The Most Anxiety-Inducing Movies of All Time


Summary

  • Movies that make you anxious? They excite, keep you guessing, & let you empathize with characters in tense situations.
  • Need a break from thrillers? “Inglourious Basterds” is a must-watch for Tarantino’s tension-filled scenes.
  • Want to experience another’s anxiety? “Krisha” shows the dark side of family gatherings, making it an intense watch.



Sometimes, we turn to movies to relax, to wind down after a long day, or to distract ourselves from real-world stressors. Some viewers even watch movies to help them fall asleep. Alternatively, there are films that increase stress levels and make your palms sweaty and your heart race. These movies are meant to draw your attention and make you experience the same tension as the people on screen. For some, movies that give you anxiety can also be cathartic, finding comfort in someone else’s struggles.

Make no mistake, there’s a pleasure to be found in these movies that make you anxious. For many, they excite, keep the audience guessing, and allow us to empathize with characters in situations we hope we never find ourselves in. We have highlighted 15 anxiety inducing movies.



15 Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Known especially for its wildly tense opening scene, Inglourious Basterds is master director Quentin Tarantino at his best. Part alternative history and part black comedy, it also happens to be one of Tarantino’s most anxiety-inducing films. In particular, its interrogation scenes (featuring Christoph Waltz as Nazi SS officer Hans Landa) are so thick with tension you could cut it with a knife. Be prepared to pause and take a breather.

Tarantino in the Time of War

The film’s intensity is often overlooked because of the many memes made after its release, its purposeful sensationalism, and the multiple over-the-top moments and performances. Still, there is a pervasive tenseness to the entire production that makes it just squeeze onto our list; with how many masterfully crafted ‘anxious movies’ Tarantino has made in his career, the list would feel amiss without including the original director. Stream Inglorious Basterds on Apple TV+.


14 Punch Drunk Love (2002)

The great Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film, Punch Drunk Love, stars Adam Sandler in one of his rare, excellent dramatic roles. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a scatterbrained and not particularly successful entrepreneur who is, in short, an anxious mess. Though Egan’s intense social anxiety makes this film difficult to watch, the movie has a soft edge with its unique take on the romance genre.


Adam Sandler’s Break-Out Into Drama

Straddling between art house cinema and mainstream appeal, with dark humor in abundance, Punch Drunk Love also checks multiple boxes for those wanting not just an anxiety-inducing experience. The movie was also met with critical and fan acclaim, sitting at a 79% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes with critics and a 77% audience score. Stream Punch Drunk Love on Apple TV+.

13 Krisha (2015)

Krisha

Release Date
March 18, 2016


Krisha is an underappreciated film and the debut feature of director Trey Edward Shults. A perfect watch for the holidays, it shows the dark side of family gatherings from the perspective of an impossibly anxious mother, Krisha. Having long been estranged from her family and her son, she returns for Thanksgiving one year to rekindle her relationships.

Trying to Mend a Broken Family

The movie also touches on themes of substance abuse, with Krisha’s attempt at redemption trying to prove she has remained clean and is pushing forward for a new life. The tension arises from the contrast of those wanting their mother/grandmother to be that loving person taken away from years of abuse, while others are antagonistic towards such claims. This makes the gathering a place to air grievances, and the way it unwinds is where Krisha becomes one of the most stressful movies you will experience. Stream Krisha on Apple TV+.


12 Audition (1999)

Audition

Audition

Release Date
October 6, 1999

Cast
Ryo Ishibashi , Eihi Shiina , Tetsu Sawaki , Jun Kunimura , Renji Ishibashi , Miyuki Matsuda

Love can be a difficult language to understand, and sometimes an “I Love You” can be just as uncomfortable as a break-up, when the strength behind those words is misunderstood or twisted by the other. This is the entry point to Audition, where a widowed man decides to hold a fake audition to find his new wife, and although Asami catches his eye, his friend’s apprehensions about her withdrawn and quiet persona end up being spot on.


Telling the Wrong Person That You Love Them

While it takes a while to build up, the eventual reveal that the two had vastly different interpretations of the kind of words spoken resonates with fundamental truth and potential horror about conversation and how we interpret others. However, where it really gets anxiety-inducing is the intensity of Asami’s feelings and the reveal of the horrible things she’s done in the past to deal with her own abuse. This culminates in a climax that is so horrifically jarring that audiences won’t be able to shake it; Audition is a movie that stays with you forever and is essential viewing for those looking for movies that make you anxious. Stream Audition on Apple TV+.

11 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)


Rosemary’s Baby is remarkable for the way it conjures feelings of paranoia in its characters and its audience. We follow the titular Rosemary through her arduous and seemingly supernatural pregnancy. When she begins to investigate a cult-like group in her apartment building, every other character in the film works together, including Rosemary’s husband, to convince her that she’s crazy.

A Mother Will Do Anything for Her Child

Adding in the desire of a mother to protect their child, and that being challenged, will certainly resonate more with certain audiences, but the film is so perfectly executed that it does not limit the intense emotions to just mothers. The film also proved the power of the horror genre in taking a more psychological approach to crafting its story, making it highly influential in the more slow-burn atmospheric horror; many of the anxiety-inducing movies of today owe a lot to Rosemary’s Baby. Stream Rosemary’s Baby on Apple TV+.


