Looking for the best thrillers of 2020? Well, we’ve got good news: there were a whole heck of a lot of them. When you think of the heyday of thriller movies, most folks will probably go straight to the 50s/60s era or the 80s/90s era. And that is correct, because those decades were a dang goldmine of straight-up suspenseful domestic dramas, noir mysteries, and erotic thrillers that kept the blood pumping. But thrillers are actually doing pretty great these days too, they’ve just evolved a bit. Sure you’ll still see the odd simple stalker, the occasional crazed ex, and a spot of classic Hitcockian murder mystery, but for the most part, thrillers have gotten wilder and more genre-bending over the years, leading to the kind of multi-hyphenates that render labels almost useless — hell, several films below could be described as dark comedy sci-fi horror thrillers.
The 20 Best Film Noirs of All Time
On the 20-year anniversary of ‘L.A. Confidential’ we put together a film noir list that’ll hopefully create new fans of the genre, just like ‘Confidential’ did for us.
But even though it’s harder than ever to slap simple genre labels on things, the Collider staff set out to pick our favorite thrillers of the year, and we came back with one massive, wild list. Some of them are scary, some of them are funny, some of them are sexy — plenty of them are all that and more — but the one thing the movies below definitely have in common is the classic thriller touch that will keep you surprised, in suspense, and excited for the next reveal. And if you’re looking for more movies to watch, check out all of our Best of 2020 lists.
12 Hour Shift
If you like a little laughter with your thrills, settle in for a snappy, dark comedy thriller with Brea Grant’s 12 Hour Shift. Set in a hospital during one very gnarly, unrelenting night, the film stars Angela Bettis as a nurse whose black market organ-selling scheme goes catastrophically off track when her not-to-bright but extremely determined cousin (Chloe Farnworth) loses a harvested kidney. Grant has an ear for lively dialogue and a sharp eye (especially in a delightfully random scene transition that breaks out the dance moves,) but as an experienced actor herself, she’s especially keen at getting killer performances out of her cast. Genre staple Angela Bettis is, as always, commanding and nuanced in the lead, and David Arquette charms his way through his minimal scenes, but Farnworth is a dang force of nature as an unstoppable dimwit who will do whatever it takes to save her own dolled-up skin, no matter how dastardly. It’s the kind of genre-bender that will have you cringing through the comedy and smiling through the squirmiest bits. – Haleigh Foutch
Director John Hyams impressed the hell out of me with this simple, sparse and incredibly effective thriller about a young woman trying to escape a serial killer in the woods. Jules Willcox stars as one of the year’s very best movie heroines, while Marc Menchaca (The Outsider) is nothing less than chilling as the sadistic stalker who gets off on hunting and toying with his prey. I’ve seen 100 different variations of this movie, but rarely are they as well done or as impressive photographed. Hyams handles the suspense perfectly, turning a familiar premise into an altogether gripping experience nonetheless. – Jeff Sneider
American Murder: The Family Next Door
One of the few must-watch true crime documentaries of 2020, American Murder: The Family Next Door takes on an altogether more eerie and unsettling texture given the way it is presented. Jenny Popplewell’s unflinching doc looks at the Watts family murders, which took place in 2018 in suburban Colorado. Utilizing body cam footage, surveillance video from the local police station, and social media uploads from the murdered woman, Popplewell slowly reveals what really happened to a young mother and her two daughters and who was responsible. It takes a tragic scenario and makes it even more chilling. And there are unforgettable, telling moments like the police interviewing a neighbor who has a motion sensor camera set up outside his home and who, after interviewing the husband of the missing mother, the good ole boy neighbor suggesting to the cops that something is up with him. Uncluttered by talking-head interviews, cheesy reenactments or unnecessary commentary, instead letting the horror of the actual case unfold before your eyes, American Murder was one of the scariest, most psychologically complex movies of the year, without the benefit of a single ghoul or goblin. – Drew Taylor
It would’ve been fascinating to see this film released in theaters, as I suspect it would’ve been laughed out of the multiplex or hailed as a masterpiece. The truth is more complicated, as Antebellum is neither a failure nor a triumph. Directed by activist filmmakers Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe in dual roles as a plantation slave named Eden and a successful author named Veronica. Do they exist in two separate timelines? Is Veronica a descendant of Eden? By the time the truth is revealed, you may have already lost patience with Antebellum, but there’s no question that the imagery in this film is powerful, and the haunting score by Nate Wonder and Roman Gianarthur is superb. In another world, Antebellum might’ve been a Get Out-like sensation, but as it stands, it’s a decent-enough VOD rental with a provocative premise that should spark an interesting discussion after the film. – Jeff Sneider
