Updated: May 25, 2020
Thrillers have an exquisite way of entrancing the viewers. Detective movies are one of the most popular subgenres of thrillers. Keeping our senses alert, we try to disentangle ourselves from the web of mystery, becoming one with the cinematic investigator. In this list, I have selected ten definitive films that have incorporated real-life problems and investigative techniques. They will definitely help you in honing your deductive skills. Also, these films can be studied by film students and enthusiasts in the fields of direction, cinematography, acting, music, etc. Here are ten thrillers that will keep you on edge and suffocate you with suspense until the end.
10. Mystic River (2003)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon
Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) is an ex-con man running a convenience store, Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) is a detective working for the Massachusetts State Police, and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) is a blue-collar worker. How are these three very different men connected? They used to be childhood friends.
After a freak incident shakes Markum’s world, the three friends are unwillingly forced to cross paths; unwilling because of something that had happened 25 years ago – something that resulted at the end of their friendship – something that might have a link with the freak incident...
9. The Silence of the Lambs(1991)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins
FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to interview the highly intelligent Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), whose insights the FBI believes would be helpful in leading them to a serial killer called Buffalo Bill. But Lecter, himself a convicted psychopathic serial killer, does not provide his insights without psychologically manipulating Agent Starling and the FBI. He provides her with circumlocuting pieces of information. Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill continues his killing spree. Can Agent Starling solve Dr. Lecter’s puzzles and catch the killer before it’s too late?
8. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Directed by: Juan José Campanella
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil
Judiciary agent Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) faces the biggest challenge of his life when he tries to solve the rape and murder of Liliana Colott de Morales. The gruesomeness of the crime shakes Esposito differently and he promises the victim’s husband that he will find the killer and make sure he gets the life sentence. However, the murderer always seems to be a step ahead from him, and things get formidable when the criminal appears to be linked with a powerful organization. Over two decades later, a retired Espόsito tries to unravel the mystery.
P.S.: Please watch the original Spanish film and NOT the 2015 Hollywood remake.
7. Seven (1995)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman
A series of gruesome murders take place in an urban American city, and it is inferred that the murders have been inspired by the seven deadly sins. Veteran detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) teams up with a short-tempered but intelligent detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) in pursuit of the killer. The wicked philosophy and motivation of the psychopathic killer spreads dread in the hearts of the citizens and doubts in the minds of the detectives. Can they catch the killer before he completes his killing spree?
6. Rear Window (1954)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly
Professional photographer L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is recuperating from a broken leg, confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. Having an adventurous temperament, the confinement seems suffocating to him. He spends his time looking out of the rear window of his apartment, which provides a view of the courtyard and the apartments of his neighbours. The tranquillity soon comes to a halt when, one rainy night, he observes through the rear window, a possible murder taking place in an apartment. He and his girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), try to solve the mystery.
5. Zodiac (2007)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr
Based on the real-life story of the manhunt for the infamous serial killer called the Zodiac Killer, it depicts the private investigations carried out by political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), with the help of crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) and police inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). The Zodiac Killer would send cryptic letters and cards to the local press, challenging and taunting the people to try and decipher the ciphers to reveal his identity. Even the police had to give up on the hunt, but a determined Graysmith kept trying to solve the riddles and find the killer.
4. Vertigo (1958)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak
Police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) has to quit his job after an incident leads him into developing acrophobia and vertigo. Sometime later, Scottie is hired by a friend as a private investigator to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who has been behaving rather strangely. Scottie begins the investigations, following the enigmatic Madeleine around. What dark secrets is she hiding and how will she affect Scottie’s life? Will he be successful in unravelling the mystery around Madeleine, or will his vertigo get in the way?
3. Chinatown (1974)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Private Detective J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman named Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband, the chief engineer for the L.A. Department of Water and Power, Hollis Mulwray, whom she suspects is having an affair with another woman. Gittes begins the investigations but later comes to realize that he was duped by an imposter, after being confronted by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway). However, the investigation leads Gittes to a deeper, more cynical conspiracy, having political and capitalist motives. The film was inspired by the California Water Wars of the early 20th century.
2. Memories of Murder (2003)
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Sang Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung
Loosely based on the real-life story of the Hwaseong serial murders, the first serial murders in Korean history, the film depicts the investigations carried out by local police detective Park Doo-man (Song Kang-ho) and a young detective from Seoul, Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) to find out and catch the serial rapist and killer. The local police force’s ineptitude comes to light during the investigations, and methodical differences between Park and Seo cause them to engage in trifling altercations. The savage murders shake all the residents to the core. Can the detectives settle their differences and catch the serial killer before it’s too late?
1. Prisoners (2013)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal
Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) world turns into a nightmare when his daughter Eliza gets kidnapped, along with her friend Joy. Police Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins investigating, but Dover, dissatisfied with the police’s methods, begins a hunt of his own. Both Dover and Loki face their own demons and flaws, in their quest for finding the missing children.
There can be no light without darkness. Through cinema, the filmmakers provide us with the dark reality of life – a reality that we are scared of accepting. The films I have enlisted here are the paramount examples of such depictions. Not only do they provide us with the picture of the darkness, but they also show us the light of truth which leads us out of the darkness.
I hope you will have a good time watching and pondering over these movies. Happy watching!