The earliest thrillers
The earliest thrillers were novels. The most famous
being Little Red Riding Hood (1697) which is a psychostalker thriller. A wolf stalks a girl around the woods,
eats her grandmother and then pretends to be her
Alfred Hitchcock first released a thriller film in 1926 called The
Lodger, a suspenseful Jack the Ripper film. The next film was
Blackmail (1929) his and Britain’s first sound film. The Man Who
Knew Too Much (1934) was one of the most successful and
critically acclaimed films of Hitchcock’s British period. One of the
earliest spy films was Spies by Fritz Lang (1928). This film
anticipated the James Bond’s film in the future. The 39 steps
(1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are some other examples of
Hitchcock’s work in this decade.
Hitchcock carried on perfecting his recognisable brand of suspense thriller films. In
1940 he directed Foreign Correspondent and the Oscar winning Rebecca which is
about an unusual romance between a woman and a emotionally distant, rich widower.
Suspicion (1941) Saboteur (1942) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943) were also films by
Hitchcock. George Cukor’s psychological thriller Gaslight (1944) was about a scheming
husband who planned to make his wife go insane in order to gain her inheritance. In
1944, a film noir was released. It was called Laura and was about a thrilling murder
investigation. The Spiral Staircase (1946) focused on a mute domestic servant who
worked in a house terrorized by a serial killer. The Lady From Shanghai and Sorry,
Wrong Number were released in 1948 and 1949 saw the release of The Third Man.
Spy films of the 40’s included Fritz Lang’s Cloak and Dagger (1946) and 13 Rue
In this decade, Hitchcock added technicolour to his thrillers. Strangers on a Train was
released in 1951 which is about two train passengers who traded murders with each
other. Dial M For Murder (1954) followed the story of a husband who plans to kill his
wealthy wife. To Catch a Thief was released in 1955 and was lightweight thriller set in
the south of France. Vertigo was released in 1958. Non Hitchcock thrillers of the 50’s
included the slightly film noir Niagara (1953), Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955),
Charles Laughton’s only film The Night of the Hunter (1955) and Orson Welles’ unique
crime thriller Touch of Evil (1958).
Spy films included Henry Hathaway’s Diplomatic Courier (1952) and Joseph
Mankiewicz’s 5 Fingers (1952).
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) was about a psychopathic cameraman.
1960 also saw the release of Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho, a shocking
and engrossing thriller. J. Lee Thompson released Cape Fear in 1962 which is
about a menacing ex-con seeking revenge. Stanley Donen’s romantic thriller
Charade was released in 1963. Repulsion (Roman Polanski) was released in
1965 and was about a young woman who goes increasingly mad. The Ipcress
File was also released in 1965. 1967 saw the releases of Funeral in Berlin,
Billion Dollar Brain, The Deadly Affair and The Triple Cross.
Dual (1971) was Steven Spielberg’s low budget early TV film. Clint Eastwood’s directional debut
film was Play Misty for Me was also released in 1971. 1972 saw the release of Frenzy, Hitchcock’s
first British film in almost two decades. Deliverance (John Boorman) was also released in 1972.
Don’t Look Now was released in 1973 and is about a couple who are grieving for the death of
their daughter. Francis Ford Coppola’s tense spy thriller The Conversation was released in 1974.
1976 saw the release of Obsession, a film inspired by Vertigo. The first thrillers of the 80’s were
Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984). The UK’s political conspiracy
thriller Defence of the Realm was released in 1985 and was about a reporter investigating a
covert operation. John Mackenzie’s The Fourth Protocol was released in 1987. The last film of the
decade was Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989) which was about a woman who had to fight for her
life on a yacht against a crazy castaway. The idea of trapped protagonists who had to escape from
a villain influenced a number of thrillers in the next decade.
The first thriller of the decade was Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990) which is based on a Stephen King
book. Sleeping with the Enemy was released in 1991 and is about a woman who leaves her
sadistic husband in the hope to find a better life. Another best picture-winning crime thriller
released in 1991 was Silence of the Lambs which follows the story of an FBI agent trying to track
down a cannibalistic psychiatrist called Hannibal Lector. Barbara Schroeder’s suspenseful Single
White Feather was released in 1992. 1993 saw the release of Malice, a film by Harold Becker.
Se7en was released in 1995 and is about a search for a serial killer who re-enacts the seven
deadly sins. The Talented Mr Ripley was released in 1999 tells the story of a man who steals the
identity of another man.
Until today, thriller films do borrow ideas and themes from those in past decades. However, a
number of recent films contain the conventions of the horror genre. Some examples of this are
The Last House on the Left (2009), Captivity (2007), Eden Lake (2008) and Vacancy (2007). There
are even some thrillers that include elaborate actions scenes such as Hostage (2005) and Joy Ride