21 Most Claustrophobic Movies
There’s something uniquely twisted about claustrophobia that makes it so absolutely perfect for films to ramp up the pressure. It can be played with in so many ways and so many forms that it everything from horrors to thrillers to realistic dramas use it with wild abandon. Sometimes it’ll be supernatural, sometimes it’ll metaphorical, and sometimes there will be intense claustrophobia in an outdoors environment. Regardless of how it happens, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and if done right, it’ll leave you gasping for breath in a cold sweat.
21. Kill Bill 2
Kill Bill 2 isnt really that claustrophobia inducing, with most of the films shots being in relatively normal locations. However, a big chunk of the movie is told in flashback while The Bride is buried alive in a wooden coffin, desperately trying not to suck all the oxygen out and struggling to escape. I think for anyone with claustrophobia, burying alive is this sort of platonic ideal of the fear, distilled down to its most pure and terrifying form. Even though not much time is spent in the coffin in Kill Bill 2, it still leaves a permanent mark.
Cube is one of those interesting films that plays with claustrophobia, while being not particularly claustrophobic in and of itself. The film was shot on a single stage, which was used for every single cube room, just shot in slight different ways, with different color lighting to indicate changed rooms. So while the set itself is claustrophobic, the story is spread among a huge number of said cubes but that is also claustrophobic though less terrifyingly so. Instead of all being contained to one room, its a deadly prison complex, which isnt quite as bad. Quite.
19. Phone Booth
Phone Booth could have been emotionally much more claustrophobic than it was. Douchebag Colin Farrell is stuck in a phone booth with a sniper trained on him, but Joel Schumachers love of over the top craziness prevents this movie from ever really tapping the sense of being trapped that it should excude. The film is set in real time, which brings an immediacy to the craziness around it, but at the same time doesnt have the long-term mounting tension that other cramped films manage. Interestingly, the split screen real time thing that Phone Booth pioneered became the calling card of 24, which also starred Keifer Sutherland.
18. The Hole
British thriller The Hole is about a small group of public school students who want to throw a party in an abandoned underground shelter, only to be locked in without any extra supplies. What follows is the usual for a story like this: arguments, fights, jealousy, sex, and a gradual descent into insanity. What really makes The Hole a good story is just how unreliable of a narrator the lead is. What actually happens, what we believe happens, and what the evidence points to are all played against each other, and youre never really sure whos to blame for the horrors that occur.
17. The Thing
Some might argue that an entire base isnt really a claustrophobic environment, but when youre stuck inside with an Antarctic storm outdoors, and a horrible shape-changing alien chasing you, you might feel differently. Even though the setting of The Thing is comparatively large, the mistrust and anger fostered in claustrophobic films is ramped up to 11 because anyone around you could secretly be the alien, and you have no idea who to trust, if anyone. And theres no escape into the world outside, thanks to the vagaries of weather. Intensely dark and paranoid, The Thing excels at creating a claustrophobic environment, even without tight spaces.
16. The Cell
A lot of people will disagree with me about how claustrophobic The Cell is, seeing as it takes place in an infinitely shifting landscape of imagination, but Im going to argue it is. You have the overarching issue of the killers next victim, trapped in a cell slowly filling with water, threatening to drown her. If that isnt a classic case of a claustrophobic environment, then I dont know what is. Beyond that, you also have the conceptual claustrophobia of being stuck in a serial killers brain, and being under their control. While the mental stages theyre in may change infinitely, the characters are trapped just as well as in any cage.
15. The Divide
The Divide hasnt even come out yet, but Im putting it on this list because the advance screenings sound so incomparably wonderful and terrifying. After an unnamed apocalypse, eight survivors hide in the basement of a building, not knowing whats going on outside. By all accounts, its a brutally graphic movie which holds no punches. Theres disgusting violence, rape, excrement, and more filth than you can imagine, as theres almost no water to wash with. Thanks to being trapped indoors, they also have no idea how much time has passed since theyve been trapped, ramping up the horror to another level.
