The 17 Most Underrated Thrillers From the Past 20 Years
by Jesse Schedeen
For every "Seven," there are countless other movie thrillers that just don't find the love they deserve. We'd like to do our part to change that. These are the best thrillers from the past two decades that definitely deserve a wider audience.
We don't necessarily blame those who steered clear of Kurt Russell after the travesty that was "Escape From L.A." But it's a shame they missed this finely-tuned mystery, which cast Russell as a man desperately searching for his missing wife in the aftermath of a road rage incident.
'The Game' (1997)
Director David Fincher made his reputation with "Seven." Unfortunately, that success didn't carry over to this well-reviewed -- but mostly ignored -- follow-up. It's a shame, as "The Game" features both a terrific lead performance from Michael Douglas and more of that moody atmosphere Fincher does so well.
'A Simple Plan' (1998)
It may not have the following of the "Spider-Man" or "Evil Dead" trilogies, but many hardcore Sam Raimi fans would argue that "A Simple Plan" is his best film. It's basically Raimi's take on "Fargo," and it works for many of the same reasons.
For any other director, "Insomnia" might be considered a career-defining work. But for Christopher Nolan, it's just a good, solid thriller with great lead performances that tends to get drowned out by the likes of "The Dark Knight" and "Inception." A remake of the Norwegian film of the same name, the movie centers on a sleep-deprived -- and guilty conscience-ridden -- detective struggling to hunt down a killer in an Alaskan town where the sun doesn't set.
'Ripley's Game' (2002)
Matt Damon may have popularized globe-trotting con artist Tom Ripley in 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," but it was John Malkovich who truly brought the character to life on the big screen. Sadly, "Ripley's Game" never saw a theatrical release in the US, meaning it passed under most moviegoers' radar.
If you've ever wondered what David Mamet's take on a Tom Clancy novel might be, look no further than 2004's "Spartan." It's features a tightly-constructed plot that's a lot more mind-bending than your average political thriller. And it's probably the last time Val Kilmer has been cool on the big screen.
'The Skeleton Key' (2005)
We're always happy to see Kate Hudson break out of her familiar rom-com trappings, and that was definitely the case when she starred in this voodoo-flavored supernatural thriller. While hardly a perfect film, "The Skeleton Key" has style and atmosphere to spare.
Drag "Rear Window" kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, replace Jimmy Stewart with Shia LaBeouf, and you pretty much have "Disturbia." That was enough to drive away a lot of potential viewers, but the truth is that "Disturbia" is a very Hitchcock-worthy suspense film, even if it isn't a particularly creative one.
'Eden Lake' (2008)
"Eden Lake" is not a film for the fainthearted, with some even describing it as Britain's answer to "Deliverance." But unpleasant or not, it's a haunting look at what happens when an ordinary married couple runs afoul of some surly teenagers and things go off the deep end.
If "Disturbia" is a modern-day "Rear Window," then "Transsiberian" is more "Strangers on a Train." It's got plenty of Hitchcock-worthy suspense as it explores a train ride gone horribly, horribly wrong. Luckily, the tension and violence is offset with some gorgeous shots of the Russian countryside.
A group of attractive twenty-somethings venture out for a day of fun on the ocean and wind up boarding a mysterious ship with an even more mysterious sniper aboard. Sounds like a recipe for a classic slasher horror film, right? Not quite. "Triangle" is much more complex and unpredictable, and it'll leave you contemplating the ending long after the credits roll.
'Burning Bright' (2010)
Some of the most effective thrillers are those with the most simple premises, and "Burning Bright" definitely falls under that category. This film follows two siblings who find themselves trapped in a house with a hungry tiger while a hurricane rages outside. Talk about being trapped between a rock and a hard place.
'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' (2010)
"The Disappearance of Alice Creed" is a brutally effective thriller, as it keeps its focus squarely on two ex-convicts and the woman they kidnap. The result is a hostage conflict that delivers one terrific twist after another.
'Cold Fish' (2011)
Japanese director Shion Sono has a reputation for directing subversive films, and that trend continued with this darkly humorous horror/thriller about a humble pet shop owner whose life is derailed by a deranged serial killer. The film is all the more disturbing because it is loosely based on the exploits of two real-life serial killers.
'The Reef' (2010)
There have been plenty of bad shark movies over the decades (some intentionally so, others just plain bad). "The Reef" is one of the few to deliver a truly harrowing story of survival on the open ocean. The realistic, non-flashy approach certainly helps.
'A Lonely Place to Die' (2011)
Between "Triangle" and "A Lonely Place to Die," actress Melissa George is one of the great unsung heroes of the thriller genre. Here, she stars as one of several mountaineers who stumble across a young girl buried alive in the wilderness and are forced to contend with her captors.
'Martha Marcy May Marlene' (2011)
Elizabeth Olsen bedazzled critics with her very first film role, as she played a young woman trying to readjust to a normal family life after escaping a religious cult. Sadly, audiences didn't rush out to theaters, but those that did helped the film gain a strong following. Hopefully Olsen's rising popularity will help draw more eyes to this hidden gem.