The Best Thrillers Of 2022, Ranked

As the years go by, I'm often asking myself what makes a thriller, well, thrill. My tastes have changed over the years, as I'm sure yours have as well, and what thrills me personally is also evolving as I grow older. The landscape of films and what's popular has also continued to change. But one thing that has always stuck  — even long before I became the horror disciple I consider myself now — is my love of films that keep your heart-rate pumping, your brain synapses firing, and have you guessing until the very last second where, funnily enough, things end perfectly, whatever that means for each film. Don't you love it when a movie's conclusion surprises you, yet you know it couldn't have ended any other way?

The 2022 thriller entries were pretty stacked, which bodes well for the genre as we move into the new year. In fact, there were so many films that could be considered thrillers in one way or another that it was hard to narrow down the ones that either undoubtedly deserved the recognition or simply were a different enough take on the genre to warrant merit. Sometimes convention is just what you need; other times it feels right when a filmmaker pushes the envelope and does something different. This list of the best thrillers of 2022, I'm proud to say, has both.

12. Dual, directed by Riley Sterns

This dystopian thriller got left behind in the first half of 2022, but I have no choice but to bring it back around for this end-of-year list because it is an unmissable feat of satirical proportions. The film follows a woman named Sarah (Karen Gillian) who has a double created to replace her following a terminal illness diagnosis. When she survives, however, she must fight that double to the death for permission to continue living her own life. 

Writer-director Riley Sterns makes a concerted effort to push boundaries with this story, which sets our lead character up for high stakes no matter what happens. That alone can sometimes be enough to make a thriller stand out, but pair these elements with a dystopian tinge, a top-notch cast (Aaron Paul is in this too!), and a sharp directorial eye, and you've got yourself on the edge of your seat. That's where I was when I watched the entirety of "Dual."

11. Emily the Criminal, directed by John Patton Ford

You've probably heard a lot of talk about John Patton Ford's feature debut this year, but the writer-director isn't the one getting all the praise. His leading actor, none other than our girl Aubrey Plaza, has taken all the admiration for herself with this one — and for good reason. The film follows a debt-ridden Los Angeleno who gets pulled into the criminal underworld of credit card scams and other financial offenses in an effort to dig herself out of the hole she finds herself in. 

This movie is a frank and raw look at the way the gig economy grinds people into shards of their former selves, forcing them to do increasingly desperate things to quite literally pay the piper, and that's where Plaza excels here and bolsters the film's "thriller" label. The film's script and direction leave a bit to be desired, but Plaza more than makes up for that with her firecracker performance. Her desperation and quick thinking are what make this thriller actually feel like a thriller, and if your blood isn't pumping hard during this film, you may not have a soul. It's heartbreaking and powerful to watch her succumb to forces she never pictured bending to in order to survive — and that reality certainly makes for one hell of a thriller. 

10. Deep Water, directed by Adrian Lyne

Yes, you heard right: "Deep Water" is totally ridiculous. Its outlandish plot and script lend itself to a bit of criticism in that regard — but those elements don't take away from the thrills one bit. In fact, they help build a solid thriller with a unique voice. Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, the film follows a married couple, Vic and Melinda (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas), who play romantic and adulterous head games with one another in an effort to stave off the demise of their relationship. When Melinda's lovers begin to turn up dead, though, Vic becomes an instant suspect in the crimes. 

Something to take note of with "Deep Water" is that it follows the style of Adrian Lyne's past works in that it's heavy on the eroticism, which makes it quite different from any other thriller this year. But it's in that eroticism, and the love that lives adjacent to it, that the thrills stem from — love makes you do crazy things, my friends, and this movie proves that in spades from scene to scene.

9. Tár, directed by Todd Field

Though it doesn't purport itself to be at first, Todd Field's first film in 16 years is absolutely a story about ghosts. It is a tale that fills its pockets tightly with all kinds of devices to toss out when we least expect it, which subsequently puts the audience under a trance-like spell, rendering you unable to do much other than stay captivated by Cate Blanchett's spell-binding performance as Lydia Tár as she descends down the rabbit hole. The movie chronicles her character — who is a world-renowned composer and conductor with an EGOT, so you know she's serious — as she falls from grace and international favor when her past comes back to haunt her. 

