Thriller Vs Horror – what exactly is the difference?

What is a thriller?

A thriller, it would seem, is about the thrills – obviously! I hear you scream – the excitement, the emotion and the edge of your seat ‘omg I can’t put the book down’ feelings.
There are also plot twists, red herrings and cliffhangers that all work together to keep you wondering, keep you guessing, only to, hopefully, throw you a curve ball right at the end.
A thriller pits an innocent against a villain, but doesn’t a horror often do that also?


noun: thriller; plural noun: thrillers
a novel, play, or film with an exciting plot, typically involving crime or espionage. -Professor Google’s Definition


The thriller novel or movie is a story filled with suspense and anticipation. For example: Murder on the Orient Express

A single location with very little opportunity to escape or get help from outside forces. A crime, and a whole host of suspicious characters who may or may not be the perpetrator.

You don’t know who it is anymore than the characters.

Where as a Horror might let you in on the secret of who the villain is…

Horror is more intent of frightening you. Or making you feel uncomfortable. Or disgusting you. It wants you to know what the threat is so it can throw it in your face as often as possible. The main characters might not know exactly what is going on but that’s okay because you do. And you can anticipate what will happen to them.

thriller, horror But! There is an overlap, an overlap which movies often exploit.

Like The Dark Tower, which is under both the horror and thriller categories on Amazon.

How often have you seen what is clearly a horror movie filed under thriller? There is a stigma attached to horror movies, perhaps it’s a belief that they won’t have the same draw as a thriller, or maybe they won’t make as much money.

A horror can be filled with suspense and anticipation. And a thriller can have it’s fair share of gore and disturbing scenes.

So when you’re looking for a movie or a book that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, and make you feel a little less alone, look in both categories.

And if you’re trying to decide what catagory your book or movie belongs in -perhaps it belongs in both?

Perhaps it’s about feelings

When a thriller gets your attention you are in a constant state of anticipation, an eagerness to find out what happens, who did it, why. Where as a horror is more likely to have you pulling faces, hiding behind the nearest cushion, or wondering if that much blood really comes out of a wound like that. Both can make you jumpy, suspicious, wary. And both can have you in suspense. There are a lot of shades of grey between these two genres.