‘Shutter Island’ is one of the best psychological thrillers made in this century. It is set in the 50s and stays true to the film noir style of building a mystery; with a curious lead detective shrouded in his own mystery unveiling simultaneously with the plot, frequent flashbacks that disrupt narrative flow, lingering presence of a femme fatale, supporting characters that are embedded with curiosity rather than solutions, and a tragic universal event preceding the plot that lends a dark or glum ambience.
The mind games, the unknown, the mystery, the twist make ‘Shutter Island’ an absolute favourite among fans. So, we decided to dig thriller movies similar to Shutter Island that are our recommendations. You can stream some of these movies like Shutter Island on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu.
25. The Gift (2015)
With popularity of psychological thrillers in a domestic setting on the rise after the film ‘Shutter Island’, here is another overlooked thriller in the same genre. Whoever knew that our boy next door, Jason Bateman, the hilarious, bumbling Michael Bluth from ‘Arrested Development’ could play a dark role with such a high degree of perfection? A brilliant film which starts off as a stalker type movie and slowly delves into darker territories. The lines between protagonist and antagonist are blurred. The Gift will have you feeling uneasy throughout its duration and almost matches ‘Gone Girl’ in terms of shock factor.
24. Exam (2009)
Exams are scary anyway, so why not make them more terrifying? ‘Exam’ does just that, eight candidates shortlisted for a corporate job and are locked together in a room and given a test with one question and some very weird instructions. This brilliant elimination style thriller, which was nominated for a BAFTA, is almost virtuosic in its camera angles and focus. Watch this low budget gem and never look at exams the same way again.
23. Identity (2003)
This movie rates among the best murder mysteries I have ever seen. The film also doubles up as a brilliant psychological thriller. Heavily inspired by Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’, characters stranded at a motel are killed of one by one with a murderer on the loose. The twist is unpredictable but completely believable and ingenious. Watch this one alone for the complete experience. It also features an all-star cast comprising the likes of John Cusack and ‘Goodfellas’ Ray Liotta.
22. Predestination (2014)
‘Predestination’ is a film that toys with complex physical ideas including Time Travel, Temporal Loops, Discontinuities, Paradoxes, concepts that have, till now, caught the fancy of physicists, mathematicians, story tellers and film makers for close to a century. It may not end up satisfactorily answering a lot of the questions it raises, but it is bound to raise a brow or two with the flawed genius behind the big idea of it all, the idea of a timeless soldier, free from the ideas of ancestry, birth, death, conception, and time itself: a predestination paradox. For those who like to think and prefer their films with a side of thought-fodder, this film is a haven among the woods. For those who don’t, it will either blow up your brains, or you will when it ends.
21. Triangle (2009)
This twilight zone style thriller with a haunting soundtrack is a superbly written film that unfolds at a perfect pace. This movie is a hard one to follow so remember to pay close attention to detail. The movie is very David Lynch-like in its direction and cinematography and has a dream-like feel to it. A deeply engrossing psychological thriller which is worth every minute of your time.
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20. Coherence (2013)
‘Coherence’, a story of eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events, is essentially based on a scientific theory referred to as Schrödinger’s cat theory. Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. In simple terms, it is the possibility of existence of multiple simultaneous realities at the same time. It is a film that works both as a science fiction and as a great psychological thriller.
19. Inception (2010)
Everything I say or have said about ‘Inception’ will be but a frail effort in describing the monument of a film it is for fans today. Although, I agree that there are definitely better psychological thrillers or mind bending movies out there, I also accept that eight years hence, few movies have been able to match the unparalleled big screen experience ‘Inception’ provided me with. As I have said in a previous article as well, Nolan found a way to marry cerebral cinema with the blockbuster kind and their love child that was ‘Inception’ came out to be nothing short of a transcendent experience for moviegoers, especially here in India where the status quo seemed to be craving smart cinema in a time where Nolan proved to be their saviour.
