Thursday Movie Picks: Psychological Thrillers

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Psychological Thrillers.

This is a very popular sub-genre and I’m actually surprised how many I’ve seen. This time I’m going with a theme-within-a-theme so I’m picking mostly those with a strong female lead, and three out of four leads are nominated for Oscars. Here they are in the order of release:

Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

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A young woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it is impossible to elude her controlling husband.

I saw this the year it was released with my older brother, my cinema buddy at the time as I was still in high school in Jakarta. Given Indonesia didn’t have regulations like MPAA, kids of any age could pretty much see any R-rated movies. I even saw risqué stuff like Basic Instinct, 9-1/2 Weeks, Wild Orchid, etc. in the theater, with my brother, no less!

sleepingwithenemy-juliaroberts

In any case, I remember this movie being quite suspenseful. I still remember when Julia Roberts‘ character pretended to drown so she could change her identity from her possessive husband. Just a year after Pretty Woman was released, she’s definitely flexing her dramatic muscle and I think she’s pretty good here. Patrick Bergin made for a pretty scary villain who’d stop at nothing to get his wife back.


Primal Fear (1996)

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An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

I’m breaking my theme-within-a-theme of movies with a female lead, as I really wanted to include this film!

This might have been the first time I saw Edward Norton on screen, which happens to be his feature film debut. The main draw for me was Richard Gere as the Chicago defense attorney who takes on the case pro bono. It’s a role that fits Gere nicely and I think he’s a more versatile actor than people give him credit for. But the star here is definitely Ed Norton who apparently beat out over 2000+ actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler, including Matt Damon.

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It turns out to be a career-making role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win. I think he was scary good in this role… his shy mannerism, stammer, etc. feels believable and like Gere’s character, you wanted to believe he’s innocent. This movie’s got one of the most chilling ending a la The Usual Suspect.

Interesting Trivia:

Pedro Pascal stated in a 2014 interview that his first ever audition was for the role of Aaron Stampler.


Black Swan (2010)

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A committed dancer struggles to maintain her sanity after winning the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”.

I’m a huge fan of ballet and even took some ballet lessons as a kid. I even remember going to see a Russian Ballet performance of Swan Lake in high school and met some of the male ballerinas backstage. There’s something so alluring and mystical about this graceful dance that takes such an insane amount of rigorous training and unrelenting dedication.

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It’s a perfect subject matter to exploit for Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker with a predilection for dark, disturbing films. It’s perhaps one of Natalie Portman’s most memorable roles since Léon: The Professional and V For Vendetta. I think her Oscar win is well-deserved, though I think Vincent Cassel‘s haunting performance is also pretty Oscar-worthy. Barbara Hershey as her dominating mother and Mila Kunis as her rival ballerina are also memorable, I particularly remember Kunis being quite the comic relief in an otherwise somber and unsettling affair.

Interesting Trivia:

Natalie Portman met her future husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on the set of this film. Portman herself pointed out the irony that his character in the film scoffs when asked if he’d have sex with Nina, and joked that obviously he was a good actor.

Gone Girl (2014)

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With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

I was already familiar with Rosamund Pike as she’s one of the Bond girls in the godawful Die Another Day, Jane in 2015’s Pride & Prejudice, as well as supporting turns in An Education, Jack Reacher, etc. She’s always been good but she’s exceptional here in an Oscar-worthy role. David Fincher + Gillian Flynn colab is certainly the perfect ingredient for a solid thriller, and Fincher was on a streak as most of the actors kept getting nominated for Oscars under his direction. I was rooting for Amy the whole time, even after the reveal of what she did, which is a testament to Pike’s amazing performance as an antiheroine.

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The supporting cast is an interesting mix. Ben Affleck‘s casting is perfect here as a handsome, somewhat charming but not-so-bright husband. Then there are Tyler Perry (who I had never seen before on screen at that point) and Neil Patrick Harris. I’m still baffled by Harris’ casting to this day, especially for a scene so sexual and bloody.

Interesting Trivia:

Ben Affleck would constantly sing ’80s songs in between takes. Impressed, Tyler Perry decided to start a game that ended up lasting the entire duration of filming. Perry would start to sing the most random song he could think of to see if Affleck would start singing along. According to Perry, Affleck knew all of the words to every single song Perry threw at him, including Broadway showtunes and songs by Barbra Streisand.


