The best thriller movies on Netflix Australia

Wanna watch a good thriller on Netflix? Critic Eliza Janssen has trawled through the archives and picked the very best tense movies currently available on the streaming platform.

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* Best new movies & TV series on Netflix
* All new streaming movies & series

22 July (2018)

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If you’re on this list, chances are you enjoy thrillers for the escapism of their unbelievable plots and tense scenes—moments which we can all be relieved will likely never happen to normal folk like us. Unfortunately, Paul Greengrass’s unbearably suspenseful movie is based on the actual incident of a massacre at a Norwegian youth summer camp, and it chronicles each life-or-death decision of those involved with a sense of dreadful realism. Tough, but worth your attention.

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American Psycho (2000)

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Director Mary Harron massively improved on Bret Easton Ellis’ twisted post-modern novel, casting Christian Bale as grinning facsimile of a human Patrick Bateman in this sickly hilarious horror film. He’s an expensively-dressed homicidal maniac in mergers and acquisitions—or “murders and executions”, as he lets slip at a nightclub—who seriously hates being shown up in the business card big leagues.

The Courier (2021)

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Based on a true story from the annals of Cold War history, this spy thriller stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a British bureaucrat sent behind the Iron Curtain. His agent must work with a Russian source to pull off a secret mission that might bring about the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis—if only his tenuous network doesn’t pull the rug out from under his feet at just the wrong moment. Not a brilliant spy thriller, but a satisfying and illuminating one.

Ex Machina (2014)

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The best sci-fi films force us to confront the very question of what defines us as humans, and this thriller is practically a feature-length Turing test. Domnhall Gleeson plays the nebbish underling of a tech baron (Oscar Isaac, dance machine) who gets chosen to test out his boss’s most troubling, secret invention: a convincing AI creature played with robotic grace by Alicia Vikander. It proved that screenwriter Alex Garland could direct the hell out of own scripts, too.

Gerald’s Game (2017)

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Mike Flanagan’s streak of series for Netflix is going great and all, but I can’t help hoping he returns to making nasty, stand-alone features like this one. He perfectly captures the sickness and sentiment of Stephen King’s messed-up story, all about a downtrodden woman’s nightmarish ordeal of being handcuffed to a bed by her controlling husband. And just because he’s swiftly knocked off by a heart attack doesn’t mean he can’t still hang around as a cruel voice in her head.

The Good Nurse (2022)

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A pair of Oscar winners  bring out the best in each other in this true crime tale of disturbing medical malpractice. It’s based on true events, so if you don’t know anything about nurse Charlie Cullen, prepare to be unsettled. He’s played by a warm yet unnerving Eddie Redmayne, and Jessica Chastain is his heroic coworker struggling with a cruel combination of her own heart problems and relative poverty. The negligent US healthcare system might just end up seeming more villainous than the film’s killer.

Gone Girl (2013)

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Poor Ben Affleck: saddled with a faintly punchable face, and enough dramatic high-profile romances that he’s the perfect casting choice for a dodgy husband caught up in his wife’s disappearance. Based on the literary sensation by Gillian Flynn, who worked on the bitter, brilliant screenplay too, this thriller is the ideal antidote to treacly big-screen romcoms, showing a couple whose resentment and entitlement makes them darkly perfect for one another.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)

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You don’t want to steal John Wick’s dog, and you don’t want to nick any knick-knacks from Melanie Lynskey—especially not her grandma’s silver cutlery. The inciting incident for this low-key suburban thriller is simple, but it leads to a characterful crime conclusion, with Elijah Wood turning out to be a loveable partner-in-crime to the always-wonderful Lynskey.

The Irishman (2019)

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If you’ve got three and a bit hours to spare and are happy to have the glamour of gangster stories destroyed for you forever, Marty Scorsese’s elegy to the genre will hit hard. Some viewers have railed against that runtime and the somewhat uncanny use of de-ageing to see actors De Niro, Pacino and Pesci traverse across decades of betrayal and bloodshed. Nonetheless, this film is an emotional epic, feeling much like you’re watching a novel in crushing realtime rather than your usual guns-and-cars gangster flick.

