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.

60. Caché (2005)

7.5

Country

Austria, France, Germany

Director

Michael Haneke

Actors

Aissa Maiga, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Caroline Baehr

Moods

Intense, Suspenseful, Thrilling

Beginning with a great opening shot of townhouse on a side street in Paris, only ti discovers that the shot is actually from a video sent to Anne and Georges Laurent (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil). The married couple who live in that house have no idea who sent the video. More videos appear and events unfold. I can’t say much more about this film without ruining it, it’s definitely one of those films better enjoyed if you go into it not knowing a lot. Directed by Michael Haneke who won the Cannes Best Director Award for it.

59. A War (2015)

7.5

Country

Denmark, France

Director

Tobias Lindholm

Actors

Alex Høgh Andersen, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim, Dulfi Al-Jabouri

Moods

Action-packed, Intense

A War (Krigen) is a Danish war drama that focuses on Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) as he leads a company of soldiers in modern day Afghanistan, while his wife at home in Denmark struggles to care for their three children. During a mission to rescue a family from Taliban threat, Claus’ unit is overcome by enemy fire, forcing him to make a dramatic decision that has a complicated effect upon himself, his fellow soldiers, and his family back home. A War is a tense yet thoroughly involving drama that offers a profound example of moral ambiguity and the repercussions of warfare. The acting and direction are utterly superb across the board—another enthralling and superbly humanistic affair from Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking).

58. Running on Empty (1988)

7.6

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Sidney Lumet

Actors

Alice Drummond, Angela Pietropinto, Augusta Dabney, Bobo Lewis

Moods

Action-packed, Character-driven, Intense

Running on Empty is a movie that covers many timely themes including capitalism, education, and social class. It tells the story of a family who have to go on the run and hide their true identity for the rest of their lives. Director Sidney Lumet’s light touch on heavy topics gives the movie a tender and intimate atmosphere throughout. Aside from the great script, River Phoenix’s performance is definitely one of the biggest highlights of this movie, where he successfully delivers a restrained yet fascinating performance. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch also give a top-notch performance that adds to the movie’s thrill. In short, Running on Empty is the kind of movie that shows there is courage in running away when it’s the right thing to do.

57. Animal Kingdom (2010)

7.6

Country

Australia

Director

David Michôd

Actors

Andy McPhee, Anna Lise Phillips, Anthony Hayes, Ben Mendelsohn

Moods

Action-packed, Gripping, Intense

A cracking cast including Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton elevate this dark and gripping Australian crime drama, which was received with glowing reviews from critics but was sadly forgotten with time.

Breakout star James Frecheville plays J, a teenager who goes to live with his grandmother, the head of a Melbourne crime organization. As the heat closes in and things go awry, J finds himself caught between his family and a detective who wants to save him.

Jacki Weaver is outstanding as the conniving grandma and the film put Ben Mendelsohn on the road to Hollywood stardom. Animal Kingdom is a superior crime saga with plenty of emotional depth to match the tense drama.

56. You Were Never Really Here (2018)

7.6

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Lynne Ramsay

Actors

Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette, Claire Hsu, Cristina Dohmen

Moods

A-list actors, Dark, Intense

The performance of a pot-bellied Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of perfection. He brilliantly portrays a hitman down on his luck who happens to rescue a kidnapped teenage girl. It’s a tight movie, running a short 89 minutes. It makes a point that sticks. Pure entertainment, pure acting, and amazing directing by Lynne Ramsay (who also directed We Need to Talk About Kevin).

55. Green Room (2015)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeremy Saulnier

Actors

Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson

Moods

Dark, Intense, Raw

This is the follow-up film by the director of the (also) excellent and intense Blue Ruin. Like that film, Green Room often subverts genre expectations. The basic premise: a lefty punk band winds up taking a show at a skinhead club because they are desperate for cash. The show goes well, but afterward the band accidentally witnesses something they shouldn’t have and are trapped in the club’s green room. This film is brutal and intense, especially because you actually care about what happens to the characters. Bonus: Sir Patrick Stewart plays the leader of the skinhead organization, and gives a subtle yet effectively sinister performance. While some truly horrific acts of violence occur (especially in the back-half of the film) they really do serve the story. Still, there are a handful of scenes that may require more sensitive viewers to cover their eyes. You have been warned.

54. Barbarian (2022)

7.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Zach Cregger

Actors

Bill Skarsgård, Brooke Dillman, Georgina Campbell, J.R. Esposito

Moods

Dark, Grown-up Comedy, Intense

Rarely do we get horror movies that are as dedicated to toying with audience expectations as Barbarian. Even rarer is a horror movie that pays so much attention to setting, and how men and women approach and interact with physical spaces in different ways. It’s a film that’s ultimately about entitlement—except it’s delivered to us with jet-black humor and manic energy, shifting from romantic to ridiculous to raving mad. But with instantly charming performances from Georgina Campbell and Bill Skarsgård—and Justin Long doing a brilliant job playing an absolute jerk—Barbarian never leaves you grasping in the dark, even if it leads you deeper into hell.

53. Burning (2018)

7.7

Country

Japan, Korea, South Korea

Director

Chang-dong Lee, Lee Chang-dong

Actors

Ah-in Yoo, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, ChoI Seung-ho

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Intense

Vague statement alert: Burning is not a movie that you “get”; it’s a movie you experience.

Based on a short story by Murakami, it’s dark and bleak in a way that comes out more in the atmosphere of the movie rather than what happens in the story.

Working in the capital Seoul, a young guy from a poor town near the North Korean border runs into a girl from his village. As he starts falling for her, she makes an unlikely acquaintance with one of Seoul’s wealthy youth (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yeun, pictured above.)

This new character is mysterious in a way that’s all-too-common in South Korea: young people who have access to money no one knows where it came from, and who are difficult to predict or go against.

Two worlds clash, poor and rich, in a movie that’s really three movies combined into one – a character-study, a romance, and a revenge thriller.

52. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

7.7

Country

Ghana, United States of America

Director

Cary Fukunaga, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Actors

Abraham Attah, Ama K. Abebrese, Andrew Adote, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Moods

Intense, Raw, Thought-provoking

An instant classic, Beast of No Nation is a unique and uniquely-paced war drama which ranges in patterns from explosive visual storytelling to calm character studies. A child joins a rebel group consisting almost entirely of children and led by a charismatic leader credited as Commandant. As you get to witness the conflict through the child’s eyes, his own development and his commander’s, the film unfolds as an exploration of the never ending state of war in Africa. It takes you to varying conclusions, most of which you will have trouble admitting you’ve reached. As Commandant, Idris Elba is transfixing, and the whole cast of almost entirely non-actors, as well as the deeply authentic staging by True Detective and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga, are enthralling.

51. Tape (2001)

7.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Richard Linklater

Actors

Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Intense

Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this brilliant small-scale drama by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before trilogy). Hawke plays Vince, a volatile drug dealer who rekindles with his high school friend, Jon (Robert Sean Leonard).

And that’s it: there are only three characters in this movie, and it’s all set within a Michigan motel room.

But boy is it tense in that room, and man is this film so brilliantly written and well-acted. Vince, Jon, and Amy (Thurman’s character) discuss an event 10 years prior involving rape.

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