18. The Game (1997)
David Fincher is the only other director in this list who has a notable presence apart from Nolan simply from the number of their films similar to ‘Shutter Island’, or more aptly, psychological thrillers with rubber realities that fall in this list. ‘The Game’ is one of Fincher’s earlier films, overlooked under heaps of his other, more successful films. But ‘The Game’ is a little enjoyable thriller in its own, another film wherein the protagonist loses grasp of what’s real and what’s not, albeit here, the ‘unreal’ part is the eponymous Game. In that, the film has a more hardened definition of the ‘rubber’ reality wherein there are no visions, apparitions or hallucinations, and the only thing he needs to find his way out of is a sadistic game his brother (an excellent Sean Penn in an extended cameo) sets him up for. Needless to say, most of the heavy lifting is done by Michael Douglas himself, and he embodies the mannerisms of the lonely affluent banker perfectly. I won’t call the film underrated as much as it is underviewed compared to other Fincher films.
17. The Prestige (2006)
With a twist that now has acquired a legendary status, ‘The Prestige’ is one big magic trick of a film unto itself, incorporating the pledge, the turn and the ‘prestige’ into a well-acted, visually pleasing film that builds and builds until its full, and reveals everything in a crescendo of unprecedented events, ones that are sure to take your breath away as they reveal themselves. Its setting of 20th Century London is impeccable, working invisibly in the film’s favour, but it is the film’s themes of one-upmanship and professional rivalry irrespective of the costs bourne that I find more fascinating and interesting. Despite all that, the staging of the magic tricks, the secrets behind how they work and simple details behind their execution astounded me as a viewer, adding to my appreciation of a Nolan film that I feel is somehow piled under more successful and crowd friendly Nolan blockbusters.
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16. Taxi Driver (1976)
Widely regarded as one of the most important films ever made, and one that introduced the world to the force that was Scorsese, giving us one of the most disturbed, unlikely yet whimsical protagonists of our times in Travis Bickle, ‘Taxi Driver’ is a classic in all senses. The film follows him as he becomes a taxi driver to cope with his insomnia and watches him being slowly overcome by all the madness in the city around him. It is nothing short of a brilliant attempt at understanding the part of the human psyche that most often stems itself in the form of vigilantism, the one that muses about rising up to the incorrectness of our times and giving it back. It is that deep seated wish fulfilment fantasy that ‘Taxi Driver’ toys with in a highly effective manner.
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15. Memento (2000)
While Christopher Nolan seems to be championing lists comprising of psychologically mind bending films with twist endings, ‘Memento’ is where the phenomenon named Nolan was born. All the things about the film’s plot involving a man with short term memory loss on the hunt out for his wife’s killers is widely known by now, but the one thing that is indubitably an attractive quality of this film for me is its non-linear screenplay that defied all norms of non-linearity in terms of narrative structure. The screenplay, which pans out in two different sets of sequences, one in monochrome told chronologically and the other in colour but told in reverse chronology to meet at the end of the film in a common revelation is a touch of unbridled genius in my opinion. The Academy nod for Jonathan Nolan was a given by then.
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14. The Invitation (2015)
This film definitely ranks among the most unpredictable movies ever made. The film will make you question yourself and your thought process at every turn. It’s one of those films which is run entirely by what goes on in the background. The brilliance of it lies in the fact that you never know what is really going on until the climax. The last scene will definitely take your breath away. It is important to ensure that you go into this movie without even reading the plot summary or having a hint of what it is in order to be completely blown away by it. Also, it stars Tom Hardy’s doppelganger, Logan Marshall-Green. I had to actually check to confirm that it wasn’t him. Twice.
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13. Prisoners (2013)
Fear has such power over minds that it can paralyze those, like a tarantula does to its prey. Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Prisoners’ effectively explores the fear of unknown, the boundaries of morality, and the dilemmas of human conscience. Let me warn you right away – It’s disturbing and makes you shiver to the marrows. And you wonder, what if it happens to me?
