20 best thrillers on HBO Max to frazzle your nerves


There are times you just need a chill down your spine to shake off the doldrums and know you’re alive.

When this craving hits, nothing satisfies quite like a great thriller. Such suspense-rich movies give us a first-class ticket to journeys wild, winding, and exciting. They invite us to live vicariously through charismatic crooks, on-the-run assassins, vengeance-seeking vigilantes, and twisted souls who thirst for destruction.

If you’re in search of cinema that will rattle your nerves and leave you breathless, we’ve got just the thing. Whether you want something new or classic, fun or frightening, mind-bending or heartwarming, there’s a perfect pick just for you.

Here are the 20 best thrillers on Max now available.

1. M

“M” is the mark of a murderer in this unnerving Fritz Lang classic, which boasts layers of sinister thrills. Released in 1931, this German gem explored the terrors of “stranger danger” way ahead of its time by tracking the crimes of a sneaky child killer. Rather than show kids slaughtered onscreen, Lang employed German Expressionism to imply carnage, thus turning an abandoned balloon into a horrific image. Suspense is wrought not only from the threat that this merciless murderer will strike again, but also from a raging mob’s mounting quest for vigilante justice. With wide eyes and an unsettling screen presence, Peter Lorre made his mark with this role of a revolting fiend. — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor

How to watch: M is now streaming on Max.

2. Kimi

Zoë Kravitz in "Kimi."

Credit: HBO Max and Warner Bros Pictures

What would you do if you overheard a crime being committed? That’s the curious question that plays at the core of Steven Soderbergh’s 2022 thriller, written by Jurassic Park‘s David Koepp. Named for a virtual personal assistant that recorded audio of a seemingly deadly incident, Kimi stars Zoë Kravitz as Angela Childs, a tech worker whose sharp ear and big heart mean she can’t walk away once the screams play. In tracking down the truth, Angela will face off against corporate greed, mysterious stalkers, and her struggles with crippling agoraphobia. Laced with psychological suspense and a mesmerizing mystery, this thriller will have you on the edge of your seat…and maybe side-eying your Echo. — K.P.

How to watch: Kimi is now streaming on Max.

3. Black Swan

Natalie Portman justly won the Best Actress Oscar for her fiercely committed turn here as lead ballet dancer Nina Sayers, whose tippy-toes aren’t the only thing snapping under the weight of all that stress in writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological thriller. Boxed in by a smothering mother at home (Barbara Hershey) and a handsy artistic director at work (Vincent Cassel at his seductive-slimiest), all it takes is for a rival dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis) to start poking at her for Nina to completely unravel into a heap of black-and-white feathers on the floor. 

With a tone pitched somewhere between Showgirls and The Red Shoes, Aronofsky drags us pirouette-first into the mindset of a dancer’s obsession with achieving athletic perfection, no matter the damage; Nina basically wills her bones to snap into the exact right place or else. All that, plus Winona Ryder chewing the scenery as the Cristal to Portman’s Nomi – such camp, such bliss, such sinister fun.

How to watch: Black Swan is now streaming on Max.

4. Blood Simple

Frances McDormand in "Blood Simple."

Credit: © Circle Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Coen Brothers made their name right out of the gate with this killer 1984 neo-noir, their very first film. The film stars John Getz as Ray, a bartender at an Austin dive bar who begins having an affair with Abby (Frances McDormand), the wife of his sleazy boss Julian (Dan Hedaya). Enter a private detective named Visser (a classic turn from legendary character actor M. Emmet Walsh), and soon enough everybody’s double-crossing each other and it’s all turning to shit as quick as you can say holy gumshoe. If that plot sounds like the plot of a million noirs that came before it, just you wait. The Coens’ script is as knotty as we’ve now come to expect from the pair, twisting those rote noir conventions into pretzels and then exploding it all outward into a brutality that truly leaves a mark. 

How to watch: Blood Simple is now streaming on Max.

5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

While there’s a lot of competition for the title of Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos’ nastiest movie, I don’t think anyone would raise a ruckus if you named this 2017 film of his, which stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as a married couple who find their family inexplicably terrorized by Martin (a pre-Saltburn Barry Keoghan).

