Imagine this: you wake up in an unfamiliar room, you don't know how you got there, and unfriendly faces greet you. Your hands are tied and you're held against your will. You've been kidnapped.
Kidnapping is a horrific crime that can instill lasting trauma. When freedom and control are stripped from us, we feel vulnerable and naked. It's enough to make anyone suffer from PTSD and nightmares.
It's equally bad for those whose loved ones were snatched from them, without any inkling as to whether they'll see them again. Few things are more terrifying for parents when their children go missing.
What kind of depraved individual would kidnap a fellow human being? What would you do if you found yourself taken? How far would you go to escape—or to exact vengeance on your captors?
Here are my picks for the best movies about kidnappings that explore this idea from all kinds of angles to all kinds of effect.
10. The King of Comedy (1982)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott
Comedy, Crime, Drama (1h 49m)
I understand it may seem weird to start this list with a comedy film. However, The King of Comedy belongs on this list as it effectively uses black humor to highlight the psychology of a kidnapper.
The story follows Rupert Pupkin, a man who dreams of becoming a comedy superstar. He fantasizes about appearing on the late night television show he watches, and it isn't long before he realizes he's willing to kidnap someone to get that spot.
Though it's obviously a dark subject, the humorous depiction of Pupkin's psychology and Robert De Niro's expert performance are enough to place it right beside other movies about kidnappings.
9. Man on Fire (2004)
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning
Action, Crime, Drama (2h 26m)
Denzel Washington plays John Creasy, a man who's haunted by the things he did as a CIA officer. Regret plagues him, but he finds meaning again when he starts a position as a young girl's bodyguard.
But he fails to keep her safe from harm and she ends up kidnapped.
While some might stop there, accept that she's gone, and live on with even more regret, John Creasy knows he can never rest until he finds the people responsible for her abduction.
Man on Fire isn't just one of the best movies about kidnappings—it's a full-blown revenge film unlike any other.
8. Saw (2004)
Directed by James Wan
Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 43m)
Saw changed the game for horror films with its incorporation of cerebral elements into its nausea-inducing abduction plot.
Two men wake up in a room. They don't know each other and neither know how they got there. They both find that their legs are cuffed to the wall and there's a corpse on the ground between them.
Also, they both have tape recorders in their pockets: one is told to survive by all means possible, the other is told to kill the other man by sundown if he wants his wife and kid to live. Let the game begin!
7. The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009)
Directed by J. Blakeson
Starring Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston
Crime, Thriller (1h 40m)
Alice Creed is the only daughter of a wealthy family. Two ex-convicts decide to take advantage of that fact—by kidnapping her, stripping her naked, and binding her to a bed with handcuffs.
It's anyone's absolute nightmare, but Alice Creed isn't a softie.
While her captors are cruel, she's smart and absolutely determined to turn fate in her favor. She won't just sit back and wait for help. She's going to take this kidnapping into her own hands.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a thrilling film with a jaw-dropping performance from Gemma Arterton.
6. All the Money in the World (2017)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg
Biography, Crime, Drama (2h 12m)
J. Paul Getty is one of the richest men in the world. However, when kidnappers abduct his grandson and hold him for ransom, he refuses to play ball with them.
Based on a true story, All the Money in the World aims to explore the devastating effects of abduction on everyone involved.
This case became one of the most interesting kidnapping cases in history, primarily because Getty chose to not cooperate.
Getty has since claimed that it was out of fear of setting a bad precedent, suggesting that future criminals may abduct other members of his family for purposes of extortion.
5. Misery (1990)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth
Drama, Thriller (1h 47m)
Kathy Bates delivered her career-best performance as Annie Wilks, a deranged woman who captures her favorite author.
While he's initially hopeful that things are normal, he soon suspects that everything is pointing towards an unstable relationship.
Based on the novel by Stephen King, perhaps Misery is so impactful because Stephen King himself lives with his own fear of encountering his own Annie Wilks in real life.
Regardless, Misery amounted to a spectacularly intense film with plenty of suspenseful moments. One of the best of its kind.
4. Taken (2008)
Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 30m)
Note to self: Never abduct any of Liam Neeson's family! Even if it's a member of his extended family, he'll probably hunt you down and karate chop your throat into oblivion.
In Taken, Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills who's both ex-CIA and ex-Green Beret. In other words, he's a bona fide badass. But Mills finds himself powerless as he listens to his daughter being kidnapped.
What follows is one of the best monologues in film history. ("I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.") With Neeson's cadence, it becomes one of the most chilling lines ever uttered. The plot follows his mission to save his daughter from her kidnappers.
3. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman
Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 54m)
In Gone Baby Gone, when a four-year-old girl is kidnapped, it's up to private investigator Patrick Kenzie to find her and bring her home. However, as the story subtly suggests, even those who appear to be helping may have ulterior motives at play.
Ben Affleck made a fantastic directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone, a story that twists and turns around a mystery that's as engaging as it is heartbreaking.
Gone Baby Gone is more than just a movie about a kidnapping—it's a film about children, their innocence, and their trust that's so often misplaced in the damaged adults who raise them.
2. Room (2015)
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Drama, Thriller (1h 58m)
A24 released one of their best films with Room, a film about a young mother and her son who are held captive inside a tiny room.
Brie Larson is sensational in this film and absolutely feral as the mother who wants to protect her son from the trauma of their situation. For them, "Room" is their entire world. Nothing lies beyond.
Lenny Abrahamson directed this fantastic movie in which the first half just flies by, despite the fact it all takes place in one room. Room is ultimately a story about hope, trauma, and love.
1. Prisoners (2013)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis
Crime, Drama, Mystery (2h 33m)
Despite his staggeringly impressive filmography, Denis Villeneuve's best film remains Prisoners. If you haven't seen it, you absolutely must.
When two close families both have their young daughters abducted, a detective warns them not to panic. But how can they not? Will they be able to find their two girls before it's too late? How far will these families go to recover their precious children?
With stunning performances from Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano, the whole film is an anxiety-inducing watch where you feel like every second matters.
Villeneuve has stated that he isn't interested in depicting violence, but rather the lingering effects of what violence can do to people. Prisoners is the perfect demonstration of his thesis, making it the best kidnapping movie ever made.