10 best thriller series to watch on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu
From 'Black Mirror' to 'False Flag,' these series deliver a thrilling dose of drama, intrigue, jaw-on-the-floor moments.
If you're the kind of television viewer who eagerly looks forward to series where the plots are twisty, the atmosphere tense, and the stakes high, we've gathered the perfect collection of titles below to help further wear down the edge of your seat. Whether your streaming preference is through Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or just all three, there's something here for everyone looking for a good thriller.
'Black Mirror' / Netflix
Inspired by series like "The Twilight Zone," Netflix's brilliant "Black Mirror" addresses society's love of technology and its unintended consequences through one-off 60-90 minute episodes.
"I can see why it appears like it's anti-technology, but I don't think it is," producer Charlie Brooker told Syfy. "I think that, actually, in most of our stories – if not all our stories – the technology is neutral and what causes a problem in our stories is some sort of human failing or weakness or maliciousness or clumsiness."
Over the course of four seasons, the show has garnered plenty of praise from critics and fans alike. One episode in particular, titled "San Junipero," recently won an Emmy for "Outstanding Television Movie."
"In typical Black Mirror style, it's more than you could have imagined," writes critic Suchandrika Chakrabarti, "but there's a bittersweet sting in the tail, rather than just a bitter one."
'False Flag' / Hulu
If you enjoy the unpredictable storylines of espionage thrillers, Hulu's "False Flag" should earn a top spot on your watchlist. The drama, created by the same studio that gave us "Homeland," revolves around five ordinary Israeli citizens who one day wake up to discover they've been implicated in an international kidnapping scheme. While it's clear they've been framed, New York Times critic Mike Hale adds in an extremely positive review that the real story is much more layered.
"The five may not be guilty of kidnapping but they’re all guilty of something — an affair, a hidden criminal past, an insatiable appetite for attention — that complicates their attempts to prove their innocence and provides the show with five mysteries for the price of one," he writes.
And the Washington Post raved: "On a scale of 1 to 10, 'False Flag' rates a 99 for suspense. Critics aren’t calling it the new 'Homeland' for nothing."
While most of the cast will be unfamiliar to American audiences, one face that will most certainly stand out to viewers is Israeli actress Ania Bukstein. With leading roles in both HBO's "Game of Thrones" series (as the red priestess Kinvara) and on NatGeo's "Genius" (as the Russian spy Margarita Konenkova), Bukstein is quickly becoming one of those chameleon character actors valued throughout Hollywood.
'The Handmaid's Tale' / Hulu
A modern adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel, "The Handmaid's Tale" is set in a dystopian future where fertility rates have plummeted and women called "Handmaids" are forced into sexual and child-bearing servitude. According to showrunner Bruce Miller, the show's setting in Gilead, the nation that has replaced the United States, is even more unnerving because of its surprising beauty.
"Most dystopias are rather dusty and full of robots and rubble and that kind of thing," Miller told Vox. "This is a beautiful dystopia, which is one of the things that makes it novel; the beauty is a storytelling piece."
Because the main character of Offred, played by American actress Elisabeth Moss, is constantly in mortal peril, this is one thriller that will leave you guessing from one intense episode to the next. With eight wins at this year's Emmy Awards, including for Best Drama and Best Actress and Writing, its second season (April 25, 2018) is also one of the most anticipated of the year.
"'The Handmaid's Tale' raises Hulu's standing as a source of original drama content," writes critic Julie Hinds. "And it raises the bar for what TV can accomplish, even in the middle of the medium's current golden era."
'Absentia' / Amazon
Directed by Israeli filmmaker Oded Ruskin, "Absentia" tells the story of an FBI agent who goes missing and is declared dead while on the trail of a notorious serial killer. Six years later, she's found alive and with no memory as to what took place during her absence. To complicate the mystery, she's also fingered as the suspect in a new string of murders.
Canadian-American actress Stana Katic, who plays the troubled FBI agent, says viewers tuning into this one should prepare for a thrill ride.
"Every single episode… as soon as you think you know what’s going on, as soon as you think you know who’s behind it, you’re wrong," the former Bond girl told GlobalNews. "The end, from what I’ve seen, surprises everyone. It’s enough of a finish where you’ll sit there and say, 'OK. Cool. We’ve solved the question of this thriller for this season.' But man, they set up something really gnarly for the next…"
'Jack Ryan' / Amazon
Based on the fictional character Jack Ryan by Tom Clancy, Amazon's new eponymous series takes the CIA agent from his traditional appearance on the big screen and into the realm of episodic television. Starring American John Krasinski as the fifth such actor to take on the lead role, "Jack Ryan" will reportedly be an origin story befitting the scope of Clancy's epic novels.
"I think the great opportunity that exists for "Jack Ryan" is that the Clancy books were these huge sprawling epics," American co-creator Carlton Cuse told SlashFilm. "They’re 600, 700, 800 pages long. It’s really almost impossible to take a book that length and reduce it to a two-hour movie, but across a 10-hour show on Amazon, you can tell a sprawling mosaic story and add in color and depth at a level that you just can’t do in a theatrical motion picture."
Like "Game of Thrones" is planning to do more frequently with its highly anticipated eighth season, Cuse says that "Ryan" could also go beyond the standard one-hour constraints of episodic television. "It’s streaming so there aren’t tight parameters about episode run times," he added.