Honestly, this was the best movie that I saw at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The story is so incredible, I don’t even think you could write it. Such is life… and in this case, death, as implied by the title. Directed by Ryan White (The Keepers), Assassins follows two young women who are tricked into assassinating Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who may have even been behind the hit. Basically, these two admittedly gullible women believe that they’re just part of a prank show that involves them placing their hands over the eyes of strangers from behind. Despite having a very capable legal team working on their behalf, their pleas seem to fall on deaf ears, since the fact that the women were involved in Kim Jong-nam’s murder was never in doubt — it was all about what they knew, or didn’t know, in this case. Assassins offers a weird, wild story that simply has to be seen to be believed, and I promise it’s as gripping as any thriller that came out this year. – Jeff Sneider
This movie is bonkers. I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s a “weird western” from Brazilian filmmakers Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles about a small rural town where some strange stuff starts to go down following the death of its 94-year-old matriarch. It all culminates in a bloody standoff between the town’s residents and a group of American tourists, led by genre movie icon Udo Kier, who have come to hunt them for sport. The film is extremely graphic in its violence, and yet it has something to say. There’s something on its mind besides empty bloodlust. Bacurau certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who indulge in twisted cult films should come away more than satisfied. – Jeff Sneider
Part Home Alone and part violent slasher film, Becky takes Lulu Wilson (The Haunting of Hill House) and tosses her into a meat grinder with a gang of hulking neo-Nazis led by Kevin freaking James. Wilson plays the titular Becky, whose home is invaded by said thugs on the hunt for some kind of key that happens to be stashed on the property. Rather than acquiesce to their demands for a single moment, Becky instead decides to graphically murder them with a series of gruesome traps and household tools. Becky is an uneven film – it seems packaged to be a black comedy, with its ironic premise and an extremely playful end credits sequence. But the movie isn’t actually funny; it’s just plain mean. That said, if you’re a fan of bloody slashers, it’s one of the best to come out this year, complete with one truly shocking demise that will have you recommending the film to friends immediately after you see it. – Tom Reimann
If you like your thrillers psychological, settle in for the emotionally wrenching, anxiety-inducing Black Bear. An unflinching examination of creative vanity and the emotional minefields some creators build and walk through in pursuit of their art, Lawrence Michael Levine’s horror-tinged psychological drama stars Aubrey Plaza in the most striking dramatic performance of her career to date, with costars Christopher Abbot and Sarah Gadon matching her beat for beat. Split across two mirroring parts, Black Bear stars Plaza first as a filmmaker dismantling a rocky relationship as part of her creative process then flips the script in the second half, casting her as an actress who goes a bit too method when she suspects her director husband is having an affair. Each half is as relentlessly tense as the other and while you might find yourself wanting more answers than the film is willing to give, taken at face value Black Bear is a fascinating dissection of toxic creativity featuring not one, but two electric performances from Plaza. – Haleigh Foutch
Blow the Man Down
Writer/director team Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s Blow the Man Down is a strong newcomer to the thriller category. Very much the love child of Fargo and a mournful sea shanty, Blow the Man Down transports us to a seaside town in Maine where two sisters, Priscilla and Mary Beth Connolly (played by Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor), must figure out how to cover up a crime committed by one of the pair. In a small town where everyone knows everyone, this is no easy feat. It gets even more complicated when the crime reels in the town’s local madam (Margo Martindale) and a local sheriff who’s sweet on Priscilla. Blow the Man Down is a gritty thriller filled with visceral, real-world stakes. Cole and Krudy’s script is stripped of any fluff and wound so tightly that you can feel the tension in every scene. Blow the Man Down evokes pared-down thrillers of the ‘70s and ‘80s while confidently standing on its own two feet as it weaves a story that is, refreshingly, using a historically male-dominated genre to tell a story about women and the choices they must make to survive. – Allie Gemmill