What do you think of my picks? What are YOUR favorite psychological thrillers?

31 thoughts on “Thursday Movie Picks: Psychological Thrillers

  1. These are amazing picks! I don’t care what critics say about Sleeping with The Enemy, I love this film. I too thought it was suspenseful, but also frightening and thought Roberts did a good job. I remember I did the unpopular opinion tag and it was my first or second entry. Primal Fear is also very good (I love Edward Norton!), especially the end. Re trivia of Black Swan, well. It’s all happy ending, of course, but I just so so wish that the ex-girlfriend of Millepied was not treated so awfully by the pair during the whole production of Black Swan. I mean, personally, it pains me that another person, Isabella Boylston, a great ballerina, was kept in the dark the whole time.

    1. I think now there are better made thrillers than Sleeping With the Enemy but at the time I found it frightening and Roberts played her role quite well as a survivalist trying to escape the grasp of an abusive husband.

      I forgot that Primal Fear was Ed Norton’s first feature role, which is hard to believe considering how good he was.

      Wow, I didn’t know about Millepied’s ex-girlfriend, I don’t think I knew much about the production of that film. So was Isabella Boylston in the film as well?

  2. Nice picks and almost theme within the theme!

    You can be forgiven for feeling the need to include Primal Fear outside your theme within. That’s a great film! Norton is mesmerizing matched by Richard Gere (to me his best performance) but they are completely surrounded by people of the highest caliber doing some of their best work. LOVE the Lovely Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Andre Braugher, Maura Tierney, John Mahoney and especially the divine Alfre Woodard stealing every second of her screen time as the cranky, no-nonsense tippling judge. As great as they all are it would mean nothing if they were propping up a weak script but they aren’t. It snaps and crackles.

    I can’t say I loved Black Swan but I appreciated its dark vision. Portman is wonderful, same goes for Barbara Hershey as her seriously nutty mother.

    I could write the exact same thing about Gone Girl. Love Rosamund Pike (she needs to fire her agent and find someone who will get her the roles she deserves) and while the picture held my interest I wasn’t blown away by it nor can I envision ever watching it again.

    I remember when Sleeping with the Enemy came out and hit box office gold despite being middling. It was the proof Hollywood needed that Julia Roberts could both carry a film on her own and bring in the customers. There were parts of it that I though worthwhile and others that had me saying “Oh come on!”

    A theme with a much broader range than last week, where I was glad just to be able to come up with three!, I had to adopt a point of view to narrow down my choices. I chose “the Crazy Train”

    The Baby (1973)-Recently widowed social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is given the case of the Wadsworth family: raspy-voiced Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman in a wonderfully complex performance), her two very strange adult daughters Alba and Germaine (Suzanne Zenor & Mariana Hill), and her 21-year-old son Baby (David Mooney) whom they have kept infantilized to the point that he still lives in a crib and diapers. Discovering that Baby’s condition isn’t physiological but rather a result of abuse and neglect Ann tries to intercede, but Mrs. Wadsworth is having none of it. Thus begins a battle that escalates to extremes as Mrs. Wadsworth fights to keep control and Ann insists that she’s only interested in Baby’s best interests…. but is she?

    Shock Corridor (1963)-In pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize ambitious reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) feigns madness and has himself committed to an insane asylum to investigate and solve a recent murder sure it will win him the award. But once inside the rigors and horrors of confinement lead him to slowly lose his grip on reality. Lurid by necessity but director Sam Fuller keeps a firm hand preventing the film from slipping into exploitation.

    Shutter Island (2010)-In the 50’s two Federal Marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), enter the peculiar dream like world of Ashecliffe Hospital, an insane asylum located on the remote, windswept Shutter Island, to investigate an apparent escape from the seemingly impenetrable skerry. As a hurricane engulfs the madhouse the men and in particular Teddy begin to question all they know as both their safety and sanity are imperiled. Top-flight Scorsese uses a very effective fractured version of the great Dinah Washington song “This Bitter Earth” to maintain the film’s edgy vibe all the way through the credits.

    1. Hey there Joel! Wow, somehow I didn’t realize what an excellent ensemble cast Primal Fear had. I did remember Alfre Woodard who could be a scene-stealer even in less than 5 minutes in a Marvel blockbuster!! I know you’re not a superhero fan but she was in Captain America: Civil War and her scene with Tony Stark still gave me chills.

