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.

30. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Frank Oz

Actors

Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Danny John-Jules, Edward Wiley

Moods

Dark, Dramatic, Intense

With a premise straight out of a cheesy sci-fi B-movie, you wouldn’t expect Little Shop of Horrors to be a bona fide spectacle, and yet its tale of a wish-fulfilling yet bloodthirsty plant remains as thrilling and intense as ever. More importantly, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s rock-musical songs remain boisterous and theatrical, gleefully performed by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs. And buried underneath all this is a comedy with a heart of darkness and a legitimately disturbing morality tale.

Musicals and horror movies are genres that typically cater to a more niche audience, but Little Shop of Horrors should be fun enough to draw anybody in, thanks to the film’s impressively tactile sets, director Frank Oz’s knack for physical comedy, and animatronic special effects that look better than most CGI creations today. As both a horror movie monster and a massive puppet, the vicious plant named Audrey II is entirely worth the price of admission, no matter which version of the film you seek out.

29. Mass (2021)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Fran Kranz

Actors

Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

28. Happening (2021)

best

8.6

Country

France

Director

Audrey Diwan, Female director

Actors

Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

It’s heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman’s journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it’s like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

27. A Sun (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Actors

Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho’s sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film’s cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

26. For Sama (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Syria, Syrian Arab Republic, UK

Director

Edward Watts, Female director

Actors

Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab, Waad Al-Kateab, Waad Al-Khateab

Moods

Depressing, Intense, Touching

This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.

There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.

We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.

When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

25. Long Time Running (2017)

best

8.6

Country

Canada

Director

Female director, Jennifer Baichwal

Actors

Bobby Baker, Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Jennifer Baichwal

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Intense

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster.

The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease.

This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness.

Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears – this is this movie.

It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

24. Shéhérazade (2018)

best

8.6

Country

France

Director

Jean-Bernard Marlin

Actors

Dylan Robert, Idir Azougli, Kader Benchoudar, Kenza Fortas

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Romantic

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime – Marseille. 

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade. 

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this. 

23. Nightcrawler (2014)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Dan Gilroy

Actors

Ann Cusack, Bill Blair, Bill Paxton, Bill Seward

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an impromptu freelance videographer who begins covering the crime world in LA for a local TV station. Almost as dark as a mystery can get, it is disturbing, and plays out as a combination of “Drive” and “The Network”.

The film is visually stunning as well as immensely suspenseful. It then becomes almost impossible to look away, even when you’re the most horrified by just how far Bloom is willing to go to reach success. Gyllenhaal’s performance is widely compared to that of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, which should give you an idea of its caliber.

22. Thirst (2009)

best

8.9

Country

South Korea, United States of America

Director

Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Actors

Choi Hee-jin, Choi Jong-ryul, Ériq Ebouaney, Hwang Woo-seul-hye

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Gripping

A thirst for love, a thirst for recognition, a thirst for sympathy, a thirst for meaning, a thirst for life, and a thirst for blood. Director Park Chan-wook and actor Song Kang-ho, two of the biggest names in South Korean cinema, join forces for the first time in a modern take on the supernatural. In present day South Korea, Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song) volunteers himself as a human experiment during the formulation of a vaccine against a deadly virus. When the experiment fails and he is thought to be dead, he resurrects as a conflicted vampire, one whose moral code continually goes against his intrinsic desires. Along with Song and long-time collaborator cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, Park creates a riveting atmosphere that is both very scary and sad. By blending elements of horror and drama, he also achieves putting a fresh and unique spin on the time-honored vampire film.

21. A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Dito Montiel

Actors

Adam Scarimbolo, Chance Kelly, Channing Tatum, Chazz Palminteri

Moods

A-list actors, Dramatic, Intense

Not only is this multi-award-winning drama seriously star-studded, Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf also deliver superb performances. With two Sundance Awards and many other nominations in its pocket, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is based on the eponymous memoir by author, director, and musician, Dito Montiel, who recalls his violent childhood on the mean streets of Queens in the 1980s (LaBeouf plays the young Dito), as he visits his ailing father after 15 years away in Los Angeles (Downey Jr. plays present-day Dito). It is also real-life Dito’s directorial debut, recalling the loose, improvisational style of 70s cinema a’la Scorcese. The powerful plot is told through flashbacks and fourth-wall bending monologues, while the eccentric directing style makes for a raw and immediate experience. The energy of this coming-of-age drama is off the charts!

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