Probably the only thing in a decade that M. Night Shyamalan has touched that hasnt sucked, he produced the average thriller which has an amazing concept, but really failed in the execution. A bunch of strangers trapped in a stuck elevator, where one of them is secretly the devil, and the others all horrible people who hes trying to kill. Meanwhile, rescuers can see and hear whats going on, but cant contact them. And every time the power goes out, another one dies. This story should be hyper-claustrophic, stuck in a tiny space with an unknown evil that is actively trying to kill you, yet somehow it just manages to fall flat.
13. Panic Room
Panic Room deserves some major credit for being an incredibly tight thriller, as a mother and her daughter are stuck in a panic room of an old house, while robbers try and break in. It comes down to a fierce battle of wits, as they want a safe thats inside that room, but its nigh on impregnable. While it seems like the pair could just wait out the attackers, when the daughter goes into a hypoglycemic seizure, they need her medication, which is stored outside. The stark battle between the two sides combined with being trapped in a small room with the person you love the most in the world slowly dying is a fantastic psycho thriller. Its kinda crazy to realise the little girl from this is the chick from Twilight.
12. Open Water
Open Water proves rather handily that you dont need to be trapped in a tiny space to be terrifying and claustrophobic. As someone with a bit of a fear of deep water and drowning, I steadfastly refuse to see this movie based solely on the concept: a couple accidentally left behind on a scuba trip, struggling to survive while being completely abandoned out at sea for hours, with no supplies, and next to no hope of rescue. Just thinking about it is enough to cause me a panic attack, cause that shit just freaks the everloving hell out of me.
11. The Lady Vanishes
The Lady Vanishes plays up the claustrophobia by taking place on a moving train, where no-one gets on or off. A locked box mystery, right? Then how come no-one remembers the little old lady who was sitting across from protagonist Iris just disappears? And not a soul on the train will believe that the lady existed, or was ever there. What follows is an incredible psychodrama as Iris attempts to prove that not only was there a lady, but that something happened to her. Its a plot thats closely mirrored by the 2005 thriller Flightplan, except thats about a daughter and an airoplane.
Tape has a remarkably good cast of characters considering just how experimental it is. Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman in a film that takes place in a single motel room, in real time. Thats it. Theres no horrible disaster, no real horror, just them, and an audio-tape, and the intense drama between the trio around drugs, a past rape, and their attempts to bring it to the surface. Its one of the tightest psychological movies of the early 2000s, and was largely ignored, despite keeping everything to closely knitted and controlled that it just ramps up the pressure over and over and over.
The first film of the Saw franchise was originally conceived to be a film that only needed two people to make it happen, the two individuals stuck in the room with the ultimatum from the killer. When it got picked up by a big company, this expanded tremendously, but its still there at the heart of the story. Two people, chained in a bathroom, with simple orders: one has to escape, the other to kill him. If they dont, very, very bad things will happen. When Saw debuted, it was revolutionary for its torture-porn like violence and malevolence, which has only ramped up with later entrants into the sickening series however none managed to re-capture the claustrophobic thriller feel of the first.
Suddenly, 90% of the population goes blind. Fearing infection and panic, the Government starts pushing increasing numbers of the disease into asylums, where brutal guards attack the patients, and the society starts to come apart at the seams. Theres almost no food, no medicine, and hygiene completely disintegrates as hundreds of people are suddenly rendered blind without any idea how to cope with affliction. Uniquely brutal and grotesque, only one of the main characters can see, but feigns blindness to stay with her husband. Its through her we experience the brutality, filth, disease, rape and terror of a society that completely falls apart, first within the military enforced walls of the asylum, and then the world as a whole. Not only are they trapped and constrained by the building theyre forced to stay in, but also their condition.
