Top 10 Unflinchingly Cruel Movies Like 'Sicario'

Updated on June 27, 2019
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Rahul is a movie addict who can never get enough of good films. His all time favorites are Inception, 12 Angry Men, and Scarface.

What Films Are Similar to Sicario?

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Sicario is one of the few films where action and emotional drama converge to create an incredibly dark and action-heavy movie. What starts out as simple cops vs drug dealers movie turns into a suffocating, hard-to-watch ride. It’s not a horror movie, yet there are some truly nightmarish scenes.

Sicario isn’t afraid to delve into the grim reality of living in a town taken over by drug cartels, exploring the hardships and plights of those on the right side of the law. When both sides are deeply flawed yet right in their own way, which one will you root for? As the characters make some tough choices, you as a viewer will make one as well—how far will you go to support someone who has clearly crossed the line?

It’s not an easy movie to watch, mostly because of its heavy tone. Despite venturing into the dark territory, it’s a gripping experience. Being a huge fan, I have compiled a list of some movies like Sicario. Most, if not all, of my suggestions, are gritty, nail-biting features that’ll leave you exhausted.

Movies Like Sicario

  1. No Country For Old Man
  2. Prisoners
  3. Bridge of Spies
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Heat
  6. Collateral
  7. Cartel Land
  8. Sin City
  9. The Kingdom
  10. The Hurt Locker

1. No Country for Old Man

When a hunter stumbles upon over 2 million dollars of drug money, he finds himself being stalked and hunted by a psychopathic man who won’t give up until he hands over the money. But he isn’t about to give up the money without a fight.

Those expecting a good action spectacle will return empty-handed, for the most part. This taut feature‘s heart is in the subtlety of its characters without any heart-stopping chase, nail-biting shootout, or last-minute contrived twist. What it has is a deep, multi-layered story that’ll tug at your heart.

I would like you to go in cold, not knowing anything about this capricious feature. It’s best if this personal story is experienced first-hand. Even in its violent delights, this film stays evenly paced, exuding surreal serenity.

2. Prisoners

The story follows a desperate father in search of his missing daughters. When police start being complacent with the case, he takes matters into his own hand to find her. Little does he know that a gasp-inducing truth is waiting for him on the other side of the investigation.

The combination of powerful performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, shored up by a powerful script, results in an unrelenting film that refuses to let the audience take a breather. This movie is living proof of Jackman’s hypnotic acting prowess, even outside the Marvel universe.

Prisoners doesn’t shy away from delving deep into the grim, suffocating reality of child abductions and the emotional suffering a family goes through afterward. Pay close attention to its subtle hints to figure out where this movie is headed or you might miss out on some crucial details.

3. Bridge of Spies

Directed by Steven Spielberg, this Tom Hanks starrer follows the story of a U.S. lawyer who has no choice but to defend a Russian spy, a traitor who betrayed his own country by leaking sensitive information to the other side. He knows that this case will make him fatally unpopular, but decline he can’t, for his win will secure freedom of a U.S. spy captured by the Russians.

Mark Rylance’s portrayal of a dogged Russian spy evokes hatred and sympathy at the same time - a testimony to the fact that he is playing in the biggest of leagues. For a supposed villain to tug at our heart like that implies a biased script, and it’s true to some extent.

The sheer brilliance of Tom Hanks also deserves a mention, who shines in the role of a loyal-to-his-cause lawyer. Both lead characters will make you root for their causes, which is essentially the same.

The story at times might feel like cold war propaganda, but that doesn’t take the edge off from this gem of a movie. Without spoiling anything, there are some heart-wrenching scenes that will stay with you for a while.

4. Hell or High Water

The story follows two brothers who have got nothing but each other and some guts. In a last-ditch effort to save their family’s ranch, they resort to bank heists to make ends meet. Things turn south when cops follow them like deranged hounds, making their already ruined lives a living hell.

Fueled by enigmatic performances by a talented ensemble cast and punctuated with painstaking direction, Hell or High Water is a slow-burn family drama mixed with some adrenaline-fueled cops vs robbers tropes.

Just like Taylor Sheridan’s first scripted film, Sicario, Hell or High Water is much more than a dogged heist spectacle. This transfixing feature will compel you to think - something not a lot of movies can elicit out of its audiences.

Who will you root for? A desperate family or ruthless cop on their trial? It’s a bit of a moral quandary and a good one at that. Good luck choosing a side on this roller-coaster ride.

5. Heat

Heat arguably makes most of the other heists movies look like high-school squabbles. What’s baffling, over 15 years later, Hollywood hasn’t produced better shootout scenes to this date. If you’ve ever held a gun and taken a shot or two, you know Hollywood’s portrayal of shootings differ from how they feel and sound in real life. This cruelly suffocating feature, however, is a different ball game. From the echoes of the gun to the sound of bullets snapping past the ears, it all feels real, too real at times.

It’s one of those movies where you’ll be rooting for both the protagonist and the antagonist. Such is the majesty of their spectacular performances you can’t help but get emotionally involved in everything they do, hoping that they don’t come across each other. And yet when they do, you’ll love bathing in the blood-soaked mayhem that ensues afterward.

