Skip to main content

5 best thrillers of 2023, ranked

Michael Fassbender wears a bucket hat in The Killer.

There ended up being a fair number of unique, pulse-pounding thrillers released this year. While not all of 2023’s best nail-biters were released in the same fashion or welcomed quite as well as others, either, each managed to offer completely different experiences to those who pressed play or took the time out to see them in the theater. Now, with the year in the midst of winding down, it’s worth looking back at some of 2023’s greatest cinematic offerings and honoring the ones that have made the biggest lasting impressions.

With that in mind, here are the year’s five best thrillers.

5. No One Will Save You

Kaitlyn Dever hides in a basement in No One Will Save You.
20th Century Studios

Aside from the next two entries on this list, there is no better pure thriller from this year than No One Will Save You. Writer-director Brian Duffield’s latest effort is the little sci-fi film that could. Saddled with a low budget and an unjustifiably lowkey Hulu release, the film quickly garnered the attention and admiration of critics and high-profile creatives like Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro. It’s not hard to see why, either.

Anchored by Kaitlyn Dever’s commanding lead performance, it’s a largely dialogue-free sci-fi thriller about an ostracized girl who finds her strength and salvation during an alien invasion. Nail-bitingly intense and more ruminative than many have given it credit for, there aren’t many thrillers from this year that are as straightforwardly gripping and entertaining as No One Will Save You.

4. How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Forrest Goodluck kneels in the snow in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

One of the year’s most politically charged films is also one of its most thrilling. Loosely based on Andreas Malm’s 2021 book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline follows a group of embittered misfits who team up to do exactly what its title says. The film is as upfront about its ideas regarding Climate Change as its title suggests, and that alone makes it feel rare. However, the brilliance of director Daniel Goldhaber’s direction lies in how he’s able to take a set of easily identifiable political beliefs and make them the foundation of what is essentially an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist thriller.

Set largely in a Texas desert, the film is entertaining, thought-provoking, and almost sickeningly nerve-wracking. It’s one of the most well-rounded genre films of the year, and it cements Goldhaber’s status as a filmmaker we should keep our eyes on.

3. The Killer

A man looks out a window in The Killer.

The Killer may not be the meanest film that director David Fincher has ever made, but it is certainly his leanest. The film is basically just a succession of hits carried out by its unnamed protagonist (played with disarming physical elegance by Michael Fassbender), but Fincher mines as much humor and tension out of each sequence as he can. In doing so, he delivers a film that is simultaneously simple and intricate — a love letter to the meticulousness that Fincher himself has become known for among cinephiles.

The fact that he proves to be just as in on that particular joke as everyone else is just one of the many pleasures that The Killer has to offer, which also include an unforgettably well-staged midpoint fight scene and a tongue-in-cheek final scene in which its director insists that, contrary to what he and everyone else would like to believe, he’s really not that special. In the end, The Killer argues that no one is, which is an undeniably ironic argument for a thriller that is so singular and hard-hitting to make. Such is the film’s beguilingly contradictory magic.

2. Anatomy of a Fall

Sandra Hüller stands near a dead body in Anatomy of a Fall.

No other 2023 thriller renders the simple flow of information as rivetingly as Anatomy of a Fall. Writer-director Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner, which follows a woman who is put on trial for her husband’s mysterious death, is part character study, part courtroom thriller, and part social critique. Seeing how well it blends all of its seemingly disparate elements together is one of the most rewarding aspects of watching the film. That said, as compelling as Anatomy of a Fall’s many ideas about society’s treatment of women are, it’d also be a disservice to discuss it simply as a piece of political drama.

It is that, but it’s also an immensely entertaining thriller that unfolds so thoughtfully that each of its scenes manages to reveal new pieces of information for you to consider and contemplate. As a result, Anatomy of a Fall manages to pull off a rare trick: It makes the scenes set outside of its central French courtroom just as enthralling as those within it. You can’t say the same thing about many other mainstream courtroom thrillers.

1. Oppenheimer

Two men talk in Oppenheimer.
Universal Pictures

Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film to date. Few could have predicted that would be the case when the movie was originally announced, but it only takes but a few minutes for the 3-hour epic to fully sweep you up in its propulsive race through one of the most important periods in modern history. Partly a JFK-esque neverending montage of information, memories, and details and partly a blockbuster the likes of which only a filmmaker as confident and experienced as Nolan could pull off, Oppenheimer is one of the year’s most viscerally affecting, stomach-churning films.

From its centerpiece Trinity Test sequence to its instances of visual and sonic disassociation, the thriller is overflowing with bone-rattling cinematic moments. To put it simply: No other movie this year has quite as infectious of a pace as Oppenheimer, and few have a knack for getting quite as far under your skin. If that’s not the mark of a great thriller, then we don’t know what is.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
The 10 best movies on Tubi right now (February 2024)

From old classics to new movies, Tubi is a great source of free content. As an advertising video on demand (AVOD), free ad-supported streaming service (FAST), you don't need a subscription at all. The catch? The movies come with short ads. But that's no big deal given that the cost is zilch. But you also need to keep in mind that the selection of movies on Tubi is constantly changing.

We're here to keep you up to date with a fresh list every month of not only what's available to watch, but also the pick of the litter. Rather than search endlessly to find something, we have curated this selection of the best movies on Tubi right now. Some of these movies might be ones you've watched already, but are worth watching again. A few might be ones that you have been meaning to watch, but never got around to. Now is your time to watch before they're gone.

Read more
This overlooked 2023 disaster movie is Netflix’s newest hit right now. Here’s why you should watch it
A town is destroyed in The Abyss.

When Netflix recently added The Abyss to its lineup, there probably weren't very high expectations for it. After all, it's not James Cameron's The Abyss from 1989. Instead, it's a Swedish disaster film that is now one of the most popular movies on Netflix.

That's the thing about Netflix's algorithm: It's very unpredictable. More often then not, seemingly random films are suddenly more popular now than they ever were when they hit theaters. In this case, American audiences would have never seen The Abyss if it hadn't suddenly arrived on a large platform like Netflix. But if you're on the fence about checking it out, here are three reasons to watch The Abyss on Netflix.
Tuva Novotny grounds the movie with her performance

Read more
Like the Netflix hit Thanksgiving? Try watching these 3 scary horror movies
A masked killer holds an axe in Thanksgiving.

Last Thanksgiving, a movie came out that united both audiences and critics alike in mutual enjoyment. No, it wasn't Disney's G-rated Wish,-- it was Eli Roth's very R-rated horror movie Thanksgiving. First born as a fake trailer in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse, Thanksgiving was fleshed out by Roth as a full feature with a cast that includes Patrick Dempsey, Gina Gershon, and Addison Rae.

Thanksgiving is now on Netflix and is currently one of the most popular movies on the streamer. If you're craving more frights, here are three movies also streaming on Netflix that should satisfy your bloodlust.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (2021)

Read more