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.

20. Whiplash (2014)

best

8.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Damien Chazelle

Actors

Adrian Burks, April Grace, Austin Stowell, C.J. Vana

Moods

Dramatic, Intense, Raw

Miles Teller plays Andrew Nieman, an ambitious young jazz drummer striving for greatness, who is edged towards breaking point by the sadism of his teacher and conductor, Terence Fletcher, played expertly by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher insults him, pressures him, and makes him cry in front of all his peers. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who was one of the youngest people to receive a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for the powerful La La Land, the aptly titled Whiplash poses some intense questions about artistry and ambition. Will Andrew survive? Will it lift him to a higher artistic level? Can his tormentor be appeased through accomplishment? It’s almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Cherishing the existential artist without giving easy answers, Whiplash is an inspiring watch.

19. System Crasher (2019)

best

9.0

Country

Germany

Director

Female director, Nora Fingscheidt

Actors

Albrecht Schuch, Axel Werner, Barbara Philipp, Cederic Mardon

Moods

Intense, Thought-provoking

While quite testing for viewers, this is one of the craziest, most high-energy movies you’ll ever watch. In this incredible German drama, child actor Helena Zengel plays Bernadette aka Benni, a traumatized 9-year-old child who tends to lash out and has been repeatedly suspended from every school she went to. Benni is a so-called “Systemsprenger” (which is the original German title). A system crasher is a child so uncontrollable and aggressive that, over time, she falls through the grid of special schools, foster care, and social work facilities. Despite the best efforts of her designated social worker, Frau Bafané, played by Gabriela Maria Schmeide, she is turned down by everyone, testing the patience of her surroundings, wherever she goes. A trip with Micha (Albrecht Schuch), a tough boxer and anger-management trainer, turns out to be the last resort. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher is intense, punky, and wild with an almost eerie sense of authenticity. Its devastating effect is helped along by its unique, hyperactive camerawork. Much like the social workers themselves, you might have a hard time keeping professional distance to all this. This intense drama will stay with you for a long time.

18. Fireworks Wednesday (2007)

9.0

Country

France, Iran, United States of America

Director

Asghar Farhadi

Actors

Behshad Sharifian, Hamid Farokhnezhad, Hamid Farrokhnejad, Hedie Tehrani

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Emotional

There are two auteur directors that we recommend more than anyone else on this site. One is Hirokazu Koreeda, the Japanese master of intricate drama, the other is Asghar Farhadi. Mr. Farhadi is an Oscar-winning, Iranian filmmaker and one of the most recognisable directors out there. His third film, Fireworks Wednesdays, paved the way for him to become one of the hidden champions of international cinema. As is often the case with the stories he tells, the film portrays the life of a couple in turmoil, Mozhdeh and Morteza Samiei, played by Hedye Tehrani and Hamid Farokhnezhad. She suspects him of cheating on her with their neighbor, a beautician, and sends the maid, a soon-to-be bride named Roohi, to the salon to spy on her. When Roohi takes matters in her own hands, the couple can’t help but watch things spiraling out of control. This happens against the backdrop of Chaharshanbe Suri, an Iranian holiday celebrated with fireworks on the Wednesday before the Iranian New Year, hence the title. Will it make for an explosive ending? From what you have heard so far, this could easily be melodramatic, but Fahradi is too good. He’s very, very good.

17. The Guilty (2018)

best

9.0

Country

Denmark

Director

Gustav Möller

Actors

Alexander Clement, Anders Brink Madsen, Camilla Lau, Gustav Möller

Moods

Intense, Mind-blowing, Suspenseful

Before you press play on this movie, we highly recommend you take a few very deep breaths. This 2018 thriller is wound so tight, you will need the extra oxygen to get through it without fainting. In his directorial debut, Swedish-danish filmmaker Gustav Möller uses very little in terms of resources to create this breath-taking atmosphere. While The Guilty feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, all it physically brings to the table is one man in a dark room. It plays with our imagination instead of blinding it with special effects. Similarly, the plot is also short and sweet: a police officer is temporarily sent to do emergency dispatch, when he receives a call that turns an ordinary shift into a hell ride. This is all we are going to give away before you’ve completed your breathing exercises. The movie’s minimalist approach is held together by great acting from Jakob Cedergre, a screenplay to match, and incredible sound design. A real white-knuckle ride.