Martin just shows up one day and happily informs Steven’s family that they will all start going through several horrible stages of illness, all leading to death for everyone if one member of the family isn’t sacrificed. And then we’re forced to watch him sloppily eat spaghetti in a white t-shirt. It’s traumatic! Like a home invasion thriller on a ketamine drip, The Killing of a Sacred Deer feels like what would happen if Michael Haneke had a sense of humor. Truly deranged.

How to watch: The Killing of a Sacred Deer is now streaming on Max

6. Clear and Present Danger

Before Tom Clancy’s famed CIA agent Jack Ryan got himself a streaming series starring John Krasinski but after he was played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, Harrison Ford tackled the role in two films directed by Philip Noyce — Patriot Games in 1992 and this 1994 thriller. Both are worth your time, and both are streaming on Max, but I’m partial to the second one, which is so thick with ace character actors having a blast in diabolical little roles that you’ll find it dizzying from scene to scene. We’re talking Willem Dafoe, Henry Czerny, James Earl Jones, Anne Archer, and Donald Moffat and those illustrious eyebrows of his. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled Clark Gregg and Benjamin Bratt as hot little babyfaces in uniform. The plot is some typically convoluted nonsense about conspiracies and drug cartels and double- and triple-crosses — it’s all just an excuse for Harrison Ford to furrow his brow and kick some ass. Which is the best excuse there is!

How to watch: Clear and Present Danger is now streaming on Max.

7. It Comes at Night

A scene from "It Comes at Night."

Credit: Eric Mcnatt / Animal Kingdom / Kobal / Shutterstock

Terrifyingly intimate and awash with a truly creepy darkness, this thriller from writer/director Trey Edward Shults has acquired an extra level of resonance since its release in 2017. Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live together in a small, boarded-up cabin in the woods. The world around them has been decimated by a horrific disease, and they’ve just narrowly managed to avoid being infected themselves. All’s going well enough — or as well as can be expected, given the whole “deadly global pandemic” thing — until another family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, and Griffin Robert Faulkner) show up, and quickly the suspicions and mistrust between them all becomes too much to bear.

During the first few months of our real-world COVID pandemic, everybody talked about going back and rewatching Contagion and Outbreak, but too few gave this one, the scariest of them all as far as I’m concerned, a chance. Rectify that!

How to watch: It Comes at Night is now streaming on Max.

8. Parasite

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho had been making popular and critical hits in his home country for almost two decades before he made the 2019 class thriller Parasite. But all of that previous success couldn’t have prepared anybody for the phenomenon his latest would become; it raked in over $262 million worldwide at the box office and then danced home with four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

A nesting doll of get-rich-quick schemes, Parasite is centered on the poor Kim family (including the legendary Song Kang-ho as its patriarch) who become obsessed with bilking the wealthy Park family out of every cent they can. They do this by infiltrating the oblivious Parks as their servants, one by one — until the Parks’ actual servants start taking their revenge, that is. It all comes to a head with weaponized peach fuzz, a biblical rainstorm, and a bloody birthday party from hell. This frazzled tale of the haves versus the have-nots surfed straight to the top of zeitgeist, with good reason. 

How to watch: Parasite is now streaming on Max

9. Infernal Affairs

Tony Leung in "Infernal Affairs."

Credit: Miramax / Everett / Shutterstock

Remade in 2006 by no less than Martin Scorsese as The Departed, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s twisty 2002 thriller stars Hong Kong legends Andy Lau and Tony Leung as a cop-turned-criminal and a criminal-turned-cop who both get themselves in seriously over their heads. The twosome’s clashing machinations to keep their various deeds under cover from the forces out to get them leads to ruin for pretty much everybody. As each one tries to out the other before they get outed first, it’s chaos, beautiful chaos! Every action movie in the past two decades wishes and prays it has some of the expertly wound tension this film sparks off with ease. 

How to watch: Infernal Affairs is now streaming on Max.

10. Funny Games

If you like your thrillers to double and triple underline the meaninglessness of human existence, have we got the movie for you! Austrian director Michael Haneke’s 1997 classic of cinematic despair stars Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe as Anna and Georg, average middle-class parents to young Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) who are heading out to their lake house for a relaxing weekend. Their plans go swiftly awry when two strange young men in tennis whites (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) show up at their door politely asking to borrow some eggs. Neighborly niceties quickly dissolve into a home invasion nightmare, one from which logic and reason have about as good a chance of escaping as does any object that comes too close to a black hole. (The black hole in this instance is Michael Haneke’s heart.)

