Thriller film

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A common theme in thrillers involves innocent victims dealing with deranged adversaries, as seen in Hitchcock's film Rebecca (1940), where Mrs. Danvers tries to persuade Mrs. De Winter to leap to her death.

Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a film genre that falls under the general thriller genre. The thriller film's key characteristics are excitement and suspense.[1] The suspense element, found in most films' plots, is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable.[2]


A strict definition of the thriller film is that the film's overarching goal is to build tension in audiences as the film approaches its climax. Tension is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible. Life is typically threatened in thriller film, such as when the protagonist does not realize entering a dangerous situation. Thriller films' characters conflict with each other or with an outside force, which can sometimes be abstract.[3]

Thriller films are typically hybridized with other genres; there exist adventure thrillers, science fiction thrillers, Western thrillers, and film noir thrillers. Thriller films also share a close relationship with horror films, both eliciting tension. In plots about crime, thriller films focus less on the criminal or the detective and more on generating suspense. Common themes include "terrorism, political conspiracy, pursuit, or romantic triangles leading to murder".[3]



Rear Window is considered to be one of Hitchcock's best[4] and one of the greatest movies ever made. The film received four Academy Award nominations.

Alfred Hitchcock's first thriller was his third silent film, The Lodger (1926), a suspenseful Jack the Ripper story. His next thriller was Blackmail (1929), his and Britain's first sound film. His notable thrillers in the 1930s include The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps.

One of the earliest spy films was Fritz Lang's Spies (1928), the director's first independent production, with an anarchist international conspirator and criminal spy character named Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who is pursued by good-guy Agent No. 326 (Willy Fritsch)—this film would be an inspiration for the future James Bond films. The German film M (1931), directed by Fritz Lang, starred Peter Lorre (in his first film role) as a criminal deviant who preys on children.


Hitchcock continued his suspense-thrillers, directing Foreign Correspondent (1940), the Oscar-winning Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Saboteur (1942) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), which was Hitchcock's own personal favorite. Notable non-Hitchcock films of the 1940s include The Spiral Staircase (1946) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948).

In the 1950s, Hitchcock added technicolor to his thrillers, now with exotic locales. He reached the zenith of his career with a succession of classic films such as, Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M For Murder (1954) with Ray Milland, Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). Non-Hitchcock thrillers of the 1950s include The Night of the Hunter (1955)—Charles Laughton's only film as director—and Orson Welles's crime thriller Touch of Evil (1958).

Director Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) featured Carl Boehm as a psychopathic cameraman. After Hitchcock's classic films of the 1950s, he produced Psycho (1960) about a lonely, mother-fixated motel owner and taxidermist. J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear (1962), with Robert Mitchum, had a menacing ex-con seeking revenge. A famous thriller at the time of its release was Wait Until Dark (1967) by director Terence Young, with Audrey Hepburn as a victimized blind woman in her Manhattan apartment.


The 1970s saw an increase of violence in the thriller genre, beginning with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff's Wake in Fright (1971), which almost completely overlapped with the horror genre, and Frenzy (1972), Hitchcock's first British film in almost two decades, which was given an R rating for its vicious and explicit strangulation scene. One of the first films about a fan's being disturbingly obsessed with their idol was Clint Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971), about a California disc jockey pursued by a disturbed female listener (Jessica Walter). John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) followed the perilous fate of four Southern businessmen during a weekend's trip. In Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974), a bugging-device expert (Gene Hackman) systematically uncovered a covert murder while he himself was being spied upon.

Alan Pakula's The Parallax View (1974) told of a conspiracy, led by the Parallax Corporation, surrounding the assassination of a presidential-candidate US Senator that was witnessed by investigative reporter Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty). Peter Hyam's science fiction thriller Capricorn One (1978) proposed a government conspiracy to fake the first mission to Mars.

Brian De Palma usually had themes of guilt, voyeurism, paranoia, and obsession in his films, as well as such plot elements as killing off a main character early on, switching points of view, and dream-like sequences. His notable films include Sisters (1973); Obsession (1976), which was slightly inspired by Vertigo; Dressed to Kill (1980); and the assassination thriller Blow Out (1981).


