Growing up, my mother impressed upon me the importance of being wary of strangers. One of her biggest fears was that someone would take her children away from her. So don’t ask me why I love watching movies about abductions so much. You’d think I’d be sufficiently scared of being taken away by now.
But maybe fear is the point. Thrillers have a way of making us feel alive and grateful that we’re not going through what the characters on the screen just went through. If you want to experience that kind of feeling, here are some movies you can check out.
20 Anxiety-Inducing Movies About Abductions and Kidnapping
In the interest of seeing the way movies about abductions have evolved, I wanted to present my list in chronological order. So let’s make the first entry an iconic one.
1. High and Low (1963)
By the time he directed High and Low in 1963, Akira Kurosawa had already made two of his most influential movies — Seven Samurai (1954) and Rashomon (1950). The basic premise of High and Low is that a wealthy businessman has to pay off his son’s kidnappers. However, upon arriving home, he realizes that the abductors had mistakenly taken his driver’s son.
So the movie showcases the moral dilemma the businessman faces. Should he pay for the return of someone else’s son or let it go? You’ll find out over the course of two hours and twenty minutes.
2. The Collector (1965)
William Wyler’s The Collector is based on the eponymous novel by John Fowles that came out only two years before the movie. It follows Freddie, an awkward butterfly collector who decides it’s time for him to get a girlfriend. After stalking and kidnapping Miranda, an art student, he keeps her in a basement room he had prepared for her.
For the next two hours, you watch the back and forth between the kidnapper and his victim. In my opinion, The Collector is one of the tamer abduction movies I’ve seen. So if you want to feel the anxiety of not being able to escape, but without the gore you might see in some other entries on this list, it’s an excellent film to start with.
3. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Lest you believe that women are always the victims in movies about abductions, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a fantastic example of that not being the case. During the course of the movie, we see three go-go dancers kill a man, kidnap his girlfriend, and try to rob a lecherous wheelchair-bound old man and his two sons.
As the events unfold, you get down to maybe two decent characters who get something resembling a happy end. So if you like seeing bad people get their comeuppance, this movie delivers on that promise, at least. It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes long, so you should have no problem finding the time to watch it.
4. The Candy Snatchers (1973)
If you’re against gore in movies, you should definitely steer clear of this one. The Candy Snatchers is a prime example of an exploitation film, which typically showcases harsher realities — to put it mildly.
In this movie, Eddy, Jessie, and her brother Alan abduct Candy, a 16-year-old girl, on her way home from Catholic school. The movie forces its audience to witness betrayals, sexual assaults, and mutilations. And none of the characters make it out unscathed. So if that’s the kind of anxiety-inducing plot you like — give it a watch.
5. The King of Comedy (1982)
Recently referenced in Todd Phillips’ Joker, Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy was definitely ahead of its time when it came out in ’82. Robert De Niro plays a stand-up comedian who hatches a plan to kidnap a talk-show host after failing to get a spot on his show.
The only thing he wants in return for his victim’s release is an opening spot on that evening’s episode of his program. Shenanigans ensue. As movies about abductions go, this one doesn’t provoke the same kind of dread some others do. Still, it’s a worthy entry for this list.
6. Commando (1985)
I can’t talk about abduction movies without mentioning at least one Schwarzenegger flick! Between all the gratuitous explosions and examples of classic ’80s masculinity, you may have forgotten why Arnold goes berserk in Commando.
In a nutshell, it has to do with his former Special Forces subordinate kidnapping his daughter (a 13-year-old Alyssa Milano). If you wanted to know what Taken would have looked like in the ’80s, I imagine this movie would be it.
7. Communion (1989)
In this movie, Christopher Walken plays an overworked father who experiences a close encounter of the third kind. During the movie, we watch his descent into madness as he tries to figure out why he’s seeing aliens everywhere. In therapy, he comes to realize that he has repressed memories of being abducted and experimented on.
The acting in this movie is more than a bit cheesy, and the effects are not much better. Still, the film is supposedly based on a real-life alien encounter, so make of that what you will.
8. Air Force One (1997)
I’m assuming that I won’t have to do much to convince you to watch the 1997 Air Force One movie. This masterpiece was one of the most popular thrillers of the ’90s. Harrison Ford plays the U.S. President — a Vietnam veteran — whose airplane is hijacked by terrorists following a speech overseas. While he protects the other kidnapping victims on the plane, his Vice President, played by Glenn Close, negotiates from Washington, D.C.
