Any self-respecting film fan who hadn’t already heard of Denis Villeneuve was forced to sit up and take notice when his 2013 thriller, Prisoners, took the world by storm and began a hugely successful streak of English language movies from the director. Movies like Prisoners have the ability to stay with film fans for a lifetime, with few other titles ever truly living up to the standards that it sets. This means that some of the best movies that are similar to Prisoners are counted as some of the greatest thrillers ever made and are well worth seeking out.
Movies like Prisoners stand out for their striking cinematography but linger in the minds of viewers because of the strength of their performances, with stars Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal being only two components in a stunning ensemble. The best films like Prisoners are also actor-driven pieces that don’t let the audience down in any of the technical categories either. They are movies of a rare level of quality, but they do exist, and many of them are available to watch on major streaming services.
12 Jar City (2006)
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Icelandic novelist Arnaldur Indriðason wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of the third book in his popular series of mysteries featuring the no-nonsense detective Erlendur Sveinsson (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). It’s an unflattering take on hard-boiled detective fiction, with the difficult and often hollow lives of the main characters emitting a kind of haunting energy that fans of Prisoners will appreciate. Jar City is an uncommon murder mystery story not just because of its setting but also its complex emotions stemming from rich characters and a carefully unraveled crime, the effects of which echo across decades.
11 The Silence (2010)
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Grief, tragedy, and trauma are explored in a similarly powerful and engaging way to Villeneuve’s Prisoners in this German thriller about the disappearance of a young girl in the modern-day which bears an uncanny resemblance to an unsolved case from the 1980s. Told from the perspective of both the protagonists and the antagonists, The Silence delves into the psychology of its characters in a rich and unusually rewarding way whilst still being an unremittingly tense and chilling thriller.
10 Memories Of Murder (2003)
Bong Joon-ho’s breakout movie steadily became recognized as a modern classic the world over, and it’s easy to see why. His characters are both larger than life and relatable while the story itself is grounded in a reality that is very specific in terms of time and place while still being universally familiar. The story dramatizes South Korea’s first serial murder case and the uncertainty over fact and fiction in the mystery is perhaps even more intense than in a movie like Prisoners. The result has real staying power, not unlike the director’s Oscar-winning film, Parasite.
9 Zodiac (2007)
Master of the disturbing thriller, David Fincher retold the story surrounding the titular serial killer through the eyes of several key figures who worked to discover their identity. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a starkly different character than his tough detective in Prisoners with his similarly outstanding performance as the timid Robert Graysmith and the impressive overall ensemble is part of what makes Zodiac such a captivating thriller, not to mention Fincher’s unwavering eye for small details.
8 Incendies (2010)
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Denis Villeneuve’s previous movie to Prisoners, this adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad’s play of the same name gained the director global notoriety and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. A similarly labyrinthine plot to Prisoners, yet horrifying in so many more extreme and real ways, the story follows two twins in modern-day Canada (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) as they unravel their mother’s (Lubna Azabal) history in her native country, which parallels experiences from the Lebanese Civil War. Incendies is another perfect example of Villeneuve’s talents for both incredibly shocking violence and even more unexpected catharsis.
7 Wind River (2017)
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Set in the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, this dark mystery thriller from writer and director Taylor Sheridan follows a wildlife tracker (Jeremy Renner) who teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to solve a grizzly murder. Fans of Sheridan’s earlier crime screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water will recognize the icy stoicism of the characters and the almost bleak perspective on life in the American periphery, as will fans of those same aspects in the story of Prisoners.
6 The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)
This Argentinian murder mystery drama won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and was later remade into the English language with a robust cast. However, the original is the more authentic experience and the one most worth recommending to fans of Prisoners. An emotional and enveloping crime saga set across the turbulent history of modern Argentina, The Secret in Their Eyes examines injustice–and the extraordinary lengths that people can go to in order to try to rectify it–in an electrifying and affecting way. A fan of Prisoners will appreciate the movie’s emphasis on the psychology of its characters, their disturbing actions, and their complex motivations.
5 Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone follows two private investigators (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) in Boston who are on the case of a young girl who was abducted. Directed by Ben Affleck, the film is able to really dive into and utilize the distinct characteristics of Boston as a city much more effectively than most thrillers are able to with their chosen environments but, like Prisoners, Gone Baby Gone is still driven by larger themes and moral dilemmas.
4 Mystic River (2003)
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Another adaptation of a Dennis Lehane crime novel set in the author’s hometown of Boston, this mystery drama revolves around three childhood friends who have all grown up to live on various sides of the law but are brought inescapably back together through a murder. Directed by Clint Eastwood and featuring an all-star cast on Award-winning form, filmmaking pedigree doesn’t get much higher than it does here. Mystic River was nominated for six Oscars, all in major categories, winning both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, respectively, and any fan of Prisoners‘ powerhouse performances is all but obligated to seek it out.
3 The Pledge (2001)
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Sean Penn directed Jack Nicholson in one of the iconic actor’s last great roles before his retirement in this haunting drama thriller about a former detective (Nicholson) who structures his entire life around finding the killer of a young girl, a case which fell to him on the eve of his retirement. The all-consuming nature of the mystery at the heart of the story is very similar to Prisoners, but fans of the film will want to consider this essential viewing for Penn’s unwavering focus on the actors’ performances, with Nicholson being just one part of a staggeringly impressive ensemble.
2 The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
A young man (Charlie Plummer) from a strict but loving household steadily begins to suspect that his upstanding father (Dylan McDermott) may, in fact, be a serial killer who has evaded justice for years in this creepy combination of the coming-of-age story and the amateur detective mystery. In The Clovehitch Killer, the veneer of perfect suburban family life is blown apart similarly to how it is in Prisoners and the main characters’ search for the truth is enough to suck the audience right into the story even without the terrific performances backing it up.
1 The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Director Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs was the second of the author’s books featuring his iconic character Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to be adapted for the big screen and remains the most acclaimed and influential. The now archetypal thriller story sees a trainee FBI agent (Jodie Foster) seek the help of Lecter, an imprisoned serial murderer, to help track down another serial killer who has kidnapped the daughter of a United States senator. Despite being over 30 years old, The Silence of the Lambs is as unflinchingly dark and unremittingly nerve-shredding as modern thriller movies like Prisoners.