Related

10 Most Terrifying Movies About Cults on Netflix

Welcome to the intersection of fear and fanaticism. Here are the scariest movies about cults that you can watch on Netflix.

10 Stoker (2013)

Stoker

Stoker

Release Date
February 28, 2013

Director Chan-wook Park made a name for himself in his native South Korea with shocking yet introspective works like Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Old Boy. He has continued to be a powerhouse thanks to more recent projects like The Handmaiden and Decision to Leave. Park is undeniably a master of anxiety-inducing cinema, with many of his works notable for those seeking just that. However, his story of a family in decay, a creepy ‘uncle,’ and a misguided coming-of-age makes Stoker an underrated film in his oeuvre.


A Family Collapsing on Itself

Stoker boasts a phenomenal cast, with the family consisting of Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode. Watching them feed off of each other’s insecurities and manipulate each other creates a constant sense of unease in the otherwise sleepy, remote home they all share. It is hard to shake such images of Matthew Goode’s character worming his way closer to Mia’s character. However, the biggest highlight comes from Nicole Kidman’s telling her daughter she “can’t wait to see the world destroy you.” It is all so uncomfortably dysfunctional that it is hard not to feel that sense of anxiety watching them all slowly turn against or manipulate each other for their selfish ends. Stream Stoker on Apple TV+.

9 The Uncle (2022)


Christmas with the family can be stressful enough, but David Kapac & Andrija Mardesic’s The Uncle turns the event into a daily occurrence for an unfortunate family that has to obey the whims of their uncle to stay alive. From the daily preparation of festering turkeys to make an ‘elegant dinner’ to the awkward reenacted family video with dance and vacant-faced waves to the camera, The Uncle becomes anxiety-inducing early on when the premise of a never-ending holiday is established.

The Anxiety of a Never-Ending Christmas

The Uncle also perfectly builds on its initial awkwardness into something much more sinister, as each awkward meeting begins to reveal the reason the family puts up with the cyclical abuse becomes apparent. There is also a subtle political context to be gleaned from the film for those looking for a bit more depth, but The Uncle is one of those films where the less you know, the better; anxiety-inducing is a guarantee regardless. The Uncle is currently unavailable to stream or rent.


8 Swallow (2019)

Swallow

Swallow

Release Date
January 15, 2020

Most people can’t even begin to fathom the desire of wanting to consume inedible objects, yet the condition known as Pica is just that, pushing those afflicted with it to eat a wide range of things not considered food. Swallow does present an extreme case of the mental disorder, but it does not make the fact any less comforting as audiences watch Hunter (Haley Bennett) eat everything from thumbtacks to batteries.


You Are What You Eat

At the same time, the movie does not approach this exploitatively, and the drama attached to the extreme transformation is compelling, tying the disorder to an unfortunate cocktail of inadequacy and self-hatred. The movie would prove successful on the festival circuit, including winning best film, director, and screenplay at Fantasia. Haley Bennet’s performance as Hunter also earned her praise for the challenging role that demanded a nuanced performance of a shockingly disturbing decline. Still, on a visceral level, witnessing someone eat pins and having to pass them later makes Swallow one of the most stressful movies you will come across. Stream Swallow on Hulu.

7 Good Time (2017)

Good Time follows the story of Connie, a small-time criminal who is desperate to free his mentally stunted brother from jail after a botched bank robbery. As you may expect, Connie’s plans tend to go awry, and the consequences of his actions affect everybody around him. Movies about troubled protagonists are fairly common, but Robert Pattinson’s incredible performance as Connie makes this one truly special.


A Night of Indulgence and Crime in New York

When looking for movies that give you anxiety, Good Time is a real nail-biter. Its frantic pace and heart-pounding score will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. This is also due to the Safdie Brothers’ ability to capture the flow of real life. Much of the movie revolves around a simplistic need to uncover drugs to get money, but the way the story unravels with each interaction of Robert Pattison’s character has brought with it a certain layer of anxiety and tension that adds to the deceptive complexity of the story. Stream Good Time on Max.


Related

17 Best Films Set in New York, Ranked

Here’s a list of films that capture all that New York City has to offer.

6 Misery (1990)

Misery

Misery

Release Date
November 30, 1990

Misery is adapted from a novel by Stephen King, but viewers expecting outright horror may be surprised to find it more grounded than much of King’s other work. The movie tells the story of a successful romance novelist, Paul Sheldon, who is rescued from a car accident by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes.


Misery Loves Company

At first, Annie seems like a kind and helpful caregiver, but it quickly becomes clear that she is a deeply (and dangerously) unstable person. The film’s portrayal of Annie’s mental instability and Paul’s helplessness makes for an intense, anxiety-inducing experience. A couple of the anxiety-inducing scenes have also entered pop culture, and as soon as Annie brings out the hammer, audiences will know what is coming, but will still feel that intense pang of discomfort at what is about to happen. Stream Misery on Apple TV+.