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12. EXistenZ (1999)
‘EXistenZ’ is one wild psychotropic trip in the head and easily ticks off on all criteria that make a Cronenberg film what it is. Naturally, the film is as divisive as his other films, and is filled with nausea inducing visuals and gross, gory organic matter, some of it even abstract. However, it still remains the most visually dazzling film on the list despite that, by virtue of it tapping into the most aesthetic form of rubber reality: video games! There have been a number of films in the virtual reality gaming arena, wherein something goes wrong or the creator has to play through his own creation, but none like this one, and that is primarily owed to Cronenberg’s twisted signature style. It also has a grounded, less elaborate social commentary about man’s relationship with technology, similar to most of Cronenberg’s popular works. While it may not have aged as well, I can guarantee that you will have a ball of a time when you first view it, provided you keep an open mind.
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11. Videodrome (1983)
‘Videodrome’ is as much a dark satire on the media consumption habits of the masses and its effects on society, as it is a terrifying journey into Max Renn’s degrading psyche as he loses touch with reality, experiencing hallucinations that are increasingly violent, gut wrenching (literally) and plain bizarre after being exposed to the tumour inducing signal of the videodrome channel. Revisiting the film even three decades later may be a harrowing experience, and by that, I don’t just wish to encompass its horrific organic sequences. It’s the fact that it has proved to be almost prophetic with the depiction of the TV viewing audience and the consumption habits of the masses, it’s eerily scary where we may be headed. In summation, ‘Videodrome’ is weird. Perhaps no better, more elaborate term exists in the English language that can sum up your experience of watching the film.
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10. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
A highly underrated film! Conceptually, the film may sound outlandish, but somehow the makers were able to pull it off magnificently. When you have a film that right from the outset is based on a complex subject, the actor’s job becomes even more difficult. But thanks to Damon, he makes both himself and the film completely believable.
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9. Enemy (2013)
The only reason I liked ‘Enemy’ a little less than I should have is its ending, that left me frustrated and scratching my head. I will also admit that it was hard to sit through for all its duration, since the film doesn’t have the appeal or production quality imminent in Villeneuve’s other works, of which ‘Prisoners’ or ‘Arrival’ are stunning examples. Yet in all its chaotic glory, ‘Enemy’ does get to your head and stays there long after the credits have rolled. The ending may not be as mind blowing as some of the other films on this list simply because it isn’t spelled out in front of the audience and quite a lot of it is left for them to figure out themselves. But when you get it, or atleast think that you do, this story of a man’s struggle with his own identity checks a lot of the boxes on what makes ‘Shutter Island’ a great film, especially on the identical psychology part of it. The film stands true on its title card caption, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”.
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8. Split (2016)
‘Split’ had me riled up with anticipation by virtue of it plot that was ingenious and psychologically terrifying at the same time. A man with 23 distinct split personalities? Not only was it a tremendous responsibility on James McAvoy as an actor, who I have always found to be par excellence, it was also a high stakes bid for Shyamalan, who’d been on a sort of downer following some of his recent films. Thankfully, ‘Split’ proved its mettle on all fronts and marked a much needed and able return to form for Shyamalan, who seems to be in his comfort zone directing a psychological thriller/horror. McAvoy is at his absolute best here, and NONE of his 23 personalities portrayed come off contrived or as a mere gimmick, there’s depth in even each one of them. Not to mention I absolutely adored the tiny cameo in there by Bruce Willis, indicating a cinematic universe in the works, and confirmed by the announcement of ‘Glass’. This is Shyamalan’s tour de force after years, he injects the work with personal pathos and I can’t wait for ‘Glass’ to cap off this excellent trilogy.
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7. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
‘Jacob’s Ladder’ sensitively portrays the downfalls of PTSD, as a recently returned war veteran fights his way through personal loss and grief, hallucinations, dreary flashbacks and conspiracy theories that are but a product of his own shell shocked mind. As the improbabilities arise, our protagonist Jacob finds himself increasingly torn between reality and his visions or perceptions of reality, while also trying to make sense of what was responsible for his present condition. It is, in all respects, an underappreciated film and needs to be seen more, simply as an intricate study of a human mind that has been through insufferable trauma, and how that story is told with unnatural pathos for a psychological thriller. Tim Robbins delivers an empathetic yet completely credible performance as Jacob, while Adrian Lyne directs it in full force armed with more dramatic chops than thrilling ones.
