My 5 All-Time Favorite Mystery and Thriller Movies

Check out Michael Sloan's list of his top 5 favorite mystery and thriller movies, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his latest Equalizer novel, Killed in Action!

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a prominent child psychologist, is shot in his home by an ex-patient, Vincent Grey (Donnie Walberg). Dr. Crowe falls to the floor with a stomach wound. His patient then turns the gun on himself.

Months later, Dr. Crowe is haunted by doubts about his failure to help Vincent Grey as he tries to treat a young boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who is suffering from a similar condition of depression and paranoia. Cole believes he can see “dead people who walk around like regular people.”

The boy talks to the ghost of a young girl named Kyra Collins (Misha Barton), who was poisoned by her mother. Cole’s mother (Tony Collette) initially doesn’t believe Cole’s story about the poisoning but eventually comes to accept her child's abilities. During this time, Malcolm’s wife (Olivia Williams) is unaware of what has been happening because her husband is actually dead.

The brooding atmosphere that is conjured during this movie is edgy but not intrusive, because the filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, does not want to telegraph the major twist ending and goes to great lengths not to reveal it. Everything appears normal for Dr. Malcolm Crowe and his young patient Cole, and yet nothing around them is normal at all. The filmmaker plays his scenes truthfully, with Malcolm’s wife moving in and out of them while still grieving her husband’s loss. The audience does not realize that she is actually not a part of these scenes. She does not see her husband at all. He is gone.

It is an eerie, surrealistic scenario that is not resolved until Malcolm’s wedding ring falls to the floor, which the audience realizes he has not been wearing the entire time. At that point, Dr. Crowe realizes that he is the other “dead person” that Cole has been seeing. The shock of this revelation is one of the greatest twists in film storytelling and stays with the audience for a long time. There are great performances in the movie from Bruce Wills, Haley Joel Osment, Olivia Williams, and Misha Barton, but on a visceral level, it is the storytelling itself that haunted me as a viewer.

North by Northwest (1959)

When an ad man, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), innocently answers a page in the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel, he is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan and is plunged into a world of spies. He is framed for murder and goes on the run, hopping onto the 20th Century Limited train bound for Chicago. He is pursued by the urban and deadly Lester Townsend (James Mason) and a thug named Leonard (Martin Landau). Thornhill meets a beautiful blonde named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who is not everything she appears to be.

The sense of humor that pervades this movie is wonderful, particularly in the capable hands of Cary Grant at his most charming and skillful. There is an iconic scene in a cornfield where Roger Thornhill is being chased by a crop-duster plane that is a classic and pure Hitchcock, who directed the movie. The twists in the movie are fast and furious as Thornhill is alternatively bemused or fighting for his survival. The movie reaches a climax on top of Mt. Rushmore, where Thornhill must rescue Eve Kendall, who is about to fall to her death. This is filming at its best, with a mixture of thrills, witty dialogue, and suspense. 

Argo (2012)

In 1979, when the American Embassy is overrun by Iranian revolutionaries and several American hostages are taken, six people manage to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador. The CIA want them rescued. A CIA exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), devises a plan to get these beleaguered Americans out of the Canadian residence by pretending they are part of the crew of a Canadian film project that is going to shoot in Iran. With the help of his Hollywood contacts, Mendez creates the illusion of this scenario, then travels to Iran as the movie’s “producer.”

Mendez’s plan is aborted, however, because President Jimmy Carter has authorized a Delta military strike force to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages being held by the Irian revolutionists. Going against his orders, Mendez will not abandon his mission—but his time is running out. The Irian revolutionary forces are tightening the noose around the Canadian Ambassador’s residence.

Mendez and his charges make a desperate bid to get to the airport and escape out of Iranian airspace. The rising tension in the movie cranks up exponentially as Tony Mendez’s mission unfolds, comes apart, and then races to a thrilling climax. The nail-biting suspense never flags for a moment and includes superior performances. It’s a great piece of filmmaking from director Ben Affleck, and at the end of the movie, you feel as if you have been through this ordeal with these six Americans and have triumphed with them.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

The 1st Class compartment of the December 1935 Orient Express from Istanbul thunders through the night. The famed and fastidious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot has boarded the train at the last moment. One of the passengers has received several death threats and is being protected by Poirot.

