Sometimes, when you’re looking to be entertained, only a thriller will cut it. If you ever find yourself feeling like life is getting inexplicably dark and morality is becoming more ambiguous, immersing yourself in a tense world of serial killers, terrorists, and crooked sleazebags of all kinds is a pretty great form of escapism. The genre is broad enough to encompass a wide variety of tropes, so you could probably watch thrillers forever and never get bored.
Netflix’s thriller offerings are surprisingly well-rounded this month, offering a good mix of undisputed classics from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Greengrass as well as newer indie flicks that you may have missed. October’s biggest newcomer is “Fair Play,” Chloe Domont’s raunchy take on sexual deviancy in the finance industry that shocked Sundance before being acquired by Netflix. Whether you’re looking to revisit an old favorite, fill an embarrassing gap in your movie knowledge, or find something new and cutting-edge that will blow your mind, the thriller genre always has something for you. Keep reading for 12 of our favorite thrillers streaming on Netflix in October 2023.
12. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (Streaming now)
At first glance, the casting of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy seemed like an indulgence of all of the worst parts of mainstream true crime culture. As America’s fascination with serial killers continued to skyrocket, bringing in a former Disney star to play a brutal serial killer could have been a shameless attempt to cash in on the trend. But Efron delivers an excellent performance in a nuanced film that does nothing to glamorize the murderer, choosing instead to break down the cult of personality surrounding Bundy at every turn. —CZ
11. “Piercing” (Streaming now)
Nicolas Pesce’s intense BDSM thriller opens with a man struggling to resist the urge to stab his own baby with an icepick, and things only ramp up from there. Christopher Abbott stars as a deranged man who tries to quell his violent urges by murdering a prostitute (Mia Wasikowska), only to find out that she is just as demented as he is. His attempt to lure her into a hotel room and kill her turns into a diabolical showdown that has to be seen to be believed. —CZ
10. “Run Rabbit Run” (Streaming now)
Sarah Snook took on her first post-“Succession” leading role in this Australian thriller about a fertility doctor who begins to suspect that something is very, very wrong with her young daughter. In a performance that wildly diverges from her tightly-wound Waystar Royco heiress persona, Snook goes to great lengths to elevate a conventional thriller premise (complete with familiar tropes like ominous animal iconography) into one of the more entertaining films to hit Netflix in recent memory. Equal parts “The Babadook” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” it’s a film that will push you to your breaking point as quickly as Snook’s character reached hers. —CZ
9. “Emily the Criminal” (Streaming now)
A nasty crime thriller about how economic uncertainty can push people to desperate extremes, “Emily the Criminal” stars Aubrey Plaza as the titular Emily, a former art student whose college debt and former felony charge prevents her from escaping the drudgeries of service work. When a coworker connects her to a credit card fraud ring, Emily leaps at the opportunity to make some fast cash, and under the tutelage of organizer Youcef (Theo Rossi), she quickly becomes a natural at this very unsavory line of work. The screenplay is occasionally a bit silly, but John Patton Ford’s feature directorial debut shows great promise, and Plaza’s charismatic performance as an ordinary woman with a surprising capacity for violence and crime is damn near flawless. —WC
8. “Donnie Brasco” (Streaming now)
It is a testament to Al Pacino’s storied career that “Donnie Brasco” does not top the list of the best crime movies he appeared in. This Mafia drama stars Johnny Depp as an FBI agent who goes undercover in the Bonanno crime family and develops a close relationship with an aging hitman played by Pacino. The film does an excellent job of illustrating the way undercover agents blur the line between business and personal relationships, avoiding crime drama cliches while maintaining suspense at every turn. —CZ
7. “Collateral” (Streaming now)
If you’re counting down the days until Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” hits theaters, why not revisit one of his best films of the 21st century? “Collateral” is the kind of film that’s mere existence feels like a miracle in 2023. It’s a mid-budget, adult thriller based on an original idea that managed to gross over $200 million. Jamie Foxx stars as a cab driver who receives a mysterious (and incredibly lucrative) request to drive to some strange locations, only to find himself held hostage and used as a pawn in a hitman’s (Tom Cruise) elaborate game. Cruise’s villain arc is cool enough to make you wish he’d deviate from heroic roles more often and the stacked supporting cast — which also includes the Javier Bardem, Mark Ruffalo, and Jada Pinkett Smith — does equally stellar work. —CZ
6. “Gerald’s Game” (Streaming now)
Stephen King’s chilling tale of bondage sex gone wrong was long thought to be unfilmable, due to so much of the novel “Gerald’s Game” taking place inside the mind of a woman who is chained to her bed. But “The Haunting of Hill House” creator Mike Flanagan found a way, turning the story into a chilling two-hander starring Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood that remains faithful to the novel while still thrilling viewers. —CZ