12 Movies Like Chinatown (1974)

Staff & contributors

This French-Canadian slow-burner, written and directed by Denis Villeneuve, will pull you in with one of the best movie beginnings of all time – and its outstanding ending will leave you shaken. To fulfill their mother’s last wish after her sudden death in Montreal, the two twins Jeanne and Simon must travel separately to an unnamed Middle-Eastern country (with strong resemblances to civil-war-torn Lebanon) to deliver letters to close relatives they never knew they had.

The twins’ quest into a dark and staggering family history makes them experience themselves and the violence of war like they had never imagined. Their ordeal is interrupted by a series of flashbacks telling the story of their mother, Nawal Marwan, before leading them to uncover a deeply disturbing secret. Based on Wajdi Mouawad's 2003 play of the same name, this melodramatic war thriller takes a poetic and poignant look at how families are shaped by atrocities – even long the after wars that produced them have ended.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, War

Actor: Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Ahmad Massad, Allen Altman, Baraka Rahmani, Baya Belal, Dominique Briand, Hamed Najem, Hussein Sami, Jackie Sawiris, John Dunn-Hill, Karim Babin, Lara Atalla, Lobna Azabal, Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Majida Hussein, Maxim Gaudette, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Mohamed Majd, Mustafa Kamel, Nabil Sawalha, Nadia Essadiqi, Rémy Girard, Rémy Girard

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: R

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Rapaport, Allan Wibor Christensen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp, Bjarne Henriksen, Daniel Engstrup, Frank Rubæk, Jacob Højlev Jørgensen, Josefine Gråbøl, Jytte Kvinesdal, Lars Ranthe, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Mads Mikkelsen, Mona C. Soliman, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton, Ole Dupont, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Søren Rønholt, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen, Troels Thorsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

David Lynch's star-studded provocation Blue Velvet was both revered and criticised upon its release because of how heavily it leans on sexuality and violence to advance its plot, but today the film's hailed as a contemporary masterpiece. Still, scenes with that kind of content are quite hard to stomach in combination with Isabella Rossellini's depiction of an unstable, delicate singer named Dorothy. But Dorothy is surely not in Kansas anymore... It takes a young college student (Jeffrey Beaumont played by Kyle McLachlan) who becomes fascinated with her as part of his self-appointed detective quest, to uncover deep-rooted conspiracies. In his endeavours, Jeffrey is joined by butter blonde Sandy (Laura Dern), and the twisted love triangle they form with Dorothy in the middle is one for the ages. Dennis Hooper stars as one of the most terrifying men on screen and Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti scores the film with an eerie precision like no other. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Angelo Badalamenti, Brad Dourif, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper, Frances Bay, George Dickerson, Hope Lange, Isabella Rossellini, J. Michael Hunter, Jack Nance, Ken Stovitz, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Priscilla Pointer

Director: David Lynch

Rating: R

, 2003

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji Dae-han, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Su-hyun, Kwang-rok Oh, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Young-hee, Min-sik Choi, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Park Jae-Woong, Park Myung-shin, Seo Myeong-Seok, Seung-Shin Lee, Syd Lim, Yoo Il-han, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yoon Jin-seo, Yoon Jin-yul

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Fear of abandonment is at the heart of The Vanishing. Lovers Rex and Saskia are separated on their way to France after the latter vanishes without a trace. For the next three years, Rex dedicates his life to finding out what happened to Saskia in whatever way possible, endangering his own safety in the process. George Sluizer’s chilling psychological thriller shows the evils that curiosity and obsession can bring, and is a uniquely perverse look at the ugly side of truth-seeking.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Bernadette Le Saché, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Caroline Appéré, Gene Bervoets, Gwen Eckhaus, Johanna ter Steege, Pierre Forget, Roger Souza

Director: George Sluizer

Two angels wander the streets of a monochrome Berlin, invisible to the colorful world that bustles around them. When one of them falls in love, he begins to question his place and yearns to give up immortality to join the ranks of the living. Wim Wender’s exceptional film is a poetic meditation on faith, cinema, and a mournful tour of a city in the grip of the Cold War. 

