There is something about thrillers that always seem to excite us. Even some of the most atrocious thrillers might still be enjoyable partly because of its entertainment value. A puzzling film that manages to keep you guessing till the end and then shattering all your expectations with a nerve-racking plot twist at the end is the kind that excites and exhilarates us the most. This article takes a look at the list of top brain teasing movies ever that keep you guessing right till the end. Also note that the numbers do not indicate any kind of ranking of the puzzle films. You can stream some of these best brain teasing movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
15. The Guest (2014)
Arguably the most underrated film on the list, ‘The Guest’ is about a man who introduces himself to the Peterson family as a friend of their dead son who was a soldier and was fighting the Afghan war. However, a bizarre series of events unfold and the family begins to suspect the man as tension builds up and the film keeps you in a sense of anticipation with an incredible pay off at the end that completely sweeps you off. It’s brilliantly directed and acted with elements of action, psychological thriller and horror blended in ways that make for a thoroughly satisfying experience.
14. Following (1998)
Technically, ‘Following’ isn’t a whodunit flick but it manages to keep you on the very edge and blow you off of your seats with a stunning twist in the end. It follows a lonely young man who, out of boredom, begins to follow strangers in the streets of London and comes across a charismatic burglar. Made on a very limited budget of $6000, ‘Following’ was filmed without professional film lighting and had non-professional actors who were mostly Nolan’s own friends. ‘Following’ is an intriguingly bold, original, riveting piece of cinema.
13. The Game (1997)
I am not particularly fond of this film but I do think it’s a highly engaging film with some truly amazing moments of absolute horror and suspense. The issue I had with this film was the turn it took in the second half that changed the focus of the film and hampered the narrative. The story revolves around a rich banker who receives a strange gift from his brother. However, it isn’t really the kind of gift he would have loved to receive as things take a frightening turn when strange events begin to happen in his life. The mystery element keeps you involved throughout and there are some absolutely jaw dropping moments in there although the film has a whole might not hold up to Fincher’s best works.
12. Negotiator (1998)
‘The Negotiator’ has just about every element you’d look for in a Hollywood thriller. Nothing really can go wrong when you cast Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey in the lead roles with a decent script on offer. The plot of the film follows Jackson’s character, a cop, who is wrongly accused of defrauding large amounts of money from the police department’s disability fund. He storms the office and takes hostages in order to prove his innocence. The plot begins to unveil as things get increasingly complex with suspense pulling in and we keep guessing things until everything gets revealed in that explosive finale.
11. The Machinist (2004)
Best known for Christian Bale’s staggering performance, ‘The Machinist’ is a solid psychological thriller with elements of suspense and horror blended with remarkable brilliance. The film follows an insomniac who begins to experience strange things at work and home. He sees a mysterious man who no one else seems to know of and his mental trouble causes an accident in which his co-worker loses one arm. The film is brilliantly layered and pulls you into its world with its atmospheric power as you begin to work things out before a nerve-racking climax comes to hit you. One of the underrated brain teasing movies.
10. Se7en (1995)
David Fincher’s bleak, depressing thriller didn’t go well with viewers of its time because of its violent overtones and a devastatingly pessimistic ending. ‘Se7en’ is an exceptionally well crafted, intelligent thriller that takes a look at a cold world steeped in nihilism and hopelessness. The film is about two detectives shouldered with the responsibility of hunting down a serial killer who murders people according to the seven deadly sins. The performances by Freeman and Pitt are outstanding especially towards the end where tension builds only to explode in a way that shatters you emotionally.
9. Lost Highway (1997)
Easily the most challenging film on the list but I’m sure this would make the list seem a lot more exciting. ‘Lost Highway’ is one of David Lynch’s most underrated films. The reason why it isn’t among his most celebrated works is because the same ideas he developed here are better explored in ‘Mulholland Drive’ which came out 4 years later. However, ‘Lost Highway’ remains a seductively enigmatic piece of pure cinematic nightmare. The story revolves around a man who is accused of his wife’s murder and is convicted but morphs into another man and is taken out of prison. He begins to lead a new life as a mechanic but a series of mysterious events continue to haunt him as he finds himself ensnared in a web of nightmares.
