70 Best Anxiety-Inducing Movies

70 Best Anxiety-Inducing Movies

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It seems counterintuitive, but there’s something cathartic about watching movies that keep you on the edge of your seat. Anxiety builds up as you follow characters do one infuriating thing after another—and when the credits finally roll, you find yourself gasping in relief like a tight valve of pressure inside you was released. 

To that end, we’ve compiled the best anxiety-inducing movies you can watch right now. Whether you’re looking for a challenging slow burn like Mass, an intense drama like Whiplash, an intricate heist like Bad Genius, or an erotic thriller like Thirst, get ready to see the whites on your knuckles as you go through our list of films below.

70. Detroit (2017)

7.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kathryn Bigelow

Actors

Alexander Cook, Algee Smith, Andrea Eversley, Anthony Mackie

Moods

Depressing, Intense, Tear-jerker

John Boyega, Algee Smith, and John Krasinski star in this difficult portrayal of the Detroit 1967 riots, the biggest civil unrest in American history before the 92 L.A. protests. A murderous cop, a band on the verge of breaking big, and a hard-working security guard find their fates intertwined by the events that took place that summer. Detroit blends real-life images with its storytelling. It would be a perfect movie if it wasn’t for a scene in which the police brutalize young Black men for finding them in a hotel with two White girls. This scene, while a necessary part of the story, is overstretched and feels almost sadistic, more so because the film was made by a White director, Kathryn Bigelow.

69. Fright Night (1985)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Tom Holland

Actors

Amanda Bearse, Art Evans, Bob Corff, Chris Sarandon

Moods

Easy, Intense, No-brainer

Fright Night wastes no time confirming that, yes, that handsome new neighbor is a vampire, and yes, he has to be defeated. By cutting to the chase, the film refreshingly lets its heroes and villains spend a lot of time together, goading each other on in a battle of wills. But apart from that, Fright Night sticks to the reliable ’80s-horror formula, full of spectacular makeup effects, cheesy thrills, and delightfully over-the-top performances. Chris Sarandon is irresistible as the evil vampire Jerry Dandrige, while Roddy McDowall’s heartfelt performance as the fraud vampire hunter Peter Vincent gives us a redemption arc worth rooting for.

68. Beanpole (2019)

7.4

Country

Russia

Director

Kantemir Balagov

Actors

Alyona Kuchkova, Andrey Bykov, Igor Shirokov, Konstantin Balakirev

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Intense

This heartbreaking Russian drama takes place in Leningrad six months after the end of the war. A boy is asked to do an impression of an animal, any animal, but the boy stands still. “Just do a dog then”, one person says, to which another remarks “he’s never seen one, they’ve all been eaten.”

In this bleak context, two friends meet again and try to restart their lives. Masha is a soldier who has just come back from the war in Berlin, and Iya, a tall woman nicknamed “Beanpole”, is a nurse who suffers from PTSD episodes that freeze her body. Both characters, so brilliantly acted, personify the thin line between desperation and hopefulness in this difficult but incredibly well-made drama.

67. Border (2018)

7.4

Country

Denmark, Sweden

Director

Ali Abbasi

Actors

Andreas Kundler, Ann Petrén, Eero Milonoff, Eva Melander

Moods

Dark, Intense, Weird

If you like: weird movies and / or Scandinavian mythology, this movie is for you. It’s about unusual looking border agent with super-human abilities (such as smelling fear and shame) who meets someone like her for the first time There is a big revelation in Border that I can’t share but while this movie was directed by an Iranian (Ali Abbasi), it’s deeply rooted in Swedish folklore. Themes of identity, gender, and otherness intersect through a thrilling script and beautifully-shot nature scenes.

66. Hereditary (2018)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Ari Aster

Actors

Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Ari Aster, Austin R. Grant

Moods

Intense, Thrilling

A chilling and dark movie to be especially appreciated by true suspense lovers. At the funeral of the family’s matriarch, no one is emotional except the granddaughter, whose grieving is disturbing, to say the least. When both grieving and not grieving are unsettling, you can tell what kind of family (and movie) this will be.

65. Miss Sloane (2016)

7.4

Country

Canada, France, UK

Director

John Madden

Actors

Aaron Hale, Al Mukaddam, Alexandra Castillo, Alison Pill

Moods

A-list actors, Gripping, Intense

Jessica Chastain plays a driven Washington lobbyist called Elizabeth Sloane in this high-speed political thriller. After being pitched to work for the gun lobby, she decides to work for the opposition: an NGO trying to pass a background check bill. It’s a long movie, and even if everything happens fast, it still lags. 

The events do wrap up by the end to explain the complex plot. Not to mention, Chastain’s performance something to behold and is reason enough to watch. Her character’s hidden motive and questionable methods make her an anti-hero, but Chastain always keeps a lure of hope that her character will redeem herself. That delicate balance might be the most thrilling aspect of Miss Sloan.

64. Triangle (2009)

7.4

Country

Australia, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Christopher Smith

Actors

Bryan Probets, Emma Lung, Henry Nixon, Jack Taylor

Moods

Intense

A woman joins some acquaintances on a sailing trip only to get caught in a storm. They are rescued by a seemingly empty cruise ship and struggle to make sense of the mysteries that unfold. Definitely one of those “The less you know the better” type of films. If you like well-written creepy thrillers with a nice amount of gore, you will most likely enjoy this.

63. Bad Genius (2017)

7.5

Country

Thailand

Director

Nattawut Poonpiriya

Actors

Aokbab Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Chanon Santinatornkul, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Ego Mikitas

Moods

Gripping, Intense, Smart

It looks like something you’ve already seen before: a student genius turns a simple high school cheating scheme into a full-blown, high-stakes heist. But layered with great acting, taut writing, and sharp observations about the ways in which education (and society in general) fails its students, Bad Genius turns a familiar premise into something genuinely exciting and impressively affecting. It’s everything you want a caper movie to be: smart and thrilling, with almost no moment to breathe, and of course, peppered with characters you can’t help but root and be nervous and excited for. 

62. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)

7.5

Country

Indonesia, Indonesia France Malaysia Thailand, Malaysia

Director

Female director, Mouly Surya

Actors

Anggun Priambodo, Ayez Kassar, Dea Panendra, Egi Fedly

Moods

Intense, Suspenseful, Thrilling

There is a lot to admire about this revenge film from director Mouly Surya—the breathtaking shots of rural Indonesia, the grisly practicality of the titular Marlina, the relevant observations on gender politics, and the simple yet stylistic way all of this is revealed. Fans of Westerns and Spaghetti Westerns are also treated with an Eastern reimagining of tropes as the film exchanges long guns for Kabeala knives and sprawling deserts for tropical hills.

Packed with so many delights, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a near-impossible miss. But if you somehow find none of this gripping, you can always rely on the sure thrill of seeing scorned women bloodily and rightfully avenge themselves. 

61. Polytechnique (2009)

7.5

Country

Canada

Director

Denis Villeneuve

Actors

Adam Kosh, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Eugénie Beaudry

Moods

Intense, True-story-based

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

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