In the early 90s, thrillers had recurring elements of obsession and trapped protagonists who must find a way to escape the clutches of the villain—these devices influenced a number of thrillers in the following years. Rob Reiner's Misery (1990), based on a book by Stephen King, featured Kathy Bates as an unbalanced fan who terrorizes an incapacitated author (James Caan) who is in her care—Bates won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. Other films include Curtis Hanson's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and Unlawful Entry (1992), starring Ray Liotta.[5]

Detectives/FBI agents hunting down a serial killer was another popular motif in the 90s. A famous example is Jonathan Demme's Best Picture–winning crime thriller The Silence of the Lambs (1991)—in which a young FBI agent (Jodie Foster) engages in a psychological conflict with a cannibalistic psychiatrist named Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) while tracking down transgender serial killer Buffalo Bill—and David Fincher's crime thriller Seven (1995), about the search for a serial killer who re-enacts the seven deadly sins.

Another notable example is Martin Scorsese's neo-noir psychological thriller Shutter Island (2010), in which a U.S. Marshal must investigate a psychiatric facility after one of the patients inexplicably disappear.

In recent years, thrillers have often overlapped with the horror genre, having more gore/sadistic violence, brutality, terror and frightening scenes. The recent films in which this has occurred include Eden Lake (2008), The Last House on the Left (2009), P2 (2007), Captivity (2007), and Vacancy (2007). Action scenes have also gotten more elaborate in the thriller genre. Films such as Unknown (2011), Hostage (2005), and Cellular (2004) have crossed over into the action genre.


The thriller film genre includes the following sub-genres:[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Konigsberg 1997, p. 421
  2. ^ Konigsberg 1997, p. 404
  3. ^ a b Dirks, Tim. "Thriller – Suspense Films". Retrieved July 25, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Rear Window Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved December 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Thriller and Suspense Films". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Thriller/Suspense Subgenre Definitions". Retrieved June 24, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Action Thriller". AllRovi. Retrieved November 6, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Taken – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 6, 2015. 
  9. ^ The Fugitive (1993) AllMovie
  10. ^ "Casino Royale – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 6, 2015. 
  11. ^ "The Hurt Locker – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 6, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Hollywood readying new wave action thrillers". Retrieved November 11, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Edge of Darkness – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". January 29, 2010. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  14. ^ "JFK – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Seven – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". October 24, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Mindhunters – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". May 13, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Copycat – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". October 24, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  18. ^ "The Asphalt Jungle – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". June 8, 1950. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  19. ^ "The Score – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". July 13, 2001. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Entrapment – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Basic Instinct – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". March 20, 1992. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  22. ^ According to Filmsite.org – "Another closely-related genre (to thriller) is the horror film genre, also designed to elicit tension and suspense, taking the viewer through agony and fear."
  23. ^ "The Interpreter – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". April 22, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Proof of Life – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". December 8, 2000. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Psychological Thriller Movies and Films – Find Psychological Thriller Movie Recommendations, Casts, Reviews, and Summaries". AllRovi. October 24, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  26. ^ Oksenhorn, Stewart (7 December 2004). "'The Machinist': a haunting psychological thriller". The Aspen Times. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  27. ^ "Red Eye – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards". AllRovi. August 19, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  28. ^ "The River Wild – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards". AllRovi. October 24, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Panic Room – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards". AllRovi. March 29, 2002. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Funny Games – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". March 14, 2008. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  31. ^ "The Spying Game: British Cinema and the Secret State", 2009 Cambridge Film Festival, pp.54-57 of the festival brochure.
  32. ^ Geoffrey Macnab, "Spy movies – The guys who came in from the cold", The Independent, 2 October 2009.
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Fallen – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". October 24, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  35. ^ "In Dreams – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". January 15, 1999. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  36. ^ "The Skeleton Key – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". August 12, 2005. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  37. ^ Shoard, Catherine (26 July 2010). "Spoiler alert: The Sixth Sense voted film with best twist". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  38. ^ Billy Bob Thornton. "The Gift – Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards – AllRovi". Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  39. ^ "Daniel Radcliffe to Grow ‘Horns’ for Supernatural Thriller". Screen Rant. March 9, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014. 


  • Konigsberg, Ira (1997). The Complete Film Dictionary (Second ed.). Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-670-10009-5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Derry, Charles (2001). The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-1208-2. 
  • Frank, Alan (1997). Frank's 500: The Thriller Film Guide. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-2728-8. 
  • Hanich, Julian (2010). Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear. Routledge Advances in Film Studies. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-87139-6. 
  • Hicks, Neil D. (2002). Writing the Thriller Film: The Terror Within. Michael Wiese Productions. ISBN 978-0-941188-46-3. 
  • Indick, William (2006). Psycho Thrillers: Cinematic Explorations of the Mysteries of the Mind. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2371-2. 
  • Mesce, Bill (2007). Overkill: The Rise And Fall of Thriller Cinema. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2751-2. 
  • Rubin, Martin (1999). Thrillers. Genres in American Cinema. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-58839-3.