The subgenre of stalker thriller has long been a staple of modern moviemaking. The films within the genre can range from Best Picture nominees (“Fatal Attraction”) to highly engaging schlock (looking at you, “Swimfan”). However, there’s something cathartic about seeing obsession placed on-screen. This also pairs well with the psychosexual drama, as many of these films see ostracized others in society act out their ideal fantasies. It’s not always a comfortable sit, but it’s a genre audiences continue to revisit.
This weekend, we see the release of Neil Jordan’s “Greta,” starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert. This latest entry into the stalker pantheon starts out as a tale of friendship between a young woman and an eccentric older New Yorker. However, that friendship curdles as the older woman oversteps her bounds. She may have a darker agenda behind her friendship with this younger girl that’s beginning to get exposed.
As we prepare ourselves for “Greta,” let’s look at the 10 best stalker tales.
10“One Hour Photo” (2002)
Robin Williams has made a career out of being the exuberant, rubber-faced comedian. This only makes his dramatic turn in Mark Romanek’s “One Hour Photo” even more shocking. Williams plays Seymour “Sy” Parrish, a photo developer who becomes obsessed with an idyllic family that frequents his booth. However, things spiral out of control for Sy once he discovers the husband of the family (Michael Vartan) is having an affair. Williams gives Sy a quiet, unsettling intensity that is scarier because of its surprising nature. He believes the self-righteousness of Sy’s quest to bring truth to light.
9“Ingrid Goes West” (2017)
Instagram has made stalking so easily now. People can follow the curated profiles of anyone they want. Matt Spicer’s debut feature “Ingrid Goes West” perfectly understands this. It creates a stalker story where the stalked person completely welcomes the attention. Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) becomes obsessed with the Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), who lives a perfectly curated Venice lifestyle. Ingrid takes all her money and moves to LA to be Taylor’s friend. The two women form a strange bond where Ingrid hangs off of Taylor’s every word while Taylor continues to fine tune her online brand. The film’s plot goes a bit off the rails in the third act. However, at its best, it’s a fascinating dark comedy about befriending your online stalker.
8“Cape Fear” (1991)
Martin Scorsese knows how to make a pulpy genre film well. His remake of “Cape Fear” bursts off the screen, loud both visually and aurally. Max Cady (Robert De Niro) gets released from prison and begins tormenting Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), the lawyer that failed to properly represent him. Robert De Niro does more than chew scenery as former criminal Max Cady. He eviscerates every scene, going bigger than ever. Somehow, it works great for the piercingly loud pitch of the film. Nick Nolte And Jessica Lange as Sam and Leigh Bowden also play in the same territory that resides next door to straight up camp. Best-in-show, however, goes to Juliette Lewis as Danielle Bowden (winner of the 1991 Awards Circuit Community Awards that were voted on by our own readership), the daughter with a tantalizing rebellious streak. The film builds tension that pays off in spades with a terrifyingly entertaining third act on a houseboat.
7“There’s Something About Mary” (1998)
The Farrelly Brothers’ hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary” derives its laughs from a series of very creepy men. The titular Mary (Cameron Diaz) finds herself followed by an eccentric gaggle of men who all wish to court her affections. We follow Ted (Ben Stiller), a high school dork who was set to take Mary to the prom but became incapacitated when his penis got caught in his zipper. Years later, Ted road trips down to Miami to win her back after hiring a private investigator to look her up. That investigator, Pat Healey (Matt Dillon), also falls for Mary. Suddenly the two men are fighting against each other for her hand. As fun and goofy as Stiller and Dillon are, the movie belongs to Diaz. She makes the questionable premise work, as she sells Mary as this strong, accomplished and utterly charming star. There is something about Mary.
6“Notes on a Scandal” (2006)
It’s exciting to get a new co-worker, especially when you both seem to get along well. Surly English teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) gets a new lease on life when she befriends the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). Barbara’s affection for Sheba turns a bit too intense, which causes Sheba a bit of concern. Barbara notices that Sheba carries on an affair with one of her students. Armed with this information, Barbara tries to control Sheba and blackmail her into a friendship. Dench and Blanchett craft an engrossing and tantalizing rapport. Dench especially gives a fantastic performance. She takes us into Barbara’s psyche and lets us stew with her complex and strong emotions for Sheba.
5“The Conversation” (1974)
Surveillance and stalking are two sides of the same coin. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) encounters the moral questions behind surveillance in “The Conversation,” Francis Ford Coppola’s underrated masterpiece. Caul is assigned to surveil a young couple. On the job, he encounters conversations that imply the couple may be murdered. A devout Catholic and recluse, Caul begins to war internally with what to do with this potentially fatal information. The film belongs to Hackman’s career-best work as Harry Caul. Hackman crafts a wholly unique person that we rarely see headline a film. His drive and precision are only outmatched by his guilt. Coppola takes his time to outline the stakes of the surveillance mission. This pays off with a truly spellbinding feature.
Fan culture can be dangerous, as anyone who’s ever been on the internet knows. Stephen King brought this to life with his novel, “Misery.” Rob Reiner’s 1990 film adaptation brings the horrors of the book to life in gleefully wild fashion. Victorian romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) skids off the road in a snowstorm and is rescued by a local woman named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Annie is no ordinary woman, however. She’s Paul’s biggest fan. Fandom turns to anger as Annie becomes upset at the final installment in Paul’s popular franchise, which she loves. Annie’s obsession turns violent as she implores Paul to do right by his literary character. There’s a reason why Bates won the Oscar for her performance. She makes Annie completely terrifying while never losing her humanity.
3Fatal Attraction (1987)
It’s a tale as old as time. Dan (Michael Douglas) has the perfect job and family but embarks on a convenient, whirlwind fling with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). However, when he’s finished with her, she’s far from finished with him. Glenn Close truly has never been better. Alex Forrest is much more than a jilted lover. Close’s work defining Alex’s psychological torment and illness shine through with a performance that is terrifying in its nuance. She really cares about Alex’s perspective. Alex will not be ignored, Dan. She wants respect. She wants love. Sure, stealing your hookup’s kid and taking them to Coney Island isn’t the way to do this. Credit must also be given to Anne Archer, who manages to give more shading to the disgraced wife role. She’s the one who sells the final jolt of the film and makes it the culmination of an arc.
2“The King of Comedy” (1983)
Martin Scorsese really knows how to get in the mind of a crazy person. His 1983 farcically dark comedy, “The King of Comedy,” never gets its due as one of his best. The film takes discomfort to a new level as we follow Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). Pupkin idolizes talk show comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), while also thinking he could do Jerry’s job better than he does it. Pupkin stalks Jerry in order to get the chance to be the new King of Comedy. This stalking escalates to kidnapping as he teams with fellow stalker/fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard) to hold Jerry hostage. We bounce between reality and Pupkin’s inflated imagination and ego. It’s a wild ride that is as unsettling as it is funny. The film only resonates more now as stan culture has been taken to new heights.
1“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)
Anthony Minghella takes the stalker genre and turns it into a travelogue epic. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” sumptuously brings to life the tale of Tom Ripley (Matt Damon). Hired by the wealthy Greenleaf family, Tom is tasked to bring their wayward son Dickie (Jude Law) home from gallivanting around Italy with his girlfriend Marge (Gweneth Paltrow). Rather than bring him home, Tom develops an obsession with their Italian lifestyle. His obsession only deepens for Dickie, as he wants to both love Dickie and be Dickie. The movie understands Tom’s infatuation and communicates this effectively, even as things turn violent. It’s always engrossing at every turn. Add on the additional sheen of high production values, gorgeous locations, and sprawling sets and one has a movie for the ages.