As Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated new film Nope debuts in theaters on the heels of his acclaimed movies Get Out and Us, it’s worth considering the indie-thriller subgenre in the macro to see which films have come out on top in the opinions of moviegoers.
One of the best places to look is Ranker, a site where users can vote on lists to help rank their favorite entries to the top. With well-known hits as well as some less-talked-about hidden gems among the list’s top 10, these are Ranker fans’ favorite indie thrillers of all time.
Released in 2011, Drive stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver who gets involved with a heist that goes wrong and endangers the lives of the crew and their family. Although director Nicolas Winding Refn had directed several films before this, Drive would establish his formula for thrillers.
Gosling received an Oscar nomination for the drama Half Nelson all the way back in 2006, but Drive showcased his charisma as a potential action-star lead. It’s not a stretch to say his roles in films like Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming The Gray Man, among other post-Drive films of his, owe their existence to this role. It’s well-acted, gorgeously directed, and, most importantly, an engaging story.
9 Get Out
Jordan Peele has proven himself in the realm of horror thanks to Get Out and Us, and with the level of anticipation for Nope it’s clear that he’s changed the film genre. In fact, given his particular expertise with horror, Peele is even one of those directors who could make an awesome video game.
It all started with Get Out, however. Genuinely thrilling on its own merits, the 2017 film also features brilliant commentary about race and its continued centrality in American society, and while those issues have been around for centuries, Get Out still seemed ahead of the curve for viewers who weren’t as familiar with these issues. All of those elements combined to make Get Out an instant and enduring classic.
8 The Usual Suspects
Its own title inspired by the Casablanca quote “Round up the usual suspects”, the neo-noir crime thriller The Usual Suspects has plenty of memorable quotes that have allowed the movie to remain an outstanding entry in its genre.
The Usual Suspects has a simple story on its surface, with Verbal Kint telling the backstory of the action in an interrogation room. But not everything is what it seems, as the thriller follows the attempt to track down Keyser Söze, a mysterious figure and criminal mastermind. The twists and turns it takes keep viewers on their toes, and even on repeat viewing it’s enjoyable to notice small details that foreshadow the ending.
Beloved films generally follow a protagonist who goes on a moral journey and grows in some way from the experience, either having a downfall or a happy ending. But Nightcrawler is different. It sees Jake Gyllenhaal as an industrious but unscrupulous man who gets into the world of shooting crime and accident footage for a profit.
While Gyllenhaal’s character’s goals are admirable, his methods of accomplishing them are beyond immoral, and audience members are constantly conflicted when watching because of this discrepancy. What keeps everything together and viewers hooked is Gyllenhaal’s performance, snubbed of an Oscar nomination. It’s like the car wrecks the main character films: it’s unsettling, but irresistible viewing.
6 American Psycho
Two decades before he played a god butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder, Christian Bale played human butcher/Wall Street businessman Patrick Bateman in one of the best 2000s serial killer movies, American Psycho.
Just like with Nightcrawler, the main character is morally despicable (assuming what’s depicted in the movie actually happened), yet viewers are made to follow actions from his perspective, and the thrills come mostly from the tension of him possibly getting caught. American Psycho is also a smart movie, though, using its violence as a commentary on greed, and Bateman on the yuppie mindset of the 1980s.
Prisoners is an underappreciated Denis Villeneuve film because of how much Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune overshadowed it. Instead of sci-fi, Prisoners is a psychological thriller about the disappearance of two girls, and the subsequent hunt for their abductor that finds one of the girls’ father taking matters into his own hands.
Whenever children are involved in a thriller, especially in the case of an abduction, it always raises the stakes because of the associated “innocence” that children have, which in turns adds to the creepiness that exudes from the adult suspects in the movie. Its ending may not be the darkest possible, but the dread throughout the film of what could happen is just as effective.
With an ending that leaves viewers speechless, Seven is one of the most disturbing films of all time; it’s ending is merely the culmination of events put in action by a sadistic serial killer who could make anyone question the value of humanity. Its killer is truly depraved.
For some viewers, that grim and grittiness is no doubt what makes Seven so appealing. Twist endings also make for memorable movies. But underneath that surface there’s a kind of hope in humanity embodied by Morgan Freeman’s character, who by the end has actually lost the cynicism toward people that he exhibited at the start of the movie. From that perspective, it’s about finding the good and fighting for it.
3 Donnie Darko
Jake Gyllenhaal has a knack for appearing in well-loved indie thrillers, considering he’s a main star in Nightcrawler, Prisoners, and this indie darling, Donnie Darko. This 2001 cult classic delves into a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and even a sense of the supernatural to deliver something truly unique.
Donnie Darko‘s depiction of an early 2000s suburban teen dealing with strange experiences that could be either hallucinations or something very real but unexplainable makes the film esoteric and almost destined it to be an anti-blockbuster, but its different voice and weird narrative only adds to the charm. Director Richard Kelly’s future films, especially 2009’s The Box, shows his auteurist vision wasn’t a one-off.
Christopher Nolan’s first big-budget movie, Memento was the director’s first foray into playing with time, sequence, and causality. Most films will tell the story straightforwardly, and some may employ flashbacks to add some flavor. But Memento tells parts of its story forwards and others backward, with the movie ending at the middle.
Even today Nolan stands among few peers who are as innovative as he is when it comes to filmmaking, and his own style really shines in this endeavor. While The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, or Dunkirk are more likely to be labeled as Nolan’s masterpiece over this one, few films diverged so much from standard storytelling structure and broke as much new film ground as Memento.
Only one film among the top 10 gave way to its own spinoff TV series, and the Coen Brothers’ Fargo is the one that gets to take that honor. Released in 1996 and set in the titular town of Fargo, North Dakota, this black comedy crime film follows a sheriff’s murder investigation of a series of homicides carried out on the orders of a car salesman by two criminals he’s hired.
Carrying all of the wackiness and comedy-drama interplay that the Coens made their name with, Fargo takes what would under more drama-centric hands become a pretty standard thriller and provides it with a farcical nature that makes it a standout of the genre. Although the Coens adapted Cormac McCarthy’s book for No Country for Old Men, there are hints of that future film’s style in this one.
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