49 Best Gripping Movies On Netflix

Staff & contributors

Some movies are so enthralling they pull you to the edge of your seat, and there you stay until the end. For a guaranteed good time, check out the most gripping movies and shows to stream now.

The Teacher’s Lounge is one of those movies where a simple misunderstanding is blown out of proportion, so much so that it causes the fabric of a community to unravel into chaos. Aided by a precise score, it ticks like a timebomb, with every second filled with so much dread and anxiety you have to remind yourself to breathe. It’s an impeccable and taut thriller, but it also works as an allegory about modern-day surveillance and authority. Director İlker Çatak gives the Gen-Z students and their much older teachers a level field where they struggle for control, and the result is both bleak and funny. It’s often said that schools are a microcosm of the real world, but nowhere is that more apparent than here. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Antonia Luise Krämer, Eva Löbau, Katharina M. Schubert, Kathrin Wehlisch, Katinka Auberger, Leonard Stettnisch, Leonie Benesch, Lisa Marie Trense, Michael Klammer, Özgür Karadeniz, Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett, Uygar Tamer

Director: İlker Çatak

Rating: PG-13

, 2019

A beautifully shot movie about a high-schooler who's pushed by his father to always work and exercise the hardest. He aces his exams and always wins at wrestling, but nothing is ever good enough for the father and there is no margin for error. When things with both his body and his relationship start going wrong, his existence comes crashing down. This movie has two parts, and it takes a lot of narrative risks, but the beautiful camera work and believable characters land every single risk. It's an incredible achievement and a movie that should have gotten much more attention than it did.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexa Demie, Avis-Marie Barnes, Bill Wise, Carter Harcek, Clifton Collins Jr., David Garelik, David Payton, Ellen Marguerite Cullivan, Harlan Drum, Harmony Korine, Holland Hayes, Joshua Brockington, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Krisha Fairchild, Kristin Wollett, Lucas Hedges, Neal Huff, Nicholas Ryan Hernandez, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Vivi Pineda

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Rating: R

After the successful run of the first instalment, The Conjuring 2 brings back lead couple Ed and Lorraine Warren for yet another real life-based case of demonic possession. This time, it's the Enfield poltergeist, a case which gained popularity in the London Borough of Enfield between 1977 and 1979, and while the Warrens in the film show reluctance to take on a new job amongst growing skepticism, we're so glad they did so in the end. The franchise's second chapter is perfectly built: a good amount of character establishment, a fair bit of rekindling allegiance with the Warrens, and a lot of ingenious scaries. What makes The Conjuring 2 a pitch-perfect horror of its kind is precisely this multivalence, combining empathetic characters and well-crafted, yet extremely disturbing visuals. When the supposedly simple case becomes a fight between good and proper evil, the film shifts gear to an obscenely dark, vengeful mode. You can't tell from its beginning, but the second Conjuring is even more proficient, deeply troubling, and most of all, bold in the way it renders the possession horror genre a canonical must.

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Actor: Abhi Sinha, Annie Young, Benjamin Haigh, Bob Adrian, Bonnie Aarons, Emily Brobst, Emily Tasker, Frances O'Connor, Franka Potente, Jason Liles, Javier Botet, Jennifer Collins, Joseph Bishara, Kate Cook, Lauren Esposito, Madison Wolfe, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nancy DeMars, Patrick McAuley, Patrick Wilson, Robin Atkin Downes, Shannon Kook, Simon Delaney, Simon McBurney, Sterling Jerins, Steve Coulter, Vera Farmiga

Director: James Wan

Rating: R

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings' Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that's restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Shanita Hubbard

Director: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick

Real life tragedies, especially one that's as sensationalized as the Miracle in the Andes, can be tough to depict on screen. On one hand, the film has to keep true to the story but also maintain some form of spectacle to keep people watching. Past depictions of the 1972 crash are preoccupied with the cannibalism portrayed by big name actors, but Society of the Snow takes a different route. The actors are newcomers, the threats to their lives don't require daring action stunts, and the cannibalism is limited to small chunks indistinguishable from animal meat. Instead, the spectacle of Society of the Snow is the human spirit– the vulnerability, the respect, and the generosity they've given each other in order to survive. It’s still an uncomfortable watch, especially since we get to know some of the survivors before the crash, but it’s definitely a transcendent addition to the genre dedicated to the miracle of existence.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella, Alfonsina Carrocio, Andy Pruss, Benjamín Segura, Blas Polidori, Carlos Miguel Páez Rodríguez, Daniel Patricio Antivilio Acuña, Diego Vegezzi, Emanuel Parga, Emanuel Sobré, Enzo Vogrincic, Esteban Bigliardi, Esteban Kukuriczka, Esteban Pico, Facundo Roure, Fede Aznárez, Federico Formento, Felipe González Otaño, Felipe Otaño, Felipe Ramusio, Felipe Ramusio Mora, Fernando Contigiani García, Francisco Bereny, Francisco Burghi, Francisco Romero, Gustavo Zerbino Stajano, Jerónimo Bosia, Juan Caruso, Juandi Eirea Young, Julian Bedino, Lautaro Bakir, Louta, Lucas Mascarena, Luciano Chattón, Mariano Rochman, Matías Recalt, Pablo Tate, Paula Baldini, Rafael Federman, Roberto Suárez, Rocco Posca, Santiago Vaca Narvaja, Simon Hempe, Sofía Lara, Tea Alberti, Tomas Wolf, Toto Rovito, Valentino Alonso, Virgínia Kauffmann

