Unsurprisingly, a good number of the best Alfred Hitchcock Movies are in the thriller genre; and for his use of innovative techniques in these thrillers, the renowned English director and filmmaker were dubbed the Master of Suspense. Hitchcock lived and made movies in a time when technology was at its fledgling phase, regardless, Hitchcock always gave his audiences something new to look forward to in his depiction of whatever story he was directing.
In addition to his ever-evolving film quality, Hitchcock’s films revolved around psycho-dramas and adventure flicks and usually had recurring themes. Having been under the tutelage of American filmmaker David O. Selznick, Hitchcock’s distinctive works would come to influence a great deal the next generation of filmmakers.
To put it mildly, no history of the cinema would be complete without the mention of the film genius that is Alfred Hitchcock. Starting out in his native Britain, Hitchcock made his foray into Hollywood in the 1940s and reigned into the late 1970s. Ironically, Hitchcock never won an Oscar, despite receiving 5 nominations, a glaring fact to support the argument that Oscar doesn’t always get it right. Hitchcock was, however, decorated with many other accolades, among them the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Fellowship Award and the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award. As is oft the case with Brits who have been remarkable at their chosen field, Hitchcock was in 1980 – the same year he passed – honored with a knighthood.
The filmmaker’s oeuvre boasts over 50 films over half of which were extremely remarkable. On the film review website, Rotten Tomatoes, Hitchcock has 8 of his films ranked at the perfect 100% mark. In our list, we take you through the 10 best Alfred Hitchcock Movies while discussing some key elements about each one. Noteworthy is the fact that the top 8 movies on this list have all been selected by the US National Film Registry for preservation. The body selects movies for preservation based upon their significance with regards to culture, history, and/or aesthetics.
Top 10 Alfred Hitchcock Movies
10. Strangers On A Train (1951)
As the title gives away, Strangers on a Train follows the story of two strangers who meet each other for the first time on a train trip. One of them is a young tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and the other is a psychopath Bruno Antony (Robert Walker).
After the tennis star complains to the psychopath about his disdain for his promiscuous wife Miriam (Laura Elliott), the psychopath suggests that they swap murders so that the murder can’t be traced to any of them due to no apparent motive. Bruno suggests that he kills Mirian so the tennis star would be free to marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman) – the daughter of a US Senator whom he has now fallen in love with and Haines would return the favor by killing Bruno’s father whom Bruno hates.
The psychopath does his part after wrongfully thinking that Haines had agreed to the plan and then things get really interesting…
The film starred Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, and Pat Hitchcock – Alfred Hitchcock’s only child. It earned three award nominations including an Oscar nod for Best Cinematography, Best Directing and Best Film for Hitchcock.
9. Rope (1948)
Alfred Hitchcock was applauded for his bold experimenting with this film. He opted to use long takes so the film appears as a single continuous shot and to achieve this, Hitchcock didn’t adopt the conventional film techniques that were mostly in use at the time. The filmmaker had applied this technique to make the story, which is based upon the real-life murder of a 14-year-old Bobby Franks by two students from the University of Chicago, seem as real as possible.
This Alfred Hitchcock movie was made with a budget of not more than $2 million and it made $2.7 million at the global box office, with $2 million alone made in America. The film’s main cast included James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, and Joan Chandler.
8. Rebecca (1940)
Rebecca was many firsts for Alfred Hitchcock – his first American film, first of his films on contract with his mentor David O. Selznick, and the first of his films to win the coveted Academy Award for Best Picture which went to David O. Selznick and his Selznick International Pictures. The cinematographer George Barnes also won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black and White while Hitchcock earned a nod for Best Director.
In the film, a certain aristocratic widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) marries an inexperienced young woman (Joan Fontaine) following the death of his first wife Rebecca. However, the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) who is not over the death of her former madam, makes married life difficult for the new woman of the home. The film is based upon a Daphne du Maurier 1938 novel of the same name.
7. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Alfred Hitchock’s movies include a handful where he made cameo appearances and this psychological thriller film noir is just one of them. The film which earned an Oscar for Best story tells the story of a certain Charles Oakley who leaves his home and relocates to a new town for a crime that is revealed as the film progresses. It stars Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, and Patricia Collinge.
6. North By Northwest (1959)
Ernest Lehman who is credited with the screenplay of this film had said to Hitchcock prior to making the film that he wanted to make the greatest Alfred Hitchcock movie and by all indications, including the fact that he earned an Oscar nod for Screenplay, he seemed to have fulfilled his goal.
Not sure of what to do with the original story which was supposed to be from the novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare, Hitchcock birthed the central idea for the film thanks to what an American journalist once told him about spies creating a fake agent as a decoy; he reached out to the journalist for the full gist paying $10,000 for her idea.
The spy film was filmed at many iconic locations including the Plaza Hotel and the United Nations Headquarters which served as the opening scene where a murder occurs. The film made $9.8 million against a budget of $4.3 million. Among its stars are Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Jessie Royce Landis.
5. Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock made a handful of movies starring Grace Kelly and Rear Window is one of them. The Technicolor mystery thriller film is considered by many critics as one of the greatest films ever made. The film tells the story of Jeff a professional photographer confined to a wheelchair in his apartment in Greenwich Village and his suspicions of criminal activities in his neighborhood based on what he sees from his rear window.
The film was hugely profitable making over $36 million against a $1 million budget. A prestigious benefit world premiere was held for the film with proceeds going to the American–Korean Foundation – an aid organization established post the Korean War. In Time‘s review of the film, it said that there was no time in the film when Hitchcock didn’t show professional mastery of his material. Variety lauded his combination of technical and artistic skills.
4. Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo, long after it was made, continues to top film lists. On Sight & Sound‘s 2012 list of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time, Vertigo replaced 1941’s, Citizen Kane at the top spot. James Stewart stars as the lead – a detective named Scottie who is forced into early retirement by an incident that left him with a fear of heights and vertigo – which is a false sense of rotational movement. In order to convey Scottie’s acrophobia, the film makes use of an in-camera effect known as dolly-zoom which basically distorts perspective to create disorientation.
Though initially met by mixed reviews, critics would later have only excellent remarks for this mystery film – and they truly can’t be blamed, Hitchcock’s idea, after all, is to confuse it’s audiences as much as possible.
3. The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s movies include a generous amount of horrors and The Birds happens to be his best. The film entails a sudden and unexplained bird attack on the people of Bodega Bay, California which lasts for some days. Hitchcock, unlike his other works, didn’t employ any soundtrack for this film allowing the natural clamor from the birds to serve as the horror quotient. Tainting the film’s brilliance was the revelation, post-Hitchcock’s death, of the sexual advances Hitchcock made on its lead actress, Tippi Hedren, and his seeming punishment to her on set after she declined his advances.
2. Notorious (1946)
Notorious is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies that stand out thanks to its romantic theme – one that is apparently uncommon in his works. It follows the aftermath of WW2 where FBI agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) uses his lover Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who have relocated to South America.
Among the movie’s highlight is the 2.5 minutes kissing scene between Grant and Bergman which went against the 3-sec limit set on kissing scenes at the time, however, in order to play safe, Hitchcock interrupts the kiss every 3 seconds. It made over $20 million against a $1 million budget.
1. Psycho (1960)
The master of psychological thrillers just had to make a film titled Psycho – his first horror film and unsurprisingly, it became the biggest commercial success of his over 5-decade career, making $50 million from a mere $800K budget.
In typical Hitchcock fashion, the film taunts viewers throughout, playing out every killing scene in the chilliest way possible most especially the killing of the film’s lead, halfway through the film. Hitchock’s regular film scorer, Bernard Herrmann, matches each scene with the hair-raising sounds. Little wonder why this is considered one of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies of all time.