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The thriller [ ˈθɹɪlə ] (loan word from English thrill "shudder, excitement, sensation") is both a literature and a film genre with different, partially overlapping sub-genres. A characteristic of thrillers is the creation of a thrill , a tension that is not only present in short passages but throughout the entire course of the plot, a constant game between tension and relief. Extensive arcs of tension , tension music , cliffhangers and red herrings are common .


Thrillers overlap with the mystery genre as well as the detective novel or film , but differ from them because of their plot and tension curves. In thrillers, the hero usually has to assert himself against moral, emotional or physical violence by his opponent, while this is less the case in crime stories. In the detective novel, the resolution of the crime is usually the climax, while in the thriller the climax is only the subsequent, often very narrow but final victory over the adversary, with which the hero saves himself and possibly others. In thrillers that have been influenced by film noir or tragedies , the hero often dies defeating his opponent.

Usually, a lot of emphasis is placed on the description of the plot in thrillers. If, on the other hand, the characters and their psyche are emphasized just as strongly or even more strongly, one speaks of a psychological thriller . Mostly an emotional conflict between several people or a conflict within one person is the topic here, for example due to previous experiences. Typical features of psychological thrillers are the use of the flow of consciousness technology , a narrator or the extensive theming of a prehistory.

Well-known representatives of the thriller genre are Alfred Hitchcock with films like Psycho or the authors Tom Clancy , Patricia Highsmith , Matthew Reilly , Ken Follett and Dan Brown with Illuminati and Da Vinci Code , the team of authors Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child , Scott McBain and Eric Ambler , who as one the co-founder of the genre is considered. The television series 24 and Lost also belong to the thriller genre.


Psychological thriller

In the psychological thriller, the conflict that unfolds between the main characters is more mental or emotional than physical. In many psychological thrillers, the central theme of the film is the perception of the main character. B. tries to discover what is truth and what is deception.

One of many classic motifs in psychological thriller is the intrigue that a perpetrator creates to drive a rich but lonely woman who trusts him mad or into suicide, because he hopes to get hold of her fortune. Relevant film examples are Lady Alquist's House (1944), A Dead Plays the Piano (1961) and Lullaby for a Corpse (1964). The film The Night of a Thousand Eyes (1973) offers an unusual variation on this motif , in which the alleged victim turns out to be the murderer herself. Another variation is the film Witness of Murder (1954), in which the main character is supposed to be driven insane in order to become implausible as a witness to a crime.

Other psychological thrillers focus on the perceptions and feelings of a woman who fears that a person she has previously trusted is planning her death. This suspicion proves to be justified e.g. B. in the films You are still alive 105 minutes (1948), Deceived (1991) and Fear - When love is scary (1996). Occasionally it also turns out that the suspicion was unfounded, e.g. B. Suspected (1941).

Political thriller

The political thriller differs from the classic thriller in that the plot of the story deals with entanglements at the state level, with terrorist attacks , espionage or the criminal machinations of state institutions or their representatives. This is done by incorporating fictional political events that take place in existing or fictional countries. The events presented sometimes refer to real political events in the past.

The political thriller film genre had its heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s, particularly in France and Italy. Here especially true Costa-Gavras with the movies Z (1968), State of Siege (1972) and Missing (1982) as the protagonist of this genre. In Italy it was the combination of Mafia and politics that led to films like Francesco Rosi's Who Shot Salvatore G.? (1962) and Damiano Damiani's The Day of the Owl (1967) inspired. The three days of the Condor (1975) and I for Ikarus , (1979) are already considered classics . More recently, there are JFK - Tatort Dallas (1991) and Thirteen Days (2000) as well as the multiple award-winning films Hotel Ruanda (2004) and The Ghostwriter (2010).

Techno thriller

The techno thriller sub-genre moves, if not always so often, at the limit of science fiction . It is characterized by the key role that technical devices and innovations play in the plot, and the style, which is characterized by technical jargon and detail. The techno thriller differs from science fiction in that it is set in the present and does not deal with the effects of technical innovations on society and culture, even if the innovations go well beyond the known "state of the art". A common example of this are the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming and their film adaptations. Here there are technical aids made by Q for the agent as well as weapons or machines stolen by villains, whose use Bond must prevent. Although these innovations are potentially disruptive, they have no impact on the world shown, which is completely the “normal” world of the Cold War . However, since the technical details are irrelevant and the super weapon to be destroyed is only a MacGuffin , the James Bond novels cannot actually be considered techno thrillers.

Not so with Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy , the two founders of the modern techno thriller novel, and the corresponding film adaptations. In Crichton's Andromeda (1969), the state-of-the-art laboratory for disease control with the detailed techniques and procedures is a typical element of the techno thriller. The unknown pathogen, the elimination of which the novel is about, turns out to be an extraterrestrial organism that is completely different from earthly life based on amino acids , which clearly crosses the line to science fiction. Finally, Tom Clancy's books provide paradigmatic examples of the techno thriller. In Jagd auf Roter Oktober (1984), for example, the genre can be read from the title, as the Soviet submarine moving silently through the oceans is the real protagonist . Similar to Firefox by Craig Thomas (1977), which is about an innovative Soviet jet fighter. It is also typical of the techno thriller that the military, military technology and military ways of thinking often play a decisive role in it.

Erotic thriller

The erotic thriller sub-genre established itself after the worldwide success of Eine vergeratzvolle Affäre  (1987) and Basic Instinct  (1992) with Sharon Stone , which resulted in numerous other films, including Sliver  (1993), The Last Seduction  (1994) and Jade  (1995) . After this wave, other films were made, such as B. In the Cut  (2003) with Meg Ryan , but these found their distribution more via video and DVD than the cinema. At the same time, since then there have been increasing numbers of cheaper films that are intended for quick marketing from the outset and that place a greater focus on the erotic itself, with the main focus mostly on the protagonist's sexual emancipation.


Ecothrillers are a subgenre that has appeared since the 1980s and includes thrillers that address the conflict between ecology and economy . The representatives of the genre include the feature film Die Spur (2017) by director and screenwriter Agnieszka Holland and the novel Lie (2017) by author Steffen Jacobsen .

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Thriller  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Breul: Cassell's German and English Dictionary . London 1952, p. 593.
  2. Simon Ofenloch: About the thriller. (No longer available online.) ARTE, February 16, 2011, archived from the original on April 13, 2014 ; Retrieved October 23, 2013 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ Anand Parthasarathy: A nightmare revisited. In: The Hindu. May 5, 2006, accessed on October 23, 2013 (English): "But if there is one cinematic master of the political thriller, that is surely the French filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras."
  4. John Clute , Peter Nicholls , David Langford : Techno thriller. In: John Clute, Peter Nicholls: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction . 3rd edition (online edition), version dated September 14, 2015.
  5. a b Marcus Stiglegger: Erotic thriller. In: Lexicon of film terms. Hans J. Wulff and Theo Bender, accessed October 23, 2013 .
  6. Ulrich Noller: The ecological question has arrived in the mainstream , in: Deutschlandfunk Kultur from August 22, 2017, accessed on January 20, 2020