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The 15 best thriller movies on Netflix (January 2021)

James Bond and Mad Max
James Bond and Mad Max. Pic credit: Sony/Warner Bros.

It is always the perfect time to watch a great thriller movie, and Netflix has a ton of options to keep any viewer on the edge of their seats this July.

From the early days of cinema and the brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock to the action-packed movies of the high concept era of the ’80s, thrillers come in all shapes and sizes with something for every movie fan.

If you are someone who likes to be scared, there are plenty of thrillers with serial killers, sociopaths, and cannibals to keep you awake at night.

For someone who likes their thriller movies to be more action-based, there are plenty of murder mysteries, spy thrillers, and crime stories that will have you on the edge of your seat.

From some of the best movies in cinema history to great Netflix originals that have hit the streaming service over the past few years, here are 15 of the best thriller movies you can catch in January 2021 on Netflix.

Updated on January 1, 2021 – Every month, movies come and go from Netflix, and this month, there were two changes made to our list. It is a good thing that more movies arrive on Netflix all the time.

We added new movies to replace the departed ones, but if you are in the mood, here are more thrillers to hit Netflix this month once you complete our list: Mud, Gothika, Angels & Demons, Peppermint, Ava, Triple 9, and Braven.

The Departed (2006)

The Departed
Leonardo Di Caprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson in The Departed. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

In 2006, Martin Scorsese remade a Hong Kong action thriller called Infernal Affairs. It was an unusual move by Scorsese, who chose to remake it almost extremely faithfully. There was even an elevator scene that was a shot-for-shot copy of the original movie.

The Departed was a success, with Scorsese winning Best Director and ht movie winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The Departed is about a Boston cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes undercover, working for an Irish mob boss (Jack Nicholson). What no one but the mob boss knows is that he sent in a mole undercover as a police officer (Matt Damon)

Goodfellas (1990)

The cast of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

In 1990, Martin Scorsese directed one of his most celebrated films, the crime drama thriller Goodfellas.

The movie was based on the novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, a non-fiction book about the rise and fall of a mob associate named Henry Hill.

The cast was top-notch, with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco, and Ray Liotta starring as Henry Hill, the man who went in deep with the mob before turning over evidence and going into witness protection.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars and was added to the National Film Registry in the U.S. Library of Congress in 2000.

Spring Breakers (2012)

Spring Breakers
James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson in Spring Breakers. Pic credit: A24

Released in 2012, Harmony Korine directed the movie Spring Breakers, a film about four college girls who end up making a decision that destroys their lives.

The girls, played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, decide to hold up a diner to help them afford a Spring Break vacation and end up in jail.

That was bad, but worse came when James Franco’s drug and gun dealer Alien bailed them out and made them work for him to pay the money back.

The movie was blasted when it came out due to showing drug use and excessive violence with the backdrop of the colorful beach setting; it remains a hard look at good girls who end up doing very bad things.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The Da Vinci Code
Tom Hank’s and Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinci Code. Pic credit: Sony

Based on the bestselling novel by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, a professor of religious symbology from Harvard who is the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Langdon slips away from the police and starts to work with a cryptologist (Audrey Tautou), trying to find out more about what happened and why.

This leads him down a wormhole where he finds evidence that the Church has been hiding controversial truths from the world since the times of Jesus Christ.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals
Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals. Pic credit: Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 neo-noir thriller starring Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner who received a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).

She is in a deteriorating marriage to a man named Hutton (Armie Hammer). She becomes consumed by the novel, dedicated to her, and even named after her old nickname.

The movie flips between the fictional story from the novel and Susan’s life and the parallels she sees.

V for Vendetta (2006)

V for Vendetta
Hugo Weaving is V in V for Vendetta. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

In 2006, The Wachowski siblings wrote a new script following the Matrix trilogy’s success but had their former assistant director make his directorial debut with the film.

V for Vendetta was based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore (Watchmen) and hit Netflix on November 15.

The movie takes place in an alternate future where supremacists and fascists have taken over the United Kingdom. The main hero here is a young woman (Natalie Portman) who gets caught up in the middle of an ongoing revolution.

Hugo Weaving, who played Agent Smith in The Matrix, is V, the face of the revolution, wearing a classic Guy Fawkes mask. His plan involves a terrorist bombing he hopes will bring the new regime to its knees and start an uprising with the people.

The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible
Naomi Watts and Tom Holland in The Impossible. Pic credit: Summit Entertainment

Fans of Tom Holland from the Spider-Man movies and the recent Netflix hit movie The Devil All the Time now have a chance to see his big-screen debut.

And it was a big one.

A 16-yar-old Holland co-starred in the thriller The Impossible as the son of Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. The film is based on the true-life Indian Ocean tsunami from 2004.

McGregor and Watts are a husband and wife who goes on a vacation to Thailand with their three sons for Christmas in 2004. However, while they are there, the 2004 tsunami blasts the beach resort they are at.

The movie separates Watts’ Maria and one son, Holland’s Lucas, from her husband and the other two kids. While McGregor’s Thomas sends his two younger kids with another family to the mountains for safety, he remains behind to search for Maria and Lucas.

