There’s no doubt that Hitchcock deserves his title of the Master of Suspense; many of his films are dark, taut and intensely engaging thrillers. However, he’s much more than that. Hitchcock often experimented with new techniques, camera effects, and writing devices to create his own signature style.
While it’s almost impossible to narrow down his lengthy filmography into just a few “best” offerings, we did just that. Sue us.
here is Screen Rant’s List of the 15 Best Alfred Hitchcock Movies.
The Birds (1963)
Another literary adaptation, The Birds is loosely based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, which introduced the concepts of flocks of murderous birds. The incredible film proves that Hitchcock can use his particular brand of suspense to turn just about anything into nightmare-fodder, as a town is terrorized by feathered kamikazes.
As well as simply being flat-out terrifying, The Birds includes some phenomenal social commentary on how people respond to fear and crises. After the town has started to realize that there is a major issue unfolding, central characters Melanie (Tippi Hendren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) head to a restaurant, where the other patrons reveal all the ways in which people can react to terror; some refuse to believe it’s happening at all, others turn to religion for an explanation, or eschew any explanation in favor of the idea of complete extermination. Most frighteningly of all, we see how a young mother turns on others in her desire to protect her children.
The Birds is continually referenced in pop-culture, even being spoofed in The Simpsons. Earlier this year, The Birds inspired a piece in Banksy’s Dismaland art installation.
Dial M for Murder (1954)
This complex crime thriller (based on the play by Frederick Knott) takes us through twist after twist as a man attempts to pull off the perfect murder. Starting with a classic love triangle (the husband who is always working, the wife who starts an affair to cope with her loneliness), Dial M For Murder quickly builds up an intricate plot to kill Margot (Grace Kelly), the cheating wife.
Using a staged blackmail attempt to force a criminal into becoming the murderer, Tony (Ray Milland) thinks he has contrived a way to keep himself in the clear – but things quickly go sideways. Not only does the schedule fall apart, but Margot proves more than our unwilling executioner can handle, and Tony is left scrambling to fix it. The blame shifts from suspect to suspect until a trail of mistakes leads to the truth.
Dial M For Murder is continually referenced in pop-culture, including The Simpsons, Archer, Family Guy, The West Wing, Castle, 3rd Rock From the Sun and even My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (in the episode “Dial P for Pony”).
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
In this comedy-thriller, Hitchcock returns to one of his favorite themes; espionage. When a train is forced to make an unscheduled stop overnight, the passengers get to know each other, including the hilariously cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicott, who provide much of the comic relief in the film. (Actors Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne were so popular as the cricket-loving duo that they appeared in character in other films and radio programs.)
Back on the train, our leading lady realizes that a passenger appears to be missing, yet the others seem strangely unwilling to admit to having met her at all. With the help of the one passenger who believes her, she sets out to find the missing Miss Froy, and uncovers a plot to prevent messages from being passed to the Foreign Office.
The Lady Vanishes not only shows off Hitchock’s wit and ability to combine suspense and hilarity, but also serves as another look at the foibles of humanity. Many of the passengers are not directly involved in the dastardly plot, but lie about their knowledge of Miss Froy for their own reasons, showing up their weaknesses in the process.
A psychological thriller centered around a twisted love story, Marnie is the ultimate story of the Hitchcock-blonde (and the last time that this quintessential Hitchcock character appears as the focus of a film in this way). Following the titular female thief (Tippi Hendren) who is blackmailed into marriage, the story centers on her relationship with her new husband (Sean Connery) – a man who comforts her and attempts to help her with her issues, but is also her blackmailer and rapist.
Instead of some of the convoluted plots that we see in his other films, in Marnie the story is truly one of human relationships (along with a desire to solve the mystery of what caused the heroine’s deep-seated issues).
Marnie is also famed for starring Sean Connery, and for the fact that he asked to see a script before committing to the role of Mark. This unprecedented request was allegedly due to Connery’s unwillingness to be typecast as a spy (due to his famous role as James Bond), and didn’t seem to phase Hitchcock, who reportedly got along well with Connery during filming.
North by Northwest (1959)
This award-winning film was nominated for three Oscars, and is the quintessential Hitchcock spy-thriller. Starring Cary Grant, the movie is one of his many examples of an innocent man being hunted for a crime he didn’t commit; in this case, framed for a staged drunk driving accident (and later, a murder).
The film includes a perfect example of the “MacGuffin”: a term popularized by Hitchcock to mean an object that everyone is chasing. In North by Northwest, that object is a roll of microfilm. The movie also includes his classic themes of mistaken identity and espionage, but is intentionally lacking in deep symbolism. Hitchcock himself said that after Vertigo, he wanted to do something “fun, lighthearted and generally free of symbolism”.
Featuring the famous Cary Grant and his favorite leading lady, Ingrid Bergman, this film-noir drama is regularly recognized as one of Hitchcock’s best. Sticking with one of his favorite ingredients (espionage), the film centers around the conflict between love and duty as a female double agent is convinced to infiltrate a Nazi group using seduction. This is, of course, despite being in love with the agent who first approached her for the mission.
Featuring many of his usual motifs, Notorious is, uh, notorious for being the first film where Hitchcock truly explored the character of the mother – one who becomes a major villain in many of his later films. The movie also garnered attention for circumventing the ban on screen kisses longer than three seconds (by having the characters break during the kiss to speak, before returning to it).
