17 Best Independent Thrillers Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Much like Berlin’s infamous nightlife, which serves as the backdrop to the plot, this daring German real-time drama will eat you up and spit you out. After leaving a nightclub at 4am, Victoria, a runaway Spanish girl, befriends a gang of four raucous young men, climbing rooftops and drinking beers among the city’s moon-lit streets. The gang’s light-hearted banter is impressively improvised from a skeleton script, offset by Niels Frahm’s ominous original score.

But what starts out as late-night high jinks swerves into darker territory. Driven by her infatuation with the pack leader Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, Victoria ends up being recruited as a get-away driver for an ill-prepared bank robbery and loses herself in a sinister spiral of events. What sounds like a standard-issue crime drama is, in fact, a staggering cinematic experiment.

Filmed in one take, on location, and in real time, the movie’s production is indeed a gamble, but director Sebastian Schipper more than pulls it off. The claustrophobic camerawork of cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen leaves the viewer feeling like a hapless accomplice to Victoria’s plight. With Laia Costa giving an awe-striking lead performance, the high wire acting of the entire main cast only adds to this effect. Victoria is a stellar directorial debut, heart-stopping drama, and a truly immersive experience.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Assor, Andre Hennicke, Anna Lena Klenke, Burak Yigit, Daniel Fripan, Eike Frederick Schulz, Eike Frederik Schulz, Franz Rogowski, Frederick Lau, Hans-Ulrich Laux, Laia Costa, Lena Klenke, Martin Goeres, Max Mauff, Philipp Kubitza

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Rating: Not Rated, R

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of "Drive" and "The Network". The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you're the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal's performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Ortiz, Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton, Bill Seward, Carolyn Gilroy, Chris Wolfe, Christina De Leon, Dale Shane, Dan Gilroy, Dig Wayne, Eric Lange, Holly Hannula, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Huang, Jamie McShane, Jonny Coyne, Kathleen York, Kent Shocknek, Kevin Dunigan, Kevin Rahm, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Leah Fredkin, Marco Rodriguez, Merritt Bailey, Michael Hyatt, Michael Papajohn, Myra Turley, Pat Harvey, Price Carson, Rene Russo, Rick Chambers, Rick Garcia, Riz Ahmed, Sharon Tay, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Viviana Chavez

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rating: R

A very intelligent and nuanced movie that relentlessly asks unpleasant questions. It's a story about a woman seeking freedom by turning away from her own family and finding something she did not expect. The main character of the movie, Martha, is taken in by a cult and the movie depicts how this experience shapes and warps her life, thoughts, and actions. The time she spent with the cult ultimately also shapes her own personality, which raises questions about her identity and the place she now fits in. Every actor is well cast, and especially Elizabeth Olsen (playing Martha) puts on a stand-out performance, which proves that she is an actor to watch out for in the years to come.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Brady Corbet, Christopher Abbott, Elizabeth Olsen, Gregg Burton, Hugh Dancy, John Hawkes, Julia Garner, Lauren Molina, Louisa Krause, Maria Dizzia, Sarah Paulson, Tobias Segal

Director: Sean Durkin

Rating: R

Featuring a Pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Layer cake can be described as a mix between Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Scarface—a darkly funny and incredibly violent film. It features great acting from Craig and the rest of the cast, action that will keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets moving and a complex and deep theme that can make you reconsider your worldview. This is a true action movie for the thinking man (or woman).

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ben Brazier, Ben Whishaw, Brinley Green, Burn Gorman, Colm Meaney, Daniel Craig, Daniel Moorehead, Darren Healy, Darren Sean Enright, Dexter Fletcher, Dimitri Andreas, Don McCorkindale, Dragan Mićanović, Francis Magee, George Harris, Ivan Kaye, James Dodd, Jamie Foreman, Jason Flemyng, Kelly-Marie Kerr, Kenneth Cranham, Kerri Kravin, Louis Emerick, Marcel Iures, Matt Ryan, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Gambon, Nathalie Lunghi, Neil Finnighan, Nick Thomas-Webster, Peter Rnic, Rab Affleck, Sally Hawkins, Sienna Miller, Stephen Walters, Steve John Shepherd, Tamer Hassan, Tom Hardy

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Rating: R

The best way to watch this movie is to be completely unprepared; it's a super indie (sub 1 million dollar budget) Canadian thriller that completely wowed critics and audiences, even as it (and we're being honest here) totally freaked them out. So, no spoilers, we can let you know it's an internet thriller with shades of Little Red Riding Hood, hyperrealistic violence, and extremely surprising plot twists. Also, there's less than 9 minutes of music in the entire film, which instead uses creepy ambient noises and breathing, so, yeah, it gets a bit tense.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ellen Page, Elliot Page, G.J. Echternkamp, Odessa Rae, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh

Director: David Slade

Rating: R

A fast-paced thriller, and "actually dangerous" movie as envisioned by its directors, Good Time is about a bank robbery gone wrong and one brother trying to get his other brother out of jail in its aftermath. It's a deep and fast dive into New York's criminal underworld that will not give you the time to catch a single full breath. The rhythm here is, without exaggeration, unlike anything I've seen before. It's anxiety-inducing and very... primal. Incredible work featuring a career-pivoting performance from Robert Pattinson as the loose criminal that will do literally anything in the pursuit of seeing his brother free.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Barkhad Abdi, Ben Safdie, Benny Safdie, Buddy Duress, Cliff Moylan, Craig muMs Grant, Dorothi Fox, Edgar Morais, Eloisa Santos, George Lee Miles, Gladys Mathon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Laurence Blum, Lucas Elliot Eberl, Mahadeo Shivraj, Megan Dodd, Michael McClard, Michael Shershenovich, Necro, Peter Linari, Peter Verby, Rachel Black, Ratnesh Dubey, Robert Clohessy, Robert Pattinson, Rose Gregorio, Roy James Wilson, Saida Mansoor, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Shaun Rey, Souleymane Sy Savane, Taliah Webster

Director: Ben Safdie, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, Joshua Safdie

Rating: R

Blue Ruin is a superbly acted, visually striking drama about a man's poignant and brutally violent journey for revenge when the culprit responsible for the murder of his father is released from prison. While it might seem like any other revenge tale, it is so well-told and smart that any other similarities with its crowded genre gently fade away. The first 15-20 minutes are pretty slow, but the pay-off is hot fire.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Abigail Horton, Amy Hargreaves, Bonnie Johnson, Brent Werzner, David W. Thompson, Devin Ratray, Eve Plumb, Jeremy Saulnier, Kevin Kolack, Macon Blair, Sandy Barnett, Sidné Anderson, Sidné Anderson, Stacy Rock, Ydaiber Orozco

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Rating: R

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Annie O'Sullivan, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Caitlin Kinnunen, Daniel Farcher, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, Francesca Murdoch, Georgia X. Lifsher, J. Mallory McCree, J.J. Kandel, James Chen, Jasper Newell, Jeffrey Mowery, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joseph Basile, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Kimberley Drummond, Lauren Fox, Leland Alexander Wheeler, Leslie Lyles, Louie Rinaldi, Mark Elliot Wilson, Maryann Urbano, Paul Diomede, Polly Adams, Rebecca Dealy, Rock Duer, Rocky Duer, Simon MacLean, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Suzette Gunn, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Rating: R

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

This is the first film directed by actor Macon Blair (so good in both Blue Ruin and Green Room), and while it is shaggy and tonally all over the place, there is a lot to recommend here. First off, I’m a huge fan of the (underrated) Melanie Lynskey, so I was primed to like this movie from the get-go. After Ruth’s (Lynskey) home is broken into, she seeks revenge against the perpetrators with help from her martial arts obsessed neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, sporting an impressive rat-tail). What starts out as an empowering journey for Ruth & Tony quickly teeters into dangerous and increasingly violent territory. This movie is probably not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 90s indie films and don’t mind some violence mixed in with your dark humor, then you will enjoy this small, well-acted film.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Asha Sawyer, Audrey Walker, Chris Doubek, Christine Woods, Dana Millican, David Yow, Derek Mears, Devon Graye, Elijah Wood, Gary Anthony Williams, Jana Lee Hamblin, Jane Levy, Jared Roylance, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Jeb Berrier, Lana Dieterich, Lee Eddy, Macon Blair, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Matt Orduna, Maxwell Hamilton, Melanie Lynskey, Michelle Moreno, Myron Natwick, Ray Buckley, Robert Longstreet, Sharae Foxie, Taylor Tunes, Wrick Jones

Director: Macon Blair

Rating: Not Rated, TV-MA

In an age where recent horror films mostly use the jump-scare as a crutch to make their CGI-spawned (not to mention generic) creatures seem scary, The Babadook portrays real scares, relatable characters and a moving story. Jennifer Kent (director and writer) sets this on the backdrop of heavily Lars von Trier-inspired cinematography, elevating The Babadook from a shot at an amazing horror to a resemblance of an art house film. The unease felt during this film only increases as it creeps towards its conclusion. Whenever the Babadook (the monster of the film) is seen lurking in the peripherals of the camera, appearing in television sets and the shadows to create a sense of omnipresence that disturbs the viewer on a deeper, more primal level than that of so many recent horror films could even hope to reach. It leaves the audience with the sensation that they are being lowered onto a lit candle, spine-first. In short; the seamless acting, the beautiful shots, the slow-burning terror together creates a masterpiece that strides past any horror film of the past decade (maybe even further) and stands toe-to-toe with the greats without even breaking a sweat.

