The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime Video

The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime Video

Casino Royale, Climax, King Of New York, The Handmaiden more of the best thrillers to stream on Amazon Prime Video

Clockwise from top left:Casino Royale (Screengrab); Climax (Photo: A24); King Of New York (Screengrab); The Handmaiden (Photo: Magnolia); Brawl In Cell Block 99 (Photo: RLJE Films); Hereditary (Photo: A24); To Catch A Thief (Screengrab)
Clockwise from top left:Casino Royale (Screengrab); Climax (Photo: A24); King Of New York (Screengrab); The Handmaiden (Photo: Magnolia); Brawl In Cell Block 99 (Photo: RLJE Films); Hereditary (Photo: A24); To Catch A Thief (Screengrab)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the author’s name at the end of each passage for more in-depth analysis from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Amazon Prime Video list, but we decided thriller films deserved their own spotlight since they are often not included on our year-end lists as much as other genres. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Amazon Prime Video as a thriller film, (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Amazon Prime Video announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Netflix, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking to laugh, check out our list of the best horror and the best comedy movies on Amazon Prime.

This list was most recently updated on April 23, 2021.

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2 / 27

Bound

Bound

Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly
Screenshot: Bound

To say Bound is a double-meaning title understates the way the Wachowskis thread the concept into the fabric of the movie, where Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are bound literally, bound to each other, bound to the powerful men who control their destinies, and bound by their own ideas about what intimacy could mean for them. Since this is a crime film, getting unbound involves a plan to steal $2 million in mob money and run off together, but the Wachowskis remain conscious of how their theme is developing, even as they choreograph suspenseful setpieces with a “Look, ma!” flair that’s only occasionally distracting. The stakes are high, but to the Wachowskis’ credit, the question isn’t “Will they get away with the money?” but “Will they make it out together (with their lives and their tenuous trust intact)?” That’s a different level of engagement than the crime genre usually encourages. [Scott Tobias]

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3 / 27

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig
Screenshot: Casino Royale

The most significant shot in Casino Royale—the Daniel Craig revamp of the James Bond franchise—comes early, while the new Bond is getting his Parkour on and hopping from beam to beam at a construction site in pursuit of a terrorist bomber. When Craig severs a cable so he can rise up on a pulley, there’s an insignificant insert shot of the pipes Craig cut loose, now tumbling on the ground. But it’s only insignificant from a plot perspective. From a thematic perspective, the falling pipes reflect the mission statement for this new Bond: “Actions have consequences.” This is a messier Bond than we’d seen in a while. He’s impulsive, he miscalculates, and when he kills someone, he gets blood on his hands, his face, and all over his clothes. In Casino Royale, 007 has plenty of chances to get bloody. [Noel Murray]

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4 / 27

Climax

Climax

Climax
Climax
Photo: A24

How does one classify a film as brilliantly deranged as Climax, Gaspar Noé’s all-out assault on the senses? It’s a profanely funny hangout movie that morphs, with scary speed, into a claustrophobic freak-out, a better Suspiria than the Suspiria remake. It’s an unholy club-banger musical, like a Step Up sequel set in the deepest circles of hell. And in its microcosmic vision of society in collapse, it might be the closest that Noé, French arthouse cinema’s “edgy” showboat extraordinaire, has ever come to actually saying something, to finding method in madness. [A.A. Dowd]

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5 / 27

Coherence

Coherence

Emily Foxler
Emily Foxler
Screenshot: Coherence

The minimalist sci-fi mindbender Coherence boasts a scenario as tried and true as the walking dead: Bickering individuals hole up in a house during a crisis, discovering that the threat looming beyond their walls may pale in comparison to the conflict happening within them. There’s a wrinkle in the design this time, however, and it’s that the characters are their own worst enemies not just in a figurative sense, but in a literal one, too. Confused? Writer-director James Ward Byrkit has the answers, and he’s not stingy about providing them. What separates his film from other exercises in Twilight Zone trickery is its refusal to play coy with a high concept. Unlike, say, the feature-length rug-pull The Signal, Coherence doesn’t get off on withholding. It would rather milk its premise for all it’s worth than stockpile secrets. The result is an uncommonly clever genre movie, reliant not on special effects—of which there are basically none—but on heavy doses of paranoia. [A.A. Dowd]