Wings of Desire is bursting with poetry and heartbreaking humanism emphasized by the tender performances by Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, while serving as a beautiful love letter to a city yearning for change. If you’ve only seen City of Angels, the loose American remake, then you owe it to yourself to experience the raw poetic power of the real deal.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Annelinde Gerstl, Beartice Manowski, Beatrice Manowski, Bernard Eisenschitz, Blixa Bargeld, Bruno Ganz, Chick Ortega, Curt Bois, Didier Flamand, Elmar Wilms, Erika Rabau, Hans Martin Stier, Harry Howard, Johanna Penski, Jürgen Heinrich, Kid Congo Powers, Mick Harvey, Nick Cave, Olivier Picot, Otto Sander, Patric Kreuzer, Paul Busch, Peter Falk, Roland Wolf, Rowland S. Howard, Scott Kirby, Sigurd Rachman, Simon Bonney, Solveig Dommartin, Teresa Harder, Thomas Wydler, Ulrike Schirm, Wolf-Dirk Vogeley

Director: Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

In his debut feature, Jonathan Glazer masterfully subverts our expectations of heist movies to thrilling effect: what should be a perfunctory moment — the classic recruitment scene — is stretched out into nearly an entire film of its own here, and we’re not off the edge of our seat for even a second of it.

All retired Cockney gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) wants to do is lounge around the pool of his Spanish villa with beloved wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But now there’s a spanner in the works: an unhinged old acquaintance, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, never better), has unexpectedly rocked up at Gal's hacienda to enlist him for a big job on behalf of the London underworld’s top brass. Don is the type of man you just don’t say “no” to, but the pull of Gal’s idyllic retirement is so powerful that he does just that, a narrative swerve that spins this film off the well-worn (but still enjoyable) track we expected it to follow. Directed with cool assurance, full of unforgettable set-pieces, overflowing with style, and even further distinguished by some surreal touches that really get under the skin, this is one of the slickest, funniest, and most exhilarating crime movies ever.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Álvaro Monje, Amanda Redman, Andy Lucas, Ben Kingsley, Cavan Kendall, Chris Webb, Desirée Erasmus, Eddie O'Connell, Gérard Barray, Ian McShane, James Fox, Julianne White, Ray Winstone, Rocky Taylor, Terence Plummer

Director: Jonathan Glazer

A hilarious comedy about politics in the UK and US. The secretary of State for Internal Development Simon Foster accidentally backs the plans for a war in the Middle East and suddenly finds he has a lot of friends in Washington. What follows is a difficult to follow maneuvering of pro- and antiwar factions in both governments. The harder it gets to follow what's going on in the movie the more it resembles our present day politics and the funnier it becomes.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alex MacQueen, Anna Chlumsky, Chipo Chung, Chris Addison, David Rasche, Del Pentecost, Enzo Cilenti, Eve Matheson, Gina McKee, Harry Hadden-Paton, James Doherty, James Gandolfini, James Smith, Janelle Schmidt, Joanna Brookes, Joanna Scanlan, Johnny Pemberton, Lucinda Raikes, Mimi Kennedy, Natasha Sattler, Olivia Poulet, Paul Higgins, Peter Capaldi, Rita May, Samantha Harrington, Steve Coogan, Tom Hollander, Will Smith, Zach Woods

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: Not Rated

Peter Jackson made the transition from splattery gross-out movies like Braindead to more respectable fare with Heavenly Creatures, the true story of an intense relationship between two teenage girls that culminates in the murder of one of their mothers.

As the girls’ friendship becomes unhealthier, they invent a secret world for themselves, amusingly including a heart-throb Orson Welles. This gives Jackson the opportunity to indulge in his love of fantasy, creating some dazzling hallucinatory sequences.

