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.

50. Under the Shadow (2016)

7.8

Country

Iran, Jordan, Qatar

Director

Babak Anvari

Actors

Arash Marandi, Avin Manshadi, Babak Anvari, Behi Djanati Atai

Moods

Intense, Suspenseful

Horror movies have always been creepier to me when they play on our fear of the “unknown” rather than gore. Under The Shadow does exactly that. The story is based around the relationship of a woman, Shideh, and her daughter, Dorsa, under the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq war. As widespread bombings shake the ground beneath their feet, the two grapple with a more insidious evil that is faceless and traceless, coming and going only with the wind. The movie’s dread-effect plays strongly on feelings of isolation and helplessness. The scares are slow and it’s obvious the director takes great care in making every single second count and in raising the unpredictableness of the action. Like the bombs, the audience never knows when or how the next apparition will materialize. The former is always on the edge of fear, wondering what is no doubt there, but is yet to be shown on the frame. In terms of significance, Under The Shadow features too many symbolisms to count and will most likely resonate with each person differently. But one thing remains relatively unarguable: this is a wonderful movie.

49. RRR (2022)

7.9

Country

India

Director

S. S. Rajamouli

Actors

Ahmareen Anjum, Ajay Devgn, Alexx O'Nell, Alia Bhatt

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Mind-blowing

Set in 1920s India, RRR follows two revolutionaries who strike up an unlikely bond and fend off the British regime from their home. In their epic journey to protect their people, they encounter a number of setbacks that prompts them to put their incredible combat skills on full display. 

Despite its three-hour run, RRR never drags, thanks in large part to its breathtaking action sequences and eye-popping visuals. It may contain all the familiar beats of a blockbuster, but RRR is notably grounded in its central, political theme of anti-colonialism, the sincerity of which keeps the film’s big heart beating palpably throughout. 

48. Zana (2019)

7.9

Country

Albania, Georgia, Kosovo

Director

Antoneta Kastrati, Female director

Actors

Adriana Matoshi, Alketa Sylaj, Astrit Kabashi, Bislim Muçaj

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense

Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

47. Vagabond (1985)

7.9

Country

France

Director

Agnès Varda, Female director

Actors

Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

46. Uncut Gems (2019)

7.9

Country

South Africa, United States of America

Director

Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Actors

Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky

Moods

Action-packed, Dark, Intense

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York – a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere – everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn’t feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

45. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012)

7.9

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Female director, Lynne Ramsay

Actors

Aaron Blakely, Alex Manette, Andy Gershenzon, Ashley Gerasimovich

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense, Mind-blowing

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

44. 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.

43. 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.

42. 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. 

41. 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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