M. Night Shyamalan, one of the most polarizing & beloved/hated directors of all time, has a new movie out. The film, "Split," seems to be a return to form for the filmmaker, who clearly thrives in making smaller-scale psychological thrillers (with twists, of course). It's a welcome return too, especially for someone who has previously proven himself to be a master at crafting excellent psychological thrillers with "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." It's usually a tremendously strong genre (especially when mixed with horror) going beyond even Shyamalan's early work, with masterpieces such as "The Silence of the Lambs," "Se7en," "Misery," "Taxi Driver," "Psycho," and "The Shining." Still though, there's many fantastic psychological thrillers that are tragically under-seen. So, in honor of "Split," here are 20 psychological thrillers that deserve some more views and love:
1. "Unbreakable" (2000)
Shyamalan's pychological thriller made between the commercially popular "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" often gets overlooked in favor of these two films. However, it's aged much better than "Signs" and infinitely more re-watchable. It centers on Bruce Willis' character, who is the sole survivor of a deadly train crash, who suffers no injuries whatsoever. Director Quentin Tarantino, who named this film as one of his twenty favorites since 1992, thought of his own perfect tagline to attract people to see this movie: "What if Superman was here on earth, and didn't know he was Superman?" That question should be enough to convince anyone to check the movie out. However, the film also boasts some career-high performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, with the latter being the absolute stand-out.
2. "Blow Out" (1981)
Brian De Palma, director of such classics as "Carrie" and "Scarface," reaches Alfred Hitchcock's "Master of Suspense" status with this political-conspiracy psychological thriller. It stars John Travolta as a slasher-film sound-effects technician who captures audio evidence of a political assassination made to look like a car accident. He then gets involved with the sole survivor of the accident, a call-girl, to expose the truth; however, danger comes in the form of a rogue hitman who wants to get rid of all loose ends and protect the plot. To say anything more would be criminal, because this is a thriller that will floor you with what happens. Also of note is the acting of John Travolta, who gives his best performance in this film, and that of John Lithgow, eerily predicting his role as the Trinity Killer in the show "Dexter." Also, be sure to check out De Palma's other psychological thrillers "Dressed to Kill" and "Body Double."
3. "Memento" (2000)
An early film by Christopher Nolan, director of "Inception" and the "Dark Knight" trilogy, that revolves around a man who is hunting for his wife's killer, but cannot form new memories and suffers from short-term memory loss. To put the audience in a state like the protagonist's, two timelines are presented: black-and-white sequences moving chronologically, and color sequences moving in reverse-chronology. Both sequences meet at the end, but this is a movie that demands multiple viewings. Luckily, it's such a complex & brilliant narrative that you'll be happy to watch it multiple times.
4. "American Psycho" (2000)
Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis, this darkly-comedic psychological thriller is greatly toned-down compared to its literary counterpart, but it's still scarily effective at exploring the delusional insanity of a New York yuppie in the 1980's. Christian Bale stars as said-yuppie Patrick Bateman, embodying the character and delivering an amazing performance that manages to be funny, subtle, arrogant, suave, manic, reserved, & terrifying all at once. The movie is worth it for him alone, especially when he monologues about his favorite musical artists before committing murder.
5. "Zodiac" (2007)
From director David Fincher, who's given us such classics like "Se7en" and "Fight Club," comes this engaging thriller about the Zodiac killer. Detailing the killer's crimes, taunts to the police, and the investigation spanning years that desperately tried to find out who the killer was, this film, while lengthy, never features a dull moment and often tricks you into thinking that the killer will be discovered & caught, despite the fact that the killer's identity remains a mystery. The recreated murder scenes are appropriately frightening, the direction is taut, and the acting is stellar all around, especially from Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.
6. "Jacob's Ladder" (1990)
A really trippy and disturbing movie about a man who has returned home from the Vietnam War, only to find himself either plagued by horrifying hallucinations, or the actual torment of demons. It's a movie that will have you confused as to what's going on the whole time, until you reach the end, when everything makes sense. Then you'll need to watch it all over again. Plus, it's too freaky to not see.
7. "The Hitcher" (1986)
A road movie/psychological thriller that dips into horror territory, this movie sees a teen, Jim, stalked by a psychotic hitch-hiker, John Ryder, after kicking the man out of his car before he could kill him. This movie is one long, suspenseful ride, with the driving force being the relationship between John and Ryder, which develops into this odd symbiotic relationship, despite Ryder actively ruining Jim's life. The standout scene involves Ryder in a semi-truck, threatening to draw-and-quarter Jim's new love interest...and it really damn tense. The whole movie is worth a watch just to see Rutger Hauer's terrifying performance as Ryder, who belongs in the top tier of greatest movie villains. Lastly, don't bother with the remake; it pales in comparison.
8. "Bug" (2006)
Based on the play by Tracy Letts and directed by "The Exorcist" helmer William Friedkin, this psychological thriller gets downright horrific in its depiction of failing sanity. It centers on a woman staying in a motel who gets involved with a man who believes that the government is after them, and that, as a soldier, biological testing was done to inject microscopic bugs into his body. Soon, the woman is drawn into this paranoia, and they isolate themselves from the outside world in fear of the government and in an effort to destroy all the bugs that are infested within them & the motel room. Ashely Judd and Michael Shannon star, and they both give it their all in this movie, which manages to finely balance between being disturbing and sad.
