Thriller is a broad genre of literature, film, and television programming that uses suspense, tension and excitement as the main elements. Thrillers heavily stimulate the viewer's moods giving them a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, surprise, anxiety and/or terror. Thriller films tend to be adrenaline-rushing, gritty, rousing and fast-paced.
A thriller provides the sudden rush of emotions, excitement, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace thrills. It keeps the audience cliff-hanging at the "edge of their seats" as the plot builds towards a climax. Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twists and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is usually a villain-driven plot, whereby he or she presents obstacles that the protagonist must overcome.
Common subgenres are psychological thrillers, crime thrillers and mystery thrillers. Another common subgenre of thriller is the spy genre which deals with fictional espionage. Successful examples of thrillers are the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The horror and action genres often overlap with the thriller genre. Thrillers tend to be psychological, threatening, mysterious and at times involve larger-scale villainy such as espionage, terrorism and conspiracy.
In 2001, the American Film Institute in Los Angeles made its definitive selection of the top 100 greatest American "heart-pounding" and "adrenaline-inducing" films of all time. To be eligible, the 400 nominated films had to be American-made films, whose thrills have "enlivened and enriched America's film heritage". AFI also asked jurors to consider "the total adrenaline-inducing impact of a film's artistry and craft".
Homer's Odyssey is one of the oldest stories in the Western world and is regarded as an early prototype of the thriller. One of the earliest thriller movies was Harold Lloyd's comic Safety Last! (1923), with a character performing a daredevil stunt on the side of a skyscraper. Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang helped to shape the modern-day thriller genre beginning with The Lodger (1926) and M (1931), respectively.