16. The Sea Inside (2004)

best

9.0

Country

France, Italy, Spain

Director

Alejandro Amenábar

Actors

Alberto Amarilla, Alberto Jiménez, Alberto Jiménez, Andrea Occhipinti

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

There are movies that leave you matured after you finished watching. You mature because you are forced to walk in someone’s shoes and confront yourself with issues that you are not affected by. The Sea Inside is one of those movies –⁠ and won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for it. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, who you might know as the director of The Others, it tells the true story of Ramón Sampedro’s decade-long fight for the right to end his own life. After he became quadriplegic after a diving accident, he was confined to the same bed in the same room for 26 years, except when he visited the hospital. Not an easy subject to say the least but Amenábar helps the fascinating story along with stylish directing, while Javier Bardem delivers a stellar performance to go with it. Thanks also to Ramón Sampedro’s sunny real-life nature, this heart-wrenching watch also has plenty of uplifting moments.

15. The Act of Killing (2012)

9.0

Country

Denmark, Finland, Germany

Director

Christine Cynn, Female director

Actors

Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Joshua Oppenheimer’s daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer’s efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer’s favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they’re doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

14. Detachment (2012)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Tony Kaye

Actors

Adrien Brody, Betty Kaye, Blythe Danner, Bryan Cranston

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody – “The Pianist”) who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn’t want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

13. Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

best

9.0

Country

Belgium, France, Spain

Director

Abdellatif Kechiche

Actors

Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Duclos, Alika Del Sol, Alma Jodorowsky

Moods

Intense, Original, Thought-provoking

More simply called La Vie d’Adèle in its native language, this French coming-of-age movie was hugely successful when it came out and was probably one of the most talked-about films of the time. On the one hand, the usual puritans came to the fore, criticizing the lengthy and graphic sex scenes. On the other hand, Julie Maroh, who wrote the source material that inspired the script, denounced Franco-Tunisian filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche for directing with his d*ck, if you don’t mind me saying so, while also being an on-set tyrant. Whatever you make of this in hindsight, the only way to know is to watch this powerfully acted drama about the titular Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and her infatuation with Emma, a free-spirited girl with blue hair, played by Léa Seydoux. The film beautifully and realistically portrays Adele’s evolution from a teenage high-school girl to a grown, confident woman. As their relationship matures, so does Adèle, and she slowly begins to outgrow her sexual and philosophical mentor. Whatever your final verdict on the controversial sex scene, Blue Is the Warmest Color is without doubt an outstanding film as are the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux.

12. Zero Days (2016)

best

9.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Gibney

Actors

Barack Obama, David Sanger, Emad Kiyaei, Eric Chien

Moods

Instructive, Intense, Mind-blowing

Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus. Originally codenamed “Olympic Games” by the people that fathered the worm, Stuxnet is a virus in the true sense of the word. It not only maliciously feeds off the host, but it also replicates itself as soon as it is implanted, which is exactly what it did when it was used by the US and Israeli secret services to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant—making them spin out of control. All this is brilliantly unpacked by renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), who manages not only to detail the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative manner, but also to send out a well-researched alarm call about the future of war. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much part of our new shared reality. This film deserves to be seen by anyone who is even remotely concerned about global security in the 21st century.

11. The Look of Silence (2015)

9.1

Country

Denmark, Finland, France

Director

Joshua Oppenheimer

Actors

Adi Rukun, Amir Hasan, Inong, Joshua Oppenheimer

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Intense

A follow-up/companion piece to the award-winning The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is another compelling documentary from Director Joshua Oppenheimer. Both films aim attention at the Indonesian Genocide of 1965-66, when the military government systematically purged up to one million communists. While the first film’s focus was on the culprits and on providing facts, the second one lets us meet the victims. One victim in particular: a soft-spoken optician named Adi Rukun, who meets with various members of the death squad who murdered his elder brother Ramli, under the guise of giving them an eye test. As he questions them about the killings, the murderers, again, show little remorse and eagerly provide the lurid details to the many executions. It’s a stunning and provocative look at the legacy of historical mass killings, along with the insidious propaganda that provokes them, and continues to justify them to younger generations. A testament to the power of cinema to remember the forgotten.

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