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6. Fight Club (1999)
Protagonist with a troubled state of mind. Check. Protagonist in an environment he resents. Check. Protagonist psychologically manifesting a completely new identity in response to the resentment. Check. Protagonist struggling to keep a rift between what’s real and what’s not. Check. Unabashed social commentary. Check. An awesome, genre defining, generation abiding film. Check, check and check.
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5. The Machinist (2004)
Right from the opening frame, ‘The Machinist’ has an unmistakable sense of melancholy and a certain weight, both visual and thematic to what unfolds on screen. Adding to that, Christian Bale’s transformation into virtually a skeletal being to play a man suffering from insomnia as he also confronts demons from his past, and ‘The Machinist’ can be quite a dreary watch. While the ending does put quite a twist in the tale, it never has that certain sense of victory that a lot of the other films on this list may have. As a mood piece and character study of a deeply flawed individual struggling with keeping his own sanity in place and discovering what haunts him, ‘The Machinist’ scores, but is far from your usual cerebral blockbuster. It’s grim, and the atmospherics work in giving you an unforgettable yet sober psychological thriller.
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4. American Psycho (2000)
‘American Psycho’ is the story of yet another man disillusioned with his identity, played to haunting perfection and cold precision by Christian Bale, but instead, here he struggles to keep up appearances in a sycophantic society enamoured with the idea of wealth and class. In a way, I find a lot of parallels between ‘American Psycho’, ‘Shutter Island’ and even ‘Fight Club’ for that matter. While I admit I still haven’t been able to get a clear grasp on the film’s ending, and whether any or some of the murders he committed were for real or not, it is clear that Patrick Bateman did psychologically manifest a darker side within him, fuelled by a hidden desire of some sort as a response to the kind of environment he finds himself in, perfectly embodying what is so beautiful about these psychologically dark thrillers, much like either of the two aforementioned films.
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3. Black Swan (2010)
There is no doubt about Darren Aronofsky and his body of work being vastly divisive, but if there is one thing that even the naysayers will confide in, is that his films are different from your regular weekend cinema outing, and in that, they may make you scratch your head more often than you like, thus the divisiveness. Aronofsky has often operated on that thin line in his films where almost everything has a melancholy allegory associated to it (case in point, ‘The Fountain’) to a point where the viewer may be feeling overwhelmed by them. Thankfully, ‘Black Swan’ is bereft of that in a lot of ways, yet is as masterful and feels like the director’s most complete work to date for me. Natalie Portman delivers a deeply engaging and haunting performances as a ballerina, perfectly embodying an artist’s struggle with conviction in her art, and the extents it can make them go in pursuit of that perfection. It is dark and the hallucinations are signature Aronofsky. If you’ve seen something by Aronofsky that you’ve even remotely liked, don’t miss this one.
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2. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
One of the great modern thrillers, this Oscar winner is a testament to what an assured direction with an intriguing plot should look like. The main strength of the film is in its moments of silences — and the symbolism around them. Psychological crime dramas usually rely on the tried and tested formula, but this film actually relies on the fragile psychological state of the audience, which in turn is the reason why it’s so compelling.
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1. Caché (2005)
Caché in English means hidden, and frankly, there couldn’t have been more apt title for this film, for Haneke is not just playing the hide and seek game with his characters, but the audiences of the film too. In an act of pure genius, Haneke carefully uses still shots where the action may not always be happening at the centre of the screen — sometimes, it may not be happening on-screen at all. He lets audiences make inferences and judgements on their own, giving little-to-no help deconstructing the characters and their motives. One of the most challenging pieces of cinema you will ever see.
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