43 Movies Like American History X (1998)

Staff & contributors

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Rapaport, Allan Wibor Christensen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp, Bjarne Henriksen, Daniel Engstrup, Frank Rubæk, Jacob Højlev Jørgensen, Josefine Gråbøl, Jytte Kvinesdal, Lars Ranthe, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Mads Mikkelsen, Mona C. Soliman, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton, Ole Dupont, Øyvind Hagen-Traberg, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Søren Rønholt, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen, Troels Thorsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Fletting, Christian Tafdrup, Claus Flygare, Erni Arneson, Henning Jensen, Henrik Larsen, Ida Dwinger, Jonatan Spang, Julie R. Olgaard, Mads Mikkelsen, Marie-Louise Coninck, Mona Malm, Neel Rønholt, Neeral Mulchandani, Niels Anders Thorn, Rita Angela, Rolf Lassgård, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen, Swini Khara, Tanya Sharma, Thomas Voss, Troels II Munk

Director: Susanne Bier

Rating: R

A slow-burning Argentinian thriller about a retired legal counselor and the one case he investigated that just would not die, The Secret in Their Eyes is a taut and sharp mystery. As layers of mystery unfold, the story draws the viewer in and becomes entangled with the deteriorating political situation in Argentina. Notably, the film features a single-take 5 minute shot - a fantastic technical achievement and a testament to the directorial vision and skill.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Alejandro Abelenda, Barbara Palladino, Carla Quevedo, David Di Nápoli, Fernando Pardo, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino, Jose Luis Gioia, Judith Buchalter, Liliana Cuomo, Mariano Argento, Mario Alarcon, Pablo Rago, Pedro Kochdilian, Ricardo Darín, Rudy Romano, Sebastián Blanco, Soledad Villamil

Director: Juan J. Campanella, Juan Jose Campanella

Rating: R

Directed by David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises is at times brutal—such is the famous Canadian director's trademark—and operates at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge. Starring a tattooed, ruthless, and terrifying Viggo Mortensen as a very convincing Russian strong-arm gangster as well as Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, it features intense psychological drama and a gritty crime story. Midwife Anna (Watts) delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian prostitute, who dies while giving birth, and later learns that she was forced into prostitution by the Mafia. To keep this knowledge from seeping out, she gets entangled deeper into London's criminal underbelly, whose various factions and languages are aptly showcased by Cronenberg. Add to all this a smart script and Mortensen's daring performance and you have yourself an intense auteur thriller in signature Cronenberg style.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aleksandar Mikic, Aleksander Mikic, Alice Henley, Armin Mueller-Stahl, David Papava, Donald Sumpter, Elisa Lasowski, Jerzy Skolimowski, Josef Altin, Mina E. Mina, Naomi Watts, Raza Jaffrey, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sinead Cusack, Tamer Hassan, Tatiana Maslany, Tereza Srbová, Tony Cook, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

Director: David Cronenberg

Rating: R

, 2003

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji Dae-han, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Su-hyun, Kwang-rok Oh, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Young-hee, Min-sik Choi, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Park Jae-Woong, Park Myung-shin, Seo Myeong-Seok, Seung-Shin Lee, Syd Lim, Yoo Il-han, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yoon Jin-seo, Yoon Jin-yul

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody - "The Pianist") who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn't want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrien Brody, Betty Kaye, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston, Celia Au, Chris Papavasiliou, Christina Hendricks, Isiah Whitlock Jr., James Caan, Josh Pais, Louis Zorich, Lucy Liu, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Joy, Patricia Rae, Ralph Rodriguez, Reagan Leonard, Ronen Rubinstein, Samantha Logan, Sami Gaye, Sami Gayle, Tim Blake Nelson, William Petersen

Director: Tony Kaye

Rating: Not Rated

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It's almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adrian Burks, April Grace, Austin Stowell, C.J. Vana, Calvin C. Winbush, Charlie Ian, Chris Mulkey, Clifton 'Fou Fou' Eddie, Damon Gupton, Henry G. Sanders, J.K. Simmons, Janet Hoskins, Jayson Blair, Jocelyn Ayanna, Joseph Oliveira, Kavita Patil, Keenan Allen, Keenan Henson, Kofi Siriboe, Marcus Henderson, Max Kasch, Melissa Benoist, Michael D. Cohen, Michelle Ruff, Miles Teller, Nate Lang, Paul Reiser, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Stephen Hsu, Suanne Spoke, Tarik Lowe, Tony Baker, Tyler Kimball, Wendee Lee

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rating: R

Fasten your seatbelts because this nasty little chase film will jerk the wheel when you least expect it, featuring balls-to-the-wall action and lots of Norwegian humor – dark humor that is. Based on a novel from the country's most famous crime writer, Jo Nesbø, Headhunters is brutal, insane, and incredibly good. This twisting, turning thriller tells the story of a corporate recruiter (Aksel Hennie), who has a secret side hustle as a nightly art thief. He ends up being pursued by the charismatic Clas Greve, a Dutch businessman played by none other than GoT-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. And this plot summary is as far as you will get without the whole thing swerving into another direction. Headhunters does not slow down unless it wants to destabilise you further with simmering suspense. Like a Lars von Trier on speed, expect all the raw colors, emotion, and slightly off-kilter characters you want from a Norwegian production – and brilliant entertainment!

