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25 Best Thriller Movies Of 2016 – Guide

20th – The Finest Hours
Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana
Director: Craig Gillespie
Released: January 29, 2016
Top Thriller Movies 2016

In 1952 one of the worst winter storms to ever hit the East Coast strikes New England, ripping an oil tanker in two. Despite the ongoing blizzard, four members of the Coast Guard (lead by Pine) set out on a small lifeboat, contending with 70-foot high waves, to try and rescue the 30 sailors (including Affleck) trapped aboard the rapidly-sinking tanker. This Disney thriller is based on the true story of the Pendleton rescue mission. The disaster movie has been making a comeback in recent times with the likes of ‘Everest’ and ‘San Andreas’, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea’. Like the latter, this seems rather by-the-numbers but director Craig Gillespie has taken mediocre prospects ‘Lars and the Real Girl’, the ‘Fright Night’ remake and ‘Million Dollar Arm’ and turned them into strong work, so expect this to be worth a watch.

19th – Desierto
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Director: Jonás Cuarón
Released: Ocotber 14, 2016
Best Thriller Films 2016

What begins as a hopeful journey to seek a better life for one Mexican (Bernal, ‘Y Tu Mamá’) and a handful of his countrymen becomes a harrowing and primal fight for survival. A deranged, rifle-toting American vigilante (Morgan, ‘Watchmen’) is relentlessly hunting down and killing the group of unarmed men and women while they cross the harsh, unforgiving desert of the U.S.-Mexican border. Directed by Jonás Cuarón, son of Alfonso Cuarón (‘Gravity’), who co-wrote the script for that orbital thriller. ‘Desierto’ is likely to prove controversial on release, especially given Trump’s plans for the border. Our reviewer at Toronto said the movie layered adrenaline-pumping suspense over important issues to remarkably effective result.

18th – Emelie
Starring: Sarah Bolger, Chris Beetem, Susan Pourfar
Director: Michael Thelin
Released: March 4, 2016

 -Seen It-  After their regular babysitter can’t make it, the Thompson family agree to let her friend Anna supervise their three kids for the first time as they head out for an anniversary meal. Except Anna is dead and it’s the disturbed Emelie who’s taken her place. Once in charge of the under 12s, she starts encouraging bad behaviour, and subjecting them to inappropriate situations, from leaving out the family gun, to making them watch their parents’ sex tape. Soon her motivation and intent are revealed through a haunting backstory… This is a particularly sinister and uncomfortable thriller, packed with dark ideas that almost cross the line. Its non-Hollywood roots mean anything could happen and the sheer vulnerability of the kids is very effective. The acting is excellent all round, from Sarah Bolger’s (‘Spiderwick Chronicles’) broken, menacing portrayal to the naturalistic performances from the three kids. Ultimately the closing scenes go too ‘Home Alone’ and lack the fearlessness of the build-up. Keep an eye out for the best ‘hamster in distress’ shot of the year.

17th – The Girl On The Train
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans
Director: Tate Taylor
Released: October 7, 2016
Best Thriller Movies 2016

 -Seen It-  An alcoholic divorcee (Blunt, ‘Sicario’), whose husband (Theroux, ‘Wanderlust’) left her for his mistress (Ferguson, ‘MI: Rogue Nation’), regularly commutes on the train to New York, and witnesses the same “perfect” couple (Evans & Bennett) while gazing out the window. But one day her suspicions are raised and she begins to investigate the possible murder of the perfect woman. She’ll have to try and overcome her own demons to do it, as her alcoholic blackouts and mistreatment of others are making things more complicated… Psychological thriller adapted from the popular 2015 novel (a quick turnaround in the hunt for the next ‘Gone Girl’). Blunt gives a striking, brave performance, fully embracing the embarrassment of heavy drinking with a puffy face, bleary eyes and constantly unflattering close ups. But the rest of the film has a hint of the ‘Twilight’ writing style with underwritten one-note male characters (buff shirtless guy, perfect husband, etc), and the author clearly has baby issues she is working through. All the characters are self-centered and dull, making it hard to connect. However there’s still something intriguing about the premise and the drinking is used to good plot twisty effect.

16th – The Survivalist
Starring: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Released: TBC 2016 (UK: February 12, 2016)
Top Thriller Movies 2016

 -Seen It-  After worldwide oil supplies run out, the population goes into freefall amidst fights for resources. In this time of starvation, a survivalist lives off a small plot of land hidden deep in forest. When two women seeking food and shelter discover his farm, he is faced with the decision of whether to trust them and accept their companionship. This is a low budget British thriller that plays something like a movie version of the popular PC game ‘Rust’, with survivalists in teams or solo trying to build up shelter and food sources while engaging in lethal raids on other camps. Desperation means humans are the greatest threat, and this portrays that very well. It makes for superb tension (including the most suspenseful shaving scene ever), tapping into something quite primal. With few words spoken by any characters, it’s left to strong visual storytelling to drive the story. Why the survivalist didn’t set traps or move camp after being found three times could be seen as an oversight. It is slow, it is bleak, and nothing about the bigger picture is altered by the end, but all of these are deliberate choices.

15th – Eye In The Sky
Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Jeremy Northam
Director: Gavin Hood
Released: April 1, 2016
best thriller 2016

 -Seen It-  A drone unit tracks some of East Africa’s most wanted terrorists to a Kenyan house where they prepare for a suicide bombing, observed from Surrey, London and Texas by the mission commander (Mirren), an army colonel (Rickman), the drone’s pilot (Paul) and many others in the military/political chain of command. When a innocent Kenyan girl positions herself in the potential drone-bomb radius, a legal and ethical debate breaks out over whether it should be dropped… From the screenwriter of well-received political dramas like ‘Five Minutes of Heaven’ and ‘Omagh’, this was originally developed at the BBC. The director has done well on similar ground with ‘Rendition’ and ‘Tsotsi’. It all boils down to an old premise: would you take one innocent life to save many others? The final decision creates more tears and anguish than would be plausible from professionals, while the emotional impact on the audience is not as strong as they presume. But it makes for a thought-provoking and very modern warfare scenario. It’s well acted, the different arguments succinctly presented, and the military/political chain of command is intelligently researched and handled. Alan Rickman’s final film is one to be proud of.

14th – The Shallows
Starring: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Released: June 24, 2016
New 2016 Thriller Movies

A young woman (Lively, ‘Age of Adaline’) dealing with the loss her mother, is surfing off an isolated beach when she is stranded on a buoy by a great white shark coming between her and the shore… Single location thrillers feel a bit old hat now, unless they have a compellingly original scenario, and this presents a sequence and a threat we’ve seen many times before. However the script was on the Black List of the best unproduced screenplays, and the director comes off the back of excellent Neeson thrillers ‘Run All Night’ and ‘Non-Stop’ (he also directed two of the most underrated horrors of the last decade ‘Orphan’ and ‘House of Wax’). Expect this to be at least better than average.

13th Place >

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  • dnwilliams said

    Curious about Money Monster, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Midnight Special, The Girl on the Train, and The Nice Guys.

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  • Nick said

    Awesome list!! Saw many of these and can agree with the comments made. “Don’t Breath” deserved to be higher… that was pretty great for a film shot almost entirely in one house.

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      Thanks. Yes, Don’t Breathe was a highlight this year. It’s been moved over to the chiller list (link at the end of this post) where it felt a slightly better fit genre-wise.

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  • Mike O said

    Despite all the professional reviews, “Criminal” should be high on this list.

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