This strangely timely film starring Mary J. Blige follows four New Orleans cops who are haunted by a vengeful spirit after the death of black youth and the subsequent police cover-up. In a strange way, this supernatural revenge movie felt practically cathartic this summer, seeing as how it sees out-of-control cops get their comeuppance. I don’t typically expect this kind of social commentary in genre films released straight to VOD, so kudos to director Malik Vitthal and screenwriters Nicholas McCarthy and Richmond Riedel for coming up with an entertaining way to make some important points about police violence. Vitthal has a strong sense of style, and there is some really startling imagery in this film that should entice viewers who give this one a chance. – Jeff Sneider
Let’s get one thing straight: I am absolutely, 100% recommending you watch the film Butt Boy, but should you decide to follow that recommendation, you are not allowed to come back here and get mad at me when Butt Boy starts doing stuff that a movie called Butt Boy is gonna’ do. I cannot possibly stress enough that the plot of this film is a cat-and-mouse crime-thriller between an alcoholic detective (Tyler Rice) and a man named Chip (Tyler Kornack) who becomes so obsessed with sticking larger and larger objects up his butt he starts setting his sights on people. Deeply strange, equal parts funny and disgusting, and sneakily moving by the end, this movie—John Waters’ top pick of 2020, FYI—is, most importantly, never embarrassed by itself. Director, co-writer, and star Cornack presents his ass-tastic tale of murder and mess with such a deadpan seriousness that, much like Chip’s victims, you can’t help but get lost in it. It’s gross and weird, but endearingly gross and weird, and underneath all that excrement is a genuinely effective metaphor for addiction. If nothing else, Butt Boy won’t be like anything you’ve ever seen, as long as you’ve got the stomach for it. —Vinnie Mancuso
Come to Daddy
Come to Daddy exists in a strange genre no man’s land. It’s a comedy, but I’d be reluctant to share it with someone who was just looking for a bust-up laugh. It’s a slyly touching drama, but it’s too brutal to recommend to someone looking for a cathartic cry. And it is brutal, but it’s not quite scary enough to be a straight-up horror movie. But it’s definitely thrilling, on that I’m absolutely certain.
Ant Timpson‘s wild, unpredictable, and fearlessly fucked movie about overcoming your daddy issues stars Elijah Wood as a soft boi who treks to an unknown remote cabin to bond with his long-estranged father, only to find a real cantankerous son-of-a-bitch (Stephen McHattie) who seemingly wants nothing to do with him, much less patching up old wounds. I’d say the rest of the movie is like a roller coaster, but it’s really more like one of those 3D simulation rides, where the whole world shifts around you without warning, and you just kind of sit there awestruck at the journey that just unfolded. It’s one of those films that is decidedly “not for everyone”, but if you like a film that flies its freak flag proudly while keeping you on the edge of your seat, you might have a hoot with this prickly little puzzle of a movie. – Haleigh Foutch
Chris Hemsworth beats the stuffing out of a group of literal children. Do I have your attention yet? If this doesn’t grab you, something else in Extraction will. The Netflix action-thriller, the directorial debut from stunt performer and coordinator Sam Hargrave, is chock full of inventive set pieces, jaw-dropping depictions of intense brutality, some of the best physical performers you’ll see in any contemporary film, and a one-shot sequence that stopped my breath during its entirety. Extraction ain’t just an excuse to give Hemsworth his own John Wick, however. It has a beating heart underneath its sweaty, ratty tank tops, laser-focused on the possible redemption for Hemsworth’s adrift character via saving the soul of young Rudhraksh Jaiswal, allowing as much of space and punch for its emotional moments as its combative ones. And if that doesn’t do it for you, Hemsworth and David Harbour suplexing each other in closed corridors might. Lotta layers in this one, folks! – Gregory Lawrence
Yes, Freaky is a horror-comedy. But it’s the rare horror-comedy where the horror and comedy are both given equal attention. Co-written and directed by Christopher Landon, who walked a similar tonal tightrope with the two Happy Death Day movies, Freaky is a body-swapping slasher movie where a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton) swaps places with a grizzled serial killer (Vince Vaughn). Much of the humor comes from the lead performances (Vaughn, in particular, is having a blast), but the number of gags are only upstaged by the levels of gore – watch as Newton, inhabited with the soul of a serial killer, goes on a rampage worth of Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers. (Our favorite is the vivisection of a grouchy shop teacher played by high school movie icon Alan Ruck.) By the time the movie reaches its climax, Freaky has amassed a pretty staggering body count and kills (most of them practical) that earned the movie a spot on the cover of Fangoria. All hail Freaky, the very best horror comedy since Scream. – Drew Taylor