      I think Sleeping with the Enemy worked as people wanted to see another side of Julia Roberts fresh out of Pretty Woman and I think she acquitted herself well in the role.

      I’m with you about Black Swan. I didn’t love it but I appreciate its artistry, acting, etc. That and Gone Girl are more of a one-time-watch for me as well.

      As for your picks, I’ve only heard of Shutter Island, which I still need to see as I like Michelle Williams. The other two sounds pretty terrifying to me, not sure I have the nerves to watch those!

      1. I also recommend Shutter Island. I recently re-read the book and then watched the film again as well and loved how the book was adapted – very faithfully, which may also explain the film’s length, but very considerate. Martin Scorsese makes every frame feels perfect. In retrospect, I do think DiCaprio overacts it in many scenes, but the film is really good anyway 🙂

    1. Sleeping With The Enemy isn’t exactly a classic but I remember I found it quite entertaining when I saw it. Boy, Julia Roberts still looks pretty good even 30 years after that movie’s released!

  3. Sleeping with the Enemy is underrated as fuck. Critics bitched about that film at the time but I thought it was a well-made thriller. Plus, Julia Roberts was white-hot at the time.

    I love all of these picks.

    1. Yes indeed Julia was at her peak then, and she still looks amazing even today.

      I wasn’t really paying attention to film criticism back then, so I had no idea critics hated Sleeping with the Enemy.

      1. It has a 20% Rotten Tomato score and… wow… they were totally wrong. I guess I have a film that I can defend in the next Against-the-Crowd Blog-a-Thon. Now I have to find a film that critics liked that I thought sucked ass.

        1. 20% RT??!! Dayum!!

          Ok so when is that Against-the-Crowd Blog-a-Thon going on? I’d love to read your post on Sleeping with the Enemy then. I’d love to participate on that, now I have to think on which movie I’d like to defend 😉

          1. I think it’s August/September as I’ll do this. I’ll let you defend Sleeping with the Enemy as I will now defend a much-maligned action film from 2001 in 3000 Miles to Graceland which I think is just stupid fun as I enjoyed the hell out of that film.

  4. Ted Saydalavong

    I also saw Sleeping with The Enemy way back when it came out, maybe it’s on TV and I watched it. Too young to have seen it in a theater. So funny about the no rating system in most of Asia, I remember seeing all of the violent action films like Rambo, Commando and RoboCop in theater in Thailand and I was like 8 or 9 years old!

    I do like all of your picks, Gone Girl would’ve been another movie of the week had it directed by some other direct but Fincher made it into a very compelling drama/thriller.

    In keeping with your theme on this genre, my favorite thrillers with a strong female lead would be Silence of the Lambs and Copycat. The latter starred Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter, it unfortunately opened a few weeks after the more well known and successful thriller, Se7en.

    1. Yeah I think most countries don’t have the strict rating system like here in the US, same w/ drinking. I remember sharing a martini with my friends at a bar when I was only 15!

      You’re so right that Gone Girl could’ve been like a cheesy Lifetime movie under a less skilled director.

      Oooh I haven’t heard of Copycat before but Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter? I should check that out!

  5. It’s pretty much the same in Italy. I don’t know how many movies I saw at the movies that I was not supposed to. But nobody ever asked for ID or anything.

    I still haven’t seen Sleeping With the Enemy, and quite frankly I don’t know why since I’ve only heard good things about it. I have seen all your other picks and I love them. Edward Norton was phenomenal in Primal Fear. Gone Girl is my favourite from Fincher, and Black Swan is one of my favourite films ever as well as the reason I became a Natalie Portman fan.

    1. Hi Sonia! Interesting to hear that Italy also doesn’t have strict rating like here in the States.

      Sleeping With the Enemy is worth a watch. I mean it’s 30 years old now but I remember it being quite suspenseful and likely resonated well in the ‘Me Too’ era. Natalie Portman really killed it in Black Swan, since I haven’t seen CLOSER, that might’ve been the darkest film I ever saw her in.

  6. Primal Fear is such a good movie! I avoided it for ages because the title made me think it was a horror, doh. I only recently watched Black Swan for the first time and that was an amazing experience!