7. 127 hours
James Francos recent Oscar nominated role was as a climber trapped for the titular length of time, his arm wedged under a rock in a crevasse. Filmed heavily within a sound-stage designed to look like the actual pit real-life climber Aron Ralston fell down, its terrifyingly intense as he attempts to outlast hallucinations, thirst, delirium, and maintain his sanity through video diaries. The whole scene where he finally severs his arm, and he has to cut through his nerves with a blunt knife is such a visceral torture that Ive been forever put off both cutlery and rock-climbing. Its every claustrophobes worst nightmare: stuck in a tiny space, in the middle of nowhere, and no-one knows where you are.
One of Stephen Kings many blockbuster novels turned films, Misery is much more of a forced claustrophobia than some of the other entries on this list. Its not just being enclosed that you have to defeat, but also the fact that someone is trying to prevent you from leaving. When famous author Paul Sheldon is in a car crash, hes rescued by a nurse whos rabid fan, who happily bandages his broken legs and treats him. Until the novel he just wrote take a turn she doesnt like, and she begins to torture him. Brutally, brutally torture until he writes a new manuscript to her liking. At one point, near the end, she shatters his ankles with a sledgehammer to stop him escaping. Not only is he physically unable to leave his room, but is being kept captive by an utter psychopath. Kathy Bates’ performance as the Annie Wilkes was terrifyingly phenomenal in this.
Ryan Reynolds, trapped in a coffin underground, for 94 minutes. This relatively unknown thriller really, really pushes all the buttons of claustrophobia in ways that leave me feeling sick just thinking about them. Just how bad is it? Hes stuck down there, buried alive in Iraq, trying to survive with limited oxygen, and in contact with others through a cellphone. They cant find him. His employers fire him, meaning his family will never see the insurance for him. There are planes bombing above him, causing sand to leak into the coffin, and it seems like absolutely no-one is on his side. And like the best claustrophobic movies, the ending will leave you terrified.
Hitchcock was a master of the psychological thriller, and Lifeboat exemplifies that. Rather than ramping up the pressure and isolation by locking a group up in a tiny room, its too many people on a lifeboat, struggling to survive in the ocean. Its something of a gold standard for group isolation movies, and for good reason. What originally starts as a relatively optimistic and happy group of survivors begins to descend into haggard hatred, thirst, and anger. Even within the constraints of what violence you were allowed to show onscreen in the 40s, Lifeboat manages to have that survivor brutality that so often surfaces in these stories, especially in a situation like this where its so easy to make sure someone dies.
3. Das Boot
Das Boot is the king of submarine movies, the example against which all other films are measured. It may not have the evil oppressor, clearly defined villain, or mind-bending supernatural horror of a lot entrants on this list, but the incomparably unforgiving nature of, well, nature more than happily takes its toll. Theres no environment more isolated, more restraining, and more terrifying on this planet than the deep sea, and being stuck down there in a tin can, with dozens of other people, trying to survive a war is uniquely terrifying. Das Boot also deserves major verisimilitude points for shooting over the course of a year in tight, cramped, low light conditions, leading to the actors having scraggly beards, pale skin, and loathing one another.
2. The Vanishing
The Dutch film The Vanishing (or Spoorloos) is a terrifying, horrific story. The 1990 remake with Jeff Bridges and Keifer Sutherland is decidedly mediocre, and tacks an artificial happy ending on the end. In the original, a young woman goes missing, completely without a trace, and for three years her boyfriend desperately tries to find out what happened culminating in her captor offering to show him, if he goes through exactly the same steps that she did when captured. The slowly mounting tensions is terrible, and when the final excruciating twist happens, its enough to leave you in a cold sweat.
1. The Descent
I probably would have been happier and more terrified of The Descent without the need to add flesh-eating molemen to the plot, but even with them included, I think its the best example of claustrophobia to ever grace the large screen. And by best I mean worst, because holy shit, youll never want to go spelunking after this. I mean, if youre claustrophobic you probably wouldnt anyway, but this just makes it worse. Being trapped in a collapsed cave system with a wounded friend, with something horrible trying to hunt and kill them. Stuck with next to no hope to escape, with the pressure of the earth pressing down on them, its brain meltingly scary. The sequel, was just miserable though.