The best 25 thrillers on Netflix Australia


Wanna watch a good thriller on Netflix? Critic Sarah Ward has trawled through the archives and picked the top 25 thrillers currently available on the streaming platform.

See also:
* All new movies & series on Netflix Australia
* All new streaming movies & series

Last updated: January 7, 2022

And Tomorrow the Entire World (2020)

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Germany’s 2021 submission for the Best International Film Oscar, And Tomorrow the Entire World is both topical and tense—and, on filmmaker Julia von Heinz’s part, impassioned, angry and immersive as well—as it steps inside the fight against fascism. In a riveting portrayal, Mala Emde plays law student Luisa, who starts moving away from her comfortable upbringing to battle far-right factions peppering Germany’s political landscape during her studies.

Argo (2012)

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Anyone who saw Argo in a full cinema likely heard applause resounding through the theatre when the Ben Affleck-starring and -directed political thriller came to an end. Dramatising the events surrounding the rescue of six US embassy staff during the Iran hostage crisis, this Oscar-winner takes audiences on a slickly-told and crowd-pleasing ride, yet still bristles with tension every step of the way as its all-star cast recreate a fake film crew caper aimed at safely extracting the diplomats.

The Bar (2017)

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Álex de la Iglesia’s films frequently feel like an onslaught. They’re meant to; frenetic, kinetic, off-kilter and chaotic is usually the Spanish filmmaker’s style. With The Bar, he tackles a hostage setup with both thrills and black comedy, after a Madrid cafe becomes the focal point for a series of random sniper killings. This 2017 movie isn’t short on plot as a group of strangers find themselves trapped in the eponymous spot, with their circumstances constantly shifting.

Berlin Syndrome (2017)

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When Brisbanite Clare (Teresa Palmer) travels to Germany, she’s excited about a backpacking European holiday. Soon after starting a vacation romance with Andi (Max Riemelt), however, her getaway takes a stressful turn when she becomes his hostage. A terse psychological thriller, Berlin Syndrome is well performed, well directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland and, crucially, is almost distressingly claustrophobic as it chronicles Clare’s plight.

Birdshot (2017)

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Submitted as the Philippines’ entry into the 2017 Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, Birdshot is a quiet and small movie that wrings ample tension out of a straightforward but always absorbing situation. In the nation’s countryside, farm-dwelling 14-year-old Maya (Mary Joy Apostol) lives with her father Diego (Ku Aquino), who teaches her to shoot. When she accidentally kills an endangered eagle, the local police are soon on her trail.

Crawl (2019)

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Monster movies typically go one of two ways and, while Crawl could’ve proven a cheesy, formulaic, Sharknado-style mashup of alligators and hurricanes, it actually serves up a taut, suspenseful, snap-happy thriller. All of the expected elements are present as Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper try to scamper out of biting reach beneath a Florida home; however, experienced horror director Alexandre Aja knows how to turn this disaster-driven fare into an effective flick.

Dark City (1998)

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After the gothic fantasy of The Crow, Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas switched to neo-noir meets sci-fi with Dark City—although a visual fondness for all things shadowy firmly remains. One of the great science-fiction thrillers of the 90s, the film’s premise is as alluring as its appearance, with Rufus Sewell playing a man who can’t remember his identity, then finds himself accused of murder, all in a world where eerie men called ‘the strangers’ manipulate memories.

Gemini (2017)

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More than a few films fall into the very specific Los Angeles-set neo-noir subgenre, including Drive, The Nice Guys and Under the Silver Lake. The 2017 thriller Gemini is an enticing, compelling and vividly shot addition to the fold. The reliably impressive Lola Kirke plays Jill LaBeau, a personal assistant to movie star Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). When the latter turns up dead, the former is drawn into the aftermath as a detective (John Cho) investigates.

Good Time (2017)

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Watching a film directed by the Safdie brothers probably isn’t recommended for viewers with high blood pressure. Their movies live and breathe tension, as Good Time demonstrates for 101 rattling minutes. In an impressively gritty and unglamorous performance, Robert Pattinson plays a small-time criminal determined to do whatever it takes to rustle up the cast to get his brother (Benny Safdie) out on bail.

Goldstone (2016)

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The role of Jay Swan will always be synonymous with the great Aaron Pedersen. The franchise that brought the detective to the screen will always bring Ivan Sen’s name to mind, too. The latter writes, directs, shoots, edits, and composes the music for Goldstone, one of Aussie cinema’s rare sequels. And with Swan now searching for a missing woman in an insular mining town, this second effort both deepens and expands Mystery Road’s exploration of Australian race relations.

I Am Mother (2019)

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In a post-apocalyptic future, a girl grows from a baby to a teenager (Clara Rugaard) under the care of a robot called Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne), all within the safety of an impenetrable bunker—until a stranger (Hilary Swank) comes their way. One of the most thrilling aspects of I Am Mother stems from its nimble screenplay, with the Australian film bearing much in common with other dystopian, survivalist and robot-centric movies, and yet always finding its own niche.

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

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Melanie Lynskey leads this slow-simmering, sometimes-comedic vengeance-driven thriller, while Blue Ruin and Green Room actor Macon Blair writes and directs. That’s a superb combination. As a woman who has just been burgled, then decides to track down her stolen laptop herself—with help from her neighbour (Elijah Wood)—Lynskey commands every frame she’s in. And, in conveying the titular sentiment, Blair crafts a streamlined but weighty feature for his directorial debut.

