Best Psychological Thriller Movies of the 2010s

Best Psychological Thriller Movies of the 2010s

Sometimes the most terrifying movies are not the ones that make audiences scared of a masked killer with a knife, but instead what makes them fear what’s lurking in each of them. While a horror movie’s ghosts and gore can make one shiver endlessly in a theater seat, the terrors of a psychological thriller take longer to arrive — and far longer to go away. These are fears that stay with you.

One peculiar thing about psychological thriller movies is that there is no infallible recipe for success. As a matter of fact, The Woman in the Window is one of those cases: despite having a well-known cast and a strong story, it didn’t receive very good reviews from the audience. Meanwhile, films like Silence of the Lambs and Fight Club were smash hits that are still going strong today.

While true crime and detective movies are extremely popular, there is something about these dark stories that seems relatable and unpredictable, which keeps the audience hooked from start to finish. The main characters in psychological thrillers often use their intelligence rather than physical strength, but their enemies frequently come from within their minds. In addition, they usually face moral dilemmas that sometimes question boundaries, creating a chaotic and intense environment that plays with the viewers’ emotional states. Did you ever watch a movie that left you confused as to what was real and what wasn’t? If you’ve had this kind of experience, then you’ve seen a great thriller. And if you haven’t seen one yet, here are some of the best psychological thrillers of the 2010s to fill that spot.

Updated by Dara Drapkin-Grossi on October 3, 2022. If you love psychological films from the past decade, you’ll be happy to know we’ve updated this article with additional content and entries.


14/14 It Follows

2014’s It Follows is the perfect mix between a psychological thriller and a borderline horror film. The “monsters” of the film are subversively terrifying. However, for the majority of the scenes in which the “monsters” are featured, they can only bee seen by the main character and not her friends. Jay, played by Maika Monroe, is plagued by the aftermath of a strange sexual encounter she has with her former boyfriend. After the two connect, her boyfriend explains to her that she is going to be followed by an entity and if she doesn’t out run it, it will kill her. The only way to be completely rid of the “monster” is to sleep with someone else and pass it to them. It Follows features the fear of the unknown and unseen, and challenges the psychological understanding of one’s actions.

13/14 Doctor Sleep

The 80s saw some of the greatest Stephen King adaptations, and The Shining is one of the best of them. Originally published in 2013, Doctor Sleep serves as King’s sequel to The Shining, where Danny Torrance is now the main protagonist. In 2019, director Mike Flanagan wrote the screenplay and adapted the novel for the big screen. Doctor Sleep follows the same structure of King’s novel, showing Danny (played by Ewan McGregor) struggling with the trauma from his past experiences at the Overlook Hotel. The film does a fantastic job delving into psychological trauma, and the very real ghosts that haunt dark pasts.

Related: 12 Best Psychological Thrillers, Ranked

12/14 Split (2016)

Split is the second movie in the Unbreakable series, featuring a stellar cast led by James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley. It’s where we first meet the Beast, a man struggling with dissociative personality disorder that has spawned 23 personalities. One night, his personality named Dennis takes over and kidnaps three girls outside a birthday party. They attempt to escape from him before his “Beast” persona takes over. McAvoy is dynamite in the role, further solidifying his A-lister Hollywood status. The sequel, Glass, unfortunately missed the mark, but Split certainly holds its own as one of the finest psychological thrillers in the last 10 years.

11/14 The Gift (2015)

For his directorial debut, actor Joel Edgerton wrote, produced, and co-stars in The Gift, which follows a married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) as they’re intimidated by a menacing figure from Simon’s past, played by Edgerton. They begin to receive mysterious gifts and uninvited encounters by the guy, an old high school classmate of Simon’s who harbors a horrifying secret. The Gift was heralded by critics for Edgerton’s screenplay and direction as well as Bateman’s riveting performance. The thought-provoking ending is just part of the film that confirms The Gift as one the edgiest thrillers we’ve seen in a long time.

10/14 Inception (2010)

The intricacy of this Cristopher Nolan’s Inception is such that it is considered one of the hardest films to understand in recent years. Even today, there are still theories that attempt to explain its ending. Throughout the movie, we follow the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a thief who specializes in the art of extraction: he steals valuable secrets from the depths of people’s subconscious while they are in a state of sleep. This skill made him very popular in the world of corporate espionage, but also turned him into an international fugitive who was forced to leave everything behind. But one day Cobb is offered a unique opportunity to regain his former life, one last mission in which he is asked to do exactly the opposite of what he has always done: implant an idea in the subconscious mind of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy). Nevertheless, his plan becomes complicated because there is someone who seems to predict his every move, and Cobb must figure it out before it’s too late.