The fantasy element contrasts beautifully with the humdrum setting of ‘50s New Zealand, and the final tragedy is heart-breaking. The film also provided an auspicious debut for Kate Winslet, who is terrific as one of the misguided fantasists.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Barry Thomson, Ben Fransham, Clive Merrison, Darien Takle, Diana Kent, Elizabeth Moody, Geoffrey Heath, Gilbert Goldie, Glen Drake, Glenys Lloyd-Smith, Jed Brophy, Jesse Griffin, Kate Winslet, Liz Mullane, Lou Dobson, Melanie Lynskey, Moreen Eason, Peter Elliott, Peter Jackson, Ray Henwood, Sarah Peirse

Director: Peter Jackson

Never has evil been so darn fun to watch. Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) is such a captivating villainess, you'll actually find yourself rooting for her at times in this noirish take on..., I don't know what, but it involves drug money, double-crosses, lots of witty repartee and cat-and-mouse manipulation that will make your stomach hurt. The script is tight, the acting is all testosterone driven and crisp and you'll hear some choice words come from nice guy Bill Pullman (as Bridget's husband Clay) that you never imagined he could say. Peter Berg (Mike) is fantastic as the guy's guy determined to earn his Alpha-dog badge by subduing the fierce and wickedly intelligent heroine, Bridget. Fiorentino won a BAFTA award for her performance and was nominated, along with Director John Dahl, for several others. The movie did not qualify under Academy rules for the Oscars, but it would have been a strong contender.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Anne Flanagan, Bill Nunn, Bill Pullman, Bill Stevenson, Dean Norris, Donna W. Scott, Herb Mitchell, J.T. Walsh, Jack Shearer, Linda Fiorentino, Michael Raysses, Mik Scriba, Peter Berg, Walter Addison, Zack Phifer

Director: John Dahl

Rating: R

A story about inspectors on the Hungarian subway and their struggle to get travelers to pay up. Skinheads with attack dogs, drunks and freaks are the harsh reality of these working-class heroes, who themselves of course are quite the weird bunch. Dark post-soviet humor, refreshingly politically incorrect characters and an abstract parallel love story which barely makes sense even at the end. Kontroll is a movie you will regret having waited 10 years to see.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Balla Eszter, Bence Mátyássy, Csaba Pindroch, Enikő Eszenyi, Eszter Balla, György Cserhalmi, Győző Szabó, János Derzsi, János Kulka, Lajos Kovács, Péter Scherer, Sándor Csányi, Szabó Győző, Zoltán Mucsi, Zsolt Nagy

Director: Nimród Antal

Rating: R

The late German actor Ulrich Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a merciless Stasi officer who has doubts about the loyalty of a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his wife Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) to the communist party. To say he spies on the artist couple is an understatement: in true Stasi fashion, he watches them day and night, listens in on their conservations, reads their mail, and watches them have sex. However, it turns out this was a tad too close, because Wiesler becomes increasingly absorbed in them and is forced to question his obedience as a Stasi officer. In his feature film debut, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck delivers a quietly chilling melodrama on a topic that still affects the lives of many East Germans and was deserving of more attention. It is also a telling piece on the inhumane nature of totalitarianism and the humanity of individuals that are forced to live with it. A special film that will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anabelle D. Munro, Bastian Trost, Charly Hubner, Fabian von Klitzing, Gabi Fleming, Gitta Schweighöfer, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Herbert Knaup, Hildegard Schroedter, Hinnerk Schönemann, Hubertus Hartmann, Inga Birkenfeld, Jens Wassermann, Kai Ivo Baulitz, Klaus Münster, Ludwig Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Martina Gedeck, Matthias Brenner, Paul Faßnacht, Paul Maximilian Schüller, Sebastian Koch, Sheri Hagen, Susanna Kraus, Thomas Arnold, Thomas Thieme, Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Volker Michalowski, Volkmar Kleinert, Werner Daehn

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R