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6 / 27

The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone

Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Screenshot: The Dead Zone

The rare Stephen King adaptation to capture the author’s signature sense of inexplicable, internal/external terror, The Dead Zone stands as one of David Cronenberg’s most straightforward and eerily effective early works. Trimming King’s source material down to its lean essence—and benefiting from the lack of his imaginative monsters, which never properly translate to the screen—the film concerns Maine schoolteacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), who turns down an offer to stay the night with his girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), subsequently gets into a traffic accident, and awakens from a coma five years later with the gift of second sight. Far from a blessing, however, the power proves to be a damnable curse, turning Johnny into a freak show whose time and attention is coveted by many, but only for their own selfish ends. As the man’s vision expands, his life shrinks down to nothing—an isolated existence which Cronenberg depicts through direction that routinely lingers on the empty silences between words and the distant whooshing of wintry New England wind. Cronenberg’s icy directorial detachment lends The Dead Zone a haunting creepiness, greatly amplified by Walken, whose halting verbal rhythms and glassy stare imbue Johnny with an alienated (if not outright alien) quality. [Nick Schager]

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7 / 27

Devil In A Blue Dress

Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
Screenshot: Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington’s redo of The Equalizer was reportedly developed with a franchise in mind—his first such attempt in a long and ultra-successful career. As many have pointed out, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, hero of Walter Mosley’s series of detective novels, makes a great alternate what-if choice for a Washington-fronted series. The first Easy Rawlins book, Devil In A Blue Dress, was adapted by Carl Franklin in 1995, with Washington perfectly cast in the lead, but the movie didn’t do much business and follow-ups never materialized. It’s a shame, because the first try more or less nails the origin story. Rawlins doesn’t start out as a private detective; he’s just looking for work to pay the mortgage on his Los Angeles home when Albright (Tom Sizemore) hires him to find the missing girl, Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), at the behest of a Los Angeles mayoral candidate. Much of Devil In A Blue Dress is textbook noir: A shadowy figure approaches the detective with a seemingly straightforward case that has more dimension than meets the eye. Soon he’s forced to work multiple angles and sort out who, if anyone, he can trust, as various parties—cops, politicians, sexy dames—try to use him for their benefit. [Jesse Hassenger]

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8 / 27

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: The Ghost Writer

It is both easy and impossible to separate Roman Polanski the person from Roman Polanski the filmmaker when considering his briskly entertaining new thriller The Ghost Writer, and that’s entirely to the film’s benefit. It’s easy because Polanski remains a consummate craftsman, just as capable of making swift, witty, precisely stylized diversions now as when he made Knife In The Water nearly 50 years ago. And yet there’s no mistaking the oppressive sense of isolation and exile that hangs over the proceedings, and how it relates to a man who has known public disgrace and life on the run. Based on Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, the film opens with cars pulling off an island ferry onto the mainland; every car, that is, but one. The driver washes ashore a couple of days later, presumed dead from an accident or a suicide, but of course there’s more to the story. As it turns out, the deceased is a close confidant to a disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), and he’d been on the island to help put the finishing touches on Brosnan’s highly anticipated memoir. Brosnan’s publisher, eager to get the book out fast, hires Ewan McGregor, who normally specializes in quick-and-dirty celebrity autobios, to punch up the tome and turn it around in a month. When McGregor arrives, he finds the book a terrible bore, but he runs into much bigger problems once he learns of the deeper, darker intrigue surrounding Brosnan and his inner circle. [Scott Tobias]

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9 / 27

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden
The Handmaiden
Photo: Magnolia

Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is a fiendishly clever, sinfully funny con-job melodrama, the kind that keeps yanking the rug out from under everyone on screen and off. If that’s all the film was, it would still be a must-see, at least for those who don’t mind a little graphic violence and kinky sex to go with their misdirection. But for all its twists, turns, and betrayals, the most shocking thing about the film is that it’s also, quite possibly and quite improbably, a genuinely romantic movie. That’s right: The extreme South Korean director of Oldboy and Stoker made a love story, one where the lovers aren’t related or vampires or anything! To get to it, you just have to peel back all the layers of deception, just like the characters do. The movie is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, with which Park takes some creative liberties, including moving the story from Victorian era Britain to the Korea of the 1930s, when the country was occupied by the Japanese. Tamako (Kim Tae-ri), a poor villager, is hired to serve as the new handmaiden for wealthy Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Right Now, Wrong Then’s Kim Min-hee), who lives with her old, lecherous uncle (Cho Jin-woong) at a vast country estate. No sooner has the young woman arrived, however, than Park cues up the first of many flashbacks, revealing that Tamako is actually (dramatic pause) Sook-hee, a pickpocket working with a con man, Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), to cheat the heiress out of her fortune. The plan involves convincing Lady Hideko to marry the count, then throwing her into a loony bin and splitting the inheritance. There’s just one tiny little snag: The two women have gotten closer and closer—and Sook-hee may be falling in love with her mark. [A.A. Dowd]

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10 / 27

Inception

Inception

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Screenshot: Inception

There are only a handful of filmmakers capable of infusing spectacle with ideas, and among those, director Christopher Nolan feels uniquely tapped into the anxieties of the day. Two separate but related millennial fears drive Nolan’s ambitious, mostly dazzling new opus Inception: We have no control over our lives, and reality as we used to understand it no longer exists—or at least has been fundamentally destabilized. Squaring the beautifully engineered puzzles of Memento and The Prestige with the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker in The Dark Knight, Inception takes place largely in a dreamscape where thieves of the mind fend off attacks from rebellious agents that clutter the subconscious. It’s a metaphysical heist picture, staged in worlds on top of worlds like nothing since Synecdoche, New York, and executed with a minimum of hand-holding. [Scott Tobias]

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11 / 27

King Of New York

King Of New York

Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Screenshot: King Of New York

Coming after a long purgatory in half-hearted B-pictures and TV land, where he directed episodes of Miami Vice and the Crime Story pilot, Abel Ferrara’s operatic 1990 gangster film King Of New York confirmed his affinity for the morally wayward and contradictory. A businessman, a philanthropist, and an executioner rolled into one, Christopher Walken elects himself mayor of the streets, which to him means confusing greed with altruism: Once he controls the city’s drug trade, by any bloody means necessary, the other sleazy kingpins will be eliminated and a portion of the proceeds will finance community projects like an underfunded hospital in the South Bronx. After serving a long prison sentence, the scarily opaque Walken and his cronies (Laurence Fishburne, Steve Buscemi, and Giancarlo Esposito, among others) seize their turf through a sweeping coup, eliminating their competitors by force. With the police hogtied by procedure, rogue cop David Caruso and a few of his fellow officers (including Wesley Snipes) try to stop Walken’s gang on their own, over the objections of by-the-book lieutenant Victor Argo. A Martin Scorsese discovery who appeared in five other Ferrara films, Argo is arguably the audience’s lone surrogate in a shady urban landscape; his earthy features and self-effacing style make him a memorable foil to the flashier Walken. Without his quiet authority, King Of New York might be written off as an unrepentant gangsta playbook, all sleaze and decadence without the ballast of common decency. [Scott Tobias]

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12 / 27

Knives Out

Knives Out

Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig
Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig
Photo: Lionsgate

Rian Johnson’s witty and phenomenally entertaining whodunit may have been inspired by classic Agatha Christie adaptations, but its underlying story of fortune and upward mobility owes more to Charles Dickens (who had his own fondness for mystery plots). Explaining why, however, would involve spoiling some of the film’s crucial twists. After a famous mystery novelist dies of an apparent (but very suspicious) suicide on his 85th birthday, an anachronistic “gentleman sleuth” (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the family of the deceased—a rogues’ gallery of useless modern-day aristocrats that includes a trust-fund playboy, an “alt-right” shitposter, and a New Age lifestyle guru. Johnson, who made his name with geeky delights like Brick and Looper before hitting it big with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, finds ingenious solutions to the rules of the murder-mystery movie formula. But more impressively, he manages to stake out a moral position in a genre in which everyone is supposed to be a suspect. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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13 / 27

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere
The Man From Nowhere
Screenshot:

The Man From Nowhere, the highest-grossing movie, foreign or domestic, in South Korea in 2010. (For comparison’s sake, America’s highest-grossing movie that same year was Toy Story 3.) The Man From Nowhere is a raw fucking film. It tells its story with an all-out intensity that no American action movie could ever hope to match. It gets complicated, but here are the broad strokes: A quiet, mysterious loner lives by himself in an apartment building and runs a pawnshop. The only person he ever talks to is one neighbor, a little girl whose mother is a reckless heroin addict. He acts annoyed whenever the little girl comes around, but he looks after her. The mother steals some heroin from some gangsters, and so they kidnap both the mother and the girl. And they’re not just drug traffickers; they’re also organ harvesters, and they plan to do some bad things to these poor people. So the pawnshop owner, who happens to be a former special forces assassin, has to take on this entire merciless criminal syndicate to get his friend back. [Tom Breihan]

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14 / 27

Midsommar

Midsommar

Midsommar
Midsommar
Photo: A24

Midsommar, a disturbing, ambitious, and unsettlingly colorful horror movie from the writer-director of Hereditary, unfolds within a remote village in northern Sweden, a land where the sun never completely sets. The place doesn’t look especially threatening, in its bucolic summer-camp splendor, and neither do its residents, a community of calm, welcoming, very… Swedish hippies, decked out in white frocks and garlands, smiles plastered perennially across their faces. Audiences will, of course, know to instinctively distrust them; in a horror movie about a cult, the true believers often come on friendly, the better to lure sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. But in Midsommar, that mask of holistic, New-Age-that’s-really-very-Old-Age congeniality never entirely slips, even when the bloodshed starts. And that’s a big part of the movie’s black magic, its spooky-queasy power: It makes madness look like an extension of the commune’s blissed-out worldview—a benevolent malevolence. [A.A. Dowd]

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15 / 27

Minority Report

Minority Report

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Minority Report

“What keeps us safe, keeps us free,” declares a propagandistic advertisement for the controversial Pre-Crime Division of the Washington D.C. police force, a unit that uses three visionary “Precogs” (short for “precognizant”) to apprehend would-be killers before they kill. The inherent contradiction of the “safety is freedom” proverb seems as lost on the leaders of 2002 as it does on the ones in 2054, which is only part of what gives Steven Spielberg’s astonishing Minority Report such enormous relevance and power. Expanding on a Philip K. Dick short story, the film could be the mirror image of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, only instead of violent crime being deterred after the fact, the perpetrators are arrested before it happens. Free will is lost in both cases, but the certainty is enough for Tom Cruise, a “future crimes” detective who synthesizes the visions of three Precogs like he’s conducting a virtual orchestra. Few directors are capable of marrying ideas and entertainment—one is often sacrificed for the other—but Spielberg peppers one gripping action setpiece after another with trenchant details about a near-future robbed of the most basic freedoms and privacy. [Scott Tobias]

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16 / 27

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Jeremy Renner and Tom Cruise
Jeremy Renner and Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the series’ fourth film, charges director Brad Bird with the task, betting that the animator behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille would have similar luck with flesh and blood in his live-action debut. The bet pays off. And then some. Bird brings a scary amount of assurance to Ghost Protocol. His action scenes are clean, coherent, thrilling, and visceral, never more than in a mid-film sequence in Dubai that piles setpiece atop setpiece as the action moves in, around, up, and down the Burj Khalifa skyscraper—the tallest building in the world. As Tom Cruise clings to the side of the building using malfunctioning equipment, and a sandstorm looms in the distance, the question shifts from whether Bird can direct an action film to whether there’s anyone out there who can top him. [Keith Phipps]

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17 / 27

Resolution

Resolution

Resolution
Resolution
Screenshot:

Like an indie analog to The Cabin In The Woods—and set, in fact, in a cabin in the woods—the meta-horror movie Resolution makes its own creative crisis the star, trying to make something original out of elements so hackneyed, the filmmakers can’t bear to reproduce them. What starts as the simple story of one friend trying to wean another off drugs by force becomes freighted, gimmick by ridiculous gimmick, a willfully absurd dogpile of horror-movie scare tactics—escapees from an asylum down the road, ominous old photographs and 8mm movies, webcam footage from an unseen camera. And the whole thing is set on an Indian reservation! That last element recalls Stanley Kubrick’s own seeming mockery of the genre in The Shining, in which an Indian burial ground adds more grim mythology to a hotel that has plenty already. Though its commentary is slight, Resolution makes a clever appeal to viewers who have seen it all. [Scott Tobias]