How to watch: Funny Games is now streaming on Max.

11. Diabolique

At a run-down boarding house in the suburbs of Paris, the headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is cheating on his sickly wife Christina (Véra Clouzot), a teacher at the school, with a younger sexier teacher named Nicole (Simone Signoret). Michel is such an asshole to everybody that the women team up together to murder him, just to get themselves out from under his thumb. But as we’ve seen time and again, such diabolical plans never land simply, and director Henri-Georges Clouzot wrings incredible amounts of tension from this simple premise. Diabolique is a true masterpiece of the genre, although I have a bizarre and perhaps singular soft spot for the 1996 remake, with a camp-tastic Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani. Watch it now and be amazed at how every thriller’s been thoroughly ripping it off ever since.

How to watch: Diabolique is now streaming on Max.

12. The Thomas Crown Affair

Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo in "The Thomas Crown Affair."

Credit: MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock

1999 was so stacked with cinematic masterpieces that this incredibly entertaining heist film, a remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen picture, doesn’t get nearly as much love as it should. From Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan, this version stars Pierce Brosnan (in between James Bond movies at the time) as a billionaire who steals a $100 million painting from the Museum of Modern Art, and finds an insurance investigator (Rene Russo, burning up the screen) hot on his tail. In more ways than one! 

Facts: This movie is a better Bond movie than any of Brosnan’s actual Bond films. It’s a sexy and thrilling adult-oriented travelogue full of lush locations, action sequences, and gorgeous mountains of killer clothes. And if you’re old enough, you’ll remember all of the embarrassing press over the “nude” dress that the then-45-year-old Russo rocks in a memorable dance scene in the movie — because in 1999 it was apparently mind-boggling for a 45-year-old woman to be viewed as sexually desirable? Thank goodness we can all see how silly that was now.

How to watch: The Thomas Crown Affair is now streaming on Max.

13. The Assistant 

Although the name “Harvey Weinstein” is never uttered in this 2019 #MeToo horror film from writer/director Kitty Green, it doesn’t have to be. It’s clear that Weinstein (and all of the many Weinstein variants out there) is the monster behind its door, each of them using their power to prey on any woman within pawing distance. The great Julia Garner stars here as Jane, a young woman on the verge who we follow over the course of a single day in her duties as an assistant at a film production company in lower Manhattan. 

Present and mindful enough to witness the horrifically inappropriate behavior her boss is engaging in but low enough on the totem pole that nobody will listen to her when she tries to speak up, The Assistant is a troubling study of complicity, one that unnerves in its every frame.

How to watch: The Assistant is now streaming on Max.

14. Cujo

The 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s book about a rabid Saint Bernard is monstrously simple, but all the more effective for that. Director Lewis Teague (who also did the King adaptation Cat’s Eye) spends the vast majority of Cujo‘s 90-minute runtime focused on Donna (Dee Wallace) and her son Tad (Danny Pintauro), who are trapped in their increasingly hot car with a dwindling amount of food and water — all the while, Cujo is foaming at the mouth just on the other side of their car window, eager to tear them apart. It’s as lizard-brained basic a survival tale as they come.

How to watch: Cujo is now streaming on Max.

15. The Hitcher 

In The Hitcher, ’80s twink C. Thomas Howell plays Jim, a young man tasked with delivering a car across the country. But Jim makes the rookie mistake of picking up a hitchhiker, and one who looks like Rutger Hauer at that. He doesn’t actually just look like Rutger Hauer – he is played by Rutger Hauer! Even scarier. Nothing good has ever come from the presence of Rutger Hauer. Giving Jim the hilarious fake name of “John Ryder,” the hitcher torments Jim up and down the deserted roads of Texas, eventually dragging a sweet little diner waitress named Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the melee too. Bodies pile up left and right, and it all leads to a truly shocking climax — one that could’ve been avoided if silly old Jim had just obeyed the road’s Golden Rule: “Avoid all Rutger Hauers.” Well, now he knows.

How to watch: The Hitcher is now streaming on Max

16. The French Connection

Famed for its legendary car chase through the streets of New York City, this 1971 police thriller from director William Friedkin stars the great Gene Hackman as the detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, one of his most iconic roles. Doyle is on the hunt for French drug-runner Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) who’s smuggled a shit ton of heroin into the country walled up inside of a fancy automobile. Although nobody will be mistaking this for a John Wick movie (and thank goodness for that) The French Connection is still very nearly 104 straight minutes of chase sequences leading into more chase sequences, with Doyle hot on Charnier’s tail in an increasingly panicked fashion, all while Hackman gives us a complicated, messy hero sweating and swearing across the margins.