5 Perfect Blue (1998)

Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue

Release Date
February 28, 1998

Director
Satoshi Kon

Cast
Junko Iwao , Rica Matsumoto , Shinpachi Tsuji , Masaaki Ôkura

While some may find it confounding to have an animated film on this list, Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece Perfect Blue is one of the most intense and uncomfortable anime movies ever made. Exploring the perils of stardom, the movie follows the mental decline of pop-group member turned actor Mima, as she deals with an angry stalker and a push for her to emphasize her sexuality for the screen and magazines.


Excuse Me, Who Are You?

Adding to the anxiety is the abstract structure of the story, with Mima’s slow decline being told in fragments that begin to blur between real events and her paranoia. This also leads to the haunting of Mima by a doppelgänger, who, in a truly wonderful moment of madness, she ‘meets’ a blood-soaked version of herself, asking, “Excuse me, who are you?” There are plenty of other highlights throughout, and everything down to the jarring score seems perfectly tailored to create anxiety. The film was also heavily influential on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and he even bought the rights to Perfect Blue to make the film due to their similarities. Stream Perfect Blue on AMC+.


4 127 Hours (2010)

Directed by English filmmaker Danny Boyle, 127 Hours chronicles the shocking true story of Aron Ralston, a hiker who became trapped by a boulder in a remote canyon in Utah. The film covers the five days he spent trying to free himself, and the extreme lengths he goes to in order to survive. The movie focuses almost entirely on James Franco, as he attempts to deal with the situation in various ways, leading to a drastic decision.


Between A Rock and a Hard Place

Claustrophobia affects approximately 7.7% to 12.5% of the population, making the phobia of tight spaces one of the most common fears people have. Those who fear tight spaces will find this one to be the most anxiety-inducing movie here, as hours play out stuck in the tight confines. At the same time, the severity of the situation is sure to unnerve almost any viewer, especially with Franco’s convincing performance of anguish and fear in an extreme situation. Stream 127 Hours on Max.

3 It Follows (2014)

While It Follows is certainly a horror film, it isn’t filled with flashy jump scares or grotesque monsters. Instead, it captures the fear of simply being followed. The monster of the movie, if you can even call it that, is this fear. It takes many forms, but each is an eerie, humanoid figure always present and following. Adding to the anxiety is its ability to change shape to hide its form and catch its victims off guard.


Horror Lurking Around Every Corner

The constant sense of inescapable dread certainly escalates this past ‘its anxiety-inducing because it is a horror movie,’ particularly when considering the melding of coming-of-age painting a sympathetic portrait of protagonist Jay (Maika Monroe). The movie has stayed a consistent favorite among genre and general film fans, with many wanting a sequel to build upon the amazing framework laid out by David Robert Mitchell; we are certain that if they can capture the same intensity, a sequel would be one of the most anxiety-inducing movies in the horror genre. Stream It Follows on Netflix.


2 Kotoko (2011)

Knowing a character is doomed from the start is always an uncomfortable experience, but Kotoko implements so many different elements to put the audience front and center on a young mother’s mental decline. Starting with a fictional affliction where she sees violent duplicates of others is just the start of it; the TV repeats the same violent imagery ad nauseam to convey her paranoia of the outside world, she begins a violently abusive relationship where her partner allows her to take out her frustrations by savagely beating him, and her obsession with her child that was taken away causes a hauntingly tense obsession.


Paranoia, Hopelessness, and the Desire to Be a Mother

With all the sensational elements, the film manages to keep the sense of unease and anxiety realistic, with the protagonist’s emotions and outbursts still grounded in desires like motherhood and finding validation in a world she sees as having coldly turned its back on her. The movie was written by actor/musician Kotoko, who also plays the lead, and directed by the critically acclaimed Shinya Tsukamoto, who plays the tragic mother’s short-term boyfriend. The parting of the two is pure perfection, with Tsukamoto’s knack for creating intense and uncomfortable scenarios working wonderfully well with Kotoko’s vision of a woman on edge. Stream Kotoko on Apple TV+.

Related

The Best Movies and TV Shows That Put a Spotlight on Mental Health

Mental health has been a long-standing taboo subject in society, but movies have helped to bring it to the forefront.


1 Uncut Gems (2019)

The second film on this list by the Safdie Brothers, Uncut Gems features Adam Sandler in what is probably the best role of his career. His character, Howard Ratner, is hopelessly addicted to gambling, and we see the consequences of this addiction play out as Ratner’s debts catch up with him. Howard’s anxiety is palpable throughout the movie, as he is constantly on the brink of disaster.

Safdie Brothers and Adam Sandler Prove to be the Perfect Pairing

The film’s use of close-ups and intense, frenetic camera work puts the audience in Howard’s head, making them feel his increasingly nervous emotional state. No other film on this list is as successful at building tension in the audience. Anxious viewers may find it too much to bear, but it’s a rewarding experience for those who make it to the end. It is all so well constructed and executed that Uncut Gems was an easy choice for our top pick when seeking movies that give you anxiety. Stream Uncut Gems on Netflix.




.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *