Suspense and mystery could well be regarded as the two most intriguing genres of cinema. These are films that engage you, captivate you, leaving you in complete awe by the end. From greats like Alfred Hitchcock to modern mavericks like David Fincher, cinema has had plenty to offer from this relentlessly fascinating genre of cinema. While we are aware that most of you already swear by the names of Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, we are quite certain that you have missed umpteen number of classics from this genre which is why we, at The Cinemaholic, are here to constantly redefine your taste and perspectives towards cinema — in this case top suspense movies. So with everything said now, let me present to you a list of top mystery movies ever made. You can watch some of these best suspense movies on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
20. L.A. Confidential (1997)
This stylish neo-noir mystery thriller is a highly engaging and entertaining flick that tells the story of 3 LAPD officers trying to uncover mysteriously connected cases of corruption and murders in the 1950s. Featuring stupendous performances from a splendid cast including the likes of Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and James Cromwell, the film is a tightly written and beautifully directed suspense drama that undeservedly lost almost every major Academy Award to ‘Titanic’ in 1997. The film has since been regarded by critics and fans as one of the best films of the 90s.
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19. The Conversation (1974)
After having made a film that revolutionized filmmaking and changed cinema forever, Francis Ford Coppola delves deep into the disturbed mind of a surveillance expert who suspects a couple he secretly recorded is going to be murdered by his client. An absorbing look at a man’s troubled, paranoid state of mind, the film is Coppola’s most overlooked one and one of the more underrated films from Hollywood’s greatest era. The film showcases the superlatively talented Gene Hackman’s fine acting chops.
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18. Se7en (1995)
A perpetually raining city. A serial killer embarks on a killing spree. Two detectives set out to investigate the case. What could possibly go wrong with a plot like this at the hands of David Fincher? ‘Se7en’ didn’t receive much recognition at the time of its release due to the film’s dark, depressing aura and an audience who were yet to recuperate from the hangover left behind by Hannibal Lecter and his “chianti” that was still lingering in their nerves. The film is brilliantly held under control by the great Morgan Freeman and a young, dashing Brad Pitt. David Fincher, at his rawest, pours his heart and soul into the film that feels every bit as powerful and hard hitting today as it did 2 decades back.
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17. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is the quintessential Hollywood thriller that seamlessly blends all the inherent ingredients of a psychological drama, horror and mystery film and brilliantly manages to create a distinctive cinematic experience. The film tells the story of a young American FBI trainee who seeks help from a cannibalistic psychopath in order to hunt down another serial killer in town. In an iconic film performance, Anthony Hopkins very nearly steals the show with his portrayal of a sadistic psychopath in a film that had him on screen for just over 16 minutes. The film won all the major academy awards in 1991 and is one of the most popular films of the 90s.
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16. Memories of Murder (2003)
‘Memories of Murder’ is a cinematic gem. Not every day you come across a film that is as riveting and captivating as this 2003 South Korean classic. Based on the infamous real life serial killings of women that took place in South Korea between 1986 and 1991, the film focuses on the two detectives’ investigation of the case. The film tightens its grip with every scene making it virtually impossible for us to blink throughout its running time and leaves us in a state of utter shock and despair with a climax that is haunting and emotionally powerful. The film is well remembered for its strong performances and cinematography and has attained a cult following over the years from ardent movie buffs. One of the underrated suspense movies.
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15. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Directed by none other than the great Alfred Hitchcock, this fascinating psychological thriller with elements of suspense, mystery and drama, portrays the story of two strangers who meet on a train, a tennis player and a charismatic psychopath, and talk about the tennis player’s hatred towards his wife as the psychopath plans to kill her in return for the tennis player killing the psychopath’s father. What follows is a brilliant, engaging game of psychological manipulation and nail biting moments. The film is noted for its visually expressive style and use of motifs and has also inspired numerous films and Television programs over the years.
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14. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 3D mystery drama tells the story of a man who plans to murder his wife when he finds out about her infidelity. He blackmails his old college friend, who is now a small time criminal,into murdering his wife. The film, although not among Hitchcock’s most critically acclaimed works, still has a strong cult following among Hitchcock fanatics and die hard fans of the suspense genre and has been remade into many languages across the world.
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13. Blue Velvet (1986)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of the 80s and one of the best mystery films ever made, ‘Blue Velvet’ is a stunning work of art that masterfully paints the mysteries behind human relationships and the masked desires and fantasies of the human psyche. The film follows a young man trying to solve the mystery of a severed ear he discovered while walking through a field but gets ensnared in a sensual relationship with a gorgeous, enigmatic woman much older than him. ‘Blue Velvet’ was David Lynch’s smashing comeback after the ‘Dune’ debacle. A must watch for cinephiles with a fetish for dark mysteries and suspense.
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12. Memento (2000)
Modern day genius Christopher Nolan’s most powerful work, ‘Memento’, is a puzzle of broken memories and shattered emotions. Based on a short-story written by his brother Jonathan Nolan about a man suffering from anterograde amnesia who desperately seeks vengeance against the man who murdered his wife, the film is a hard-hitting examination of the human mind and its intricacies. Truth and reality could just be a matter of perspectives. How essential it is to know the truth in life? Does it really matter? Sometimes we all just close our eyes and float across a sea of mysteries. Mysteries that solace our souls wounded by the uncompromising truths.
11. Rashomon (1950)
The reason why this epic Japanese masterpiece by the great Akira Kurosawa is placed so low on this list is because ‘Rashomon’ is a film that is difficult to be labeled or categorized into a single genre. Yet on some level the movie does seem to qualify as a mystery film. The film is famous for its unique and innovative storytelling method which uses a contradictory narrative style where the characters recount the same story from their own different perspectives. ‘Rashomon’ has had a remarkable impact on world cinema and filmmakers across the globe.
