Few genres are as slippery as thrillers: what exactly differentiates thrillers from horror, or noir, or espionage? Boiled down to the most obvious motifs, thrillers are about crime, suspense, and psychological terror — but it’s more than that. Thrillers have a feel, a tone, and a mood that are distinct, but it’s hard to say where the genre begins and ends.
Hulu’s selection of thrillers ranges vastly in quality and sub-genre: they’ve got original TV series based on beloved sci-fi — mingled in with brutal and avant-garde interpretations of true crime stories and campy erotic classics. We’ve gone through the whole thriller section and sorted out what’s actually worth watching. Check out our list of the best 20 thriller TV shows and movies currently available to stream.
True crime fanatics became obsessed with the case of Dee Dee Blanchard, a woman in Missouri who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The real-life story that unraveled was deeply unsettling: it turns out Dee Dee had been keeping her daughter captive by convincing her she was debilitatingly ill and severely brain-damaged. Hulu’s original series, The Act, is a dramatization of this true-crime nightmare. Impressive acting from Patricia Arquette and Joey King helped garner the show a handful of Emmy nominees.
Janelle Monae stars in this Jordan Peele-esque social thriller, written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz. Dealing with the legacy and brutality of slavery in the United States, the movie is a horror-inflected tale of a woman trapped in a plantation, desperate to escape. Critics were divided about the movie’s implicit morality and emotional impact, but it’s a politically complex film that takes Black identity and trauma as a subject of serious inquiry.
Often considered the greatest action movie ever made, Die Hard is quite obviously Bruce Willis’s crowning cinematic achievement (other than Fifth Element). The plot is somehow totally irrelevant, as the movie is a series of high-octane chase sequences with quippy and memorable catchphrases in between. Even if the plot is incoherent, the suspense builds into a hypnotic crescendo. The movie wound up spawning numerous sequels, at least one of which is also available on Hulu, but it’s best to stick with the original.
Based on the iconic dark comedy of the same name by the Coen brothers, Fargo is a bleak and morbidly humorous thriller about crime in the midwest. The show’s got an absurdly star-studded cast and features an anthology story structure, meaning that each season is a self-contained narrative. Although each episode claims to be based on true events, the plot is in reality totally fabricated. Despite its cynical tone, the show snagged an astounding amount of accolades: out of 226 nominations, it snatched a total of 51 awards.
Free Fall is a German, erotic thriller with a broodingly serious tone. A meditation on repressed desire, the movie contemplates a gay affair between two police officers and the ramifications of their illicit love. With the protagonist’s fragile masculinity at stake, violence threatens to erupt at every moment. Don’t expect laughs: even the film’s most playful and sexy moments are filled with desperate angst.
Based on the terrifying speculative sci-fi novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale considers America’s penchant for evangelical fascism by contemplating what a conservative revolt and subsequent coup would actually look like in action. In Atwood’s hideous future, women are enslaved and used as receptacles for breeding while being fed a brainwashing regiment of hyper-religious extremism. In the TV show Elisabeth Moss plays Offred, a woman captured and tortured by the Gilead regime. But can she organize an underground movement to overthrow her fanatical overseers? As American conservatism’s fervency reaches new insane heights in reality, the predictions of this show have seemed more accurate by the second.
The show deserves a bit of a content warning: while the first season sticks pretty close to the original novel, the second and subsequent seasons diverge significantly. Also, because forced breeding is a central plot point of the story, the whole series contains a nauseating amount of sexual violence that many people have found to be simply unwatchable. The second season in particular sometimes resembles torture-porn more than melodrama, but the third season tones down the violence just a bit.
Based on the movie franchise of the same name, the concept of The Purge is simple: One day a year, all crime is legal. The backstory behind the strange concept is actually somewhat politically sophisticated: in this imagined near-future, the American government devised a way to reduce widespread violence by allowing Americans one day a year to release the anger and rage that boils inside them. What began as an extended contemplation on the USA’s obsession with violence has turned into a sanguine thriller about corruption and class resentment and the fanaticism of the Second Amendment. The first season focuses on a single Purge night in the year 2027 and follows several intersecting stories. In our current political climate, what seems like an absurd concept becomes more prescient by the second.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s film Drive made waves in 2011 for its hyper-stylized, neon-drenched aesthetic. His follow-up film, Only God Forgives, continues the auteur’s ultra-violent thesis in a gorgeously shot and moodily scored thriller about criminal organizations in Thailand. Also starring Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives is both mesmerizingly dreamy and stunningly bloody. It’s probably one of the most visually pleasing thrillers ever made, but it’s not for the squeamish or sensitive.
Based on the deliriously strange Spanish film Abre Los Ojos, Vanilla Sky is a philosophical exploration of the limits of reality. What the movie has in smarts, it lacks in aesthetic (and Tom Cruise’s terrible acting certainly doesn’t help) — but the existential questions it raises about the nature of dreams and our understanding of consciousness makes it an interesting film nonetheless. Loosely inspired by the hallucinatory novels of Phillip K. Dick, there’s a lot in here for people who love mindfucks.