But the Orient Express has unexpectedly stopped and is delayed due to snow in a remote part of Yugoslavia. Poirot’s charge is found stabbed several times. Poirot soon finds out the victim is not who he says he is and discovers a connection to a five-year-old US kidnapping and murder case of the infant Daisy Armstrong. She was murdered in spite of the fact that her parents had paid a ransom, which was never recovered. Both of Daisy’s parents have tragically died.

As Poirot questions the murdered man’s accompanying staff, other first-class passengers, and their servants onboard the stalled Orient Express, he finds opportunity and motive. A strange coincidence links the 1st Class passengers, and the famed Belgian detective forms a solution to a very complex murder plot.

The 2017 version of the movie—with its coterie of wonderful British stars—included the spectacular Kenneth Branagh as Detective Hercule Poirot, Michelle Pfieffer, Derek Jacobi, Dame Judy Dench, Olivia Coleman, Wiliam Dafoe, and Johnny Depp. The movie is beautifully mounted and acted. Even though the story in the book and the two movies is widely known, including the twist ending, the murderous plotting and complex characterizations make the movie as beguiling and intense as it was years ago when Albert Finney played Hercule Poirot along with other stars like Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud and Anthony Perkins.

Skyfall

James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds his latest mission going off the rails as a missing hard drive containing the names of every NATO agent embedded in various terrorist organizations around the world has been compromised. It appears that OO7 has been killed falling from a moving train. M (Dame Judy Dench) writes Bond’s obituary.

Her authority is then challenged by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. M’s actions are being questioned, and she has been asked by Mallory to retire from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An explosion rocks MI6, and the agency goes underground beneath the London streets to rebuild.

Bond returns, although he finds he has to prove himself of being capable to be a 007 agent again. His mission to recover the hard drive of MI6 agents leads him from Shanghai to Macau to Japan and back to London, where a rogue one-time MI6 agent, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), attacks the MI6 building. Silva has a history with M, who had left him to be imprisoned and tortured by the enemy. And yet, Silva has an obsessive, one-sided love affair with M, whom he worships—but his goal ultimately is to kill her.

The movie’s dénouement is played out at Bond’s childhood estate called “Skyfall,” where he is reunited with M and also his old estate gamekeeper, Kincade (Albert Finney). The backdrop of the “Skyfall” estate is magnificent, and the memories that it stirs within Bond reawakens a spirit in him.

Silva arrives in a helicopter at the isolated estate with murderous intent, accompanied by several armed mercenaries. Bond and the shotgun-wielding Kincade have some surprises in store for them, but in the end, Bond’s one-time estate is engulfed in flames. M is fatally shot by Silva, and Bond silences him with a knife in the back. M dies in Bond’s arms, leaving him distraught.

This was the best Bond movie in a long time, with its underlying themes of sacrifice and loyalty, M’s fierce devotion to 007, and the best Bond villain in years in Javier Bardem’s memorial performance. When James Bond returns to MI6, he finds that Mallory has been appointed as the new “M” of the department. Bond is “back” in the fold, and M gives him his newest assignment.

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Michael Sloan is the author of The Equalizer and its sequel, Killed in Action. He has been a show runner on such TV series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, and The Outer Limits. He has also written and produced numerous TV Movies and features. He created the series The Equalizer for Universal TV and CBS, and produced the film versions starring Denzel Washington. Michael is married to actress Melissa Anderson, and they have two children, Piper and Griffin.

Comments

  1. Gordon Bingham

    Agree wholeheartedly on North by Northwest and would include any number of other Hitchcock films. Show my advanced age as I have seen only Argo of the others.

  2. Joyce Benzing

    North by Northwest is the only one out of the five I have seen as well.

  3. MaryC

    Love North By Northwest!

  4. Jennifer Hodges

    I loved the Sixth Sense. Kick in the pants at the end! Would love to win this book! Will have to investigate North by Northwest!

  5. SUSAN GANNON

    thanks for chance

  6. Lorraine Lambie Webb

    Film noir from the 1940’s is my favourite. Great choices.