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Aksel Hennie, Baard Owe, Camilla Augusta Hallan, Eivind Sander, Gunnar Skramstad Johnsen, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Joachim Rafaelsen, Julie R. Ølgaard, Julie R. Olgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Mats Mogeland, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, Nils Jorgen Kaalstad, Reidar Sørensen, Reidar Sorensen, Signe Tynning, Sondre Abel, Synnøve Macody Lund, Synnøve Macody Lund, Valentina Alexeeva

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rating: R

Nebraska is a poem distilled into a film. Peter Travers from Rolling Stone says "is it a comedy or a drama? Both at the same time, as life itself." Everything about it is perfect: the acting, the photography, the story. In case that's not enough and you need to know the plot to get convinced, I'll tell you that it's a road movie about a senile old man and his son. If you still want more information, you can Google it, but come on! You'll just be wasting time that would be better spent on watching this masterpiece.

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Actor: Angela McEwan, Anthony G. Schmidt, Bob Nelson, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Dern, Devin Ratray, Franklin Dennis Jones, June Squibb, Mary Louise Wilson, Missy Doty, Rance Howard, Stacy Keach, Tim Driscoll, Will Forte

Director: Alexander Payne

Rating: R

Perhaps the most depressing but vital movie produced by animation giant Studio Ghibli, Grave of the Fireflies is a searing and sweeping drama that covers the horrors of World War II through the eyes of teenager Seita and his young sister Setsuko. Between the violence of war and the tragedy of loss, the siblings struggle to preserve not just their lives but their humanity. In typical Ghibli fashion, there are moments of gentle beauty to be found, but instead of conflicting with the overall stark tone of the film, they successfully underscore war's futility and brutality, making Grave of the Fireflies one of the most important anti-war narratives ever told. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, War

Actor: Akemi Yamaguchi, Ayano Shiraishi, Hiroshi Tanaka, Kyoko Moriwaki, Masayo Sakai, Tsutomu Tatsumi, Yoshiko Shinohara

Director: Isao Takahata

An early gem from Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki, Drifting Clouds is a deceptively simple story. The aftermath of job losses for wife Ilona (Kati Outinen) and husband Lauri (Kari Väänänen) holds a series of misfortunes, all of them tests to their marital bond. But this is only the beginning: as with Kaurismäki's endearing use of flat irony and detached performances by regular actors of his, things can only get worse before they get better. Humanism has always shined through the director's films, and this first part of a "Finland" trilogy makes no exception to the rule: the fact that labor and closeness are the two main themes (and are equally important for one's survival) already elevates the absurdist comedy to something way more caring, engaged, and ultimately, tender.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aarre Karén, Antti Reini, Clas-Ove Bruun, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kaija Pakarinen, Kari Väänänen, Kati Outinen, Markku Peltola, Mato Valtonen, Matti Onnismaa, Ona Kamu, Outi Mäenpää, Pentti Auer, Rose-Marie Precht, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola, Tero Jartti, Vesa Mäkelä

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Dean Strober, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Marcus, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

If you’ve ever seen a movie by kings of social realism Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers, you’ll recognize the cinematic tradition The Measure of a Man is coming from, but if you haven’t, don’t fear. The filmmaking here isn’t complicated, academic, or laden with references — in fact, the opposite is true. Stylistically pared back, the intensely modern and human story at the movie’s center expands to fill the frame so we have nowhere else to look.

With a disabled son to provide for, middle-aged Thierry (Vincent Lindon) desperately searches for a job, undergoing several state-required indignities — such as practice interview sessions in which fellow jobseekers critique everything from his body language to his tone of voice — just for a shot at being able to pay his bills. So many scenes and conversations here are palpably laden with the anxieties of real life, both economic and personal. And yet, for all the dehumanization and desperation clouding its edges, Measure of a Man isn’t a hopeless movie. We’re reminded by happy scenes at home just how rich Thierry’s life is, unemployed or not — but it's perhaps his moral compass, which begins to twitch when he takes a security job with an unscrupulous corporate employer, that’s most heartening of all.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Christophe Rossignon, Karine de Mirbeck, Mathieu Schaller, Soufiane Guerrab, Vincent Lindon, Xavier Mathieu, Yves Ory

Director: Stéphane Brizé

As black a comedy as they come. Nick Naylor (superbly portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) is the chief spokesperson for tobacco and shows the world why smoking is as key to protect as any other liberal value. This movie is funny, smart, thoughtful and raises some good questions about the ego, the morale and what we leave behind, from unexpected sides.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Eckhart, Aaron Lustig, Adam Brody, Aloma Wright, Brian Palermo, Bruce French, Cameron Bright, Catherine Reitman, Christopher Buckley, Connie Ray, Courtney Taylor Burness, Dana E. Glauberman, Daniel Travis, David Koechner, David O. Sacks, Dennis Miller, Earl Billings, Elon Musk, Eric Haberman, Eva La Dare, J.K. Simmons, Jeff Witzke, Joan Lunden, Jordan Garrett, Katie Holmes, Kim Dickens, Marc Scizak, Maria Bello, Marianne Muellerleile, Mary Jo Smith, Melora Hardin, Michael Mantell, Nancy O'Dell, Rachel Thorp, Renée Graham, Richard Speight Jr., Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, Robert Malina, Roy Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Sean Patrick Murphy, Spencer Garrett, Terry James, Timothy Dowling, Todd Louiso, William H. Macy

Director: Jason Reitman

Rating: R

An offbeat film with a more than decent amount of suspense. To that it adds really good music and unexpected animation, to make for a very audacious, interesting and mostly fun film. It uses all this to show how life can change in a twist and how it can be influenced by weird connections of otherwise unrelated events.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Armin Rohde, Beate Finckh, Franka Potente, Hans Paetsch, Heino Ferch, Herbert Knaup, Joachim Krol, Julia Lindig, Lars Rudolph, Ludger Pistor, Marc Bischoff, Monica Bleibtreu, Moritz Bleibtreu, Nina Petri, Peter Pauli, Sebastian Schipper, Suzanne von Borsody, Ute Lubosch, Utz Krause, Volkhart Buff

Director: Tom Tykwer

Rating: R