Plenty of TV shows allow you to turn your brain off for a while and be thoroughly entertained. And then some shows and movies have you at full attention, perhaps even lying awake at night pondering their meaning. These types of shows make you question everything you ever knew about life, morality, and reality — and that's a good thing, especially if that intrigues you and challenges your thinking. Here are 25 psychological thrillers that fascinate viewers and provoke discussion.
1. Russian Doll
Imagine yourself stuck in a time loop at the same birthday party over and over. Not only that but dying in some bizarre way every single time. Natasha Lyonne stars as Nadia, who finds herself in this strange predicament. The audience is left questioning not only why Nadia finds it so easy to die but also what her character has to learn to get herself out of the situation.
Audiences were drawn to Dexter Morgan, a daily forensic expert, and a vigilante serial killer by night for eight seasons, and the recent follow-up Dexter: New Blood. Each episode has you sitting on the edge of the couch, rooting for a serial killer. Of course, at that point, you will question your sanity.
3. Shining Girls
Based on Lauren Beukes' novel, this thriller revolves around a time-traveling serial killer who stalks and murders “shining girls.” This show requires your full attention because the writers and producers have done little in the way of giving away what on earth is actually happening. One moment the protagonist has a cat; the next day, it's a dog; the next, it's a boyfriend.
Created by the Wachowskis, Sense8 follows eight strangers from different parts of the world who become psychically connected, sharing thoughts and abilities. The only thing that unites them is the day they were born. This show found talented actors from all over the globe to portray the characters on the show. While they each explore their identity and share trauma, they must hide from a powerful organization that aims to experiment on them.
5. Orphan Black
Actors who can portray for than one character in a show, successfully differentiating one from the other, deserve the utmost praise from their profession. Tatiana Maslany portrays multiple clones in this sci-fi thriller.
So many themes are explored in Orphan Black, including nature vs. nurture and the impact of genetic manipulation. The clones must uncover their origins while facing threats from a strange organization.
6. Twin Peaks
Created by David Lynch, this cult classic mystery drama centers on investigating the murder of Laura Palmer in a small, quirky town. Twin Peaks is an extraordinary series that delves deep into surrealism, dark secrets, and the complexities of human nature. The show's perplexing storytelling and exploration of the town's hidden darkness create a psychological thriller that stays with you long after the credits roll.
7. Life on Mars
The Life on Mars opening credits are narrated by Jon Sim, who plays the main character in the British version of the show. “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad? In a coma? Or back in time? Whatever's happened, I've landed on a different planet. Maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.” This is the mystery that viewers face as well.
In this world where we see the rise of AI technology and wonder what the future holds for us, shows like Westworld don't seem too far-fetched.
This Marvel-inspired series focuses on David Haller, played by Dan Stevens. He is a mutant with vast psychic powers and struggles with his mental health and the control of his abilities. The mind-bending narrative and portrayal of mental health challenges in a mutant with god-like powers elevate Legion to a remarkable psychological thriller.
10. Squid Game
This South Korean thriller follows contestants participating in a deadly game to win a massive cash prize. This is one of those shows everyone was talking about, and even if you didn't watch it, you knew the premise. The series delves into the desperation of the participants and the dark side of human nature.
This Netflix series explores the lives of several people who rise from the dead in a small Australian town without no memory of their past. The six characters have nothing in common except where they were buried and range from different historical points. They must work out how and why they were resurrected and make up for past wrongs.
In a dystopian future, special operatives called “travelers” return their consciousness to inhabit people's bodies in the past, just before their deaths. Their mission is to prevent disastrous events and change the course of history. The psychological toll on time-traveling operatives, grappling with inhabiting the lives of others, creates a compelling psychological dynamic.
13. Black Mirror
Black Mirror is an anthology series that explores modern society and technology's dark and thought-provoking aspects. Each episode presents a unique and often unsettling story that explores how far humans would go in particular situations.
14. The Lazarus Project
The Lazarus Project is a sci-fi drama centered around people who wake up with no memory in a mysterious facility. As they try to piece together their past, they discover they are part of a grand experiment with implications for humanity. It explores the themes of identity and self-discovery, contributing to its psychological appeal.
15. Lovecraft Country
Set in 1950s America, the show follows a young black man who embarks on a road trip to search for his missing father. Along the way, they encounter racist terrors and supernatural horrors inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. The combination of racism and supernatural horrors leads to a psychologically charged exploration of fear, trauma, and the resilience of the human spirit.
16. Mr. Robot
A cybersecurity engineer, Elliot, leads a double life as a vigilante hacker. As he tries to bring down corrupt institutions, he grapples with his mental health issues and questions the nature of reality. The complex portrayal of a protagonist struggling with mental health issues and his involvement in a high-stakes hacking plot creates a compelling psychological narrative.
17. The OA
A mysterious young woman, Prairie Johnson, returns after being missing for years, claiming to have supernatural abilities and calling herself the OA — aka Original Angel. She gathers a group of followers to embark on a life-altering quest across dimensions. The mystery surrounding the protagonist's skills and the psychological journey of the characters across dimensions make The OA an immersive and thought-provoking psychological thriller.
18. True Detective
An anthology crime series featuring a different case and set of detectives each season. The show delves into the complexities of human nature, morality, and the consequences of past actions. The psychological complexities of the detectives and the haunting cases they investigate contribute to the show's reputation as a gripping psychological crime anthology.
19. Altered Carbon
In a futuristic world where consciousness can be transferred between bodies, a former soldier, Takeshi Kovacs, is hired to investigate a wealthy man's murder. The show explores themes of identity, immortality, and the corrupting influence of power. Exploring identity in a world where consciousness can be transferred into different bodies creates a fascinating psychological landscape. Themes of immortality and the nature of the self add depth to the show's psychological appeal.
20. The Peripheral
Adapted from William Gibson's novel, this sci-fi series involves multiple timelines and explores the consequences of technological advancements on society. The show's focus on various timelines and the implications of advanced technology on human psychology and society create a compelling psychological narrative.
21. The Leftovers
After the sudden disappearance of 2% of the world's population, the show follows the struggles of those left behind as they grapple with grief, loss, and existential questions. The exploration of grief, loss, and existential questions in the aftermath of a mysterious global event makes The Leftovers a haunting and emotionally charged psychological drama.
An FBI agent, a brilliant scientist, and his estranged son team up to investigate bizarre and unexplained phenomena. The show combines science fiction, mystery, and elements of procedural crime drama. The blend of science fiction and procedural crime drama allows Fringe to explore psychological concepts while investigating unexplained phenomena.
You is a psychological thriller based on a book by Caroline Kepnes. The plot follows Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager obsessed with the women he dates. He resorts to extreme measures to insert himself into their lives. If you've ever wondered what a criminal was thinking, this show provides a glimpse into the mind of a stalker.
24. Penny Dreadful
Eva Green somehow personifies the Gothic genre with her dark hair and mysterious looks. In this series, she plays Vanessa Ives, a witch. The show explores the origin stories of classic horror characters such as Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray, and it's all set in a dark and mysterious Victorian-era London. While themes of the struggle between good and evil prevail, it makes you question the nature of what we believe is right and wrong.
This German show grabbed audiences when it premiered on Netflix. It follows the drama and mystery in a small German town when two young children disappear and exposes supernatural forces and strange relationships among those in the town.