The term ‘Thriller’ is a very broad name for a genre of film that uses tension and suspense to create excitement for the audience. As it is such a broad genre, there are many different sub-genres, which each one featuring specific elements in addition to the standard features of a thriller.
One of the main sub-genres is crime. Crime thrillers feature the account of a crime (or crimes) that were carried out either successfully or unsuccessfully, and are usually told from the side of the criminal rather than the law/police or victims. The main crimes featured in these types films are murders and robberies, and usually feature action over psychological aspects. Murders and killings are usually depicted in a dark, gritty tone while crimes such as robberies and heists are portrayed as being cool and trendy, as in Ocean’s 11.
Examples include: No Country For Old Men, Reservoir Dogs, Ocean’s 11, Silence of the Lambs.
Another type of thriller is a Mystery, which feature characters either involved in or trying to solve a mystery, which is the main plot of the film. The audience is often also left trying to solve the mystery as the characters are, creating a feeling of suspense. Many mystery thrillers also end with dramatic twists, to ensure that none of the audience could predict what was going to happen.
Examples include: Shutter Island, Vertigo, Memento, and The Number 23.
Psychological thrillers are also a common type of thriller, which feature less physical action than other types of thrillers, instead showing mental and emotional conflict between the characters. Many often end with a very physical (and often violent) final confrontation between the characters.
Examples include: Panic Room, Red Eye, Phone Booth and The Talented Mr Ripley.
Other types of thrillers include Supernatural thrillers, which involve paranormal elements used to create suspense, such as psychic powers, as seen in The Others and What Lies Beneath.
Conspiracy Thrillers feature a main character who must expose/defeat a powerful group of people, and are often the only person who knows the truth or full extent of the wrong/evil activities the group is conducting. Examples include Flight Plan and In The Line Of Fire.
Another sub-genre is Disaster Thrillers, which revolve around natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes, as seen in The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and Deep Impact.
Technological Thrillers (or techno-thrillers) feature the manipulation of technology, which results in danger, creating suspense and tension, as seen in films such as I Robot, Terminator, and Jurassic Park.
Personally, I think the most effective sub-genre is Psychological thrillers, because they rely more on the mise en scene, sound, and editing to create suspense, and shock, rather than action and violence, as in other types of thrillers.