Director: J.A. Bayona

Rating: R

The key to what makes this apocalyptic thriller from Mr Robot and Homecoming showrunner Sam Esmail so unnerving is how resolute it is about not taking place in an alternate timeline. Making references to memorable events in recent history and namechecking real brands and cultural touchstones (like Tesla and Friends), Leave the World Behind is uncannily familiar — which, when combined with the film’s meticulous crafting of tension, makes it all the more unsettling.

Though taking place amidst an ambiguous national emergency, the film is largely set in one house — a claustrophobic setting that puts the characters’ self-conceits and prejudices under a microscope and forces them to confront their own impotence in an analog world. If it all sounds a bit “we live in a society,” be assured that Leave the World Behind cleverly manages to avoid the pitfalls of seeming like a bad Black Mirror ripoff by sidestepping expectations and deploying all the atmospheric tools in its arsenal. Withholding key plot and character information to increase our own paranoia means the movie always runs the risk of disappointment when explanations are finally given, but its focus on the human drama and its well-set-up ending ultimately eclipse any niggling frustrations.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Alexis Rae Forlenza, Charlie Evans, Erica Cho, Ethan Hawke, Farrah Mackenzie, Josh Drennen, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Mahershala Ali, Myha'la, Myha'la Herrold, Orli Gottesman, Sam Esmail, Vanessa Aspillaga

Director: Sam Esmail

Rating: R

This documentary from journalist David Farrier, New Zealand’s answer to Louis Theroux, plays more like an out-and-out horror movie. But don’t be fooled by the serial killer connotations of its title — the real Mister Organ’s crimes are (mostly) psychological and have no obvious motive, making him quite a bit scarier than your usual screen villain. Described as a “parasite,” “terrorist,” and a “black hole” by the few traumatized victims of his who agree to talk on record about him, Organ is clearly a master at weaving a sticky web around everyone who comes near him — including, as it turns out, Farrier himself, who soon becomes a casualty of his own investigation.   Though the doc never really punctures the nebulous aura of this deeply creepy — and yet somehow deeply dull — character, that’s what makes it such an arresting watch: Farrier takes us along for the ride as he’s sucked into the disorienting orbit of an energy vampire, largely denying us the relief of a clarifying explanation so that we, too, get a taste of the claustrophobia and psychological torture that come with dealing firsthand with someone like Organ.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Farrier, Michael Organ

Director: David Farrier

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vasquez, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

Rating: R

There’s more than a touch of Louis Theroux to this engrossing documentary — fronted by New Zealander pop-culture journalist David Farrier — about an innocuous-seeming Internet phenomenon: the actually-sinister subculture of “competitive endurance tickling”, in which young men undergo “tickle torture” for money on camera. When Farrier unassumingly requests an interview with an American producer of tickle content, it kickstarts a bizarre campaign of harassment and opens up a rabbit hole of unbelievable twists and turns. The wild places this documentary goes are best left as unspoiled as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say this emerges from its seemingly lighthearted premise as a deeply unnerving story about money, power, sex, and shame in the Internet age.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: David Farrier, David Starr, Dylan Reeve, Hal Karp

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Rating: R

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alice Rahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Director: Ali Abbasi

, 2022

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom, Sultan Alkhail

Director: Darin J. Sallam

Rating: TV-14

You don't need to be familiar with the rest of the Rurouni Kenshin live-action movie series—or the original manga and anime, for that matter—to appreciate The Beginning as a powerful period drama in its own right. This is a story that courses its historical context about a tumultuous time in Japan's past through a stoic, fearsome protagonist who can't seem to escape the violence that's become his only function. And even more impressively, as a prequel, the film keeps a heavy sense of dread about it, even if you're sure about which characters are meant to survive in order to appear in the previous films. It's the mark of any great tragedy that even the things that are destined can still feel so painful.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance

Actor: Eiki Narita, Eita Okuno, Emi Takei, Hoshi Ishida, Issey Takahashi, Kasumi Arimura, Kazuki Kitamura, Kinari Hirano, Makiko Watanabe, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Masanobu Ando, Masataka Kubota, Mayu Hotta, Nijiro Murakami, Shima Onishi, Soko Wada, Takahiro Fujimoto, Takeru Satoh, Towa Araki, Wataru Ichinose, Yosuke Eguchi