Probably Hitchcock’s best known thriller, Psycho, led to multiple sequels, a TV series (two, if you count a failed pilot from ’87), a 1998 remake and countless pop-culture references. Sadly, this can mean that the shocking twist loses a lot of its impact for new viewers, but even knowing what happens can’t detract from the heavy tension of the film.
The film was controversial when first released, largely due to the explicit sexual scenes and violence (it may seem tame now, but at the time this was one of the first films to get away with showing, for example, an unmarried couple in bed together), but also because Hitchcock demanded a “no late admissions” policy. This was reportedly because of his decision to kill off Janet Leigh’s character early in the film, despite billing her as the lead actress in most of the film’s marketing materials.
Rear Window (1954)
This classic thriller starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly was nominated for four Oscars, and routinely makes it onto “Best Film” lists. Another dark Hitchcock take on human nature, Rear Window centers around Jeff (Stewart), a photographer stuck at home with a broken leg who becomes fascinated by the activities of his neighbors. Viewing the world through binoculars, he begins to suspect foul play by one of the other residents of the compound, and pursues his hunch even though the police can’t find any evidence that he is right.
The plot itself isn’t overly complicated (as far as Hitchcock films go), but the true genius of the film comes from the final scenes. It’s not the murder itself that is frightening here, but the human reactions to it, which are deeply disturbing.
Another adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier novel (of the same name), Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film away from his home in the UK, a moody film noir starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.
This dark story of a widower (Olivier) and his wives (past and present) takes us through a plethora of twists and turns as various characters flirt with insanity, deception and murder. The story is revealed piece by piece in quintessential Hitchcock style, and the obsessive and flawed characters come together to create a perfect example of a romance noir film. Rebecca was nominated for eleven Oscars, and won two (including Best Picture) – making it the most successful Hitchcock film at the Academy Awards (notoriously, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director).
While definitely not one of Hitchcock’s better films, in terms of plot (although this can be at least partially attributed to the source material: the play of the same name by Patrick Hamilton), Rope remains one of his most impressive works for the techniques he experimented with while making it.
The story of a pair of murderous intellectuals (John Dall and Farley Granger) was shot in an incredibly small number of long takes (one single long take was not possible at the time, due to the length of film reels), takes place in real time and was almost entirely unedited. The set was designed with walls and furniture on rollers, allowing them to slide out of the way silently during filming, and slide back in when the camera was turned to face them again. It was then edited together to resemble one single long take.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Shadow of a Doubt is another spine-chilling classic from the great director. Centering on a visiting uncle (Joseph Cotten) who may not be quite what he seems and a young woman (Teresa Wright) who has her suspicions about him, this film is everything you want from a taut thriller.
As usual, the suspense and slow revelations are incredible, and the film explores the darker motivations of humanity. Uncle Charlie is both charming and terrifying, while young Charlie seems far more appealing at first, but shows herself as far less than perfectly honorable in the end. Romance, mystery and crime drama, this has all the elements of his greatest works.
Strangers On A Train (1951)
This is one of many Hitchcock films that revels a fascination with the concept of a “perfect murder”, and remains one of his best-known and most critically-acclaimed. Opening with the chance meeting of two men in a train carriage, it is revealed that one of them believes to have come up with the perfect way to get away with murder: he offers that the two men should “swap” murder victims. This way, neither has any connection to the person they actually kill, and both victims end up dead.
A seemingly intelligent plan, it quickly goes awry as Bruno (Robert Walker) holds up his end of the “deal,” but Guy (Farley Granger) is unwilling to commit “his” murder. Above and beyond the incredible suspense and plot twists, Strangers on a Train also gained a place in film history for one particular scene: the murder of Miriam (Laura Elliot). This slow strangulation is viewed entirely as a reflection in the victims’ glasses, and is a stunningly, darkly beautiful shot.
The 39 Steps (1935)
This early thriller adaptation of the book by the same name (by John Buchan) follows a Canadian interloper in England (Robert Donat), who ends up embroiled in an espionage plot and framed for murder. One of many adaptations of the novel, Hitchcock’s is usually considered the definitive version, and features many of the incredible elements for which he is known.
The 39 Steps is one of many films to center around an innocent man running from the law – playing on the common fear of persecution. The film also establishes the “ice queen” character (Madeleine Carroll) who appears in most of the director’s movies; blonde, remote, mesmerizing and fetishized.
Torn Curtain (1966)
Hitchcock’s fiftieth film, Torn Curtain returns to the spy-thriller genre, with a story of the Cold War. Full of all the usual plot twists, the film centers around a scientist (Paul Newman) who travels to East Germany to publicly defect… except that he is in fact a double agent. His true mission is to discover and return home with enemy secrets. His fiance (Julie Andrews) came with him on the trip, despite his exhortations for her to stay home, and the two end up in a desperate race to escape before their multi-layered treachery is discovered.
This classic thriller-romance (starring James Stewart) follows a police detective who retires due to his acrophobia (fear of heights) and acute vertigo. He is asked to investigate a woman (Kim Novak) whose husband believes that she may be possessed, and falls madly in love with her in the process. It seems that the presumed “possession” is not the only mystery here, as he discovers a convoluted plot involving multiple identities and murder.
This was the first film to use the “dolly zoom”, a camera technique that distorts the perspective of the shot and creates a feeling of dizziness and disorientation in the viewer. The film opened to mixed reviews, but was later accepted as one of Hitchcock’s best works.
Of course, Hitchcock made literal dozens of movies over the course of half a century. Are we missing any of your favorites?