The best thriller movies on Netflix UK

Take a deep breath and prepare to bite those nails: critic Lillian Crawford has trawled through the Netflix archives and picked the best thrillers currently available on the platform.

Annihilation (2018)

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Kicking off with a science-fiction thriller for the list is this adaptation by Alex Garland from the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny among a group of explorers who enter ‘The Shimmer’, a mysterious quarantined zone of mutating plants and animals created by an alien hidden in the woods. Despite flopping on first release, it found a mass audience on Netflix, and remains one of the best thrillers on the site.

The Bad Batch (2016)

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The second film from writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour is a tense thriller set in the desert that escalates in unexpected directions. It follows a young woman called Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) in exile as she is attacked by a group of cannibals, led by a man played by Jason Mamoa. After escaping, she ends up in a settlement called Comfort which is run by a man known as The Dream, played by Keanu Reeves. Buckle up for a trippy and often ugly thrillride.

Captain Phillips (2013)

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Director Paul Greengrass knows that the most thrilling stories are ones that actually happened. For his 2013 film Captain Phillips, Greengrass restaged the events of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking in which the ship, captained by Richard Phillips, was taken hostage by Somali Pirates. It features impressive performances from Tom Hanks and BAFTA-winning Barkhad Abdi as pirate leader Abduwali Muse. The thrills come from the unbearable tension between the two men, and the constant fear that one will finally snap.

Emily the Criminal (2022)

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Emily the Criminal sees Aubrey Plaza wear both acting and producing hats for a story about a woman plagued with student debt who cannot start to pay it off because a minor criminal record prevents her from finding work. She therefore looks outside of the law, taking on the role of a “dummy shopper”, buying goods with stolen credit cards. Plaza is phenomenal in the lead, a must-see for anyone who hasn’t seen her playing a straight-faced dramatic character before.

The Good Nurse (2022)

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A recent Netflix Original release, The Good Nurse is based on a true-crime book by Charles Graeber about a nurse convicted as a serial killer called Charles Cullen. Portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in the film, Graeber moved through the American health care system before he was caught by confidential informant Amy Loughren, played by Jessica Chastain. The leading performances are worth watching, especially to see Redmayne in a more sinister role than his typical nice-guy persona.

Gone Girl (2014)

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Adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own bestselling thriller, director David Fincher brings his distinctive muted style to Gone Girl. Ben Affleck pales next to Rosamund Pike as the mesmerising Amy Dunne, whose performance received nominations at every major awards ceremony. The film also features supporting performances from Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, and Carrie Coon, as well as an intoxicating score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Heat (1995)

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With a sequel in development, now is the perfect time to go back to Michael Mann’s magnum opus. Starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the leading roles, the film follows the conflict between an LAPD detective and a career criminal with a wider view to the nature of policing and criminality in America. The film is widely regarded as one of the finest of the crime genre, and only gets more compelling with age.

How To Blow Up A Pipeline (2022)

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Inspired by Andreas Malm’s book of the same name which argues for the use of property destruction to enact environmental justice, How To Blow Up a Pipeline is a tense film which imagines what the book’s thesis would look like in action. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber, the film follows a group of young people in West Texas attempting to blow up an oil pipeline at two key locations as a form of activism against Big Oil.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

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Charlie Kaufman’s latest film is perhaps his most thrilling to date, a Netflix release which allowed him to dive even deeper into the recesses of his warped creativity. An adaptation of the 2016 novel of the same name by Iain Reid, the film follows a young woman (Jesse Buckley) who goes on a trip with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents, played by Toni Colette and David Thewlis. It’s a proper down-the-rabbit-hole trip that certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.

The Lost Daughter (2021)

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Following her 2018 directorial debut The Kindergarten Teacher, Maggie Gyllenhaal returned behind the camera in 2021 with this psychological drama adapted from Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel. The film stars Olivia Colman, following on from her Oscar win for The Favourite, alongside Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, and Paul Mescal. She plays a college professor on holiday in Italy as memories of motherhood are reignited, leading to some unsettling introspection.

Memento (2000)

Christopher Nolan has only twisted the narratives of his thrillers further since his 2000 neo-noir Memento, making the non-linearity of this one seem comparatively simple. Guy Pearce plays a man suffering from anterograde amnesia, which means he needs to use Polaroids and tattoos to track information he loses to his faulty short-term memory. The combination of black-and-white and colour in different chronological directions make this a mystery guaranteed to intrigue and baffle in equal measure.

The Steal (1995)

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There are a number of obscure British films tucked away on Netflix, and this comedy thriller is an intriguing one. Directed by John Hay, the film stars Alfred Molina as a London lawyer who attempts to get even with a property development company who have cheated a group of islanders out of their land. With a supporting cast including Stephen Fry and Jacke Dee, antics aplenty ensue, albeit with mixed levels of comedic success.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

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The 1979 BBC adaptation of John Le Carré’s spy novel starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley is for many the definitive version. However this film version directed by Tomas Alfredson adds a more adult and stylish filter to the book, casting Gary Oldman as Smiley alongside an incredible coterie of actors including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and Benedict Cumberbatch. It is a more real and complex story of Cold War espionage than any James Bond film.

Uncut Gems (2019)

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One of Netflix’s best and most gripping releases, this thriller from sibling directors Josh and Benny Safdie is truly heartstopping stuff. The film features a career standout performance from Adam Sandler who brings out all the stops for a storming turn as Howard Ratner, a jeweller and gambling addict in New York City who must retrieve a precious stone to repay his debts. The unbearable escalation of the drama is also accompanied by a magnificent electronic score by Daniel Lopatin.

Windfall (2022)

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This Netflix original was released to very little fanfare earlier this year, but it’s a terrific little chamber thriller. Directed by Charlie McDowell from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and Justin Lader, the film stars Jesse Plemons as a wealthy CEO and Lily Collins as his wife who struggle to negotiate with an unhinged intruder played by Jason Segel. Tense and sometimes hilarious antics ensue, offering a free stage for the three actors.

Titles are added and removed from his page to reflect changes to Netflix’s catalogue. The reviews no longer available on this page can be read here.