  7. Jane Schwarz

    I have seen all the movies you mentioned other than the new “Orient” one. They all held one’s interest with great acting, dialogue and action. Thanks for the opportunity to win your book “Killed in Action”.

  8. Sabrina Fox

    I’ve only watched “The Sixth Sense” on this list, but I added all of the to my to-watch list on IMBD. They all sound so good, especially “Murder on the Orient Express.”

  9. Mitchell Schaub

    Excellent films, all! Argo remains very underrated, but it was a tour de force.

  10. Phillip Duck

    Loved The Sixth Sense and North by Northwest. Haven’t seen any of the others. Would love a copy of Killed in Action.

  11. Catherine Myers

    good choice

  12. Deborah Dumm

    I love the sixth sense.

  13. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  14. MARGARET GAWLEY

    Michael Sloan would be a new author for me…I am always searching for a new literary experience….Killed In Action is a book I look forward to reading.

  15. Terrie Ash

    I only remember seeing The Sixth Sense, which I thought was great. Hoping to win!

  16. theresa norris

    I agreed with some of your picks.

  17. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win!
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks!

  18. Mildred Mayo

    My first choice North by Northwest. Have seen an earlier version of Murder on The Orient Express which I enjoyed . Thank you for the chance to win.

  19. pat murphy

    My choice ” [b]Murder on the Orient Express ” .[/b]

  20. Jean Feingold

    I like Sloan’s taste in movies (and I miss the Equalizer TV series).

  21. Jean Feingold

    I like Sloan’s taste in movies (and I miss the Equalizer TV series).

  22. Vernon Luckert

    I agree with pretty much all of this authors choices.

  23. Linda Sprencel

    Have seen all of the movies, and enjoyed all of them. The Equalizer was one of my favorite TV programs!

  24. WinnipegWendy

    I heartily agree with the listing of Argo. So many Americans were unaware of the Canadian embassy’s involvement in getting these people out of Iran until this movie came out.

  25. Patti Short

    Why did no one tell me that there’s a book version of The Equalizer?!? I *loved* this show when I was young. I’d love to read this.

  26. lynette thompson

    I loved the Equalizer such great writing.

    count me in on the giveaway. thank you

  27. lynette thompson

    I loved the Equalizer such great writing.

    count me in on the giveaway. thank you

  28. MARY PRIMORAC

    looking forward to reading. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.

  29. Christina Sparks

    I have The Sixth Sense and North by Northwest in my movie collection, would not mind adding the other movies to my collection.

  30. Shirley Hughey

    OH, I need to see Argo. Would love to win!

  31. lasvegasnv

    cool

  32. Kay Zarrugh

    A great selection of movies based on books!

  33. Mary Gilles

    I definitely agree about North by Northwest. I haven’t seen any of the other four films.

  34. Pearl Berger

    Great movies. Thanks for this fascinating feature.

  35. pearl berger

    Loved North by Northwest. Wonderful giveaway.

  36. Lori Provenzano

    Can’t go wrong with Hitchcock and Bond!

  37. David Roth

    Skyfall is a great choice although I prefer Casino Royale. Two scenes: Bond being tortured and the penultimate scene – “The job is done. The bitch is dead” – make it the best Bond film ever.

  38. Donna Shaw

    I haven’t seen all of these movies, but I trust your judgement. I do love Hitchcock. Thank you for this opportunity.

  39. David E. Squires

    My favorite mystery film is Chinatown.

  40. David Squires

    My favorite mystery film is Chinatown.

  41. Esther Whatley

    I loved Sixth Sense. Also some oldies but goodies, such Rear Window. And more recently, Gone Girl.

  42. Esther Whatley

    I loved Sixth Sense. Also some oldies but goodies, such Rear Window. And more recently, Gone Girl.

  43. Jay Fairley

    Sixth Sense was so good. Mind blowing and changed how a movie could work.

  44. Marsha Kamish

    Sixth Sense is my favorite newbie but Rear Window is a classic!

  45. Karen Martin

    Sixth Sense is the only one of these movies I’ve seen, and I actually had to watch it again to look for “clues” that Malcolm was one of the “dead people.”

  46. Mary Ann Woods

    Anything Hitchcock is alright by me! North by Northwest is one of my favorite all time movies, too. Great list.

