The Best Thrillers on Netflix Canada Right Now
From nail-biting murder mysteries to pulse-pounding capers, here are the most suspenseful offerings on Netflix Canada.
Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
“You know that thing we talked about? It’s going to happen,” whispers an intelligence officer late in Zero Dark Thirty. The 10-year mission to find Osama bin Laden is painstakingly dramatized in this Academy Award-nominated war thriller; at the heart of the covert American operation is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA analyst on a single-minded pursuit to bring him down. The 28-minute sequence depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is a masterclass in action filmmaking.
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In a career spanning 40 years, Tom Cruise has played the villain only a handful of times. It’s a shame, because his turn as cool, calculated contract killer Vincent in Michael Mann’s high-octane Collateral is one of his best performances yet. In Los Angeles for a special assignment, Vincent enlists an unwitting cab driver, Max (Jamie Foxx, in an Academy Award-nominated role), to transport him from one target to the next. When Max learns Vincent’s true occupation, however, the latter takes the former hostage. Thanks to Collateral, you’ll never look at men in grey suits the same again.
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Primal Fear (1996)
Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a Chicago defense attorney who loves the limelight just as much as he enjoys winning in the courtroom. His latest client? Clean-cut altar boy Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton, in a riveting debut), who has inexplicably been charged with the brutal murder of an archbishop. Vail believes the case is a home run, but when Stampler is revealed to have dissociative identity disorder, the hotshot lawyer realizes he’ll get more than he bargained for. Brilliantly performed, expertly paced and packing a handful of astonishing twists, Primal Fear is one of the best thrillers of the ’90s.
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In the aftermath of the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, Munich follows an Israeli hit squad, led by Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), sent to avenge the killing of 11 athletes. Steven Spielberg’s overlooked 2005 masterpiece begins as a nerve-wracking, well-crafted revenge fantasy, but as more of Kaufman’s complex missions crash and burn, Munich asks: what is the true cost of war?
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
When a three-year-old girl is abducted in the neighbourhood of Dorchester, Boston, the girl’s aunt and uncle hire a private investigator, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), to track her down. But after joining forces with a burnt-out detective (Ed Harris) and a by-the-book police captain (Morgan Freeman), Kenzie is faced with a shocking ethical dilemma that will shake him to his core. Anchored by an incredible cast and marking Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone will haunt viewers long after it’s over.
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The American (2010)
One of the most elegant thrillers ever made, The American distills decades’ worth of European art films and American film noir, and features a wonderfully world-weary George Clooney playing against type. Predominantly set in the southern Italian town of Castel del Monte, Clooney plays Jack, a gunmaker and contract killer in hiding who accepts one last job: to build a custom sniper rifle for a fellow assassin. Inevitably, there are a few casualties along the way, a sexy romantic sojourn and some soul-searching, but the tension never dissipates.
Inside Man (2006)
Denzel Washington has teamed up with director Spike Lee on four films—of their acclaimed collaborations, the fourth, Inside Man, is the film that most deserves repeat viewings. In New York City, Detective Frazier (Washington) is called to Wall Street when a crew of robbers take a bank’s customers and employees hostage. What follows is an unpredictable cat-and-mouse game between Frazier and Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), the heist’s mysterious ringleader.
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Set in the dangerous border lands between the United States and Mexico, idealistic FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by a sly government official (Josh Brolin) to bring down a lieutenant in the notorious Sonora Cartel. Joining the team is Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), an enigmatic “adviser” with a dark past. Sicario is a visceral and intelligent thriller—and a unique deep-dive into the failure of America’s War on Drugs.
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Blood Diamond (2006)
A brutal action-thriller about the atrocities of war and the dark side of international trade, this Edward Zwick film follows a Rhodesian smuggler (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a Mende fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) as they track down a priceless diamond. An American journalist (Jennifer Connelly), meanwhile, is on a mission to expose the illicit industry. From its action scenes to its political messages, this is satisfying entertainment on every level.
The Pelican Brief (1993)
In The Pelican Brief, Julia Roberts plays a law student who discovers why two Supreme Court Justices were assassinated, while Denzel Washington stars as an investigative reporter who wants to make sure her story sees the light of the day. The screenplay, based on John Grisham’s book of the same name, unfolds as a standard step-by-step procedural, but outstanding direction by Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) and the two leads’ driven performances turn a potentially predicable picture into an unbearably nerve-wracking one.
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Dark Waters (2019)
Dark Waters, a supremely intelligent thriller, finds Mark Ruffalo leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind—if only for a brief moment—to play a corporate defense lawyer who takes on chemical giant DuPont. At first glance, the material seems like a mismatch for filmmaker Todd Haynes, an arthouse icon better known for his subversive melodramas (Safe, Far from Heaven and Carol). But Dark Waters is an inspired union between star and director—and a poignant exposé that rises to the level of American tragedy.
The Guilty (2021)
In this remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Joe Baylor, an LAPD officer demoted to working nights at a 911 call centre while awaiting a court hearing. Late into one particular shift, Joe gets a call from a woman named Emily, who claims she’s been abducted and is being held in a white van on the move. As the night unfolds, however, Joe learns that Emily’s predicament isn’t so cut-and-dried. Brilliantly acted, smartly paced and packing a handful of astonishing twists, The Guilty is one of the best thrillers on Netflix Canada.