9. Cellular (2004)
Don’t let the old-fashioned title dissuade you from watching this movie. Is it a bit outdated? Sure. But it’s also a fantastic abduction movie!
Chris Evans stars as the proud owner of a cellular phone (stay with me) that gets a call from a woman who has been abducted. This action thriller follows a pre-Captain America Chris Evans as he races to find the kidnappers’ next targets.
10. Man on Fire (2004)
If you want to see a gruff bodyguard doing everything he can to retrieve his young charge and avenge her kidnapping, you can’t find a better movie than this one. The cast is stellar, featuring Denzel Washington in his prime, a 9-year-old Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony, and a score of other big names. What’s not to like?
11. Saw (2004)
The original Saw is another one of those movies I don’t have to convince you to watch. If you like sitting through about an hour and forty minutes of blood and gore, you’ve probably already seen the whole series.
The plot centers on two strangers who have been abducted by the Jigsaw Killer — whose iconic puppet is now permanently engraved in the public consciousness. The men have to escape their prison by all means necessary while navigating the killer’s psychotic games.
12. Hard Candy (2005)
Hard Candy tells the story of a 14-year old girl turning the tables on a man she suspects of being a homicidal pedophile. Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson play a suspenseful game of cat and mouse, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.
13. Taken (2008)
Obviously, I was never going to make a list of movies about abductions without mentioning Liam Neeson’s epic kidnapping franchise. The original 2008 film was a huge hit, followed by two sequels and even a TV show in 2017. So if you love the “ex-agent comes out of retirement to go after his daughter’s abductors” trope, this movie is undoubtedly a classic.
14. Buried (2010)
In this movie, Ryan Reynolds shows off his acting chops by spending the duration of the movie stuck in a wooden coffin. Using the few items he has at his disposal, he has to figure out a way to escape a premature death in an Iraqi desert. I won’t promise you a happy ending, but there will be excitement galore!
15. Room (2015)
Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is one of my favorite movies about abductions, which is why I felt compelled to include it on this list. The film stars Brie Larson as a woman who’s been held captive for seven years. But it’s not your run-of-the-mill kidnapping scenario.
Unlike many of the other movies on this list, this one flips the script by giving the victims a satisfactory and even optimistic resolution. It’s difficult to watch at times, especially as you see the woman give birth and raise her rapist’s child, but it pays off wonderfully.
16. Cleveland Abduction (2015)
Cleveland Abduction tells the true story of how three women who were held captive for a decade under the same roof find friendship and hope even in the darkest of circumstances. Abduction movies that are based on real-life events are especially chilling. So if you want to see what real dread feels like, you’ll get it from this movie.
17. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Even though the third movie in J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield series got mixed reviews, the second one has always been lauded as a masterpiece. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a woman who, after surviving a car accident, wakes up in a shelter with two men.
The men, played by John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., insist that the outside world is no longer habitable. Since this movie is part of the Cloverfield franchise, we’re obviously dealing with aliens. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a shortage of human threats!
18. Colonia (2016)
If you’ve been wondering what Emma Watson was up to — aside from starring in Disney live-action remakes — it’s mostly been fringe movies like this one. In Colonia, you can see her take on the role of Lena, a young German girl in 1973 Chile. Over the course of the movie, she infiltrates a cult to find her boyfriend, who had previously been kidnapped by the Chilean secret police.
19. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)
At this point, I’ve mentioned several movies about abductions that depict real-life events. But let’s throw in a documentary as well, for good measure.
This film tells the story of Jan Broberg Felt, who was kidnapped on two separate occasions by the same perpetrator. Together with her parents and the investigators who handled her cases, Jan tells the story of how it all happened.
20. Kidnap (2017)
At this point, we’ve seen what happens when fathers go after their daughter’s kidnappers. So let’s end this list with a gender swap. Watch Halle Berry as a desperate mother racing to catch up to her son’s kidnappers. This 90-minute movie shows exactly what can happen when you push a woman too far.
Make Some Popcorn and Settle In!
Ultimately, there are so many other movies about abductions and kidnapping I could have mentioned today. Still, this list is full of films that will let you experience the terror of being held captive from a safe distance.