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15 Average Thrillers That Could Have Been Great

July 7, 2017
10 min read

Thriller is just about everybody’s favourite genre. We all love some good thrillers but Hollywood has produced them in abundance over the years and so it won’t come off as a surprise when I say that about half of them are just about average. While there have been some absolute classics in this genre, some have been downright terrible but there’s a huge chunk of average thrillers that could well have turned out to be great. It’s certainly not easy to craft a highly entertaining and engaging thriller as it needs to have a good amount of realism and believable situations and most importantly, needs to be at the hands of a highly skilled director. With everything said now, let’s take a look at the list of average thriller movies that could have been a lot better. Also note that the numbers here do not reflect rankings of the films.

15. Chain Reaction (1996)

‘Chain Reaction’ received highly negative reviews from critics with most of them criticising its convoluted story-line and sloppy execution. I for one think that ‘Chain Reaction’ is far from being a bad movie. In fact, it could have been a great one had it not taken itself way too seriously and focused more on what it wants and intends to achieve instead of getting carried away by its own ambitions. There are some great sequences but the film as a whole just does not hold up well. With a lot more original storyline and given at the hands of a far more skilled director, the film would certainly have been a lot more interesting and engaging.

14. Knowing (2009)

Alex Proyas’ visually enticing sci-fi thriller certainly had the look and feel of a potential masterpiece. The style is impeccable and Proyas succeeds in pervading the film with a very creepy atmosphere that lures you into its world. But it’s painfully predictable for the most part and drags throughout its 2-hour long run time. Nicolas Cage is solid in his role as Prof. Johnathan Koestler but then an actor can never be better than the movie. Some of the dialogues are so poorly written that it feels terribly out of place and laughable in its context. ‘Knowing’ had an interesting story to tell and was visually mesmerising but what it lacked was a good script to work on and that hampers any chances of the film turning into something truly special and memorable.

13. Street Smart (1987)

Featuring the great Morgan Freeman in a rare avatar, ‘The Street Smart’ tells the story of a journalist who fakes a story about a pimp in order to keep his job at a magazine. Problems arise when his fictional character seems to have similarities with a real life pimp named Fast Black. But the film does not do justice to its interesting plot-line. For starters, the script isn’t the most powerful one. Pacing seems to be a major issue hampering the flow of the narrative here and some of the plot-points weren’t really developed. But when it works it works phenomenally and Freeman’s performance seems to be the only real memorable aspect in this otherwise hugely flawed but interesting crime thriller.

12. Training Day (2001)

Like ‘Primal Fear’, ‘Training Day’ does not go beyond the brilliance of its lead actor. Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris is one of the most memorable cinematic villains of all time. ‘Training Day’ tells the story of a young officer who is joining hands with a highly intimidating, morally corrupt senior officer on his first day on the job. The film is well made and despite its all too familiar plot and setting, comes off as a very engaging thriller but loses its grip towards the final act and resorts to a lazy ending that exposes numerous plot-holes. It’s brilliantly stylised and extremely well acted but derails itself from the narrative towards the end, making it nothing more than just an average, formulaic thriller.

11. Outbreak (1995)

‘Outbreak’ tells a nightmarish story of an epidemic that plagues an entire city as a group of scientists struggle to discover the roots of the deadly virus and prevent the destruction of the town. The plot is very interesting and the film manages to capture the horrors of its subject matter but there’s an inexcusable lack of seriousness and depth in its treatment that makes it look very shallow despite a few chilling moments and earnest performances from its cast. ‘Outbreak’ is way too naive and silly in its approach but with a lot more thought and effort put into the writing and direction, who knows, could have become a classic instead of a guilty pleasure.

10. Saw (2004)

This Australian thriller was a surprise hit at the box office and has managed to garner a huge cult following over the years, thanks to its intriguing story-line, a memorable villain and some incredibly tense sequences. But what ‘Saw’ lacks in is an emotional depth and for the most part, the characters feel as if they are employed just to drive the plot and have nothing on their own. The violence is explicit but have no real meaning and intention other than shocking its viewers as it feels way too exaggerated even for movie standards. And the ridiculous twist at the end further worsens the film which could have could have been a lot more thoughtful and restrained in its execution.

9. High Tension (2003)

Part of the New French Extremity movement, Alexandre Aja’s explosive slasher flick could have been so much more than just a mere exhibition of blood and gore. The raw, edgy look and feel of the film are refreshingly original and Aja’s relentlessly tense direction give it a very distinctive touch but a bizarre plot-twist towards the end murders the film, making you want to forget what you’ve just seen. The lame ending wrecks the film in its entirety and absolutely destroys everything that was so good about this daring experimental horror by a very promising filmmaker.

