The new drama series Thirteen, which comes to BBC AMERICA this June 23, is a chilling psychological thriller examining the aftermath of a young woman’s imprisonment. Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer) is a 26-year-old woman who escapes the cellar in which she has been held for the last 13 years; but this is only the beginning of a story filled with complex and shocking twists and turns.
While offering a fresh twist on the genre, Thirteen is far from the first TV show or movie to explore this subject; and, perhaps inspired by some terrifying real-life cases, there have been a growing number of examples in recent years. Here are 13 movies that try to explore the psychological impact of kidnapping on the victims, and which often see their characters deal with imprisonment in very different ways.
Earlier this year, Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her stunning turn in this compelling drama, which sees her character held captive for seven years alongside her young son (Jacob Tremblay), who upon their release must come to terms with experiencing the real world for the first time.
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A true classic of the genre, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Kathy Bates is in outstanding form (her Best Actress win makes this the only film ever based on a King book to win an Oscar) as the crazed fan of author James Caan‘s series of Misery Chastain books, who rescues him from a car accident only to hold him captive when she discovers what happens in the latest book. Director Rob Reiner described the scenario as “a chess match between the artist and his fan,” but the film is perhaps most famous for a particular, and somewhat unpleasant, scene involving ankles…
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Before it turned into a multi-film (and theme park ride) franchise, the very first Saw film saw psychological horror stripped back to its rawest elements. Director James Wan keeps the tension at an unbearable level as Cary Elwes and Leigh Wannell (also the film’s writer) awake to find themselves chained to pipes in a bathroom, and told that one must kill the other or his family will die. Flashbacks gradually reveal the nature of the “game” that has brought them together, before an almighty twist that, despite everything that followed in the series, remains a genre highlight.
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The Vanishing (1988)
This Dutch film, based on a novel titled The Golden Egg, sees a man whose girlfriend had disappeared three years earlier confronted by her kidnapper, and told that he can only learn what happened to her (and thus end his own torment) if he agrees to experience it himself. Director George Sluizer remade the film in the U.S. in 1993 with Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock, but it was poorly received; not least for its altered ending.
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A startlingly-staged Spanish-produced (but still English-speaking) thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, which sees the actor spend basically the entire film’s running time buried alive in a coffin. Not for the claustrophobic, it’s all the more unbearably tense for not moving the viewer out of the confines in which Reynolds’ character finds himself.
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This classic Korean revenge noir doesn’t base itself entirely around a kidnapping; but in the opening minutes of the film, it’s the inciting incident that sparks Choi Min-sik‘s violent, visceral quest for revenge, as well as being an integral part of the wider conspiracy in which he finds himself.
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A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
A slightly more unusual take on the kidnapping genre, playing it—if not for straight up comedy—then certainly as a comedy-drama. Director Danny Boyle‘s follow-up to Trainspotting, it sees Ewan McGregor as a disgruntled, recently-fired cleaner, who impulsively kidnaps his boss’ daughter (Cameron Diaz); little realizing that two angels have been assigned a mission from heaven to ensure that the pair fall in love. Where the film shines is in flipping the kidnapper-victim dynamic on its head, as Diaz’s character takes charge of the situation as an opportunity to extort from her own father.
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Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
It’s not hard to see the influence of this Pedro Almodóvar classic on A Life Less Ordinary, in that it also mixes the thriller elements of a kidnapping story with what is, essentially, a romantic comedy at its heart. Antonio Banderas plays a recently-released psychiatric patient who kidnaps an actress (played by Victoria Abril) in order to attempt to make her fall in love with him. In one of cinema’s more unusual portrayals of Stockholm syndrome, he actually succeeds.
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Another film that places an unusual twist on the normal dynamic, as the kidnapped “victim” here is himself a predator. Ellen Page, in her breakthrough role, plays a 14-year-old girl who successfully entraps, and then tortures, Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a suspected rapist and murderer.
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Funny Games (1997/2007)
Made twice by director Michael Haneke—in 1997 as an Austrian film, and 10 years later as an American shot-for-shot remake featuring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth—Funny Games is at once a harrowing story of a family held hostage at their holiday home by two psychopaths, and at the same time an unusual, fourth-wall-breaking commentary on the very act of the audience observing (and to an extent participating?) in the characters’ crime.
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Captain Phillips (2013)
Perhaps due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter, films based directly on real-life kidnappings seem to be rare; but one such example is this film starring Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass, which tells the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, a merchant mariner who was taken hostage by Somalian pirates in 2009.
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The Last House on the Left (1972)
Wes Craven‘s infamous 1972 exploitation-horror film combines a terrifying, violent kidnapping ordeal with an equally violent saga of revenge. Even by the standards of the horror genre it’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s a harrowing look at what people are sometimes capable of doing to one-another.
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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
An unusual fusion of genres, this film started life as a simpler thriller script titled The Cellar before being picked up by JJ Abrams‘ production company Bad Robot, and instead turned into a quasi-sequel to the 2008 film Cloverfield. Given the potential similarities to Room, it’s probably a good thing that it was able to move in a different direction. To say any more would give away its best twists, but it manages to add something entirely new to a story about a young woman being imprisoned in a bunker.
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