The movie is about this family’s fight for survival and their fear when separated during the tsunami.

Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct
Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. Pic credit: TriStar Pictures

The 1992 neo-thriller Basic Instinct lives in history for one very controversial scene in the movie.

Sharon Stone is a femme fatale under investigation for a series of murders and decides to seduce the police detective leading the case (Michael Douglas).

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Basic Instinct is a sexually charged movie that most people remember for the interrogation scene. Stone wears a tiny white dress and slowly uncrosses her legs, causing every man in the room to break out in a sweat.

Basic Instinct was the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1992 and is now streaming on Netflix.

Casino Royale (2006)

Netflix: Casino Royale
Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Pic credit: Sony

In 2006, the James Bond franchise replaced Pierce Brosnan with Daniel Craig, and he sparked new life into the franchise with Casino Royale.

The series went back to a darker, more violent era, more similar to Timothy Dalton and Sean Connery than Brosnan and Roger Moore. However, it also owed a lot to the Bourne movies, which changed how people looked at spy movies.

This film had Craig as 007, as he set out at the start of his career. He set out with the order to assassinate two targets. When this leads to the villain La Chiffre as the real threat, Bond goes undercover at a high stakes poker game with the orders to bring him down.

Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max
Mel Gibson in Mad Max. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

Before anyone ever heard of Mel Gibson, he appeared in the 1979 dystopian thriller movie Mad Max.

This Australian film had Gibson star as Mad Max Rockatansky, a highway patrol Pursuit Specialist who is a master driver behind the wheel of souped-up cars.

However, the violence gets too much for him with the rising violence of motorcycle gangs, and after his partner is killed, he tries to resign. Instead, he asked to go on vacation and think about it.

When his family is killed on this vacation, his rage sends him over the edge, and he takes the Pursuit Special and heads out to kill every member of the gang.

The Old Guard (2020)

The Old Guard on Netflix
The Old Guard on Netflix. Pic credit: Aimee Spinks/Netflix

The Old Guard is a new Netflix movie based on a comic book about a group of immortal warriors tasked with helping people through centuries.

Charlize Theron stars in the lead role as the oldest of them, all while Kiki Layne stars as a newly resurrected immortal that shows up just in time.

After years of fighting terrorists and pure evil, the group now face their greatest enemy — a big pharm businessman who wants to replicate their gifts to become richer.

Check out our review of The Old Guard here, as this is one of the best new thriller movies on Netflix.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. Pic credit: A24

For anyone who thinks that Adam Sandler only stars in juvenile sophomoric comedies, check out Uncut Gems to see a very different side of the comedy actor.

Uncut Gems is in no way a comedy, and Sandler proves to be up to the task of changing genres in this thriller that hit theaters in a limited release in 2019 before arriving later on Netflix.

Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie had previously created a dark and disturbing thriller where they changed everything people knew about Twilight actor Robert Pattinson in Good Time. It made sense that Sandler would trust them in Uncut Gems.

Sandler stars as a New York City jeweler who does anything he can to stay afloat when his gambling debts start to rise. Sandler picked up several critics awards for his role, including winning the Best Male Lead Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Pic credit: Columbia

Netflix seems to love thriller movies starring Robert De Niro. In the 1978 film Taxi Driver, he plays the iconic Travis Bickle, a New York City taxi driver.

Martin Scorsese directed this film, which has been called one of the best in cinema history by many publications and is preserved as part of the National Film Registry.

Bickle is a Vietnam veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York City and becomes obsessed with two women. One is a political campaign volunteer named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), and the other is a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster).

As his mind starts to break down, he seeks to save Iris from her dangerous pimp (Harvey Keitel) while starting to lose his grip on reality.

Drive (2011)

Ryan Gosling in Drive. Pic credit: FilmDistrict

Former Disney star Ryan Gosling shocked moviegoers in 2011 with his hyper-violent thriller movie Drive.

Directed by auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling is an unnamed character known only as Driver, who works as a stunt driver for movies and a getaway driver for criminals.

He meets his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and develops a protective relationship with her and her young son. When her husband gets out of prison and returns home, danger follows him, and The Driver finds himself in the middle of a life or death chase.

Based on American crime writer James Sallis’s novel, the film won several national critics association awards and is available for streaming on Netflix.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Pic credit: StudioCanal

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is arguably one of the most underrated and overlooked spy movies ever made.

Gary Oldman turned in an Oscar-worthy performance in this story, set in the 1970s, of a British Intelligence Agency known as The Circus that might have a Russian mole in its ranks.

Oldman is George Smiley, the former right-hand man of Control, the head of British Intelligence. Both men were forced to retire after a botched assignment. Smiley is asked to investigate the claims that there is a mole, which sends him into a wormhole of treachery and deceit.

This movie’s cast is top-of-the-line, with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, Toby Jones, and John Hurt all appearing.

Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed the film based on John le Carre’s spy novel. The movie won Outstanding British Film at the BAFTA Awards.

Shawn S. Lealos

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