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The Best Thriller Movies You Can Watch On HBO Max

The thriller is one of the most adaptable categories of film. It can be combined with a horror, comedy, or character-driven drama, and can follow spies, assassins, cops, criminals, or any ordinary schmuck in an extraordinary situation. There are numerous sub-genres of the thriller, like psychological thrillers and even erotic thrillers, a movie trend that dominated the box office in the '90s and experience a recent resurgence in the mid-2010s. Any genre can be a thriller as long as the movie has a relentlessness, a breathlessness, and an edge-of-your-seat quality that makes you tense up and need to see what happens next.

Some of the greatest thrillers in cinema history happen to be on the streaming service HBO Max, which has a vast library of Warner Bros. films, Criterion Collection inductees, and new releases. Canonical classics from directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski (great directors, problematic guys) sit beside contemporary thrillers from modern masters like Jordan Peele and David Fincher (great directors, pretty swell guys).

Here are some exemplary thriller movies you can watch on HBO Max right now.


Sledgehammers were never the same after this psychological thriller came out in 1990. Kathy Bates became an Oscar-winning star for her performance as Annie Wilkes, a crazed fan who takes novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) hostage after rescuing him from a car wreck and forces him to write a book just for her, to her own exacting specifications. And if he doesn't, she'll keep him there until he does, under threat of "hobbling."

Legendary screenwriter William Goldman adapted Misery from a novel by Stephen King, and introduced Bates, who was at that point primarily a stage actor, to a wider audience. It was director Rob Reiner's second King adaptation, after Stand By Me, so Reiner has a sterling track record of King adaptations. Misery remains one of the most disturbing and insightful examinations of the dark side of the creator-fan relationship and the craft of writing itself.


The sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 more horror-oriented Alien (which is also a classic), Aliens finds Ripley, the sole survivor of an alien attack on her spaceship, leading a crew on an investigatory mission to a base that may have been wiped out on a moon where Ripley encountered the aliens, known as xenomorphs. She then has to fight a series of increasingly dire threats, both human and extraterrestrial

James Cameron's immortal sci-fi action thriller is as exciting today as it was in 1986. Sigourney Weaver's Reebok-wearing, flamethrower-wielding survivor Ellen Ripley is one of the greatest action heroines of all time, a fearless fighter who will do anything to protect her chosen family. The members of the supporting cast of Aliens, including Bill Paxton's goofy Marine Hudson and Lance Henriksen's helpful android Bishop, don't waste a moment of screen time, enlivening every moment they have. And the aliens, designed by Stan Winston and Cameron himself, are as terrifyingly lifelike as puppets can be. And it all cost only $18.5 million! (About $45 million in 2020 dollars).

North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed king of the thriller. He worked almost exclusively in the thriller genre, and his run of classics from the '30s to the '60s is basically unparalleled in cinematic history. His 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo overtook Citizen Kane for the title of "greatest movie of all time" on the most recent Sight & Sound poll, the most distinguished list of the sort. Unfortunately, Vertigo isn't available on HBO Max. But the thriller Hitchcock made the year after, North by Northwest, is. 

Cary Grant — wearing the most influential suit in cinema history, according to the style experts at GQ – stars in North by Northwest as advertising executive Roger Thornhill, whom intelligence agents mistake for a wanted man named George Kaplan. He gets caught up in a cross-country chase starting in New York City and reaching its thrilling climax at Mount Rushmore. It's an absolutely perfect mistaken identity thriller.

The Invisible Man

Led by Mad Men powerhouse Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man is, for many people around the world, one of the last films they got to see in cinemas before the movie industry came to a screeching halt in early 2020. The bittersweet takeaway from this fact is that the flick, written and directed with razor-sharp style and intention by Leigh Whannell, is one of the best movies of the year

The Invisible Man puts a new spin on the titular movie monster — first introduced to the masses as a literary beast in H. G. Wells' 1897 novel of the same name — by putting him in the body of an endlessly wealthy tech engineer named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who continues tormenting his ex-girlfriend Cecilia Kass (Moss) after she escapes his abuse ... and even after his presumed death. Following Adrian's apparent suicide two weeks after Cecilia breaks free from the relationship, Cecilia's world gets turned upside down, and she begins to believe her controlling, violent ex isn't dead but is actually alive, well, and making her life more miserable than she ever could have imagined.

Without spoiling anything, let's just say that The Invisible Man features quite a few twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

It's hard to imagine a world in which Elizabeth Olsen isn't a household name in residences where superhero movies are the cinema fare of choice, but sure enough, Olsen didn't begin acting in films until 2011. That year, she made a major splash as the title character in writer-director Sean Durkin's dramatic thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene

Olsen's character is a 22-year-old woman named Martha who's dubbed "Marcy May" by cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) when she joins the ranks, and who knows women in the abusive cult use the code name "Marlene Lewis." After she flees from the cult, tearing through the woods of the Catskill Mountains, Martha reunites with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy's husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), who take Martha to their Connecticut home where she'll be safe. Unfortunately, the darkness of Martha's past doesn't disappear so quickly. Her behavior becomes erratic, and the audience learns more and more about what Martha endured during her time in the cult — and before then, too.

Martha Marcy May Marlene has been regarded as both a "slippery thriller about fugitive states, and not knowing where you belong, or even who you are" (via The Daily Telegraph) and an "implacably creepy little thriller" that shows just how talented Olsen is.