    1. Ahahaha, I hear ya Allie. Sometimes I avoid movies that I thought are horror movies too, I just can’t handle those. Well, I’m glad you finally did see Primal Fear. I love how it’s never too late to watch ANY movie, and there’s such a joy in discovering popular films later after they’re released!

  7. I like your votes, Ruth. I get the idea of the inner theme. Black Swan is my favorite of your choices. For me, recent ones would be the Joker. Garsh, you could focus on a decade! Since you picked the 90s Primal Fear, from the 90s I’d pick Misery and 12 Monkeys.

    1. Hey ya Cindy! Black Swan is one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve seen and one of the most haunting.

      I didn’t love JOKER but I appreciate Joaquin’s acting. I haven’t seen Misery but even the trailer terrified me :\

  8. Pingback: Psychological Thrillers – FlixChatter Film Blog – 123 Movie News

  9. Ah, we match with Gone Girl! Great selection, Ruth. I’ve heard of your first two but only watched Gone Girl and Black Swan so far.
    Interesting that you note that Roberts made Sleeping with the Enemy just one year after Pretty Woman was released. I always enjoy it when actors/actresses choose diverse roles so they aren’t typecast.

    1. Hi Claire! Glad you joined this week.

      Sleeping With the Enemy is well worth a watch. Not perfect but much better than what the critics made it out to be. If you like Roberts I think you’ll enjoy it!

  10. I remember Julia Roberts being quite impressive in Sleeping with the Enemy. But it’s been more than ten years since I saw that film, so there isn’t much else about it that I remember 😅

    1. It’s been longer than a decade but somehow I still remember Sleeping with the Enemy so it must’ve made quite an impression on me.

  11. Good picks! I haven’t seen Sleeping with the Enemy and Primal Fear, but I love Richard Gere. He’s quite underrated. I’ll have to check it out. Black Swan and Gone Girl totally escaped me this week but they fit the theme perfectly. Two of my top favorites.

    1. If you like Gere, then you’d have to watch Primal Fear! I feel like Fincher and Aronofsky are two directors who are adept in making psychological thrillers.

  12. Yes, Primal Fear was a great debut indeed. I also like how seriously Edward Norton approaches each of his roles

    No, Isabella wasn’t in the film, but what happened is…not nice, shall I say it. Isabella was sewing costumes for her own ballet and “let” Millepied, “her beloved boyfriend” go and train Portman for her role. That’s apparently the last she saw of him because he never reported then “seeing” Portman, so everything went behind her back. Well, just two weeks before the production of Black Swan, Millepied attended Isabella’s award ceremony with her and “they seemed to be” pretty much in love. People close to Millepied also report that he has always been a social climber. I don’t want to judge anyone or sound or be negative and I am very happy for Millepied and Portman now (I know they are now a very happy family), but I just don’t like the beginning of the story, that’s all. Especially, when it is coupled with the way Portman treated her own double, Sarah Lane, saying that she herself did most of the dancing when the proof is the opposite. As they say, there is no smoke without fire.

    1. Hey Diana, well I don’t really follow actors’ life… but what happened to Isabella is horrible but I guess if her boyfriend is a social climber, she can’t be surprised by it. Honestly I’m not really a fan of Portman and like a ton of celebs, they’re usually self-absorbed and don’t exactly live like normal folks.

      Speaking of which, I posted my recap of last night’s Oscars and well, most of the sensible speeches usually came from the crew, the actors tend to ramble on and on!

  13. I’m late but I’m here:) I do like Sleeping With The Enemy which is quite a good thriller and I always liked Patrick Bergen. Edward Norton was so good in Primal Fear. I don’t like Black Swan at all. I just found it irritating and disliked all the characters. Gone Girl is one wild movie but I hated it when the news people talking about the f8lm, made it sound like it was about a typical marriage. There is nothing typical about it and Pike’s character is one batshit crazy psycho. Pike deserved the Oscar that year.

    1. Hi Birgit! Always happy to see you pop by.

      I hear ya about Black Swan, it’s not exactly a fun movie and Aronofsky’s movies aren’t exactly my thing either. I do like ballet so perhaps that makes me enjoy it more than I thought I would.

      Huh?? Gone Girl a typical marriage?? In what universe? She is psychotic and the husband is a philanderer! Yes I think Pike was outstanding in the title role.

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