Genre: Drama, Horror

Actor: Adam Morgan, Barbara West, Ben Winspear, Benjamin Winspear, Carmel Johnson, Cathy Adamek, Chloe Hurn, Craig Behenna, Daniel Henshall, Essie Davis, Hayley McElhinney, Jacquy Phillips, Michael Gilmour, Michelle Nightingale, Noah Wiseman, Peta Shannon, Pippa Wanganeen, Stephen Sheehan, Terence Crawford, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Tim Purcell

Director: Jennifer Kent

Rating: Not Rated

Clive Owen stars as a struggling writer who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to work as a croupier at a London casino. His characteristic aloofness, hatred of gambling, and sharp observational skills allow him to remain uncompromised and able to catch any attempt at cheating within his field of vision. But when a savvy professional gambler he shares an attraction with asks him to participate in a heist in an uncompromised way, he’s forced to consider playing the angles. Owen’s coolly detached performance is a marvel, and the depiction of the London casino scene is detailed and gritty, both of which make for compelling British noir.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alex Kingston, Alexander Morton, Barnaby Kay, Clive Owen, David Hamilton, Eddie Osei, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Nick Reding, Ozzie Yue, Paul Reynolds, Rhona Mitra, Sheila Whitfield

Director: Mike Hodges

Rating: Unrated

This is a really weird movie starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. They play a wholesome and well-off couple where Farrell is a heart surgeon. The movie starts with him taking care of a teenager called Martin, who's not related to him or seems to have any real connection with him. It later turns out that Martin shares a special bond with the surgeon, a bond that will threaten his family in unexpected ways. The camera work and direction by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Favourite) offset the weirdness to offer an intriguing experience.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alicia Silverstone, Anita Farmer Bergman, Barry G. Bernson, Barry Keoghan, Beverly Kristy, Bill Camp, Bryant Bentley, Carly Tamborski, Charles Poole, Colin Farrell, David Pittinger, Denise Dal Vera, Drew Logan, Dylan Keith Adams, Herb Caillouet, Jerry Pope, Joanne Popolin, John Newsom, John W. Harden, Lea Hutton Beasmore, Megan Chelf Fisher, Michelle Dobrozsi, Ming Wang, Nicole Kidman, Raffey Cassidy, Robert Gerding, Steven Schraub, Sunny Suljic, William C. Ingram

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Rating: R

Coherence is a film that captivates you to the point of questioning the reality that surrounds you. It's a Quantum physics based sci-fi thriller that keeps your eyes sealed to the screen - not with unrealistically beautiful actors or special effects, but with an original screenplay and unexpected twists. Very refreshing.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alex Manugian, Alexis Boozer Sterling, Aqueela Zoll, Elizabeth Gracen, Emily Baldoni, Hugo Armstrong, Kelly Donovan, Lauren Maher, Lorene Scafaria, Mark Ballou, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Rating: Not Rated

Following is the first movie Christopher Nolan ever directed, a mesmerizing low-budget effort that introduced the world to the genius who will later give us Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and many other classics. Shot in "extreme" conditions to quote Nolan himself, for just over £3000, it had to be filmed in the span of a year on Saturdays only and in friends' houses. But almost none of that is visible in the sharp camera work, the magnificent acting (most of it was first or second takes), and the twisted script. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer (The Young Man) who tries to find inspiration in following random people in the street, and doing it via strict rules. One day he follows a man in a suit (Cobb), who catches him and becomes intrigued by him. It turns out that Cobb has his own fascination with people's intimate lives, of criminal nature, which he lets The Young Man into. Using the same non-linear plot technique as in Memento, this movie is halfway between a thriller and a film noir. The inspiration for it came when Nolan's own apartment in London was robbed, and he was fascinated by the act of strangers going through his personal items. If you take into consideration the conditions of its making, this movie is a masterpiece.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Haw, Barbara Stepansky, David Julyan, Dick Bradsell, Emma Thomas, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Jeremy Theobald, John Nolan, Lucy Russell, Nicolas Carlotti, Paul Mason, Rebecca James

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rating: R