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. Phoenix (2015)

7.9

Country

Germany, Poland

Director

Christian Petzold

Actors

Claudia Geisler, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Daniela Holtz, Eva Bay

Moods

Intense, Raw, Thrilling

Nelly is a concentration camp survivor who undergoes reconstructive facial surgery, and comes back to question whether her husband (unable to recognize her) was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Heavy, heavy stuff. But in Phoenix you will also see something else, as the story takes you beyond the subject matter to become almost a celebration of film: elements of Hitchcockian cinema intertwine with the realism of the likes of David Ayer are added to perfect performances to create a stunning, compelling, and exceptional film.

59. Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

best

8.0

Country

Japan

Director

Michael Arias

Actors

Harumi Asai, Kankuro Kudo, Kazunari Ninomiya, Masahiro Motoki

Moods

Action-packed, Character-driven, Dark

Visually stunning and energetic, Tekkonkinkreet takes you on a wild ride through the gritty streets of a deteriorating metropolis as it follows two orphaned brothers navigating a world of crime and self-discovery. The animation is an absolute marvel, blending vibrant colors with a unique visual style that immerses you in a surreal urban landscape. But it’s the heartfelt story and complex characters that truly shine, exploring themes of friendship, resilience, and the struggle between innocence and corruption. Tekkonkinkreet is a visual feast for the eyes and a poignant exploration of the human connection.

58. R.M.N. (2022)

best

8.0

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Discussion-sparking

Set in a small town in Romania, R.M.N. is a challenging slow-burn that explores what happens to an insular community upon the arrival of immigrants from South Asia. Initially, the discrimination thrown at them seems tame; at the very least, it’s how you’d expect a homogenous and tight-knit group to react to outsiders. But more and more, the prejudice takes on cruel forms. Stakes are raised until it becomes life or death for the people involved. 

It’s a chilling examination of society, of the lengths people are willing to go to to avoid change and prolong their ignorance. But while there are few things scarier than the violence brought on by racism, the phantom elements in this film come close. Director Cristian Mungiu does an impressive job of painting his picture with a haunting tone; there are streaks of the supernatural in this film, making it a biting horror in more ways than one. 

As is often the case in great filmmaking, it’s hard to pin R.M.N. down to one genre, but thanks to its eerie perceptiveness, it goes down in history as one of the best films about xenophobia made. 

57. Farha (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Jordan, Sweden

Director

Darin J. Sallam, Female director

Actors

Ali Soliman, Ashraf Barhom

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home – having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

56. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Daniel Goldhaber

Actors

Ariela Barer, Forrest Goodluck, Irene Bedard, Jake Weary

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Intense

On the one hand, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a tense thriller—an excellently set-up heist that makes you wonder, until the end, whether the low-budget operation succeeds or not. On the other hand, it’s a thoughtful rumination on the evil and influence of Big Oil, which despite its relentless destruction of environments and communities, continues to run scot-free. 

Together, these parts make for a powerful, nerve-racking film about both the danger and necessity of eco-terrorism—a radical act that is impressively humanized and spared from caricature here. How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s themes may be big and its means explosive, but its rich characterizations of the young activists ground it into a relatable reality. One is dying due to toxins released by the nearby plant, another is forced to give up his property to make way for the construction of a pipeline. All are tired of the fruitlessness of government promises and peaceful protests. Rousing and relevant, there’s never been a more timelier film than this. 

55. Holy Spider (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Denmark, France, Germany

Director

Ali Abbasi

Actors

Ariane Naziri, Sara Fazilat, Zar Amir Ebrahimi

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

54. Amores Perros (2000)

best

8.0

Country

Mexico

Director

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Actors

Adriana Barraza, Alvaro Guerrero, Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Gripping

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s cleverly layered directorial feature film debut follows three persons whose lives are connected by a car crash in Mexico City. It directly involves two of them: a young man who enters the world of dogfighting to earn enough to elope with his sister-in-law, and a supermodel whose life is changed for the worse after she is fatally injured. The third segment of the film centers on a mysterious homeless man on the street who witnesses the crash.

The title, Amores Perros, refers to the characters’ love of dogs as well as love being a source of misery, and it’s a hint of the chaotic, unforeseen circumstances they each face. Iñárritu’s film shows his brilliance in direction. Despite the film being an early work, his ingenuity shines through and the compelling performances propel all three stories to gritty heights.

Cut-throat editing, handheld cinematography, and Guillermo Arriaga’s intricate screenplay flesh out each character. The viewers are pushed to the edge of their seats as we navigate the gripping miseries of life along with the rest of the cast. The tightly woven film is a painful must-watch, a brutal and uncompromising look at despair and animalistic aggression among humans that is also mirrored in the cruelty their dogs suffer.

53. The Tribe (2014)

8.0

Country

Netherlands, Ukraine

Director

Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

Actors

Alexander Panivan, Grygoriy Fesenko, Hryhoriy Fesenko, Ivan Tishko

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

This teenage crime drama contains enough grit to stand on its own, but The Tribe’s real hook is in the way it’s told: entirely in Ukrainian sign language, without subtitles. Set in a boarding school for deaf students, new arrival Sergei must contend with an institution that’s run like a gang. His journey through the ranks is extremely violent and graphic, including unflinching depictions of rape and a back-alley abortion that lingers long in the mind.

Its unpleasantness will be a barrier for some, but for the curious, it’s an oddly balletic film. Among the misery, actors communicate the entire story via body language. Emphatic dialogue delivery conveys the mood of each scene (which often changes for the worse), and the characters’ actions speak loud and clear. Narratively it breaks little ground, and its darkness can’t be overstated, but there’s grace to its reliance on everything but words to tell its story. A film you won’t stop thinking about.

52. Tom at the Farm (2015)

8.0

Country

Canada, France

Director

Xavier Dolan

Actors

Anne Caron, Caleb Landry Jones, Evelyne Brochu, Lise Roy

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Intense

What starts as an unsettling drama quickly morphs into a searing psychological thriller. The film, based on a play of the same title, tells the story of Tom, a young man who while attending his boyfriend’s funeral, stays with the grieving family unaware of his relationship with their son. During his stay, Tom becomes subject to the violent whims of his boyfriend’s brother. 

The intense psychosexual dynamic that develops becomes a piercing examination of homophobia, masculinity, and violence. Dolan’s expert direction keeps a level of intensity that grips and never let’s go until the gorgeous closing sequence. At times brutal and cruel, Tom at the Farm may be a tough watch, but its portrait of simmering regressive violence speaks vividly and directly to our current moment. 

51. Train to Busan (2016)

best

8.0

Country

Korea, South Korea

Director

Sang-ho Yeon, Yeon Sang-ho

Actors

Ahn So-hee, An So-hee, Baek Seung-hwan, Cha Chung-hwa

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Thrilling

A zombie virus breaks out and catches up with a father as he is taking his daughter from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. Watch them trying to survive to reach their destination, a purported safe zone.

The acting is spot-on; the set pieces are particularly well choreographed. You’ll care about the characters. You’ll feel for the father as he struggles to keep his humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

It’s a refreshingly thrilling disaster movie, a perfect specimen of the genre.

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