonsense occultist (Steve Oram) she hires devote themselves to a long, meticulous, painstaking ritual in order to (they hope) communicate with her dead son. Gavin lays out the ritual specifically and physically—over the course of months of isolation, Sophia undergoes tests of endurance and humiliation, never quite sure if she’s participating in an elaborate hoax or if she can take her spiritual guide seriously when he promises her he’s succeeded in the past. Paced to near perfection, A Dark Song is ostensibly a horror film but operates as a dread-laden procedural, mounting tension while translating the process of bereavement as patient, excruciating manual labor. In the end, something definitely happens, but its implications are so steeped in the blurry lines between Christianity and the occult that I still wonder what kind of alternate realms of existence Gavin is getting at. But A Dark Song thrives in that uncertainty, feeding off of monotony. Sophia may hear phantasmagorical noise coming from beneath the floorboards, but then substantial spans of time pass without anything else happening, and we begin to question, as she does, whether it was something she did wrong (maybe, when tasked with not moving from inside a small chalk circle for days at a time, she screwed up that portion of the ritual by allowing her urine to dribble outside of the boundary) or whether her grief has blinded her to an expensive con. Regardless, that “not knowing” is the scary stuff of everyday life, and by portraying Sophia’s profound emotional journey as a humdrum trial of physical mettle, Gavin reveals just how much pointless, even terrifying work it can be anymore to not only live the most ordinary of days, but to make it to the next. —Dom Sinacola


11. The Babadook
Year: 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Between It Follows and The Babadook, 2014 was a strong one for indie horror films breaking free from their trappings to enter the public consciousness. Between the two, The Babadook is perhaps less purely entertaining but makes up for that with cerebral scares and complex emotion. It’s an astoundingly well-realized first feature film for director Jennifer Kent, and one that actually manages to deal with a type of relationship we haven’t seen that often in a horror film. Motherhood in cinema tends to invariably be portrayed in a sort of “unconditional love,” way, which isn’t necessarily true to life, and The Babadook preys upon any shred of doubt there might be. Its child actor, Noah Wiseman, is key in pushing the buttons of actress Essie Davis, pushing her closer and closer to the brink, even as they’re threatened by a supernatural horror. The film’s beautiful art direction approximates a crooked, twisted fairytale, with dreamlike sequences that never quite reveal what is true and what might be a hallucination. The characters of The Babadook ultimately undergo quite a lot of suffering, and not just because they’re being chased by a monster. —Jim Vorel


10. Jackie Brown
Year: 1997
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s gem Jackie Brown sees Pam Grier as the title character who shakes up the world of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). Jackie is the pawn used by everyone from big-time smugglers to the ATF and LAPD. In a world of shifting alliances, unexpected romances and too many double-crosses to keep track of, the charismatic flight attendant finds herself in the middle of it all. One of the most brilliant notes in both the main actors’ performances is the stillness that each brings to their characters—but if the actors are part of the orchestra, so is the music. —Michael Dunaway


9. Spotlight
Year: 2015
Director: Tom McCarthy
Always a director who’s drawn great performances from his ensembles—we’ll set aside the disastrous The Cobbler for a moment—actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has made his best drama since his first, 2003’s The Station Agent, with this stripped-down depiction of the Boston Globe’s 2001 investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual misconduct. Starring the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery, Spotlight is about nothing more than watching smart, passionate reporters do their job, digging into a story and using their savvy and moxie to bring it to the world. The cast lets its characters’ jobs fill in the backstory of their lives, and in the process Spotlight does what Zodiac, The Insider and All the President’s Men did before it: let us appreciate the difficulty and rigor required for good journalism. Special kudos to best-in-show Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, a ruthless bloodhound of an investigative reporter who may inspire a lot of impressionable high school juniors in the audience to take up the profession. —Tim Grierson


8. The Hateful Eight
Year: 2015
Director: Quentin Tarantino
 The Hateful Eight is a sprawling film with an intimate core and too much necessary material to trim. There’s a pomp and grandiosity to the weight of the film, and to Quentin Tarantino’s ambition in making it his way, that’s hard not to admire. More so than most marquee movies and tentpoles claiming to be “epic,” The Hateful Eight actually lives up to the word. With this whodunit—or who’s-gonna-doit—Tarantino is chiefly interested in the exchanging of barbs and threats more than he is in action. Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is insanely violent, but it’s fixated around violent talk and violent reverie before physical violence. Tarantino may lay his timely allegory on thick, but The Hateful Eight bears it out in subtle ways, too: With distrust as the film’s prevailing manner, the notion that you cannot truly know the people with whom you’re having dinner takes on increased gravity and meaning, particularly in the climactic showdown, when all is revealed and we see the film’s various humans for who they truly are. Frontier justice does quench our thirst, but the themes of social justice that drive the film are more satiating by far. It all adds up to a towering work, as profound as it is profane. —Andy Crump


7. Brother’s Keeper
Year: 1992
Directors: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
There’s an alleged crime at the center of Brother’s Keeper: whether or not Delbert Ward, a 59-year-old farmer from Munnsville, New York, is guilty of murdering his older brother William. But that’s not really what Brother’s Keeper is about. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky instead focus on the wide fissure between urban and rural American cultures in the late-1980s and early-1990s, examining the way the three remaining Ward brothers, essentially outcasts in their community prior to William’s death, are increasingly embraced by Munnsville as the media descends upon the town to report on Delbert’s trial. The mystery here is not about whether or not William was murdered; the mystery is what lies at the heart of community bonds and national identity, and how allegiances change as communities grow larger. —Mark Abraham


6. Under the Shadow
Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


5. The Departed
Year: 2006
Director: Martin Scorsese 
At times truly funny and at others brutally violent, Scorsese’s ambitious gangster flick spends equal time exploring the deceitful inner workings of the Boston Special Investigation Unit and it’s pro-crime counterpart, the Frank Costello-led Irish mafia. The director’s first gangster film to be set in Boston won him his first Best Picture Award at the Oscars. Featuring an all-star cast in the likes of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, the gangster drama, a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, upholds the optimum qualities of a classic Scorsese picture: style, morality and grit.—David Roark


4. L.A. Confidential
Year: 1997
Director: Curtis Hanson
This sumptuous adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel never visits Roman Polanski’s preferred corner of Los Angeles, but it rivals Chinatown in both quality of filmmaking and cynicism of spirit. This film not only announced Hanson as a filmmaker well beyond his previous work (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle?), but endeared Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce to American audiences by giving them their first signature roles. This tabloid version of the City of Angels celebrates all the sex, corruption and other seedy circumstances the superficial city can provide. It offers a string of unforgettable sequences, from Bud White’s Yuletide raid to Exley’s interrogations to the final shootout where the film’s utterly Ellroy perspective on police morality is (quite literally) executed with masterful precision. At the time of its release, L.A. Confidential was praised as a throwback, a smeared portrait of the 1950s embracing the spirit of crime noirs (and even westerns) of the 1970s. That was almost 20 years ago. Here’s hoping some young punk or frustrated journeyman is ready to dust off these storytelling tropes again to produce something this timeless. —Bennett Webber


3. Se7en
Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher 
It’s hard to think of a ’90s movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naive Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at such victims as a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


2. Full Metal Jacket
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick 
It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


1. Boogie Nights
Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directos balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet and Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti

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