Field's directorial style lends itself well to this kind of story, but even more so it's a major strength for the film to have the writer in the director's chair. You get a really full sense of the world that "Tár" exists inside thanks to that connective tissue between the writing and the visual, and it is layered with demons around every corner. Once things start getting bad for Blanchett's composer, you won't be taking a breath until the film's final moments.

8. Bodies Bodies Bodies, directed by Halina Rejin

This may be an obvious choice, but it's certainly the most fun on this list. "Bodies Bodies Bodies," written by playwright Sarah DeLappe from a story by "Cat Person" author Kristen Roupenian, tells the story of a group of friends who are holding down the fort during an impending hurricane in their friend's family mansion. But when the game they play to pass the time starts to play out in real life, there's blood on several hands — and they just want to figure out who the killer is. 

"Bodies" is less of a horror movie and more of a thriller because of the lighthearted fun it gives audiences in its script, directorial choices, and even its pulsing score. It doesn't feel scary outside of, well, its connection to misinformation (which is definitely an interesting and scary angle to ponder), but it certainly thrills and chills you to the bone from the inciting incident onward. Even the ending is unsettling in its simplicity and cultural resonance. The film takes on a staccato pace, one that has set pieces designed to tackle and jump-scare us in the moments that matter most. What could be more thrilling than that?

7. God's Creatures, directed by Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis

This was an easy inclusion, considering how underseen and underappreciated this gothic gem of a thriller has been this year. I was utterly blown away following the premiere screening at Cannes Film Festival in the spring, and still have no idea why more people aren't singing its praises. The Irish tale co-directed by Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis in their directorial debut follows a mother (Emily Watson) living in a quaint seaside town who is overjoyed by the return of her estranged son (Paul Mescal). When she starts to hear word that he has done something terrible, she finds herself torn by her morals in an effort to protect him — but the cost of it all is too great to bear. 

This dark and brooding thriller has its foundation in gothic drama, but the stakes created by Holmer and Davis' directorial eye bolster the film's genre lean. The deepness of the mother-son relationship in the film adds to the tension, which is in large part a tribute to Watson and Mescal's performances and chemistry. That said, the script and story are just as strong and devastating, leading us on a pensive yet powerful spiral into the belly of guilt and darkness. If you haven't seen this one yet this year, you must.

6. Don't Worry Darling, directed by Olivia Wilde

No matter how you feel about this movie, there's no denying it had thrills in spades. The last act of "Don't Worry Darling" is tailor-made for die-hards of the genre and serves up a giant set piece built to take the audience on a wild goose chase. Olivia Wilde's sophomore feature follows Alice (Florence Pugh), a happy housewife living in the lap of luxury in an idyllic California desert town with her near-perfect husband, Jack (Harry Styles). She soon realizes that everything is not what it seems, including her husband's high-powered job, and she makes it her mission to expose the secrets they seem to be hiding. 

Before the film was released, there were murmurs of it being a horror movie on the whole. It's clear now that isn't entirely the case, though what happens in the film is certainly horrific. It gives us all the beats we are used to in a story about a woman being gaslit — something that's more common than ever nowadays — but amps them up to eleven with horror elements and fun performances that throw caution to the wind. Pugh gives a knockdown, drag-out performance in this film and keeps the audience's pulse high until the very last breath of the story. She is responsible for creating the tension in this movie, and from the genre queen, we expect nothing less and get everything we deserve.

5. Soft & Quiet, directed by Beth de Araújo

This genre indie from Blumhouse hasn't gotten a ton of attention past the festival circuit this year, but that is no reflection on how arresting and intense this true-life thriller is. Beth de Araújo's feature debut chronicles a day in the life of an elementary school teacher who holds a gathering for like-minded women — like-minded in that they're all white supremacists. Following the meeting, the group has an altercation with someone from the educator's past that pushes them off a moral cliff and leaves everyone, victims and perpetrators, scrambling to keep their heads above water. 

This film cuts directly to the heart of racism and how it is watered and nurtured by those whose only intent is to harm. That alone makes for a compelling thriller, but the fact this film is based on the director's lived experience further reinforces the movie's impact. This film takes you by the throat and doesn't let go for 90 minutes. It's one of the most overlooked genre entries of the year, but there's no denying the strength it has as a fierce, messed-up thriller that feels timely and important.

