The 10 Most Thrilling Films Of All Time, According To The AFI

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The American Film Institute prides itself on how it “proudly curates lists to celebrate excellence in the art form.” The institute’s list titled “AFI’s 100 years… 100 thrills” is a collection of what its curators consider as the most thrilling films ever made.

RELATED: The 10 Best Action Movies Ever Made (According To The AFI)

The thrillers featured in the 100-point list often overlap with other genres like action, adventure, and mystery. All of the movies that make it to the top 10 are considered classics, and it’s worth noting that most of them are from the 60s and 70s. They should be considered essential viewing for film buffs, as several of them shaped, redefined, and continue to influence the thriller genre.

10 Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Indiana Jones fleeing from a tribe in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Available to stream on Paramount+.

When director Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark was first released in 1981, it immediately introduced the world to a new cultural icon. The coolest things Indiana Jones does in the movie are still ingrained in fans’ minds today, whether it’s the scene with the rolling boulder or his stunt with the moving truck.

The exciting movie gives audiences one thrilling scene after another, without ever being too overwhelming. Viewers likely can’t help but root for the likable archeologist as he overcomes impossible odds on his globe-trotting adventure. It’s a wholesome classic that’s still just as fun to watch with the entire family today as it was over 40 years ago.

9 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Available to stream on Hulu.

Even those who have never actually seen it are likely familiar with the 1986 psychological horror movie, Rosemary’s Baby. Director Roman Polanski based the film on the eponymous 1967 novel by Ira Levin, which tells the story of a pregnant woman who moves to a creepy apartment building in Manhattan.

RELATED: Recasting Rosemary’s Baby If It Was Made Today

What follows is a terrifying tale that revolves around the occult, as the protagonist becomes increasingly suspicious of what she sees and hears from her neighbors. It’s a movie full of tense scenes, which all build up its shocking and unforgettable conclusion.


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8 The French Connection (1971)

Gene Hackman in The French Connection

Available to stream on Hulu.

It’s not an overstatement to say that director William Friedkin’s The French Connection elevated the crime thriller subgenre by breathing life into the overused cops-and-robbers formula. Inspired by true events, the 1971 film follows two narcotics detectives as they try to catch an elusive heroin smuggler.

In between impressive stunts and exhilarating chase scenes, fans are entertained by witty quips and thoughtful dialogue. It’s a gripping film that is as thought-provoking as it is riveting, and while not all of its aspects have aged well, is one that’s still worth seeing for viewers who are unfamiliar with it.


7 The Birds (1963)

Available to rent on Apple TV.

An unforgettable story adapted by Alfred Hitchcock is centered on an unexplained phenomenon that turns the birds in San Francisco into violent killers. 1963’s The Birds is one of the director’s scariest movies, as it’s full of tense moments where the characters scramble to get out of town.

It’s not the shocking deaths that make the film terrifying, although they certainly help. Audiences will find that it’s the quiet scenes with intense atmospheres that will really frighten them, as the characters’ feelings of fear and growing desperation will influence the viewers.


6 Alien (1979)

Available to rent on Apple TV.

Director Ridley Scott’s Alien is a sci-fi film that needs no introduction. Even viewers who aren’t fans of the genre will likely be familiar with what the eponymous Alien looks like, as the scary extraterrestrial has become a pop culture icon.

RELATED: 10 Biggest Tropes In The Alien Movies

Its groundbreaking visual effects, innovative sets, and impressive performances may not have wowed audiences and critics at first, but the sleeper hit eventually got the recognition it deserves. Most film buffs would agree that it was a movie that was way ahead of its time, and its influence on the sci-fi and thriller genres is still felt today.


5 The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter and his chilling words to the endearing Clarice continue to be part of popular culture, which speaks volumes about how influential director Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is.

Several aspects of The Silence of the Lambs still hold up over 30 years after it was first shown – from Clarice’s tense conversations with Hannibal to its unsettling ending. It’s hard to believe it took a while for the movie to become well-known, as it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster when it was initially released.


4 North By Northwest (1959)

Available to stream on HBO Max.

1959’s North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock’s later works and is often considered one of his best. The spy thriller movie thrusts viewers into a gripping world full of deceit, chase scenes, and even romance, all stemming from an unfortunate case of mistaken identity.

The countless twists and turns in the riveting film will keep audiences on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Fans likely can’t help but root for the charming protagonist, Roger, as he digs himself deeper into a massive government conspiracy. The chemistry between him and the delightful Kendall makes getting through the movie’s stressful scenes worth it.




3 The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist 1973 Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in Bed

Available to rent on Apple TV.

Director William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is not for the faint of heart. The 1973 classic horror film was understandably considered controversial during its time. It tells the story of a possessed young girl and her mother’s attempt at helping her by hiring a pair of Catholic priests to conduct an exorcism.

RELATED: 10 Ways The Exorcist Still Holds Up Today

For some viewers who don’t have the stomach for upsetting and disturbing scenes, the movie may be difficult to sit through. It’s a film known for its never-before-seen scandalous moments on the big screen that revolve around provocative subjects like religion and morality.


2 Jaws (1975)

Available to rent on Apple TV.

1975’s Jaws is a timeless classic by Spielberg that left a permanent mark in the film industry. Fans of the thriller film will likely never forget the ominous music that hints at the gigantic shark’s presence. It’s that allusion to the frightening creature that makes the entire movie so riveting – viewers are left to helplessly watch as the characters panic, or worse, cluelessly splash around on their screens.

Jaws was an instant hit redefined the industry’s approach to creating and marketing summer blockbusters. There’s no shortage of rip-offs and imitations that have tried to achieve that same level of success over the years, but none have really come close to the impact of the original.


1 Psycho (1960)

Available to rent on Apple TV.

1960’s Psycho is arguably Hitchcock’s magnum opus, as the genre-defining psychological thriller (and possibly one of the earliest slasher films) terrified audiences in new and innovative ways. From its decisive use of a black-and-white color scheme to its haunting score, all of the unique creative decisions made about the movie worked perfectly to create a legendary masterpiece.

Of course, the film is best known for its iconic shower scene, which is often credited for introducing novel anxiety for viewers around the world. It’s a moment that continues to be studied, parodied, and imitated, which underscores the influence and significance of the movie as a whole.

NEXT: The 10 Best Hitchcock Villains, Ranked

 


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