How to watch: The French Connection is now streaming on Max.

17. The Skin I Live In

Elena Anaya and Antonio Banderas in "The Skin I Live In."

Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Although there have been plentiful Hitchockian criminal elements laced throughout legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s films over the years, none have leaned quite so hard into straight thriller territory as does this very strange and frequently horrific 2011 film. Riffing fairly explicitly on the classic 1960 horror film Eyes Without a Face, The Skin I Live In stars Almodovar’s male muse Antonio Banderas as plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard. When he’s not busy accepting awards for his revolutionary medical procedures, Robert spends his time at home relaxing and grafting human skin onto mice. He also keeps a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) trapped on his estate so he can practice making her physically perfect. Deeply twisted in psychosexual ways that only Almodovar could dream up, The Skin I Live In should burrow itself right under yours.

How to watch: The Skin I Live In is now streaming on Max.

18. Notes on a Scandal 

Richard Eyre’s 2006 film, an adaptation of Zoë Heller’s novel, veers so hard into pure melodrama at times that it is fine to admit its thriller elements are on occasion undercut by the bigness of the performances and the lurid atmosphere. It often feels more like one of those ’90s trashy thrillers, like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or The Crush — just with Oscar-winning thespians Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench as the ones boiling the bunnies this time. But what delicious bunnies they boil!

Blanchett plays Sheba, the new art teacher at the school where hissing old piece-of-work Barbara (Dench) has long ago resigned herself to a life of cat-clutching bitterness and scorn. The two strike up a tentative friendship, which with great speed transmogrifies into an unhinged obsession on Barbara’s part. Hey, we get it. She’s Cate Blanchett after all. So, when Sheba starts having sex with an underage student, Barbara sees her in — blackmail the pretty lady into loving you! That always works out, right? 

In a long and much-respected career of excellent performances, Dench’s seething turn as a hardened closet case will always and forever be my favorite work of hers. The nastiness of her set-in repression feels like acid pouring from Barbara’s every pore, and oh, how Dench makes it sting.

How to watch: Notes on a Scandal is now streaming on Max.

19. Good Time

Propulsive is a good word for what the Safdie brothers accomplished with Good Time, their 2017 thriller starring Robert Pattinson as a sleazy crook who drags everybody around him into a heap of trouble at every possible turn. Pattinson plays a Queens lowlife named Connie who kicks things off by yanking his brother Nick (Benny Safdie), who is intellectually disabled, out of a therapy session so they can rob a bank together. 

From there, every choice Connie makes leads to awfulness, and yet Connie keeps slipping out of the dire situations he creates like a cockroach making its way through the most invisible of cracks. But as repugnant as Connie is, Pattinson gives what might be his greatest performance to date in the role. The stacked cast includes the late Buddy Duress, a Safdie brothers regular, plus Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. This movie is so amped up, it’ll propel you right into a heart attack. 

How to watch: Good Time is now streaming on Max.

20. Ex Machina

Now that artificial intelligence is actually knocking on our doors, demanding it be let in and take over all of our jobs, why not go back and visit Alex Garland‘s 2014 nightmare about a sentient, sexy robot who turns out to be far more than her makers can comprehend? 

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer who’s won the honor of spending a week at the extremely fancy estate of the company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan is a sexy billionaire tech genius (and thank goodness that none of our billionaire tech geniuses actually look like Oscar Isaac, because that would get very confusing about who we should be rooting for) and he’s set up some extra homework for Caleb to do while he’s there. Caleb is going to take part in a Turing test with Nathan’s latest invention, Ava. Part whirring cyborg, part Alicia Vikander, Ava is all honey pot for Caleb.

Trapped inside Nathan’s middle-of-nowhere modern masterpiece of a manse, the threesome — alongside a silent servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) — delves into the scientific theories surrounding human consciousness. The results are shockingly sexy… and deeply dangerous.

How to watch: Ex Machina is now streaming on Max.

UPDATE: Jun. 27, 2024, 2:57 p.m. EDT This list was updated to reflect the current streaming options.

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