8. L.A. Confidential (1997)
‘L.A Confidential’ is arguably one of the finest American films of the 90s. Set in the 50s, the film follows three detectives in Los Angeles investigating the department’s corruption activities. It’s fascinating to watch these three starkly different people go about their methods of investigation and in the process it reveals a lot about themselves, their fears, vulnerabilities, pain and desires. We truly care for its characters and that makes the journey very personal and exciting to watch. The film is a triumph of acting, writing and direction. A must watch for staunch fans of the neo-noir/mystery genre.
7. About Elly (2009)
‘About Elly’ follows a group of old friends who go on a weekend vacation to the shores of the Caspian Sea. One of them, a woman, is an outsider and the group is planning to hook her up with one of the others in the group. However, one day she goes missing while trying to rescue one of the kids who get lost in the sea. What Asghar Farhadi does here with that one simple element of mystery is something you could never remotely imagine. He subverts you into believing that the film is a mystery thriller and keeps you guessing of the possibilities that could have happened. But the truth is there isn’t any suspense in the film. There are no villains either. We ourselves are the villains of our own situations and it’s the hard-hitting realization of this universal truth that makes ‘About Elly’ an extremely powerful film.
6. Mystic River (2003)
I wasn’t quite convinced by the ending of ‘Mystic River’ when I first saw it. But on repeat viewings I realised that the film wasn’t about Katie’s death. It’s about that traumatic childhood incident that lingers in the minds of the film’s main characters and how it shaped up their lives as adults. The gloomy atmosphere of the film beautifully reflects the the mood of its perennially wounded characters. Eastwood’s direction here is beyond brilliant as he keeps you on the edge while providing intense focus on his characters which makes the film a deeply emotional experience.
5. Memories of Murder (2003)
‘Memories of Murder’ is one hell of an emotional mess. Murder mysteries are rarely as exciting and emotionally draining as ‘Memories of Murder’ which is what distinguishes it from many other flicks of its genre. Based on Korea’s first serial killings that took place between 1986 and 1991, the film follows two detectives trying to solve the mystery behind the killings. Bong Joon-Ho blends elements of comedy that may seem to go a bit off-tone but pay off at the end makes up for everything. The film lets you completely invest in its characters which makes the film a lot more emotional than other conventional whodunits.
4. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher’s clinical neo noir thriller is a true masterpiece of American cinema. ‘Zodiac’ is just as riveting and intriguing as mystery thrillers can get. The film is based on the real life serial killings that took place during the late 60s and early 70s by a man who called himself the “Zodiac”. The film is masterfully directed by Fincher who so brilliantly builds tension and crafts an intriguingly dark atmosphere that thoroughly captivates you. ‘Zodiac’ keeps you on the edge but it’s clever enough to not reveal the identity of its killer which brings in an ambiguity that is truly terrifying and makes you think for days.
3. The White Ribbon (2009)
Strange things happening in a village. A doctor falls off his horse and is badly injured. A handicapped boy is nearly beaten to death. And a pastor who beats his kids for indulging in sexual pleasures and other minor wrongdoings. Who do these things happen? This is the question that Haneke presents us with. And his film doesn’t provide answers for it but instead opens you up to the realities suppressed by the very forces that dictate the norms of our existence. It is beyond the meagre abilities of the human mind to try and comprehend the reasons that cause violence in the society. With time, reasons may vary and get increasingly complex but the roots of it remain the same. It’s this shattering realisation that makes ‘The White Ribbon’ a stunning work of art.
2. Chinatown (1974)
Roman Polanski’s classic is the quintessential neo-noir mystery drama. The atmosphere of the film is very tense and you know that there’s something lurking around the corner but like all great films, ‘Chinatown’goes beyond the conventional aspects of a classic whodunit flick and turns itself into a devastating look at a bleak, depressing world that’s scarily relatable. Nicholson brilliantly underplays the role and brings in that feeling of an outsider which makes him almost a part of the audience, seeing and experiencing things exactly the way we do and could do nothing about it because “it’s Chinatown..”
1. Cache (2005)
It seems strange to categorise ‘Cache’ as a whodunit but the real reason why it made the list is because Haneke plays with you and subverts your expectations by keeping you guessing as to who sent the tapes when the film wasn’t really about who sent them at all. Right from that freezing opening shot, Haneke manipulates you with images as we don’t really know the perspective of each shot. The tension builds up and we keep looking for answers but Haneke abstains from comforting you with them and instead shatters you with realities we’ve turned our heads away from.