Everyone probably needs a vacation from endless Instagram doom scrolling. So it might be a good time to fire up one of the best psychological thrillers on Netflix, and focus your eyes on something else for a few hours. How can you dare look away when Omar Epps is stalking Nia Long and watching her have sex with her husband in Fatal Affair? How can you not stay glued to the TV when someone meets their untimely demise in Bird Box? Straight up, you can’t, because these thrillers manage to keep your attention with their constant twists and turns. But more importantly, they offer a fantastical look into how average people like you and me can easily become killers.
Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle was just a Vietnam War vet making a living in New York City driving a cab in Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver. Before you know it, he’s donning a mohawk, taking women to porn flicks on a date, and plotting a political assassination. You’ve probably looked into the somber eyes of a teenager who lost a parent like Barry Keoghan’s Martin Lang in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and offered your condolences. What that film proposes is that Martin’s long game was to torture the surgeon he thinks is responsible for his father’s death. These are the types of films that keep you on edge as you make your way through their labyrinth of deception and immaculate storytelling. Luckily, there are plenty of them on Netflix.
Here are Global Grind’s picks for the 13 best psychological thrillers to get your mind right and twisted.
13. The Gift
A person from Simon Callem’s (Jason Bateman’s) past, Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Joel Edgerton), returns under the guise of reconciliation in The Gift, but he quickly reveals he wants to make Simon suffer the way Simon made him suffer years ago with a nasty, fraudulent rumor about molestation. You never know who is good and who is bad in this one, but you’ll love figuring it out.
The human mind deals with trauma in the strangest ways in Fractured, a film about Ray Monroe (Sam Worthington) who takes his daughter to a hospital after a nasty fall, only to be told later that his family was never admitted to the hospital. What ensues is more than an hour of a distraught father fighting arrests, shooting at doctors, and escaping a hospital before the climactic ending makes the entire movie more depressing than it already is. If you want your heart to be as twisted as your mind is, watch this one.
11. Buster Mal Heart
Jonás “Jonah” Cueyatl (Rami Malek) is a homeless fugitive in the mountains evading police and warning radio talk show listeners about a cataclysmic event called “The Inversion” while recollecting his life as a husband, father, and night-shift concierge at a hotel. That night-shift life is one many of us have dealt with, and the suspense lies in how something so common aided a man’s slow descent down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole.
10. Bird Box
Supernatural creatures take the form of the worst fears of anyone who looks at them in Bird Box, forcing Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock) and a group of survivors to get to safety mostly blindfolded. A woman walks into a moving train because she drove with her eyes open, and that’s not even the wildest death in the film. It’s hard to watch it and not have your mind wander to what you would do if you had to fight for your life without being able to see.
9. The Invitation
In one of the most unnerving psychological thrillers on Netflix, a group of people join together for a dinner party hosted by a husband and wife where one of the guests, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), is suspicious of the cult-like ulterior motives of the organizers. Will’s ex-wife is the woman holding the dinner party at the former couple’s home where their son died and she attempted to take her own life. You may never accept another dinner invite from an ex again when you find out what they’re all really there for.
8. Fatal Affair
You’ve never seen Omar Epps this frightening ever. In Fatal Affair, married attorney Ellie Warren’s (Nia Long) ex of 20 years David Hammond (Epps) turns into a homicidal stalker after Warren rebuffs his advances, and we get a front-row seat to the terrifying ways Hammond forces his way into her life. Seeing a man who appears normal and sweet reveal the darkness within will stick with you long after the film ends.
Your sins don’t die in 1922, a gripping tale about a man who is haunted by his dead wife after he murders her, with the help of his son, for insisting they sell the farm and move away. After dumping her corpse into a dry well where rats feast on her remains, those rats become a recurring representation of the father’s guilt as we watch him descend tragically into insanity. The more people connected to him die, the more he’s visited by spirits who won’t let him rest easy, making for a slow burn of a thriller that’s as engrossing as any Netflix original out there.
6. Basic Instinct
Sex is the deadliest weapon in Basic Instinct as Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) falls for eccentric author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), the prime suspect in a murder he’s investigating. Tramell is a master manipulator who not only published a book that mirrors the murder she’s suspected of committing, but also tells the officer she’s working on another book in which a detective dies after falling for the wrong woman. Mind games don’t begin to describe how cerebral of a thriller this gem is.
5. Gerald’s Game
In a sexcapade gone wrong, Gerald’s Game revolves around Jessie Burlingame, a woman handcuffed to the bed by her husband, Gerald, in an isolated cabin as part of a kinky game. Then he suffers a fatal heart attack. We spend most of the film watching Jessie try to not only escape and survive, but also wrestle with demons from her past that begin to warp her mind at a time when she needs her wits about her more than ever. A sip of water, a night’s sleep, and a secret serial killer all are part of Jessie’s adventures in one movie that will have you yelling instructions at the screen.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis “Lou” Bloom, an eccentric cameraman who races to film tragic late-night accidents in the city, and sells the footage to news stations. Lou doesn’t blink when he watches someone die, he just films. He isn’t ashamed when he extorts sex from a female morning news director, he smiles and calls it a gift for her. Death is everywhere in Nightcrawler, and you can never predict when it’ll come.
3. The Killing of Sacred Deer
The Killing of Sacred Deer is focused on Steven Murphy’s (Colin Farrell’s) family members, who begin falling mysteriously ill. This is due to a twisted attempt at retribution by a young man named Martin ,whose father passed during surgery performed by Steven. Martin’s ultimatum for Steven is either he kills one of his children or his entire family dies, starting a race against the clock that ends in heartbreak, but not before one of the best psychological thrillers on Netflix sends viewers on a suspenseful, traumatic ride.
2. The Platform
The scariest aspect of the Spanish-language thriller The Platform is seeing what hunger can do to people. In the film, Goreng and a number of other people reside on different floors in a tower-style concrete “Vertical Self-Management Center,” where food is transported to each floor on a platform for a certain amount of time, leaving less food the farther down you reside. The Platform will frighten you by depicting not only the gruesome depravity hunger can bring, but also how deeply it immerses you in this fantastical world to the point you may begin to rationalize cannibalism.
1. Taxi Driver
In this classic, Robert DeNiro plays lonely taxi driver Travis Bickle who devolves into a homicidal maniac after seeing the sex-trafficking, drug-peddling, debauchery and depravity of New York City. His descent into madness includes berating a woman who dismissed him after he took her to watch a porn film on a date, and attempting to assassinate the senator she works for. Few psychological thrillers on Netflix have scared as many generations as Taxi Driver.