In The Cut (2003)

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She might’ve been queen of the rom-coms from the late 80s through till the early 00s, but Meg Ryan steps into vastly different territory with In The Cut. The change couldn’t suit her better; playing an English teacher who becomes wrapped up in a murder investigation, it’s her absolute best performance. And while Jane Campion’s filmography doesn’t have a single weak effort, the complexity she brings to this firmly female-focused psychosexual serial-killer thriller is nothing short of masterly.

JFK (1991)

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When Oliver Stone decided to add the assassination of President John F Kennedy to the political thrillers and dramas on his resume, he was always going to take his time stepping through the minutiae. JFK fills its three-plus hours easily, however, and with ample detail (and speculation). With Kevin Costner leading the cast as a New Orleans District Attorney looking into the events of November 22, 1963, the end result goes heavy on paranoia-inspired thrills and proves compelling in the process.

The Lighthouse (2019)

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He only has two films to his name so far until The Northman releases in 2022, but Robert Eggers knows how to turn a movie into an experience. He crafts features that regard the filmic medium like the immersive artform it is, and his sophomore effort The Lighthouse is a stellar example. Set in the 1890s, it follows two men trapped in the titular structure by bad weather, and battling their decaying minds as well as each other. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are superb, as is the feature’s boxed-in monochrome aesthetic.

Nocturama (2016)

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Following a group of young radicals who stage a series of Parisian terrorist attacks, then hide in a department store, Nocturama doesn’t waste a single second of its 130 minute running time. It doesn’t waste a fluid shot or alluring soundtrack choice, either. Inspired by Elephant, Dawn of the Dead, and Assault on Precinct 13, French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello immerses viewers in his characters’ lives, ideals and mindsets, while never veering away from their flaws and contradictions, or from making a statement.

Out Of Sight (1998)

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Based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, smoking with chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, and one of Steven Soderbergh’s trademark heist films, Out of Sight fits into many genres. But if Netflix wants to call it a thriller, we’ll take it. Clooney plays a charming bank robber, Lopez is the US Marshal on his trail, and the film’s car boot scenes are dynamite. When it first hit screens in 1998, neither Clooney nor Lopez had ever been better—and this remains a career highlight for both.

The Platform (2019)

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Even if The Platform didn’t hit Netflix just as the world was experiencing pandemic-induced supermarket battles for food and household essentials, it would’ve proven an incisive thriller—and, in its horror-driven quest to unpack society’s inherent hierarchies, an engaging one. In a tower-like prison, inhabitants can only eat from a food-filled platform that descends from the top of the building—a literal but compelling example of every-man-for-himself attitudes.

The Prestige (2007)

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As well as telling a tale of two obsessive warring magicians hashing out their rivalry in 19th-century London, The Prestige features David Bowie as Nikola Tesla—and both aspects of the film are excellent. So too are leads Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as said adversaries, in a movie that gets far less attention than Christopher Nolan’s other features, but remains just as entertaining and spectacular.

Searching (2018)

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One of the best examples of the ‘screenlife’ genre so far, Searching wrings tension, suspense and anxiety out of keyboard clicks, cursor movements, computer screen windows, phone calls and one very distressed father. After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, David Kim (John Cho) uses every online tool at his disposal to try to find her. Cho is exceptional, but writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s command of his chosen format is just as compelling.

Se7en (1995)

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Alongside ZodiacSe7en is one of David Fincher’s perfect thrillers, tackling a topic—serial killers—that the director has clearly found both fascinating and riveting across his career. No one will ever forget the film’s ending, or Brad Pitt’s screaming as it unveils its last grisly shock. No one will ever shake the movie’s elaborate and unsettling crime scenes either, or its Nine Inch Nails-soundtracked opening credits. Yes, the list keeps going—because when Fincher tackles murder, he sets the bar.

Soylent Green (1973)

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Mention Soylent Green’s title—or even read it to yourself—and two words automatically follow. They explain the 1973 film’s big reveal and are well-known not just with the movie’s fans, but in popular culture in general. And yet, even knowing how this sci-fi thriller pans out doesn’t undercut its effectiveness. Many dystopian features made in the past half-century have been shaped by its influence, even if it’s always solid rather than stellar.

Taxi Driver (1976)

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Here is a film that would not take it anymore. Almost every Paul Schrader-penned movie about lonely men rallying against an uncaring world and trying to redress its ills fits that description, and many of his collaborations with Martin Scorsese do, too. Nonetheless, their first feature together happens to be one of the greatest films ever made. Every element is perfection, from Bernard Herrmann’s intoxicating score (and his last) through to Robert De Niro’s career-defining performance as Travis Bickle.

Time to Hunt (2020)

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Directing his second feature following his 2011 debut Bleak Night, writer/director Yoon Sung-hyun doesn’t lack in ambition, crafting a dystopian thriller that’s also an action-packed heist film. Time to Hunt starts with Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) leaving prison after serving his sentence for one failed heist, then convincing his pals (Ahn Jae-hong and Choi Woo-shik) that they should stage another one. From there, the expertly crafted sense of intensity proves relentless.

Uncut Gems (2019)

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Adam Sandler plus the Safdie brothers is a match made in cinephile heaven. Any time that Sandler embraces his serious side, it’s worth paying attention—but when put through the ringer by the directors of Heaven Knows What and Good Time, it’s something truly special. He plays a jeweller desperate to close a big deal, earn a huge payday, settle his debts and fix his life, and he’s operating at maximum intensity, as is everything in the movie.


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