Director: Keishi Otomo

Rating: R

After years of documentaries covering Thailand’s controversial issues, some of which have been temporarily banned by the Ministry of Culture, Nontawat Numbenchapol takes a step into feature film in Doi Boy. The plot covers plenty of the topics he’s previously depicted– immigration, prostitution, and corruption– but it unfolds naturally into a slow-paced, but moving drama where an undocumented sex worker tries to find home. Awat Ratanapintha as Sorn excellently leads this journey, but Arak Amornsupasiri as reluctant cop Ji, and Bhumibhat Thavornsiri as passionate activist Wuth also make their mark. While the film doesn’t delve into the intricate intersectionality, it feels like that’s part of the point. The notion of a nation doesn’t care about people’s dreams, even if that dream is for the nation to be better.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Arak Amornsupasiri, Awat Ratanapintha, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Ornjira Lamwilai, Panisara Rikulsurakan, Teerawat Mulvilai

Director: Nontawat Numbenchapol

When citizenship and rights can only be achieved through federal service, you have no choice but to militarize. Johnny Rico is young, impressionable, but noble; in other words, he is an archetypal hero even if he initially enlists just to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards). From then on, Starship Troopers unfolds as a high-strung high school drama, but in the middle of a space colonization. During one such mission, a highly evolved insectoid race, Arachnids, proves to be the most dangerous enemy to human supremacy and the fight is on. What's interesting about Starship Troopers is that it shows how a well-oiled propaganda machine works and for that reason, it was accused of indoctrination and army endorsement. Even more, it was dubbed fascist, instead of the fascist satire it claimed to be. But today, it's indisputably a cult film and a great introduction to the Paul Verhoeven's work in Hollywood.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Stielstra, Amy Smart, Anthony Ruivivar, Armand Darrius, Betty Hankins, Blake Lindsley, Brad Kane, Brenda Strong, Brooke Morales, Bruce Gray, Bruce Holman, Cari Vega, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Curry, Clancy Brown, Claude Stuart, Curnal Achilles Aulisio, Dale Dye, Dan Olivo, David Rey, Dean Norris, Denise Dowse, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Edward Neumeier, Eric Bruskotter, Eric DaRe, Farnaz Samiinia, Greg Travis, Hunter Bodine, Jake Busey, John Cunningham, Jon Davison, Julia Self, Julianna McCarthy, Julie Pinson, Kai Lennox, Kaius Harrison, Lenore Kasdorf, Mara Duronslet, Marshall Bell, Mary Ann Schmidt, Matt Duggan, Matt Entriken, Matt Levin, Michael Ironside, Michael Papajohn, Mike Stokey, Mylin Brooks, Nathaniel Marshall, Neil Patrick Harris, Parry Shen, Patrick Bishop, Patrick Muldoon, Patrick Wolff, R. Lee Ermey, Ray Quiroga, Robert David Hall, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Stephanie Erb, Steven Ford, Tami-Adrian George, Timothy McNeil, Timothy Omundson, Tyrone Tann, Ungela Brockman, Walter Adrian, Whitney Hall, Zoë Poledouris

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

British director Adrian Lyne (9 1/2 Weeks) is famous for his uncompromising treatment of seedy eroticism and charged stories. Fatal Attraction is a staple of the erotic thriller genre and with good reason, it's steamy and very 1980s in the best possible way. Like a good vintage, it has the whiff of old times, but with the pleasure of a spectacle that belongs to the past. That's the lens through which you can view the story of a deranged mistress who won't stop at anything to ruin your life and marriage, and still savour some sanity in the 21st century. Seen from a slightly removed perspective, the film becomes a stylized variation on conservative AIDS panic and a provocation to conservative heteronormativity. It has to be said that not all of the film has aged well, especially the gender politics at play. But if you can soothe yourself with a revisionist reading, it pairs well with Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct: the things Michael Douglas's characters do for (extramarital) thrills...

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anna Thomson, Anne Archer, Barbara Harris, Carol Schneider, Christine Farrell, Christopher Rubin, David McCharen, Ellen Foley, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Faith Geer, Fred Gwynne, Glenn Close, Greg Rhodes, J.D. Hall, J.J. Johnston, James Eckhouse, Jan Rabson, Jane Krakowski, Judi M. Durand, Justine Johnston, Larry Moss, Lois Smith, Lynnanne Zager, Marilyn Schreffler, Mary Joy, Meg Mundy, Michael Arkin, Michael Douglas, Mike Nussbaum, Rocky Krakoff, Sam Coppola, Stuart Pankin, Tom Brennan, Vladimir Skomarovsky

Director: Adrian Lyne

Rating: R