  47. Tad Ottman

    Looks interesting!

  48. darandsam

    I have seen a couple of them. Great! Will definitely watch Skyfall.

  49. Darlene Slocum

    I have seen a couple of them. Great! Will definitely watch Skyfall

  50. Alicia Sargant

    what a great prize!

  51. Douglass Abramson

    Definately agree with Murder on the Orient Express and Skyfall.

  52. Laurent Latulippe

    Good list. I like those movies too.

  53. Richard Brandt

    Love North by Northwest from the very first moment that Bernard Herrmann’s theme music fires up. Also quite fond of Memento and L.A. Confidential.

  54. Susanne Montebello

    I agree with all your choices. I especially like almost all the Alfred Hithcock films.

  55. John Smith

    I sure wish Branagh had a different moustache!

  56. BJ Maxwell

    Always love to see N by NW and treasure memories of first viewing of Sixth Sense. Never saw the latest Murder on Orient Express but earlier versions are good.

  57. Janet Gould

    I only saw The Sixth Sense. It was great because I was totally surprised by the end of it.

  58. Janet Gould

    I only saw The Sixth Sense. It was great because I was totally surprised by the end of it.

  59. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    Skyfall! Yes!

  60. Ronald Roseborough

    The Equalizer was one of my favorite shows. Love to read the book.

  61. Jeanine Carlson

    Great shows! I’d love to read The Equalizer!

  62. Andrea

    All excellent films!

  63. Susan Crawford

    Some great ideas for some I haven’t seen

  64. Susan Morris

    I agree with these top 5 picks. Loved “The Sixth Sense” and would be delighted to read “Killed in Action”.

  65. Clydia DeFreese

    I love reading other people’s suggestions for good reads. It’s one way I learn about reads I’ve missed.

  66. Eileen Sharp

    very impressed! great books/movies!

  67. Susanne Troop

    Nice!

  68. Helen Allman

    Thanks for the list

  69. Karen Minter

    I love The Equalizer. It would be fantastic to be the winner of this new book by Michael Sloan!

  70. Helen York

    Nice choices. I love the Rear Window

  71. zarah

    Super cool.

  72. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  73. Sally Schmidt

    Okay, time to binge watch! Thanks for the reminder of how good these movies are and the giveaway.

  74. samantha cox

    would love to read this

  75. Karen Terry

    I like your style.

  76. Susan Mahaffey

    One of my favorites is Marnie.

  77. debbie240

    I like your choices

  78. Marisa Young

    Agree with North by Northwest, Murder on the Orient Express and Argo.

  79. Lyn Wallace

    Agree on all but Sixth Sense

  80. JoAnne Reuter

    Good choices; not so much Sixth Sense. But oldie “Laura” is also a great one.

  81. Karen Martin

    The Sixth Sense is one of my favorite movies. I could watch it again and again and the end is always a shock. Thanks

  82. James Joyce

    Definitely not the movies I’d choose, but I won’t hold that against you.

  83. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  84. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  85. Kyle Johnson

    To narrow a list to only 5 movies is tough! Nicely done.

  86. Robert Grieco

    The Sixth Sense was dynamite!

  87. Jim Belcher

    Good movies and a nice span of time for production and release. Good to see not everyone is locked into the last five or ten years.

  88. elsie321

    I am looking forward to seeing Murder on the Orient Express.

  89. Daniel Morrell

    always love a good thriller

  90. Valerie Hildebrand

    North-By-Northwest——stellar pick—–thank you for the chance to win!

  91. sandra burns

    The 6th Sense….”I see dead people”. Used to live in PA. All of thes are great. Ty for the opportunity.

  92. Deb Philippon

    I’ve seen most of the movies, but North By Northwest still remains my favorite.

  93. Krypton Imai

    I liked N by NW too.

  94. Tracee Imai

    I liked the acting in Orient Express, but the screenplay just didn’t capture the book adequately.

  95. bob

    Sloan did indeed pick the best five EVER! (He must know something about the genre, I guess…)

  96. Carolyn

    Great movie choices, also think the Equalizer TV show and the movie were great too!

  97. helen martin

    Love North by Northwest and all versions of Murder on the Orient Express!

Comments are closed.