The Killer (2023)

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The newest of many David Fincher films on Netflix, this slick revenge saga stars Michael Fassbender as a hitman who spends the opening sequence of the film eloquently explaining his modus operandi. It sounds convincing…until he completely flubs his shot, and spends the rest of the film cleaning up the botched job’s many loose ends. There’s a hollowness to the drama of the film that is probably by design, and the (sporadic) action sequences are impeccable.

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

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The latest episode in M. Night Shyamalan’s renaissance operates on multiple tense levels: there’s the threat of four strangers, who intrude on a gay couple’s cabin holiday with their young daughter, and the terrible, global destruction that may be happening in the world outside. Led by a daunting yet warm Dave Bautista, the outsiders must convince the family to make a mortal sacrifice in order to stop this prophesied apocalypse—and we get the nasty treat of watching them work through the horrid duty.

The Prestige (2007)

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I always prefer Christopher Nolan’s period pieces to his speculative, sci-fi films: with this 2007 gem, we get a bit of both, in a lush Victorian setting. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are duelling magicians, each pushing the other closer to the brink of self-destruction in their quests for professional greatness. And frick, David Bowie shows up as Nikola Tesla!

Run (2020)

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Sarah Paulson goes all Joan Crawford on us in this suspenseful film, hilariously released on Mother’s Day. You see, the story follows a homeschooled and physically disabled teen (Kiera Allen), who starts to wonder whether her controlling mum (Paulson) might have a bad case of Munchausen by Proxy. She’ll have to fight her own blood tooth and nail to flee the gilded cage.

Se7en (1995)

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This serial killer classic is drenched in a grungy, hopeless 90s aesthetic borrowed straight from a Nine Inch Nails music video—which is apt, because director David Fincher got his start directing music videos, including one for NIN’s song “Only”. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are a benevolent older detective and a hot-shot young cop respectively, always two steps behind a madman who’s picking off victims with punishments that mirror the seven deadly sins.

The Stranger (2022)

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Two bearded blokes who begin to look disarmingly similar are on an unclear, criminal mission in this bone-chilling Aussie thriller from director Thomas M. Wright. The shadowy plot details slowly become clear, but Sean Harris’ disturbing title character always remains a bit of a question mark—in this most upsetting and realistic of ways.

Synchronic (2019)

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One of few sci-fi entries on this list, directing pair Moorhead and Benson’s trippy time-travel venture stands as a worthwhile thriller for its grounded sensibility. Friendship in the face of unknowable chaos is the redeeming element here, with Anthony Mackie going to extraordinary lengths to help his friend and fellow paramedic Jamie Dornan—namely, testing out the dangerous new drug on the streets of New Orleans that seemingly sends its addicted users back into the distant past.

Uncut Gems (2019)

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Not many movies on this list will make you laugh with incredulity while you’re still gripping the edge of your armchair, but the Safdie brothers managed it with the help of an unlikely Adam Sandler performance. Sandler’s conniving jewellery dealer has huge balls but not much emotional intelligence, digging himself deeper and deeper into the kind of con that’s hard to wriggle out of in one piece.

Whiplash (2014)

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J.K. Simmons stomps on student hearts to the beat of his own drum in Damien Chazelle’s stressful drama. Who knew knocking out some jazz tunes on a drum kit could be so viscerally upsetting? The anxiety-inducing story of an ambitious young drummer (Miles Teller) and his manipulative band conductor builds to a maddening musical climax, with plenty of gut-punch moments of pathos in between.

Windfall (2022)

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Netflix barely promoted this suspenseful black comedy, despite a trio of recognisable stars: Jesse Plemons as a clueless CEO, Lily Collins as his disrespected wife, and Jason Segel as the “nobody” who tries to burgle their luxe home. Perhaps the formulaic twists and turns won’t surprise you, but the acting sure will. All three talents are clearly having a ball satirising Silicon Valley excess.


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