Escape from Pretoria (2020)
This criminally underrated thriller—it stars Daniel Radcliffe, moving further away from his Harry Potter roots—follows two white South African anti-apartheid activists who are sent to Pretoria Central Prison for lengthy sentences. The duo’s plan? With the help of a fellow prisoner, they analyze every inch of the complex and memorize every task the guards are given—and plan a daring, against-the-odds escape. What Escape from Pretoria lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for in nerve-wracking action.
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The Town (2010)
Set in Charlestown, the oldest neighbourhood in Boston, The Town stars Ben Affleck (who also serves as co-writer and director) as Doug, a bank robber and one-time hockey player. After tailing Claire (Rebecca Hall), an assistant bank manager and witness to his crew’s latest heist, Doug instead falls in love with her—and decides to hang it up for good. The hustle never ends for career criminals, however, and, in true noir fashion, Doug is tasked with one last job. Boasting strong performances and a water-tight script, the bleak and violent The Town is one of the best thrillers on Netflix Canada.
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Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Training Day (2001)
Seeking a promotion to the narcotics division, ambitious, by-the-book LAPD officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to esteemed Detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington, in an Academy Award-winning performance) for a one-day tryout. After witnessing Harris’s brand of “street justice,” however, Hoyt learns that his would-be mentor is a dirty cop with a nefarious plan. Tightly-constructed and ruthlessly violent, Training Day might be the most nightmarish job interview ever committed to film.
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When his teen daughter Margot disappears one night, widowed father David (John Cho) joins forces with a San Jose police detective (Debra Messing) to find her. The catch? Searching is set entirely on computer screens, smartphones, televisions and security cameras, as David traces Margot’s digital footprint and discovers just how little he actually knew his daughter. Unpredictable and original, Searching is the perfect edge-of-your-seat thriller for our increasingly virtual world.
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Margin Call (2011)
Quite possibly the greatest film ever made about Wall Street, the nerve-racking Margin Call is mainly comprised of emergency meetings, heated confrontations and backroom deals. Taking place over a 24-hour period in 2008, the film’s premise is simple: if a large investment bank predicted the stock market crash before anyone else, how would it go about saving itself? Featuring a star-studded cast (Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci, to name a few) and an Academy Award-nominated script by writer-director J.C. Chandor, Margin Call is a scathing condemnation of human greed.
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Photo: Netflix Canada
22 July (2018)
On July 22, 2011, Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik carried out two attacks in his home country: a car bomb explosion in Oslo and a mass shooting at a Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the island of Utøya. The attacks claimed 77 lives and injured more than 300 people. 22 July depicts the events of that day in harrowing detail, before a superb coda that ends things on a hopeful note.
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Operation Finale (2018)
After the end of the Second World War, Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), one of the principle masterminds of the Holocaust, disappeared without a trace. Almost two decades later, a team of Israeli Mossad agents led by Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaacs) locate him in Buenos Aires under a new identity. Their mission? Kidnap Eichmann and bring him back to Israel to be tried for his crimes. Based on Palkin’s memoir, Operation Finale is first and foremost a late-career acting showcase for Kingsley.
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Bad Genius (2017)
Set in the high-stakes world of university admissions testing, the exhilarating Bad Genius follows Lynn, a Thai math prodigy who builds a lucrative exam-cheating business. Her ultimate goal: cracking the Standard Test for International Colleges—the correct answers to which could net her millions of dollars from her wealthy clientele. Answering multiple-choice questions has never been so nerve-racking!
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Gerald’s Game (2017)
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) travel to an isolated lake house in the hopes of reviving their marriage. Once there, Gerald handcuffs Jessie to their bedposts to act out a sexual fantasy, but suddenly dies of a heart attack. Quickly succumbing to dehydration and hunger, Jessie must battle her own demons (and a hungry dog) in order to escape. Gerald’s Game is one of the most horrifying Stephen King adaptations in recent memory.
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With Hush, writer-director Mike Flanagan (Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House) adds an irresistible twist to the home invasion genre. Author Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) lives in complete isolation in the woods while working on her novel. Her world quickly unravels, however, when she discovers that a psychopath has been stalking her home—and aims to make her his next victim. The twist? Maddie just so happens to be deaf and mute, putting her at a major disadvantage to her would-be killer.
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Two childhood friends, macho businessman Marcus and shy father-to-be Vaughn, reunite for a weekend hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands. Their happy get-together, however, quickly turns into a nightmare when Vaughn accidentally kills a young boy during one of their expeditions. Can Marcus and Vaughn hide their horrible crime without arousing suspicion from the locals? One of the best thrillers on Netflix Canada, Calibre is an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.
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The Decline (2020)
Convinced that a cataclysmic event is just around the corner, Antoine (Guillaume Laurin) travels to rural Nord-du-Québec to meet Alain (Réal Bossé), a survival expert. The charismatic Alain has built a self-sufficient compound on his 500-acre property, and has also invited five other survivalism enthusiasts to his intensive training program. When a freak accident leaves one person dead, however, the group argues over what to do next, provoking a tense—and violent—showdown.
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The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
Inspired by true events, The Red Sea Diving Resort follows a group of international spies—led by Israeli Mossad agent Ari Levinson (Chris Evans)—as they attempt to rescue thousands of refugees fleeing Sudan in the early ’80s. The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams co-stars.
Now that you know the best thrillers on Netflix, check out the best movies on Netflix Canada—according to Rotten Tomatoes!