Whether they’re in print or on the screen, psychological thrillers will leave you at the edge of your seat as you question everything.
These stories often deal with mentally unstable characters and the terror they bring to the lives of others, while incorporating aspects of mystery, horror, action, and drama.
Best Psychological Thriller Books
Here are 10 of the best psychological thriller books, including classics as well as some more recent titles.
1. Misery by Stephen King
Bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon is looking to expand his creative directions. To do so, he finally kills off his most popular protagonist, Misery Chastain.
A near-fatal car crash leaves Paul at the mercy of his self-proclaimed number-one fan, Annie Wilkes. She’s not happy with his new direction, and demands he bring back her beloved Misery—and she’s not against using violence to persuade him.
2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Lord de Winter sweeps her off her feet and life seems to be bliss. But their fairy tale wedding comes to an end once she sets foot on her new husband’s estate.
There, the memory of her husband’s late wife threatens to ruin their marriage. And a housekeeper obsessed with her late mistress plans to do just that.
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
On Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy suddenly disappears. Journal entries reveal that their picture-perfect marriage wasn’t what it looked like.
Nick’s not doing himself any favors with his evasiveness and inappropriate behavior. Now everyone thinks he’s behind Amy’s disappearance. But did the hate run deep enough to warrant murder?
4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson shoots her husband to death and then never speaks another word. She, the silent patient, is tucked away in a secure forensic unit.
Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist, is determined to make her talk. But his pursuit of the truth may be more personal than he lets on.
5. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
In his garden, the Gardener tends to his most precious “butterflies” — young kidnapped women tattooed to resemble their namesakes.
When the garden is discovered, one of the butterflies is brought in for questioning, but she proves to be as much of a puzzle as the garden itself. Those assigned to her case have to wonder what else she’s hiding.
6. The End of Her by Shari Lapena
Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to their new roles as parents. The babies are colic and Stephanie’s frequently sleep-deprived. She won’t trade it for anything though.
Then Erica comes and accuses Patrick of murdering his first wife. He swears it’s a lie but Erica has stories — stories that make Stephanie question who she really married.
7. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
FBI rookie Clarice Starling is brought in to help catch a serial killer. Her task: get into the mind of the psychopath by interviewing the cannibalistic killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
But Hannibal seems to see into every corner of Clarice’s mind. Is her quest to catch a killer leaving her victim to another one?
8. Falling by T.J. Newman
After boarding his flight, a pilot receives a call. Kidnappers have taken his family hostage and they will die… unless he crashes the plane.
143 souls are on board. The plane is already in the air. Who will he choose to save?
9. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule arrive at Shutter Island, home to Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane.
A patient has done the impossible, escaping locked doors and constant supervision, only to disappear. But the more they investigate, the more they discover that nothing on the island is what it seems.
10. My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
They got married, moved to the suburbs, and eventually had children. Then it got boring. Fifteen years later, they’re looking for some well-deserved excitement to keep the spark alive.
But while others go on extended vacations, this couple decides on something more sinister: murder. The question is, how long can they get away with it?
Best Psychological Thriller Movies
Psychological thrillers also work well in movie form. Below is a list of some of the best psychological thriller movies you can watch.
11. Get Out
Chris, an African-American man, goes on a trip with his girlfriend to visit her family. They seem normal at first, although a little too enthusiastic about his skin. And then he discovers their disturbing secret.
12. When A Stranger Calls
Jill Johnson is babysitting when she receives a call asking her to check the children. And then he calls again…. and again. The culprit is eventually caught. But now he’s back after seven years, and he’s looking to finish what he started.
A group of teens befriends a lonely middle-aged woman, “Ma”, who lets them party in her basement. As she slowly tightens her grip on them, they begin to see her true character.
14. The Lighthouse
Two lighthouse keepers are stranded on a remote island when a savage storm breaks out. They slowly descend into madness, desperately fighting each other for survival.
15. Black Swan
A ballerina becomes obsessed with playing a part in a production of Swan Lake. As she strives to embody her characters, she slowly loses her grip on reality.
16. Mulholland Drive
An aspiring actress comes upon a woman suffering from amnesia. Together, they set out to uncover the stranger’s identity. The search takes them into revelations that are rarely what they seem to be.
17. The Gift
A married couple, Simon and Robyn, run into one of Simon’s old acquaintances, Gordo. Things become tense when Gordo begins frequently visiting and leaving them mysterious gifts.
Detective Sommerset and Mills are on the hunt for a serial killer who commits crimes revolving around the seven deadly sins. But when the killer begins to take notice, the line between hunter and prey begins to blur.
Marion Crane is on the run after stealing from her employer. She stops at the Bates motel to rest, never to be seen again. As police and her family investigate, they begin to unmask the sinister figure behind the motel’s manager.
20. Fight Club
Unsatisfied with his boring job, the unnamed narrator begins to look for excitement. What he starts off as a fight club — where men use violence for enjoyment — slowly becomes a revolt against capitalism and consumerism.
What Are Psychological Thrillers?
Psychological thrillers are complicated narratives that involve the psychology of their characters. Typically, these characters have some form of instability that puts their minds and actions into question.
A dissolving sense of reality permeates these narratives, making you second guess events and dialogue. Action is mostly subdued, with stories focusing more on the strain generated by mentally struggling characters.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!