Alfred Hitchcock began his career in the era of silence. An important part of the director’s visual art has been learning, film after film, to tell a story with nuance without using dialogue. One of the great strengths of his career when the industry transitioned to “talkies” was just that. Although he often worked with excellent scripts, Hitchcock is the master of suspense due to his ability to reveal plot, character, and motive solely through imagery. His storytelling intensified when Technicolor was born because his use of color direction was superb. Convey the inner motives and psychology of its characters using specific color schemes.
Updated November 24, 2022: If you’re here for Alfred Hitchcock and all of his outstanding work, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve updated this article with new entries.
Needless to say, Hitchcock left an invaluable mark on the history of cinema. Along with all-time classics like Rear Window, Psycho and Vertigo, Hitchcock will always be remembered as one of the greatest. The master of suspense has left behind a filmography that serves as a “how to” for any director who wants to make a thriller. Here are his best films.
12/12 Frenzy (1972)
A free-wheeling dervish on the streets of London, Frenzy has the darkest sense of humor of Hitchcock’s later films. Well early in his career, Hitchcock abandoned the tight craftsmanship he had become known for. Following a “wrong man, wrong place” plot familiar with the author’s filmography, a serial killer who uses a tie runs rampant.
The murders are brutal, while the killer’s attempts to dispose of the body have a sickly sense of humor, while the police procedural scenes have a biting sense of satire. With actor Jon Finch at the center, delivering a passionate and delirious performance as the man who must clear his name.
11/12 Marnie (1964)
A tense psychological thriller with an incredibly menacing atmosphere that lingers throughout, Marnie stars Sean Connery as a wealthy man who uses his power and devious charm to lure a kleptomaniac played by Tippi Hedren into his hold. The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but is instead shrouded in mystery of Hedren’s character, her origins, and how Connery tries to use his sick sense of love to confront his demons. Filled with a terror that culminates in one of Hitchcock’s most brutal finales, Marnie is as twisted as it gets for the master of suspense.
10/12 The 39 Steps (1935)
UK Gaumont distributors
The 1935 thriller The 39 Steps is arguably Hitchcock’s first true classic. Full of suspense and humor, the film follows Richard Hannay, the innocent man with a murder charge on his head (a favorite trope of Hitchcock, this time played by Robert Donat), who is unwittingly drawn into a hot pursuit. ‘spying. With The 39 Steps, the director popularized his famous plot device of MacGuffins (in this case, otherwise incidental military secrets), which drive the film but are actually unimportant and irrelevant.
9/12 The Birds (1963)
At times hilarious, romantic, and above all, terrifying, The Birds will stand the test of time despite the noise of its special effects due to the terrifying conviction of the attacks. Hitchcock is a director known for his outspokenness and brutality, but no director of his stature was willing to put all characters, including schoolchildren, in danger like Hitchcock was. The Birds is a testament to horror movies with an iconic performance from the legendary Tippi Hedren.
8/12 To Catch a Thief (1955)
A beautiful travelogue across the French Riviera in gorgeous Technicolor in which Hitchcock continued to shoot, To Catch a Thief is a film that draws on the strength of its directors’ visual style while striking a balance with the charisma of its stars. Cary Grant plays a retired master thief who must catch a new impersonator cat burglar to clear his name, while falling in love with an amazing Grace Kelly. Night scenes, shot in an ominous green hue, induce a sense of mystery throughout, never knowing who Grant’s thief can trust. To Catch a Thief is a masterclass in visual splendor and immaculate design.
7/12 Strangers on a Train (1951)
It’s not always the mystery that makes a thriller memorable; it’s often the ingenuity and brilliant wit of a twisted character at the center of the film’s conflict that gives audiences a big baddie to hate. This is the case of Strangers on a Train. Robert Walker plays the psychopath in question who lures a professional tennis star, played by Farley Granger, into a fancy setup about how they can get away with murder.
However, the tennis star has apprehensions, creating a conflict with Walker, a psychotic figure, who plans to carry out the murder plan. The plot leads to one of the great peaks of Hitchcock’s work. Strangers on a Train is a showcase of Hitchcock’s talents because it takes a simple setup and elevates it.
Rope 6/12 (1948)
Hitchcock was always refining his visual style, finding new ways to establish motifs, themes, and key character ideas to be revealed later as plot details. In his 1948 feature, Rope Alfred Hitchcock wondered if he could do the same thing, but all at once – and he could!
By crafting a murder mystery to look like a gunshot before it was fashionable, Hitchcock did what, at the time, seemed impossible. With the charming and cunning wit of its reliable leader Jimmy Stewart at the center, Rope is the culmination of innovative style and boiling tangible tension.
5/12 Notorious (1946)
RKO Radio Pictures
With a dream cast led by Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, this dark, post-WWII noir film follows a seductive spy, Alicia Huberman, who is recruited by government agent TR Devlin to gather information on a group of Nazis in the South. America. One of Notorious’ most memorable scenes is a passionate two-and-a-half-minute kiss between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant that circumvented Hollywood’s production ban on kisses longer than three seconds. Hitchcock films are rarely so romantic.
4/12 Psycho (1960)
Another setting from the master of suspense that will forever be remembered by moviegoers is the infamous shower scene. Not only was this scene groundbreaking for its portrayal of murder and the number of scenes cut in a short period of time, but also for killing whoever we thought the main character would be in the first 20 minutes.
Hitchcock was at his most innovative with Psycho, and he gave us the ultimate evil mama’s boy in Norman Bates. Played with a subtle naivety that turned into psychopathy by Anthony Perkins. Psycho is one of the all-time great slashers and has been endlessly influential; even half a century later, it inspired the underrated horror series Bates Motel.
3/12 Vertigo (1958)
A director whose color palette and direction were unparalleled flexed an even richer tapestry in his Vertigo psychological mystery. With his Everyman muse James Stewart traversing the streets of San Francisco, Hitchcock pushed his work to dizzying, rediscovered intellectual and cinematic depths. As Stewart tries to solve the case of the mysterious woman, played with intimate delicacy by Kim Novak, the two embark on an unforgettable spectral journey of identity, fear and love.
2/12 North by North-West
The funniest and most absurd picture Alfred Hitchcock has ever made, North by Northwest is an unbroken ride of close calls, whodunnits and expertly designed sets, featuring two of the most famous scenes in film history that unfold closely. 30 minutes apart – the close call of the duster and then the chase to the top of Mount Rushmore, one of the villains’ ultimate hangouts.
Hitchcock relied on the always charming and cool Cary Grant to take on the suave villainy of James Mason as Grant has to get himself off false murder charges. A path that takes him down a dangerous road but done in the style that only the master himself could lead.
1/12 rear window
The sense of mystery that Hitchcock can create on a controlled set is an ode to his power as a visual storyteller. The deceptions, fake epiphanies, and gestures that hint at the violence happening in this small block all create one of the great thrillers ever made, all told from James Stewart’s perspective as a wounded journalist through his camera. Rear Window has become the ultimate text of voyeurism, using the camera to peek into a world we don’t fully understand, projecting our senses onto the cuts and objects Hitchcock shows us. It is the pinnacle of Hitchcock’s photographic prowess and power of suggestion.