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10. North by Northwest (1959)
It is virtually impossible to prepare a compilation of the best suspense and mystery movies featuring only a couple of Alfred Hitchcock entries. So here we are. ‘North by Northwest’ is a sensationally entertaining flick from the master of suspense. The movie depicts the story of an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent and is pursued by members of a criminal organization. The film is replete with many memorable moments and classic Hitchcock scenarios and could be considered an entry point for any movie lover looking to explore the master director’s oeuvre.
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9. Zodiac (2007)
Authentic, realistic and subtly powerful, David Fincher’s engrossing mystery thriller is a modern masterpiece. Based on a true story, ‘Zodiac’ is about a professional cartoonist’s unabating obsession with the enigmatic Zodiac killer who terrorized Northern California during the late 60s and 70s. The film takes a different trajectory to other Hollywood serial killer films as it values substance over style and graphic violence and has been immensely praised by critics for its factual authenticity and serious representation of a murder investigation. Indisputably, the best murder mystery film to have come out of Hollywood this century.
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8. Cache (2005)
Michael Haneke’s magnum opus is a disturbing reflection of our ignorant, self-absorbed modern society. A society that finds comfort in the cushions of the unknown and the untold. ‘Cache’ is cinema at its purest and most intellectual form. The film is about an upper class French couple who are terrorized by a series of mysterious surveillance tapes that appear on their front porch. They are soon drawn towards some disturbing truths as the husband recollects an incident from his childhood that may have some connection with the mysterious observer of their lives. Haneke challenges his viewers using shots where the action might not be happening at the center, asking us to observe each and every frame closely. Cache is highly rated by critics as one of the greatest films of the 21st century.
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7. Rear Window (1954)
Some might argue that ‘Rear Window’ is Hitchcock’s best film. However, I feel that Hitchcock’s greatest works were yet to come. Having said that, I do believe ‘Rear Window’ is one of the genre’s best films and Hitchcock fearlessly explores and prowls around the dark, mysterious secrets hidden deep inside the human psyche. The film follows a photographer who, out of boredom, begins to take pleasure in spying on his neighbors through his window and comes across an attractive, middle-aged woman. The film has had a huge influence on many subsequent suspense/mystery films.
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6. L’Avventura (1960)
The master Italian filmmaker Michaelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’Avventura’ was a film that was well and truly ahead of its times. Booed and jeered by audiences during its premiere at Cannes, the film would later on go on to create a hysterical uproar among audiences and is now regarded as one the greatest films of world cinema. Antonioni came up with the story of the film which was about the disappearance of a young woman during a boating trip and how the other characters get entangled with each other’s feelings. The film forever changed the role of visuals in cinema and the pivotal part it plays in storytelling.
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5. The Third Man (1949)
This dark, gritty and stylish British noir is one of the most revered and cherished films of all time by critics and cinephiles alike. Known for its memorable soundtrack and the gloomy atmospheric quality, the film takes place in post World War II Vienna where an American has arrived for work offered by his friend but upon arrival discovers that he was killed in an accident hours earlier. The film focuses on his investigation of his friend’s mysterious death. The film is gorgeously shot, brilliantly acted and is a near-perfect piece of pure cinema.
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4. Chinatown (1974)
A flawless classic, ‘Chinatown’ redefined the mystery genre with an exceptionally well written screenplay by Robert Towne and the directorial genius of Roman Polanski at the helm. Jack Nicholson stars as detective Jake who is hired by Mrs. Mulwray to spy on her husband but soon gets himself shackled to the dark realities and the distorted moral conscience of Chinatown. Jack Nicholson is the heart and soul of the film bringing a rare sense of understated elegance to his role. The deeply depressing climax and the iconic closing line is gut-wrenching and unforgettable.
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3. Mulholland Drive (2001)
‘Mulholland Drive’ is a work of art. What David Lynch achieved with ‘Mulholland Drive’ is something perhaps no other filmmaker could come close to achieving in terms of the vision, the audacity and the artistic qualities that turn a movie into cinema. Art doesn’t need to make sense. And Mulholland Drive doesn’t for once try to make sense. Films like ‘Mulholland Drive are to be felt and experienced. It is a film brimming with mysteries and sublime moments of the human conscious stripped bare. It is dark, disturbing and enigmatic yet so beautiful and exquisitely haunting.
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2. Psycho (1960)
This is a film that does not require an introduction of any kind. Probably every single scene, the plot twists and every other aspect of the film is widely talked about, discussed and debated. ‘Psycho’ is a masterclass on how every suspense thriller film should be. Released in 1960, the film’s stature has grown immensely over the years and has had a massive influence on popular culture. Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates is now regarded as one of cinema’s most famous antagonists. ‘Psycho’ spawned a new genre in cinema, psychoanalytical thriller. Famous for it’s ambiguities and a nerve-racking closing shot, ‘Psycho’ is also one of those films that gets better and better on repeated viewings.
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1. Vertigo (1958)
Oh, it’s that man Hitchcock again! Can he ever falter? ‘Vertigo’ is the greatest mystery film ever made. Plain and simple. With a plot that follows an acrophobic detective who is hired to investigate his friend’s wife who has been behaving strangely, the film grabs you right from the start and we are seduced by Hitchcock’s world of murders and mysteries. The film has an ending that is disturbingly haunting and spine-chilling as it continues to be felt, discussed and celebrated as one of the greatest American films ever made and unarguably the finest of the genre.
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