After the year we’ve had, it’s wild to think that there was a time that people got so riled up about The Hunt that the film had to be pulled from the release calendar and shuffled to this year. And that’s a mighty fine example of why social panic is a dumbass thing, because The Hunt is a pretty toothless satire that is content to wag fingers at both sides of the political spectrum and call it a day. However, since all those wagging fingers tend to be trigger fingers, the script’s vapid politics are at least embedded in some of the best, most tension-fuelled action of the year. Ostensibly a movie about the “liberal elite” hunting “deplorables” for sport, The Hunt harkens back to one of cinema’s great survival thrillers with its riff on The Most Dangerous Game, and director Craig Zobel mines every set-up and set-piece for all the adrenaline-pumping thrills they’re worth by blending stylishly choreographed blockbuster action with deliciously over-the-top grindhouse gore. – Haleigh Foutch
Listen, the end of this movie is absolutely insane, so no matter what, I promise you won’t forget it. Whether it’s worth the ride getting there is another question entirely, but when you stick the ending like this, you’re getting a recommendation from this gorehound. Hunter Hunter stars ’90s heartthrob Devon Sawa as Joseph, a fur trapper who lives in the remote wilderness with his family. When Joseph discovers that a dangerous wolf has returned to the area, he sets out to track it, but makes a shocking discovery that leaves him wondering if he’s the hunter or the prey. I don’t want to say too much more than that, as the film actually works better if you go in knowing as little as possible. Suffice to say that writer-director Shawn Linden leaves little to the imagination with a Grand Guignol finale that leaves a lasting impression. Tales of Murder and Dust has never sounded so good… – Jeff Sneider
The Killing of Two Lovers
This compelling drama from writer-director Robert Machoian first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, making it eligible for this year’s list even though it won’t be formally released by Neon until February. The film is a striking showcase for its 42-year-old star Clayne Crawford, who is best known for his work on TV shows such as Lethal Weapon, 24 and Rectify. He plays a man who’s trying to win back the wife he’s separated from, which is complicated by the fact that she has started seeing someone else. Machoian milks every last drop of suspense out of that intriguing premise, and though the film’s title creates certain expectations, the story is rather unpredictable, as it doesn’t quite go where you initially think it will. Ultimately, The Killing of Two Lovers is a quiet powder keg of a movie that marks Machoian as one to watch, and Crawford as an unassuming force to be reckoned with. – Jeff Sneider
I’m Your Woman
An inverted take on the classic mob movie, I’m Your Woman puts the spotlight on the wives and mothers who tend to settle into the background of Scorsese and Coppola’s revered crime dramas. Rachel Brosnahan stars as a somewhat unwitting mob doll who’s kept in the dark about her husband’s criminal lifestyle until she winds up a target on the run. Director Julia Hart takes her time unfolding the full extent of this refreshing family drama, but once she gets where she’s going, I’m Your Woman sparks into something a bit more special; taking a page from crime thrillers, melodramas, and road movies and remixing them into a heartfelt, if a bit unsteady, story about taking control of your future in life-or-death circumstances. Come for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Brosnahan, but stay for Marsha Stephanie Blake and Arinzé Kene, who steal every scene they’re in. – Haleigh Foutch
The Invisible Man
Thrillers can be hard to define, and more often than not, they bleed into other genres, but when it comes to that cocktail of suspense, anxiety, and surprise, no film this year has knocked me on my ass quite like The Invisible Man. Leigh Whannell’s reimagining of the Universal Monsters classic stars Elisabeth Moss as a woman who makes a daring escape from a violently abusive relationship and, following her ex’s alleged suicide, becomes convinced he is somehow still watching and controlling every facet of her life, unseen in the shadows. Few characters make such a perfectly suited menace to explore themes of gaslighting and manipulation as a literal invisible man, and Whannell wields his camera brilliantly to translate the oppressive anxiety of having your every move monitored and controlled while your construct of reality slips between your fingers. It’s a breathless thriller that ties you up in knots, punctuated with some of the most shocking scares of all time. – Haleigh Foutch
Let Him Go
Man of Steel duo Diane Lane and Kevin Costner reunite for this western thriller about a long-married couple who decide to risk their lives to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of his evil stepfather and the man’s dastardly family. As good as they both are, the real reason to see this movie is Lesley Manville‘s scenery-chewing performance as the matriarch of said family. She just breaks out a Southern accent and goes for it, and frankly, it looks like she’s having herself a ball and loving every minute of it. Directed with a pulpy grace by Thomas Bezucha, Let Him Go is aimed squarely at older viewers, though it does get pretty violent at one point, so this one, oddly enough, ain’t for the squeamish. It’s also not for the impatient, but those who don’t mind slow burn will be rewarded with a fiery finale that’s worth the wait. – Jeff Sneider
What happens when Denzel Washington and Rami Malek play cops teaming up to find a killer?
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