8. Primal Fear (1996)

The only thing that exceptionally stands out in Gregory Hoblit’s ‘Primal Fear’ is Edward Norton’s unforgettable performance as Aaron Stampler. Nothing beyond that is anywhere near memorable. The film has an interesting premise that follows a lawyer fighting for a young, stuttering kid who is accused of murdering a priest. The writing is truly exceptional here as the characters are well etched and quite fascinating but Hoblit’s direction just hampers the brilliance of the script as it lacks the fierce intensity and edginess it craves for throughout. Edward Norton almost single-handedly lifts the film with his explosive performance but the direction certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

7. Panic Room (2002)

‘Panic Room’ tells the story of a mother and a daughter whose house is invaded by burglars and they need to fight their lives out as they hide inside a panic room. ‘Panic Room’ is conventional Hollywood thriller and at the hands of David Fincher, it certainly comes off as a very engaging trip but just pales in comparison to Fincher’s earlier works. The writing isn’t up to the mark and characters are half-baked which affects the thematic aspects of the film. Barring Fincher’s inspiring command over the medium, ‘Panic Room’ offers nothing new.

6. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

The more I think of ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ the more I hate it because this was a film that could have been miles better than what it eventually turned out to be. It very much sets the tone for a creepy thriller and has an intriguing premise that could have been used for a wide range of thematic explorations. But its bizarre ambitions take a wild turn as the film slips to never really return and ends up being one big convoluted mess. The film itself has no idea with regards to the direction in which it intends to go and thus becomes nothing more than a very forgettable thriller that, at the right hands, could have been a masterpiece.

5. The Forgotten (2004)

A very emotional story that portrays the pain of a mother looking for her missing child. And Julianne Moore plays the emotionally disturbed mother. Seriously, what else could go wrong? Well, pretty much everything else. ‘The Forgotten’, at its heart, is an emotional thriller but it’s so incredibly manipulative and contrived at places. The ending is just downright laughable as it resorts to Hollywood’s favourite alien plot-twist that expectedly kills the film and it ends up being another horrible venture that could been a lot better.

4. Identity (2003)

Identity

Where did ‘Identity’ go wrong? Yes, with that ending. Everything up till that point was brilliant. With such an intriguing plot, ‘Identity’ could have easily gone on to become a genre classic but it just blew it apart with an ending that leaves you infuriated and I can’t for the life of me understand what the makers were thinking of it. It’s a shame that a film with such atmospheric power and well thought out storyline resorted to cheap, mindless plot-gimmick that humiliates the human intellect.

3. The Village (2004)

There is nothing that hasn’t been said about this film before. One of M. Night Shyamalan’s weakest ventures, ‘The Village’ might be one of the most hated films of all time. The plot-holes are glaring, the build up to the story lacks the intensity of ‘The Sixth Sense’ and it’s just a big pile of mess scattered all over the place. But Shyamalan’s true brilliance lies in crafting a fascinating atmosphere that pulls you into the film while infusing the film with a sense of lurking horror that strangles you. It’s a shame that all Shyamalan could manage was that. Just that.

2. The Game (1997)

The undisputed master of thrillers, David Fincher is well known for his flashy, exuberant thrillers. But he just went a bit off-key with this one. ‘The Game’ tells the story of a banker who receives a strange gift from his younger brother that changes his life forever. The film has Fincher at the top of his game as it features some of the scariest moments ever captured on-screen but it falters towards the end with some terribly executed plot-twists that feel so contrived and out of place that take you out of the film. ‘The Game’ could well have easily rivaled Fincher’s best works as it works brilliantly for the most part but the highly unsatisfying ending makes this a forgettable affair from a filmmaker who rarely disappoints.

1. Signs (2002)

M. Night Shyamalan’s second entry on the list might have been a great thriller if not for that laughable plot-twist at the end that kills the movie. ‘Signs’ is Shyamalan’s best work since ‘The Sixth Sense’ and it’s amazing how a film so incredibly well made could just blow it up with an outrageously bad ending that looks like it was written by someone else on the set while Shyamalan was busy. Honestly though, what’s with these aliens? Are they so dumb they didn’t realise they were conquering a planet that was covered three-fourths in water? It’s infuriating to see such a promising film screw it up so badly.

Read More: Best Thrillers of All Time

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