Thrillers: Suspense, Intense Conflict, and Character Development

The Thriller Movie Genre

The thriller genre contains subgenres such as mystery, crime fiction, slasher, and psychological thriller. It is open to a wide range of interpretation and allows for exploration of themes such as voyeurism, fear, and paranoia.

It features a vulnerable protagonist, often in a race against time. Thriller films feature twisty plot lines that leave audiences on the edge of their seats.


In a thriller film, suspense is key to keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. The protagonist is placed in a menacing situation or mystery, usually with life itself at stake.

Thrillers often involve action and are fast-paced, with twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. There are several sub-genres of thriller, including a psychological thriller that focuses on the psychology of the main character and an action thriller with physical stunts like chases, fights, or races.

There are also political and legal thrillers, such as The Manchurian Candidate or North by Northwest. These types of thrillers are set in an actual or imagined world, with characters who represent two opposing sides and who audiences can identify with. These thrillers can be set in the present or future, as well as the distant past. They can be high-concept or simply cynical, like the espionage thrillers of Le Carre and Tom Clancy. Some thrillers even have elements of romance and suspense, such as Joanna Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series or Ellis Peters’ 12th century Brother Cadfael books.


Film is one of the most powerful media platforms for eliciting a variety of emotions from its audience, from heart-pounding excitement to blood-curdling fear. Thrillers deliver both with fast-paced action scenes and edge-of-your-seat plot twists.

Often thrillers involve a race against time with the protagonist’s life or freedom on the line. This adds a sense of urgency to the narrative, which keeps the story moving at a rapid pace and heightens the audience’s anticipation for the climax.

Thrillers also tend to feature exotic or international locations to heighten the sense of danger and intrigue. In addition, they often include a “cat-and-mouse” game between the protagonist and their menacing antagonist. Unlike the more flamboyant gangster films of the 1930s, which drew a clear line between the criminal and straight worlds, the thriller genre creates a double world that is both exotic and familiar. This makes it more of a metagenre that blends with other genres like crime, fantasy, and sci-fi than an individual genre.

Intense Conflict

Thrillers typically involve situations in which the protagonist is at an overwhelming disadvantage against a powerful enemy. This creates a sense of suspense and anticipation in the audience, as they wait to find out if the protagonist will prevail over the villain. In many cases, the protagonist is in a race against time, which heightens the tension and suspense.

Typically, thrillers feature characters with extreme psychological disorders, such as psychopaths and people with split personalities. This helps create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere, as the audience is unsure whether these characters will harm other people or themselves.

Some thrillers also use multiple points of view, which adds to the eerie and mysterious atmosphere. For example, Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” switches the narration between the protagonist and her missing wife. This increases the tension and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as they wait for the hero to discover the truth about the missing wife’s disappearance.

Character Development

The plot may be the most important element in a thriller, but good characters also drive these stories forward. Characters should be relatable, complex, and intriguing to readers. They must be strong enough to face the obstacles they will encounter, but also have flaws that make them more realistic.

Often, the protagonists of thrillers are underdogs against a powerful enemy. This creates tension and makes the audience root for them. Thrillers also feature remote or isolated settings to create a sense of danger and claustrophobia.

In addition, thrillers often use stock characters to represent specific ideas or themes. For example, the naive and trusting stock character might be used to symbolize innocence or goodness, while the street-wise and cynical stock character might be used to symbolize wisdom or caution. Additionally, thrillers often use symbolism to create a sense of unease and suspense. These symbols might include a mysterious, supernatural presence or a recurring nightmare. The best thrillers are able to combine these elements seamlessly to create an engaging story.

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