Top 5 Thrillers You May Not Have Heard Of

Top 5 Thrillers You May Have Never Heard Of

A good thriller is hard to come by - especially since there are so many bad ones that you often have to wade through in order to find the gems. A tense-sounding plot, or even the presence of veteran directors and actors who you trust, can often end up as false hopes in the face of a film that ultimately falls flat. So many potential wastes of celluloid - so little time. That's why recommendations from a trusted source are such a big help when it's time to rifle through your film options. We like to think we have pretty decent taste here at Open Air Cinema - after all, cinema appreciation is kind of our business. So, we asked around the offices and we came up with the best thrillers that reside under the proverbial radar. Break out the inflatable screen and try one of these suspense-fests out on your next session of cinema under the stars.


(Fritz Lang, 1931)

There's something about Peter Lorre's countenance - a quality that is at once shriveled and boyish. It is a face which lends itself well the bug-eyed gaze of a nervous deviant. Although M was filmed in 1931, on the tail end of a cinematic style known for being over the top, Lorre plays the titular child-killer with a level of nuance that almost makes the audience sympathize, even despite their rightfully-felt disgust. Fritz Lang for his part is wildly varied in his camera work but always consistent in their high quality. Each trick of the lens only serves to further the plot, rather than distract eye - from the initial kidnapping scenes to the pursuit montage to the final fixed gaze on a madman at the mercy of a mob. Duel (Steven Spielberg)


(Steven Spielberg, 1971)

This movie was actually never shown on the silver screen. In truth, this early barn-burner from Steven Spielberg was originally filmed for television. However, it features all of the hallmarks that would later come to define the director as one of the greats - big ideas, big action, and big stakes. Spielberg's terse treatment of the maniac truck driver's identity gives the film a subtle absurdist streak that turns the tension all the way to ten. However, he grounds each terrifying shot in a stark realism, even when the shots are very much too close for comfort. One of the few thrillers whose tensest moments live in the stark light of the hot sun, Duel is a chance to see the budding work of a master filmmaker.

Marathon Man

(John Schlesinger, 1976)

You'll be loathe to visit the dentist ever again once you catch Sir Laurence Olivier's portrayal as Nazi war criminal who specializes in a sadistic torture of the teeth and gums. It is blistering in its cold cruelty. Hoffman, meanwhile, plays off of Olivier's terrifying aura, giving a particularly existential edge to the plight of man who knows with painful assurity that he doesn't have the sought-after information, but will be tortured anyway. The film's framing is incredible. The torture scenes feel claustrophobic, while the chase sequences find Hoffman running through a vast world made mostly of shadow. A hit in its day, this film is still regarded as a classic - but has unfortunately remained under the radar in modern times.


(David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)

This French film provided the basis for the American home-invasion film The Strangers, and, as is usually the case, is far superior to its more famous remake. Co-directors Moreau and Palud build the tension at a pace so slow that you'll actually feel anxious that you have not been made anxious yet. When the film does meet its inevitable, violent conclusion, the action is framed in cramped quarters and darkness, such that the audience is made to imagine the gore that's going on, rather than be subjected to the over-the-top bloodbath often typical of В the French New Wave of Horror. It appears that some directors from this school still take after Hitchcock. And, ultimately, they're right to do so - В letting implication and imagination do the heavy lifting in this absurd home invasion nightmare ultimately pay off.

Blood Simple

(The Coen Brothers, 1984)

Of course you can expect some unorthodox but well-executed thrills from the Coen Brothers. But what really makes the career of Joel and Ethan Coen so awe-inspiring is how right they got it on their very first try. This Texas-style noir is both textbook noir and textbook Coen. As brooding in its ambiance as anything from Hitchcock and as deadpan in its incredible dialogue as what we've come to expect from these two modern masters. Betrayal; murder; a healthy dose of gallows humor; and great performances from Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, and M Emmett Walsh all contribute to this deservedly heralded debut.

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