I’m not sure where my fascination with crime and thrillers first stemmed, but I can say with almost one hundred percent certainty that I’ve never read a fictional book where no one was killed or no crime was committed. It sounds pretty morbid when I read those words, but honestly, I think it all comes back to what’s at stake. The more that’s at stake, the higher the level of excitement and tension. My goal with writing is to create a book that I would want to read, and crime/action thrillers are the type of books that excite me because they have the highest stakes.
I suppose that my love of crime thrillers could be attributed to the fact that most people, including myself, lead fairly normal lives. We don’t face life and death circumstances. We’ve never been accused of murder. We’ve never had a serial killer invade our quiet lives. But these are fears and situations that we can explore through the world of fiction. A talented author or filmmaker can put us in the shoes of someone that has experienced things that we can only dream of or has faced the things that we fear the most. But in the end, we still get to come back to reality and lead a safe and happy life. Fiction is the ultimate escape because it’s the only time when you can escape yourself. And if I’m going to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, I want that person to lead a life or have experiences that are drastically different from my own.
All that being said, here are five movies that I consider to be my favorite crime thrillers of all time (in no particular order)…
Silence of the Lambs
Not only is this one of the best serial killer films of all time, it’s also one of the absolute best book-to-film adaptations. Of course there are additional scenes in the book, but for the most part, it is a very faithful conversion. And let’s not forget the presence of one of the most memorable villains in book and film history, Hannibal Lecter. Fun fact: Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Lecter even though he was only in the film for 16 minutes, one of the shortest lead performances to ever win the award.
The Dark Knight
This is not a film most would consider a “crime” thriller. After all, it’s a Batman movie, a film about a superhero. But it’s much more than that. The thing I love about this movie is that you could have taken Batman and The Joker out of the mix and simply replaced them with a cop and a psychopath (who would still have to be played by Ledger, of course) and the film would still be excellent. It works on every level, and the presence of Batman and The Joker are just icing on a brilliant cake.
A true classic. This movie has it all. A classic villain—Capone, played by Robert DeNiro. A classic hero—Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner. And the best mentor character of all time—Jimmy Malone, played by Sean Connery. It’s worth watching for Connery’s explanation of “The Chicago Way” alone.
Die Hard/Lethal Weapon
I know I’m cheating by lumping these together, but they’re two of the most iconic action films of all time…so just go with it. While both films defined the “action” genre, they are still crime thrillers at their core. One is about two cops taking down a heroin-smuggling operation, and the other is an elaborate heist film. Great heroes and villains all around (Hans Gruber being on my list of all time greatest villains).
Possibly the greatest serial killer film of all time. Morgan Freeman gives a wonderful performance (as always), and Kevin Spacey does a superb job in the small but integral role of John Doe. Original, atmospheric, twisted, gruesome, and thought-provoking with one of the most gut-wrenching twist endings in film history.
Ethan Cross is the author of several books, including the internationally bestselling novel The Shepherd. He is currently hard on work on the third novel of the series, Father of Fear. You can learn more about Ethan and his books at our website.