9. "Frailty" (2001)
An unnerving psychological chiller about a man recounting his traumatic childhood in the 1970's, when his normal father one day starts murdering people that he claims God revealed to him as demons. This movie is often forgotten due to it being released around the time that Matthew McConaughey was still primarily known for bland romantic-comedies, but this film showed even then what a powerhouse actor he really is. This one is truly a gem that deserves more recognition, especially considering the surprises that the film offers and the acting of McConaughey and acting of director Bill Paxton.
10. "Cape Fear" (1991)
A remake of the 1962 film (which is also fantastic), this movie sees the duo of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro reunite to update the story of a recently-released rapist stalk a lawyer and his family as revenge for his sentencing. Giving some more edge and morality that is more gray than black-and-white this time around, the film ranks as one of the greatest remakes of all time and one of the greatest & scariest thrillers of all time. Robert De Niro as villain Max Cady is the thing of nightmares, and stands alongside Robert Mitchum's original portrayal of the character as being one of cinema's most despicable villains.
11. "Repulsion" (1965)
Centering on a woman left alone in her apartment by her vacationing sister, this psychological thriller sees a woman experience horrific visions as she relives past traumas. Directed by Roman Polanski, who also directed such masterpieces as "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown," brings a lot of suspense and shocks to this hallucinogenic story. It's disturbing in a subtle way, and actress Catherine Deneuve really sells her character's descent into delusional madness.
12. "Session 9" (2001)
A slow-burn psychological thriller about an asbestos crew working in an abandoned mental asylum, where tensions grow among them and the discovered recording of a therapy session reveals the chilling past of a former patient. Much like "The Shining," "Session 9" manages to be an effective and disturbing journey that will make you question whether there are supernatural forces at play, or just sheer madness among the characters.
13. "The Vanishing" (1988)
A French thriller centering on a vacationing couple, when one day the woman goes off into a gas station and never comes back, leading to the man to obsessively search for years to find her. Eventually, after a public request for the truth, the kidnapper approaches the man, and offers an answer as to what happened to his long-lost girlfriend. To spoil anything more would ruin this film, but it could be said that this film has one of the greatest endings of all time. However, avoid the American remake at all costs.
14. "Blood Simple" (1984)
Directorial debut of the Coen Brothers, who would go on to direct acclaimed thrillers "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men," this film, which also contains elements of noir and horror, sees a club owner hire a private investigator to kill his wife & her lover...but things go quite differently. This film is thoroughly unpredictable and full of surprises, plus it has atmosphere & suspense to die for. It shows just how talented the Coen Brothers are that they could make such a great film as their debut.
15. "Dead Man's Shoes" (2004)
A low-budget British thriller about a soldier who returns home to stalk and get revenge on a group of thugs who harassed & brutalized his mentally-challenged younger brother. Paddy Considine plays Richard, the soldier, and he manages to be sympathetic while being thoroughly intimidating. There are a few surprises within this film, and a few surprising moments of tenderness between the brothers, which only become more affecting on viewing the film a second time.
16. "Panic Room" (2002)
Another David Fincher picture, this film sees a single-mother and her daughter take refuge in the safe-room of their new apartment when three robbers break in; the fortune they want, however, is in the safe-room. Jodie Foster carries the film, with Forrest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam also turning in stellar performances as the criminals. The direction, as with all Fincher films, is exceptional, and the suspense is frequent. It's a film that will really make you question what you would do in a similar situation, and then applaud the characters' ingenuity.
17. "Phone Booth" (2002)
The premise for this film alone is enough to attract the attention of movie fans; a man is trapped in a phone booth by a sniper, who will kill him if he hangs up or leaves. Kiefer Sutherland provides the voice of the sniper, who is gives an intimidating performance solely through his voice, and Colin Farrel does a tremendous job as the man trapped in the phone booth. The pacing for this one is very fast, as it takes place in real time, giving it an added level of suspense & authenticity.
18. "Jagged Edge" (1985)
Following the murder of a rich woman, her husband, played by Jeff Bridges, finds himself the prime suspect, resulting in him hiring a lawyer, played phenomenally by Glenn Close, who develops a romance with him. Soon, she begins receiving anonymous letters proclaiming the man as innocent, but the question still remains about the man that she's defending & falling in love with: is he the killer or not? You'll never be sure of the answer, as Jeff Bridges' performance doesn't offer any clear clues about his character; you'll be in the same boat as Glenn Close's character and remain unsure about the truth until the very end. Also of note is actor Robert Loggia, who steals every scene he's in and was even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
19. "I Saw the Devil" (2009)
A disturbing Korean revenge film about a secret agent whose wife is murdered by a serial killer, who then tracks the killer down and, instead of killing him, engages in a cat-and-mouse pursuit game with the killer as a way to torment him. The Korean revenge thriller is practically its own genre of movie, and this one does not disappoint at all in regards to its showcase of tension, emotion, and horror. This one may be too much for those who don't like a lot of horror & explicit violence in their thrillers, but if you don't mind it, then this film is a must-see (even just to see the performance of "Oldboy"'s Choi Min-sik as the serial killer).
20. "Manhunter" (1986)
The first film featuring the character of Hannibal Lecter, this adaptation of Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" may be a loose adaptation, but it still manages to be a better movie than the more-faithful 2002 film "Red Dragon." There's greater emphasis on the haunted psyche of FBI agent Will Graham (played wonderfully by William Petersen), and Tom Noonan's portrayal of serial killer Francis Dollarhyde is both terrifying and tragic (even without a lot of the character's backstory). Brian Cox's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is notable in its own right, and offers a fresh take on the character that is mostly known through Anthony Hopkins' performances. Overall, it's a gem of a thriller that is so 80's, you'll have to love it.