Alfred Hitchcock had a never-ending career that lasted nearly 50 years while creating over 50 films. “The Master of Suspense” quickly became one of the most influential filmmakers of all time by paving the way for many directors in a wide range of different genres. The British director embodied the term “auteur theory” by becoming the prime force of creative authority and ultimately constructing iconic interweaving genres and themes. It is nearly impossible to determine the five best films from the rest, and even harder to rank those films in order. Nearly every list over the year is different and it almost always changes with further rewatches. My list will surely contradict others, but without further ado, here are my top five Alfred Hitchcock movies.
5. Rear Window- 1954
Rear Window follows a wheelchair-bound photographer as he spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced that one of them is a murderer. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s most polished films despite being the most technically challenged. The story is told almost entirely through the camera of L.B. Jeffries, the crippled main character, as he weaves his lens through each of his neighbors’ homes. The narrow perspective may cause trouble for some directors; however, for Hitchcock, he uses the technique as a way to throw the audience right into the point of view of the character. This is just another method for Hitchcock to make the most out of suspense. By throwing the audience into a POV perspective, the film becomes an indirect analysis of how people watch TV and movies in real life.
Jeffries navigating in and out of peoples’ homes is like changing the channels on your television. Jeffries, in the beginning, is distracted by channels such as a women dancing in the window, a single lonely woman, or a newly wed couple. Meanwhile, the important channel is happening in the background of the distractions as a man covers up the murder of his wife. Hitchcock uses the brilliant analogy to prove that no one pays attention to the real problems directly in front of them. Hitchcock uses a different technique to display suspense in this film, but he does it in a masterful manner. I would’ve ranked the film higher if the ending didn’t fall short of the wonderful anticipation being built up in the first two acts. Still, Hitchcock proves once again why he’s “The Master Of Suspense” with Rear Window.
4. The Birds- 1963
When reviewing Hitchcock films, critics often leave The Birds barely outside the top five ranking. For me, the film instantly became one of my favorites from the very first watch. The film follows a wealthy San Francisco socialite as she travels with a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town. The trip slowly takes a dark and bizarre turn when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people. Hitchcock proves once again that suspense and thrills can be implemented by the expectation of upcoming horror rather than the actual horror itself. The director sets up the characters carefully and slowly in the beginning of the movie, as he plays with suspense by using lighthearted romance and comedy in the first act. The horror doesn’t come until halfway through the movie, but when it comes, it hits the audience hard. The switch is turned when the characters reach the quiet and unsettling town in Northern California.
Crows and seagulls begin to attack the population of the town in flocks. The film poses the question, “What if?” The film then continues to throw an abnormal situation at the characters. What if birds suddenly decide to attack us? The true horror comes from the fact that nobody expects birds to turn on the human race, but if they ever did, could humans do much about it? If you can’t trust birds, then who can you trust? The highlight of the film comes when birds cluster together just outside of a children’s playground while haunting their prey. The cinematography combined with the creepy song proves that Hitchcock loves to haunt his audience using the mere presence of upcoming horror and anticipation.
North By Northwest- 1959
This is where it gets extremely tricky. The top three Hitchcock films could easily be flipped around in any order after a rewatch. North By Northwest is the definition of a classic action/adventure movie. It is James Bond before James Bond. North By Northwest follows a New York City advertising executive as he goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies. Most examples of spy adventure movies converge the genre into horror, or sci-fi. Hitchcock delves into new territory for a spy adventure movie by converging the film into a screwball comedy.
The film is pure entertainment from beginning to end, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats for a full two hours and sixteen minutes. There are many twists and turns in this movie that still hold up to today’s standards. The film is genuinely hilarious and creates an onscreen romance between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint that’s impossible to ignore. Auteurs such as Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, and William Friedkin praise it by calling the movie a “perpetual-motion thriller machine.” There are so many iconic shots and scenes ranging from the United Nations sky shot, to the nerve-racking silent crop-duster scene, to the climatic fight on top of Mount Rushmore. North By Northwest is once again another Hitchcock film that is way ahead of its time.
2. Psycho- 1960
Psycho remains one of the best horror movies of all time and it is still just as terrifying today as it was in 1960. Psycho wasn’t the first slasher movie, but it certainly had the biggest impact on its audience. Very few movies in history manipulated the audience’s emotions in a playfully cruel manner as Psycho did. Hitchcock introduced the world to Norman Bates, who continues to be my personal favorite fictional serial killer to this date. The director portrayed Norman Bates as a regular, innocent, “boy next door” who became much more haunting when he wept for his first victim instead of mocking her. Norman wasn’t introduced until the second act of the film; instead, the film centered around Marion. Marion was the face of marketing for Psycho and the secrecy around the project only enhanced the audience’s terror. Hitchcock was able to mingle sex and violence into terror that future horror filmmakers only hoped to imitate.
The death of Marion Crane became one of the most iconic and terrifying deaths in Hollywood history. Not only was the main character slaughtered halfway through the movie, but Hitchcock was able to make the murder so shocking by placing the gruesome murder in a place of reality. Before Psycho, horror movies focused on ghouls and goblins, but Psycho was able to place a horrific crime right in one’s own home and even in one’s own shower. Even the actress who portrayed Marion Crane admitted to being deathly afraid of showers after the film. The infamous shower scene involved over 77 camera setups and took about six days to film. Everything about Psycho was iconic- the heavy misleading promotion, the eerie cinematography, the chilling performance by Norman Bates, the haunting score, and of course, the mind-boggling plot twist that served as yet another shock. Psycho was a near perfect movie that caused a whole generation to be afraid of taking showers again.
1. Vertigo- 1958
If you had to take the term “ahead of its time” and apply it to any movie, then Vertigo would surely be the definition of this term. Vertigo follows a former police detective who struggles between his personal demons and his obsession with a hauntingly beautiful woman. The movie that originally received poor critic reviews and bombed at the box office is now being coined as the greatest movie ever, passing Citizen Kane on the way. The plot is impossible to summarize in a single logline and its detailed and heavy theme drives the GOAT discussion. Hitchcock mixes suspense with romance and mystery, all while diving deep into the male psychology. “The Master of Suspense” loves experimenting with relationships and especially one-sided relationships. James Stewart does a masterful job at diving into the obsessions of the main character Scottie Ferguson. The audience is being manipulated the whole time, as easily as the characters are being manipulated in the film.
The cinematography in the movie is excellent, just as the use of color is genius. The symbolism of red and green that represents appearance versus reality, and obsession versus innocence, enhances the theme and propels it to be one of the strongest ideas in movie history. I will never forget the use of color in the scene where Judy appears from the bedroom disguised as Madelyn, while the green tint creates a ghostly effect that surrounds her. This shot remains one of my favorite frames of all time. It is nearly impossible to summarize Vertigo without giving too much away. The movie has a painfully slow plot, but as soon as the credits roll, the viewers will have a lasting memory of what they witnessed. Despite the cringe-worthy theme, the viewers will thirst for a rewatch even though it will be just as painful the second time through. I don’t want to give away too much so below I’ve attached some of the most riveting shots along with an incredible trailer remake to the Inception score. Vertigo easily takes the number one Hitchcock spot and is certainly recognized as one of the best movies of all time.