Hostage movies are so thrilling because they ask a difficult question: What would you do in that situation?
A gunman enters a bank and suddenly your day is taking a totally different path than you expected. It's a scenario you never want to be caught in, and it's hard to know exactly how you'd react.
Hostage situations are one-in-a-million events, which can make for some fascinating character studies in cinema. One could argue that when you become a hostage, your true self comes out.
Here are my picks for the best movies about hostage scenarios where the crisis leads to depth, twists, and thrills.
10. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn
Crime, Drama, Thriller (1h 58m)
The Silence of the Lambs is pretty far down on our list because it doesn't really feature an interrogation or hostage scene, but it's still a memorable film about finding a woman who's taken captive.
Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is the FBI agent tracking down "Buffalo Bill," a serial killer who preys on young women. To better understand him, she needs to consult another serial killer: Hannibal Lecter.
This cerebral thriller is one of the all-time bests, and we want to reiterate: its low placement on this list isn't reflective of the movie's quality, but rather how large the hostage element is.
9. Captain Phillips (2013)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener
Action, Biography, Crime (2h 14m)
Tom Hanks delivered another one of his breathtaking performances in Captain Phillips, the critically acclaimed film that's based on a true story about a ship captain held hostage by pirates.
Captain Richard Phillips is a merchant mariner and in charge of the US cargo ship Maersk Alabama. However, Abduwali Muse has a different idea of how the ship should be run. What follows is one of the most thrilling true stories in recent cinema.
8. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 44m)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade in 2009, and while the remake is pretty good on its own merits, the original is still better (as tends to be the case with remakes).
When a group of men board a New York subway train, they give the city of New York an ultimatum: "Give us $1 million right now, and every minute you delay, we'll kill one passenger."
Right away, the game is afoot. With Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw delivering sensational performances, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a classic caper-style hostage film for the ages.
7. Ransom (1996)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Rene Russo
Action, Crime, Thriller (2h 1m)
In Hollywood, Mel Gibson is the definition of intensity—and he brings every ounce that he has in Ransom.
When a wealthy business mogul's son is kidnapped, he appears to be in a totally powerless position. He's sent instructions from the kidnappers and told exactly what to do—but he decides he's not going to play their games.
Instead, he turns the ransom money into a bounty that he'll pay to whomever brings him his son's kidnapper, and he airs this challenge on live television.
Turning the hunter into the hunted is a fantastic twist that subverts the usual convention of the genre (where the kidnapper is always in control and one step ahead).
6. Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)
Directed by Jim Abrahams
Starring Charlie Sheen, Lloyd Bridges, Valeria Golino
Action, Comedy (1h 26m)
Easily the funniest film on this list, no film has done a hostage crisis more hilariously than Hot Shots! Part Deux.
While having a laugh at all the over-the-top and excessively violent action films of its day (like Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando), this film succeeds on a number of levels.
The wordplay and visual gags combine to make this one of the most riotously funny spoofs, and the hostage situation really only serves as a backdrop for nonstop gags.
And that's reason enough for it to make it onto this list. If you feel like you need a good laugh to cleanse your palate after more serious hostage movies, Hot Shots! Part Deux is a solid choice.
5. Funny Games (1997)
Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch
Crime, Drama, Thriller (1h 48m)
Director Michael Haneke certainly has a sick sense of humor if he truly considers the events of his 1997 classic film Funny Games to be "funny games."
When a small family of three decides to holiday in the mountains for a few days, they meet their neighbor's nephews, Peter and Paul—and they aren't the most charming bunch.
After they invite themselves inside, Peter asks for two eggs and drops them on his way out. Then again. And again... It soon becomes clear that something isn't quite right.
The most unnerving thing about Funny Games is how realistic it is. The film is a disturbing portrait of what a real home invasion could look like, and it really puts you into the mind of a hostage.
4. Argo (2012)
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman
Biography, Drama, Thriller (2h)
Ben Affleck made his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone (2007) and he's created phenomenal films like The Town (2010), but it wasn't until Argo that he received the critical acclaim he deserved.
In Argo, Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, an exfiltration specialist who's tasked with getting six Americans out of Tehran during the infamous Iran hostage crisis from 1979 to 1981.
What's his plan, you ask? To masquerade as a Hollywood film producer who's trying to make a sci-fi movie!
It's a genius idea that might sound far-fetched, but the best thing about Argo is that all of this is based on a true story!
3. Inside Man (2006)
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster
Crime, Drama, Mystery (2h 9m)
Spike Lee made one of his best films in Inside Man, starring Clive Owen and Denzel Washington.
When a group of robbers wearing masks and jumpsuits begin firing their rifles into the air, everyone ducks. Soon, a hostage negotiator is called to help, but he's in way over his head.
Inside Man manages to capture the political and social climate of America during the 2000s, as if Spike Lee is pointing the finger right at us and asking: Who is the real criminal on screen? Is it the thief, the dishonest billionaire, or the institutions who protect him?
We walk away asking ourselves a lot of questions, and that's why Inside Man is one of the best movies about hostages. It's not just a thrilling story—it's smart and really makes you think.
2. Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Action, Thriller (2h 12m)
"Yippie ki-yay, motherf*cker!"
Who can forget the first time they saw Bruce Willis utter that iconic line? Or jump off Nakatomi Plaza with a fire hose attached to his waist? Or watch his feet get chewed up by all that glass?
John McClane is intelligent, shrewd, and resourceful. When his wife—along with the rest of her office—is held hostage by German terrorists, he resolves to save them himself.
Die Hard is a film that revitalized the action genre, elevating it from the stereotypical pack of beefy, veiny jocks from the 1980s and making it one of wit, subtlety, and everyday heroes.
1. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen
Biography, Crime, Drama (2h 5m)
One could argue that Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon is the best film about hostages ever made. I'd certainly agree!
It was all supposed to go down within ten minutes. There weren't supposed to be any cops involved at all. But eight hours and some hostages later, it's the hottest thing on TV.
How could it all have gone so wrong?
Expertly helmed by Al Pacino and John Cazale in some of their best performances, all of Dog Day Afternoon takes place in a small bank. The plot is simple, with just two men holding up a small institution because they're desperate for money.
But Dog Day Afternoon is fascinating because we get to see how Sidney Lumet turns their act of rebellion into a story of social insurgency. Why do so many people begin to support these bank robbers? Why are they seen as local heroes?
The answer to that question is up to you to decide, but you'll have to watch this incredible film before you can arrive at it!