6. Collateral

When a sociopathic contract killer (Tom Cruise) takes a cab to get around the city and kill all five of his targets (quite a busy night), the cab driver at first goes along with killer’s plan but soon improvises in a last-ditch effort to save the lives of remaining victims.

Collateral can be confusing, especially in the opening scene where it starts off on a romantic tone. Things only turn dark when Cruise’s scornful character comes into the picture. The aberrant transformation feels a little contrived, but once you get past the protracted setup, it’s all fireworks. Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx deliver the performances of their lives, as they both play a macabre cat and mouse game to outsmart each other.

This part character study and part psychological thriller work, thanks to the expert hands of Michael Mann, ensuring that one facet is complimenting the other.

7. Cartel Land

Directed by Matthew Heineman, Cartel Land is a heart-pounding look into the real-life ongoing struggles between a drug Cartel and those who’re fighting against them on the US-Mexico border. Does the plot ring a bell? Sicario fans, rejoice!

Unlike the latter, Cartel Land doesn’t get into the personal stories of its characters, instead staying rooted in the ruthless depiction of reality - one that’s fraught with dangers everywhere.

This documentary feels like a full-fledged movie, thanks to the remarkable steady hands of Matthew Heineman and Matt Porwoll, even in its heated and tense moments. Holed up in our homes with roofs above our head, this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to witness an all-out cartel war.

8. Sin City

Basin City, a fictional place where this movie takes place, is steeped in violence, blood, and gore everywhere you lay your eyes upon. It’s not a city for the faint-hearted. Our four vigilantes, however, have taken a liking to this city. With a vow to clean this place of all the filth, they take different routes to return Basin city back to its glory. When their separate missions intertwine with each other, their noble plan goes awry, bringing more than they bargained for.

Despite disguising itself as a sincere, heavy-handed thriller, Sin City doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the movie is all the better for it. All the four anti-heroes try their best, in their own wicked ways, to save the city, only to make matters worse. Their method of taking the city back is not only rushed but seems a little far-fetched at times.

But I derail. Sin City is a spellbinding feature. The only thing you need is a major suspension of disbelief, and you’re good to go.

9. The Kingdom

Where to even start with this divisive movie? It’s ironic how this film was written off as American propaganda by movie critics as well as general moviegoers. Yes, there’s a stench of discrimination towards Saudi Arabia as the film takes a dig at their culture, but it's well within the acceptable boundaries - nothing that would upset most cinephiles.

The plot follows a bomb blast in the American compound in Saudi Arabia, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives. The US in return unleashes its ferocious, no-holds-barred FBI agent who must hunt down the terrorists responsible for this fatal attack.

One can call the plot a little unimaginative, but the way this seemingly unoriginal story is realized on the big screen will make you squirm in your seat, at least a few times. Though its snarky political remarks may not go down well with the liberals, the fact remains that The Kingdom is a viscerally potent movie, punctuated with a jaundiced political undertone.

If you’re looking for an action-packed movie like Sicario, The Kingdom is well worth a shot. You might not remember it in a few years, or days even, but this thriller will certainly entertain you.

10. The Hurt Locker

Written by Mark Boal, this Kathryn Bigelow’s directed feature revolves around a Sergeant expert in defusing bombs, whose relentless and somewhat reckless way of tackling the danger head-on puts him at odds with his other teammates. Gradually, others start to understand his psyche, eventually understanding the reason he doesn’t care much for his life.

After watching this movie, you’ll surely question Hollywood’s tactics of not giving Jeremy Renne enough opportunities to shine. His sheer brilliance here makes audience emotionally connected to his dogged character. Your heart will be pounding every time he’s on one of his reckless bomb defusing missions.

Even in a setting as stern as the Iraq war, the deadpan humor is always there getting a chuckle or two out of you, even in its most tense moments.

Edge of Tomorrow (Bonus suggestion)

I have kept Tom Cruse’s Edge of Tomorrow out of this list as it doesn’t stay grounded in reality, but it’s packed to the brim with blistering action sequences, underpinned by Cruise’s mesmerizing performance. He plays as Cage, a cowardly yet charming figure with no experience in the field combat. When he finds himself in the middle of an all-out alien invasion war, Cage summons all the courage to defend himself and regain his honor.

The start doesn’t go as planned as he gets quashed within seconds of entering the battlefield. Somehow, he finds himself in a perpetual loop of pain and death. With every death, however, he inches ever so close to defeating the aliens single-handedly.

I realize that it‘s one long synopsis. However, I won’t trim it down, for you need to know what you’re getting into, especially since it’s a bonus movie suggestion.

Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t take time to get to the point. A few minutes in and Cruise is already up in the action. This time-warping thriller is designed to help you comprehend everything unfolding on screen without unnecessarily complicating the plot. That’s not something I can say about the majority time-travel films. It’s simple and packed to the brim with gasp-inducing action and high-stakes drama.

Did I miss out on any other movies like Sicario? Let me know in the comments section. I will be sure to take a look and consider updating the list with your suggestions. Let's make this compilation an ultimate one!

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    • Sam Shepards profile image

      Sam Shepards 

      8 months ago from Europe

      Nice, I really like sicario a lot. I also enjoyed the second installment, but the first one was really a gruesome experience.

      The flair of Josh Brolin, Emily Blunt was just a powerful female lead and of course Benicio with his sicario persona. Some very tense scenes.

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