"Jack Ryan" is expected to release all 8 episodes of season one on Aug. 31.
'Narcos' / Netflix
Based on the rise and fall of the famed Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Netflix's "Narcos" offers a pulse-quickening dive into the efforts by the American Drug Enforcement Agency to capture the notorious kingpin. According to Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who plays Escobar, the show's seasons are remarkable in how they shift the timelines but retain the tension and drama.
"The first season covers about 15 years of the drug trade, and it’s epic in the sense that it shows – through the voiceover and real footage – how the drug trade works," he told CinemaThread. "The second season covers about 18 months in terms of a time line, so it’s much more dynamic than the first season. It’s more focused on the characters and the drama of all the characters (including DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena). And Escobar’s wife becomes an important character as well."
Netflix has since extended "Narcos" to four seasons, with the focus shifting to after Escobar's downfall and the rise of his successors. The critical favor has also grown, with a majority of critics praising the series' excellent writing and character development.
"If television could imitate the overwhelmed feeling DEA agents likely felt approaching these cartels, this would be it," writes critic Kayla Cobb of the show's latest run. "This season is intense, fast-paced and a must watch."
'Ozark' / Netflix
Better known as the straight man in a variety of comedies, American actor Jason Bateman gives a surprisingly dark performance in "Ozark" as a financial planner forced to help launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. In a recent interview, the "Arrested Development" star said playing a character with darker motives offers balance to the lighter personas he's previously portrayed.
"We all have tons of sides to ourselves – half-dark and half-light," he told The Daily Beast. "If I were to play the real dark, sinister side in other jobs, I wouldn’t be doing the right job for that character. So when it fits the project, I’ve got plenty in me that’s appropriate for that character. And I think that’s the case with 'Ozark'. There’s plenty of me that is this guy, and that’s why I enjoy playing him."
"Ozark," which will debut its anticipated second season later this year, appears to be on a critical trajectory similar to AMC's crime thriller "Breaking Bad." Like that series, it's a slow burn that, as critics have hinted, has great potential going forward.
"Now that's how you make a thriller," exclaimed Ben Travers for IndieWire.
'Sneaky Pete' / Amazon
Co-created and directed by American actor Bryan Cranston and starring Giovanni Ribisi in the lead role, "Sneaky Pete" is a crime thriller about a recently released convict who adopts the identity of his cellmate to escape a violent past. Oh – and the main character, Pete Murphy, is also a gifted conman.
"I had been trying to figure out how to make a series out of the world of bail bonds, because I was attracted to that milieu," Cranston said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "It's a breath away from criminality, and yet you deal with the judicial system and law enforcement and it felt really ripe for something to be living in there — this guy who hasn't changed his ways and gets involved in a world that could be a real talent that he has. Yet he's not even who he says he is. Everything's a con."
Critical consensus on this one is that you should immediately open your laptop and prepare to binge. The first season, based on nearly 30 reviews, has an astounding 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Suspenseful, smart, and terrifically cast, 'Sneaky Pete' is part dramedy, part crime caper, and all in all entertaining," the site concludes.
'Homeland' / Hulu
Based on a hit television show from Israel, "Homeland" is an espionage thriller now in its seventh season on Showtime. Hulu subscribers, however, can tear through the first five seasons; an epic binge session that will take them around the globe from Berlin to Cape Town to Tel Aviv and New York City.
American actress Claire Danes, who plays the CIA case officer Carrie Mathison, says the series and its emotional twists and turns have never stopped challenging her. "My goal is always to do something that feels just beyond my reach, and 'Homeland' continues to do that," she told Marie Claire magazine. "Every season, they find new ways to scare me. The show is like a diamond that fell from the sky. I'll always feel slightly bludgeoned by it, but in the best way possible."
Those interested in catching up on this spy thriller should be prepared for a climactic ending. Season eight, expected to arrive next year, will be the final run for Carrie, Saul, and other beloved spooks.
"That’s the idea," producer Alex Gansa said in a recent interview. "The idea is really to tell the end of the story. I don’t think there’s any other point in doing it. I don’t think we’re going to leave the show open-ended. But you never know what can happen after that."
'The Americans' / Amazon
Delivering both a healthy dose of the 1980s and edge-of-your-seat spy drama, FX's "The Americans" is a tense revisit to the Cold War era. The series stars American actress Keri Russell and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as two Soviet spies posing as an American married couple living in the D.C. suburbs.
"The most interesting thing I observed during my time at the CIA was the family life of agents who served abroad with kids and spouses," American co-creator Joe Weisberg said. "The reality is that mostly they’re just people going about their lives. The job is one element, and trying to depict the issues they face just seemed like something that, if we could bring it to television in a realistic way, would be new."
Those seeking a humorous spy couple adventure on par with Israeli actress Gal Gadot's recent "Keeping up with the Joneses" may want to prepare themselves. As critic Tom Conroy explains, its serious approach is one of its best assets. "The show keeps its tongue out of its cheek and actually creates decent suspense, along with some chewy moral dilemmas to keep the brain stimulated if not taxed," he wrote.
The sixth and final nail-biting season of "The Americans" will air this March.
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