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18 / 27

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor
Photo: Lionsgate

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear. [Katie Rife]

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19 / 27

A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan

Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton
Screenshot: A Simple Plan

Based on the best-selling novel by Scott Smith (who also wrote the screenplay), A Simple Plan both simplifies and brings into focus the already simple and effective thriller. Two farm-town brothers (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) and their friend (Brent Briscoe) discover a bag stuffed with $4.4 million and decide to hold onto the contents until springtime, when the coast is clear. Almost immediately, greed and insecurities get to work, and the plan begins to unravel. The premise is older than The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, and A Simple Plan may remind some of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, particularly for the way both films set bloody, sudden violence against the snow-covered Midwest. But where the Coens’ breakthrough film was often cold, and sometimes mean-spirited and cynical, Sam Raimi’s film beats with a human heart. [Joshua Klein]

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20 / 27

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

Haley Joel Osment
Haley Joel Osment
Screenshot: The Sixth Sense

Willis stars as a Philadelphia psychologist who, shortly after receiving an award for his work with children, is confronted in his home by a disturbed former patient (Donnie Wahlberg), who feels Willis failed him. A year later, he encounters a child (Haley Joel Osment) who reminds him of Wahlberg, a boy who eventually reveals he has some traffic with the supernatural. Though not without some genuinely frightening moments, The Sixth Sense is less a horror film than a moody piece of magic realism. Shyamalan’s approach, composed largely of Kubrickian extended takes, has a sense of purpose and an artful construction that respects both its story and its audience, allowing both to take their time sorting things out. It’s a style that also brings out the best in its cast; Willis has rarely been better, and both Olivia Williams (as Willis’ wife) and Toni Collette (as Osment’s overworked, deeply concerned mother) turn in convincing performances. Also great—and had he not been, the film would have been ruined—is Osment, whose unrelenting gravity and ability to convey sadness beyond his years threatens to give a good name to child actors. The Sixth Sense teeters on the brink of New Age ludicrousness, but it never goes over: Like Kieslowski and others, Shyamalan knows that what makes for lousy metaphysics can make for powerful metaphor, and in the end he creates a deeply, surprisingly affecting film out of a little bit of smoke and brimstone. [Keith Phipps]

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21 / 27

Stonehearst Asylum

Stonehearst Asylum

Illustration for article titled The best thriller movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Stonehearst Asylum

Stonehearst Asylum is the kind of hothouse psychological thriller that frames itself around unexpected reveals, and it’s hard to say much of substance about the movie without disclosing the first of its many plot twists. On his first night on the asylum grounds, intern Newgate (Jim Sturgess) discovers that the superintendent, Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley), the groundskeeper, Finn (David Thewlis), and the rest of the staff are actually patients who have deposed the asylum’s real superintendent, Dr. Salt (Michael Caine), and imprisoned him along with his staff in dank basement cells. This is where the movie’s source material, the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether,” ends, but it’s where Stonehearst takes off, subverting genre expectations by turning the inmates into representatives of modernity. The presence of Kingsley—as well as all the ornate cabinetry and shadowy atmosphere—might suggest Shutter Island, but the real referent appears to be Tod Browning’s Freaks, with its complicated mixture of fear and sympathy. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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22 / 27

Super 8

Super 8

Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard
Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, and Ron Eldard
Screenshot: Super 8

For a stretch of the 1980s, there wasn’t enough Steven Spielberg to go around. While continuing to direct a movie every year or two, Spielberg produced films that had the look and feel of Spielberg-by-proxy, films filled with end-of-childhood adventures, suburbs, and small towns that doubled as unexpected sites of wonder or horror. In the best of them, directors like Joe Dante and Robert Zemeckis put their personal stamp on Spielbergian themes while creating popcorn-friendly films to rival their inspiration. Set in the streets, magic-hour-blanketed hills, and cluttered suburban homes of a small Ohio town as the 1970s edge into the ’80s, the J.J. Abrams-scripted-and-directed Super 8—which Spielberg produced—consciously, and successfully, looks back to an era of abundant Spielbergiana. [Keith Phipps]