It would be easy to dismiss Angel as a cheaply made spinoff of the more popular Buffy The Vampire Slayer — but the show is just as lovable and sophisticated as the series that introduced its protagonist. After the eponymous demonic hero departs from Sunnydale, a strange series of events leads him to found Angel Investigations, a supernatural detective agency that winds up accidentally averting the apocalypse several times. Angel struggles with his own vampiric bloodlust while saving humanity from destruction. The show’s Lovecraftian fifth season, in particular, is astoundingly emotionally complex and well written.
ShowrunnerBryan Fuller takes a lot of creative liberties with novelist Thomas Harris’s Hannibal tetralogy in this mind-bending crime thriller about a super-genius psychologist with a taste for human flesh. The cannibal doctor and a detective investigating a bizarre series of murders engage in a terribly erotic dance of death over the course of several psychedelic seasons which at some points seem more like short art films than traditional TV. Excellent acting from Mads Mikkelson and Gillian Anderson elevates the drama and suspense to unparalleled excess.
Bong Joon-Ho’s widely celebrated social thriller about the cruelty of capitalism is an undisputed masterpiece. A family of con artists attempts to infiltrate a wealthy household, but discover deep, dark secrets hidden in the basement. We won’t say much more than that — there’s a lot of twists that aren’t worth spoiling — but the movie is an effective excoriation of how brutal and unrelenting South Korea’s enormous wealth gap has become.
Comparable to deeply vicious horror-thrillers like Snowtown Murders or Martyrs, Hounds of Love is a terribly nihilistic story, loosely based on the crimes of David and Catherine Birnie, a serial-killing couple in Australia. Although the movie is visually impressive and emotionally complex — especially in its portrayal of the dysfunctional relationship between the two murderous protagonists — the sexual violence throughout the film is hard to stomach, even for the most callous of audiences. It’s astounding that given the movie’s bleakness and graphic depictions of torture, it still managed to receive largely positive reviews and score several international awards nominations.
Few thrillers are as reviled as Body of Evidence, a movie which Roger Ebert frequently described as one of his most hated films. It’s tawdry, cheaply made, and stupidly written. But there are pleasures to be found in absurdly bad movies — especially ones starring Madonna! Often described as a ripoff of both Basic Instinct, this movie is an oft-ignored camp classic.
Originally running from 1959 to 1964, The Twilight Zone set the standard for serialized sci-fi. The show’s episodes range from paranoiac thrillers to space-age psychosis — all in bite-sized 30 minute short stories. Rod Sterling drew from several authors for inspiration, and each mysterious tale usually came with a totally unexpected twist or moral warning. Although they’ve been endlessly spoofed and reinterpreted, the original episodes still make a strong impact.
Scully and Mulder can’t stop getting abducted by aliens in this 11 season sci-fi thriller investigating every conspiracy theory imaginable. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny remain charismatic protagonists throughout the show’s expansive run, and their travels into the supernatural have had a lasting impact on almost every show that came after. The quality throughout is extremely inconsistent, so if you’re looking to skip a lot of filler, consider following a guide.
Jonas Åkerlund, the drummer of the notorious metal band Bathory, directs this crime thriller based on the real-life murders associated with a shadowy cult of black metal enthusiasts. How accurate the movie is in its depictions of these killings has been hotly debated, but it’s an interesting insider look into the social isolation and extremism that compels such heinous actions.
In a similar vein as this year’s Promising Young Woman, Ingrid Goes West is a feminist thriller commenting on expressions of womanhood in the digital age. After release from a psychiatric hospital, the eponymous protagonist becomes fixated on a social media influencer’s perfect life. Her courting of the young celebrity becomes dangerously close to stalking as her obsession takes a pathological turn. Although the movie is technically a black comedy, the humor throughout is notably dark.
A suburban mother (played by Tilda Swinton) had always suspected there was something wrong with her son, but she couldn’t ever figure out what. Then, one day, he commits mass murder at his high school. This heartbreaking movie is a descent into every parent’s worst nightmare, rendered with extreme emotional sensitivity and artistic complexity. Based on the novel of the same name by Lynne Ramsey, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a powerful and disturbing exploration of sociopathy and identity.
TV critics often cite Twin Peaks as the greatest show ever made, and with good reason. Romantic, surreal, emotional, erotic, melodramatic, and endlessly alluring, David Lynch’s deeply avant-garde series about the dark underbelly of an American lumber town spans several genres. What begins with an FBI investigation into the death of a homecoming queen winds up having apocalyptic ramifications: Special Agent Dale Cooper (played by the impossibly charming Kyle McLaughlin) slowly solves this unfathomable mystery through his dreams and travels to other dimensions. It sounds zany — and it is! — but the characters all have real hearts, and the visual styling throughout is devastatingly beautiful.