9/14 Prisoners (2013)

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a carpenter and man of faith, who undergoes a turnaround in his life when his six-year-old daughter and her friend are kidnapped while playing outdoors. Desperate, he turns to the police, but quickly loses hope when the officer on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) is forced to release the only suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), for lack of evidence. Dover decides to go on a personal quest against time to uncover the truth and save the girls, kidnapping Jones and taking justice into his own hands. But how far is he willing to go to find out the whereabouts of his daughter? Prisoners was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Incendies), and the cast was rounded out by Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo.

8/14 Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island is a movie in which absolutely nothing is what it seems. Based on Denis Lehane’s novel of the same name, this Martin Scorsese-directed film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo and was nominated for a number of awards and won several of them.

The film follows the story of agent Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) who come to Shutter Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a dangerous woman assassin from an impenetrable room at Ashecliffe Psychiatric Hospital, a correctional facility for disturbed criminals run by the sinister Dr. John Cawley (Kingsley). This duo will soon discover that the place holds many disturbing secrets and that the island hides something even more dangerous than the patients.

7/14 Black Swan (2010)

This Darren Aronofsky film is set within the world of dance and starred Natalie Portman as Nina, a brilliant ballerina who is part of a New York ballet company and dedicates her entire life to dance. The pressure from her controlling mother (Barbara Hershey), the rivalry with her partner Lily (Mila Kunis) for the lead role in the new production of “Swan Lake” and the demands of the stern director (Vincent Cassel) will increase rapidly as the opening day approaches. These tensions cause Nina nervous exhaustion and mental confusion with episodes that make her unable to distinguish between reality and fiction. For Black Swan, per NPR, Portman had to undergo a specific diet and daily intense training sessions.

6/14 Gone Girl (2014)

This film delves into the story of Nick (Ben Affleck), a former journalist married to Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), whose marriage has been failing for a long time. Attempting to improve and refloat their relationship, the couple decides to open a restaurant, though the idea doesn’t succeed. Nevertheless, on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy mysteriously disappears. Eventually, all suspicions about who is to blame fall on Nick, as the version of a happy couple that he offered to investigators began to falter rapidly. Facing the media he appears impassive, defending his innocence, but the first impression may not be the real one. Gone Girl was the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s book, directed by David Fincher and featuring an all-star cast including Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon.

5/14 Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals was scripted and directed by Tom Ford, and it is a romantic thriller of great intimacy and tremendous tension that explores topics such as love and revenge. In it, we follow the story of Susan (Amy Adams), who lives immersed in a big lie, having all the privileges but being miserable with a husband who doesn’t make her happy (Armie Hammer). One day, Susan receives in the mail a novel written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), with whom she has had no contact for years.The novel is dedicated to her, and is a harsh tale that stirs memories in the woman’s conscience and forces her to reevaluate a relationship she feared lost, as the story unfolds a truth that will define both their futures.

4/14 Burning (2018)

This South Korean film was first presented at the Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d’Or. Directed by Lee Chang-dong and based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, Burning follows the life story of Lee Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo), a young delivery boy aspiring to be a writer who stumbles by chance upon Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon), an eccentric girl who used to be his neighbor as a child. She asks him to take care of her cat while she travels to Africa. During the trip, the young woman meets Ben (Steven Yeun), an enigmatic socialite with an unusual and dangerous hobby.

3/14 Get Out (2017)

Directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out was an extremely well-received film by critics that follows the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young Black man who faces an awkward encounter: visiting the parents of Rose (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend. The meeting begins with partial normality, asRose’s parents seem over complacent with Chris. Naturally, Chris assumes it’s due to their nervousness about their daughter’s interracial relationship, though as the hours go by, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to unmask a horrifying truth. Get Out was named best scripted film of the 21st century according to the WGA.

2/14 Joker (2019)

Joker was one of the most anticipated movies of 2019. Directed and produced by Todd Phillips and based on DC Comics characters, it follows the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) a man whose only motivation in life is to make people laugh, and he lives in Gotham with his mother. Arthur performs as a clown in small gigs, but his mental problems lead people to see him as a freak. His greatest dream is to perform as a comedian in front of an audience, although a series of tragic events will escalate his anger at a society that ignores him.

The cast is completed with actors such as Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, and Brett Cullen. Joaquin Phoenix had to prepare heavily for the role in Joker, and he also revealed that he is open to a sequel, which was recently confirmed. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for what’s been dubbed a musical co-starring Lady Gaga.

1/14 You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Under Lynne Ramsay’s direction, Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a former marine and war veteran who spends his time trying to save women who are sexually exploited in You Were Never Really Here. One day, he is asked to rescue a senator’s daughter, who has been kidnapped. Joe embarks on this mission that ends up awakening the beast inside him and turning revenge into his main motivation. The film is based on the novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name, and the cast includes actors such as Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, and John Doman.