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23 / 27

To Catch A Thief

To Catch A Thief

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly
Screenshot: To Catch A Thief

In Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Cary Grant plays a former hero of the French resistance who can’t quite convince a skeptical world that he’s mended his ways and abandoned his glamorous old existence as a diamond thief for a life of simple, legal pleasures. Grant’s criminal history works against him in that respect, but it’s also quite possible that the film’s characters would rather inhabit a world in which Cary Grant is a debonair international jewel thief than one in which he’s a mere retiree content to while away lazy afternoons tending his garden. With the possible exception of “secret agent,” “continental master thief” seems like the only job worthy of Grant. As befits a movie with a protagonist nicknamed “The Cat,” Thief proceeds with feline grace, a blissful light-footedness that looks effortless enough, but could only have been accomplished by a master operating at peak form. If nothing else, Thief is a lesson in charisma courtesy of Grant and Grace Kelly, reluctant lovebirds who find love in larceny and larceny in love. [Nathan Rabin]

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24 / 27

Unbreakable

Unbreakable

Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson
Screenshot: Unbreakable

Unbreakable was something of an oddity in 2000. It was an origin story when non-comic readers were unfamiliar with them. It was a serious-minded, reality-based superhero movie when there were none. Not only that, but it was an unconventional hero narrative, in which security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is led to believe that he has powers by an osteogenesis-imperfecta-suffering comic devotee, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). It was a small-scale origin story not about a hero needing to learn how to use new powers, but one that made a mystery—one unsolved until late in the movie—out of whether its hero even had powers at all. What also distinguished Unbreakable was its greater emphasis on the human parts of its superhuman story. The mystery may drive the film, but in spirit it’s closer to a character drama. [Alexander Huls]

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25 / 27

The Vast Of The Night

The Vast Of The Night

The Vast Of The Night
The Vast Of The Night
Photo: Amazon Studios

A popular mantra in the digital era is “You have a smartphone, you have YouTube, no excuses.” But that’s only half the truth. The flip side to this accessibility is that, while making a movie is easier than ever, it’s still difficult to stand out in an oversaturated media landscape. Just finishing the thing is an achievement, to be sure. But if you’re serious about getting it seen, you’ve got to understand both your strengths and your limitations and apply them in a way that will make your vision distinct. For an object lesson in the matter, aspiring filmmakers would do well to examine self-taught director Andrew Patterson’s debut feature, The Vast Of Night. Set in the tiny border town of Cayuga, New Mexico (pop. 492) sometime in the 1950s, The Vast Of Night proceeds from an archetypical—some might even say clichéd—sci-fi premise. All you need to hear are the words “New Mexico” and “1950s” to figure out where the plot is headed, which does make its inevitable conclusion feel a little bit, well, inevitable. But that’s a minor issue, as the appeal of this story lies not in its twists and turns but its telling. Patterson, along with screenwriters James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, apply their influences and inspirations to The Vast Of Night in ingenious ways, making for a film that feels fresh despite being composed of classic elements. [Katie Rife]

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26 / 27

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here
Photo: Amazon Studios

Director Lynne Ramsay’s latest dive into the deepest, most diabolical trenches of the human psyche is as fractured as the consciousness of its protagonist, the physically intimidating, psychologically fragile assassin-for-hire Joe (Joaquin Phoenix). Ramsay swings between understatement and excess with bravado, a destabilizing tactic that injects every loaded silence with a sense of palpable dread. The result is an impressionistic fugue state of a film that illuminates moments of unspeakable violence with the blinding indifference of a flashbulb, a series of Polaroid photographs stashed under a dirty, bloodstained mattress in a blighted Skid Row hotel room. But for all of its grim, broad-shouldered misanthropy, You Were Never Ready Here also finds time for moments of simple, unspoiled beauty—ephemeral, but beautiful nonetheless. [Katie Rife]

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