A good movie can move audiences, but a great movie can make them think. All genres have the ability to do this, but none better than the psychological horror/thriller. With their twists and turns, these movies are more unpredictable than most and leave audiences questioning what they saw long after the credits have rolled.


What just happened? What does it all mean? Will I ever be the same again? These are just a few questions a great psychological flick can elicit. Some turn to movies to shut off and escape the outside world, but others turn to them to be challenged. This list is for the latter.

RELATED: This Psychological Thriller Features Colin Farrell’s Best Performance

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Everyone’s heard of Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly’s cult-classic psychological thriller (which happens to be one of the most popular mind-bending movies ever made), but far fewer know his 2009 flop, The Box. Based on the 1970 short story Button Button by Richard Matheson, this underrated sci-fi thriller stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as Norma and Arthur Lewis, a married couple who face a moral dilemma when they receive a box from a mysterious man (Frank Langella). If they open the box, they receive one million dollars — however, a stranger will die. If they don’t open the box, they get nothing.

The Box has a lot to offer besides its intriguing premise. Langella is genuinely terrifying as the disfigured, ominous man, and Diaz and Marsden are compelling as the helpless couple who viewers can’t help but root for. The Lewises are in financial ruin when they’re approached by Langella’s character, and act realistically given the circumstances. They don’t leap into pressing the button; they consider the consequences, but it’s an offer they can’t refuse. They have to put their family first. It makes viewers wonder what they would do in their situation.

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Mother! takes second place as director Darren Aronofsky‘s worst-rated movie on IMDB, with a score of 6.6 (compared to Noah‘s atrocious 5.8). A psychological horror, it stars Jennifer Lawrence in the titular role as a young woman whose tranquil life is disturbed by her poet husband’s (Javier Bardem) need to be accommodating to strangers. First, he allows a man (Ed Harris) to stay with them, then it’s the man’s family. Soon enough it’s dozens of strangers, all wreaking havoc in Mother’s home.

In a word, Mother! is unhinged. Disturbing and anxiety-inducing, it’s not for everyone, but those who want to be challenged will enjoy it. Viewers may have no idea what’s happening while they’re watching it, but after reading about it, everything will start to make sense, and they’ll appreciate its boldness. Aronofsky described the movie as a “wake-up call to humanity,” which feels fair. Mother! has been interpreted in many ways — that’s the beauty of the movie — but it is very much an allegory for Mother Earth and humanity’s destruction of the planet. It’s epic, incredibly clever, and worth rewatching for a deeper understanding.

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Speaking of mothers, Vivarium stars Imogen Poots as a reluctant mother to a creepy and inhuman boy. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, this sci-fi horror is light on the scares and heavy on the satire. A warning against domesticity, it follows Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Poots), a young couple whose hunt for their first home goes disastrously wrong. After being given a tour of the utopian neighborhood of Yonder by a realtor (Jonathan Aris) who may or may not be an alien, the couple finds themselves trapped in suburbia with a child and one mission: raise the boy and be released.

Vivarium has drawn comparisons to popular psychological movies and TV shows like Being John Malkovich and The Twilight Zone​​​​​. Although it has a poor score of 5.8 on IMDb, its 72% Rotten Tomatoes rating is much fairer and more accurately reflects the quality of the movie. Vivarium is hilarious. Yes, it may paint a depressing portrait of parenthood, but it’s not to be taken seriously. It’s satire, and it’s also strangely thought-provoking. As well as wondering who or what the hell Martin and the boy are, viewers must also wonder what they would do with the latter: raise him like Gemma does, or plot to kill him like Tom?

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From the director of The Machinist, Brad Anderson, Fractured is a trippy and truly entertaining thriller that deserves just as much attention. Starring Sam Worthington in the lead role, it follows a man named Ray who is desperate to protect his family. After his daughter Peri (Lucy Capri), fractures her arm falling into a pit, Ray and his wife, Joanne (Lily Rabe), take her to the hospital. While there, he falls asleep in the waiting room, and when he wakes up, both his wife and daughter are missing. Ray conducts a panicked search and becomes convinced the hospital is hiding them.

Fractured is more clever than it is given credit for, and it’s pretty eerie too. What appears to be a simple case of gaslighting on the hospital’s part soon turns out to be something much worse that viewers couldn’t have predicted. The twist ending is on par with the likes of Shutter Island and The Sixth Sense, and makes this movie well worth the watch. Trust us when we say viewers will be picking their jaws up off the floor once it’s over (and wondering why it only got a score of 6.4 on IMDb).

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Hot take: The Night House is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century. Directed by David Bruckner, it stars Rebecca Hall as Beth, a widow living alone in the lakeside house that her recently-deceased husband built for her. Grief-stricken, Beth doesn’t know how to feel when strange things start happening in her house. Is it Owen? (Evan Jonigkeit), or something potentially evil? Matters only become more complicated when Beth does some digging into her husband’s past and finds he’s been hiding something huge from her.

The Night House is more than just a horror movie; it’s also a chilling meditation on grief and loss. It is spooky too though, with some incredible visual trickery and clever jump scares. Hall is fantastic as the tortured Beth, and Jonigkeit serves up just the right amount of cute and creepy necessary for his character. Again, the twists are great, but the most compelling thing about The Night House is its originality. It’s a one-of-a-kind movie that will tug at viewers’ heartstrings and leave a lasting impression.

MORE: Best Psychological Horror Games

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