4. Watcher, directed by Chloe Okuno

Chloe Okuno's debut feature has a plot that lends itself to the thriller genre, but the key to something as simple as this story is doing it well — and the "V/H/S/94" co-director passed that test with flying colors. "Watcher" centers on Julia (Maika Monroe), who moves to Bucharest with her husband, Francis (Karl Glusman). When they move into their new apartment, Julia becomes transfixed on a person in an apartment across the way who is seemingly staring into their home and watching her. 

The thrill of the chase is a great way to cement a story within the genre, and this film does a great job of maintaining that tension throughout, even when more pieces of the puzzle are placed on the board. It's one of those films where you realize you started holding your breath an hour or so ago, but you can't very well let go of it now, because what if she succumbs to the hostile entity following her? Okuno's "Watcher" is a masterclass in slow and steady thriller tension, the stuff that genre classics are made of.

3. Fresh, directed by Mimi Cave

Cannibalism movies don't always have to be strictly horror pictures, and Mimi Cave's directorial debut proved that this year. "Fresh" follows Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman in search of a man worthy of dating in a world full of unworthy suitors. She meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) in the supermarket and they begin dating, but an idyllic weekend trip away turns into a nightmare when it turns out Steve isn't who he says he is. 

Cave's entry asserts that cannibal stories can be funny and terrifying without ever fully allowing the grunge and grime associated with the horror genre to seep inside. It sounds almost impossible with a topic as taboo and terrible as cannibalism, but "Fresh" manages to maintain a perfect comedic balance with a whole lot of suspense and character-driven action. Plus, the film is a frank look at dating for women in 2022, and there's a ton of anxiety and tension related to that on its own — I mean, look where it gets the lead character. Because the subject matter is so horrific, it's nearly impossible to pull the audience out of that attached place we settle into when watching a film that we just have to see the end of. A thriller until the bitter end, this film keeps us biting our nails from beat to bloody beat.

2. Nope, directed by Jordan Peele

Another genre-straddler, Jordan Peele's third feature has its hands in a few different pots this time around. The movie follows OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), siblings who run their family's horse-wrangling business in Hollywood, and their attempt to document evidence of a nearby UFO seemingly stalking their farm. Part horror movie, part thriller, part epic, "Nope" is the sum of its parts for sure, but where it shines the brightest is in its thriller moments. In fact, one could argue that the film's second half is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg, if Spielberg directed a stone-cold extraterrestrial thriller. 

The genre label also speaks to the film's pivotal scenes with Gordy, a seemingly superfluous (at first) subplot that chronicles a hellish misfire on the set of an old sitcom where a primate actor snapped and murdered several of his co-stars. In a horror movie, we might actually see the terrifying details of these murders — but in a thriller, we linger on the feeling in the room instead. Peele does a great job of managing tone and tension within the film's high-octane plotline, and he crafts a thriller that is sure to withstand the test of time. Hell, it might even be his best film yet.

1. Fall, directed by Scott Mann

Full disclosure: If heights terrify you, this movie will give you, at minimum, sweaty palms. "Fall" is not for the faint of heart and it might just be the purest thriller on this year-end list. The movie centers on Becky (Grace Caroline Currey), a free climber who becomes utterly traumatized after watching her husband (Mason Gooding) fall to his death during a climb with her best friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner). Ahead of the first anniversary of his death, Hunter invites Becky to climb a decommissioned media tower with her in the uninhabited desert — one that stands a whopping 2,000 feet high. Needless to say, when these girls find themselves at the top, things prevent them from getting back down. 

The film is impeccably shot and does an incredible job of immersing the viewer in the movie's landscape, even at 2,000 feet up. With that and a well-structured story that keeps us from getting bored, it should come as no surprise that beat by beat, this movie maps out a successful set of thrills that makes others in the genre look tame. It might not have been your first pick when it comes to something to stream, but there is more than meets the eye here and you'll thank yourself for giving it a shot. This movie, in all its unexpected glory, is exactly what a solid thriller should be: A ton of damn good fun.