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The Top 10 Thrillers of the 90’s

By Terris Ko · November 2, 2014

Take your pick: psychological thriller, crime thriller, supernatural thriller, political thriller, erotic thriller… the 1990’s were a hotbed of films that kept us on the edges of our seats. Here are ten of the decade’s best


10. The Game (1997)

Director David Fincher’s interlude between Se7en and Fight Club, The Game accomplishes what many thrillers attempt, but few are successful at delivering: providing a thrill ride so enjoyable that while the audience revels in the comeuppance an unsympathetic hero receives at the hands of the baddies as the action gets underway, the audience soon finds itself rooting for the (not so good) good guy.

Points to Michael Douglas for making us believe that his narcissistic, unfeeling lump of a hero might also have the capacity for self-reflection and change.


7. Misery (1990)

With a script written by William Goldman and based on a novel by Stephen King, director Rob Reiner (who famously brought another King work to life in the classic Stand By Me) already had the cards stacked in his favor. Adding Kathy Bates as James Caan’s off-kilter number one fan with a ladycrush on the heroine of Caan’s best-selling romance novels sealed the deal.

Oh, and: Hobbling.

Bates later switched gears and gave us another modern instant classic portrayal of a King character in Dolores Claiborne.

Trailer Credit


4. Heat (1995)

When it was announced that despite having played father and son before (in The Godfather: Part II, where Robert DeNiro almost stole the show in the flashback sequences as a young Vito Corleone), Al Pacino and DeNiro (finally) would come face-to-face onscreen for the first time in Heat, Michael Mann already had compelling drama built into the film.

That Mann is able to load personal drama into each character’s life and show us how the “good” aren’t necessarily that different from the “bad”–in either case each person’s happiness essentially hangs on the least substantial of threads–is a testament to his gift of storytelling and developing character. An extended shootout sequence says it all; the fracas moves through a supermarket parking lot and an outdoor display of barbecue supplies is obliterated, echoing Pacino and DeNiro’s earlier confrontation about whether either of them ever wanted a “regular type life.”


3. The Sixth Sense (1999)

A kinder, gentler Bruce Willis guided precocious Haley Joel Osment through the trials and tribulations of his gift/curse: seeing dead people. At this point, that fact shouldn’t be a spoiler anymore, because of how engrained in the collective consciousness The Sixth Sense became. A generation was terrorized, and we never saw Osment (or Willis) the same again.


2. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

There have been iterations of Hannibal Lecter that came before and after, but none of them have captured the refined menace of “Hannibal the Cannibal” the way Anthony Hopkins does here. Not even Hopkins could match Hopkins in later outings as the brilliant, but ruthless serial killer hiding in plain sight as a renowned psychiatrist.

Jodie Foster brings just the right amount of forced bravado to what might be considered her swan song to acting (before she decided to dedicate more of her time behind the camera), and we’re right along with her, just as anxious as an FBI trainee might be expected to be when hot on the trail of serial killer.


1. Se7en (1995)

The watershed film by which all other gritty genre films are now judged, both in terms of ingenuity and sheer creepiness. From the opening moments to the closing credits (literally), Se7en was different, if nothing else than for its all around sheer quality, particularly in its development of story and character.

In the bigger picture, Se7en is a landmark film by virtue of having brought us not only both David Fincher (surviving after his stint taking up the troubled production of Alien3), but also, Brad Pitt; Se7en proved to be part of a hat-trick of films for each that would establish Fincher (together with The Game and Fight Club) and Pitt (together Legends of the Fall and Interview with the Vampire) as a perennial A-list director and leading man, respectively.

We got Gwyneth Paltrow as a bonus.

Read more: ’90s Indie Films That Became a Mainstream Attraction

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