Alfred Hitchcock being one the finest filmmakers in the history of world cinema, is known for directing some great suspense movies. As an auteur with an illustrious career spanning over five decades, he has over 30 titles in his opulent oeuvre. Although, Hitchcock is predominantly known for making suspense films, but he has touched upon multiple themes and has used gamut of narratives to weave those stories. Moreover, he has an inventive approach in screenwriting and inundates his characters with abstract psychological attributes that drive characters’ actions in his film.
Hitchcock was a filmmaker who insisted on perfection in the way he shot the films. He was often observed to have taken as much as 5 different shots for one scene and leave it to the editor or often himself on which one to utilize during the post-production. The filmmaker used to give more time to pre-production than the production process itself. He would take his time to visualize the scenes and make sure that he has storyboards of all the scenes. However, this method often contradicts the idea of taking more than one takes for a scene. Moreover, he is often castigated for portrayal of woman as a male gaze in his films. Despite all the criticism, one cannot deny the fact that Hitchcock had great attention to detail and his films were masterpieces.
It’s always difficult to pick 15 best films by Alfred Hitchcock as he has myriad of masterpieces to his name. However, we have created the list of 15 titles that are must watch for a film lover.
Here’s the list of best films by Alfred Hitchcock –
1. Number Seventeen  –
It tells the story wherein a gang of thieves gather in a safe house after a robbery, but a detective chases them. This was one of the earliest films by Alfred Hitchcock. It was one of those Hitchcock films that are highly entertaining but practically implausible. Hitchcock’s naivety as a director is palpable in this film. However, what’s the best thing about ‘Number Seventeen’ is it’s a neat setting, smart use of camera, black and white essence and more importantly, juxtaposition of images. With all its potholes, it seems more like the reign of a technical maestro of world cinema.
2. The 39 Steps  –
‘The 39 Steps’ is the earliest example of Hitchcock’s genius and the use of the plot device called MacGuffin. The film tells the story of a man who goes on to help an agent, but when the agent is killed, he gets accused, and what follows is a journey to save himself as well as the secret information with him. Military secrets play the role of MacGuffin in the film. The film is fast paced and has a lot of humor element. The film is often addressed as Hitchcock’s first classic. Moreover, it is also appreciated as one of the best British films ever made by prominent institutes like British Film Institute, Total Film and Time Out Magazine.
3. Rebecca  –
Rebecca showcased Alfred Hitchcock’s understanding of human psychology. It’s the story of an insecure wife who suffers due to the memory of her husband’s first wife. It’s Rebecca when Alfred Hitchcock started portraying women in the way he is often discussed (or rather criticized) as. The psychological torture that the female protagonist goes through leads to victimization, and her portrayal as a mere male gaze often seem to contradict in this film. The sexual fixation of the character Danver for his past wife often seems more like necrophilia of sorts. The film won the academy award for the best picture and was nominated for 9 other categories too.
4. Shadow of a Doubt  –
The film tells the story of a woman who starts to feel suspicious about her uncle while she thinks that he is not the person he is pretending to be. The relationship shown between the two seems incestuous and again Hitchcock’s portrayal of a female as an object of sexual desire comes into the picture in this film. The film is very dark and has noirish patchwork throughout. The film was also remade as ‘Step Down to Terror’ by Harry Keller. Alfred Hitchcock had quoted this film as his personal favorite.
5. Spellbound  –
Spellbound is perhaps one of the most psychologically discombobulating screenplays ever written. The film tells the story of a psychologist who tries to protect the identity of a patient suffering from Amnesia, who is accused of murder while trying to recover his memory. The film had one of the best dali dream sequences ever created in the history of world cinema. Spellbound is a film that depicts casual sexism. This is because of Hitchcock’s approach of showing females as mere male gazes. It is something that is prevalent in his films. With all its shortcoming, the film boasts about Hitchcock’s extravagant finesse as a filmmaker and also extraordinary background score for which it bagged an Oscar award.
6. Notorious  –
Notorious is the story of a woman who has to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. Alfred Hitchcock’s films are famous for psychological depth, dark humor, and suspense. However, this is a film which happens to be deeply romantic in its archetype and the chemistry between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is endearing. Even without the meticulously crafted nail-biting sequences, Notorious depicts the director’s forte with phenomenal lighting and camera positioning, and that is why it is often advocated as the best and the perfect Hitchcock film ever. To add to the glory of the film, it was Carry Grant’s and Ingrid Bergman’s best performance ever.
7. Strangers on a Train  –
This again is a typical Hitchcock story about a socialite who meets a tennis player only to plot a murder with a full proof plan to get away with it. Strangers on a Train looks more like a discovery in the suspense genre which led to Hitchcock’s other masterpieces like ‘The Wrong Man’ and ‘Dial M for Murder’. It was an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, but just like Stanley Kubrick, Hitchcock had a penchant for tweaking the original story and presenting it with his own perspective. He had changed the character attributes of the main characters. The film got the nominations for best cinematography, direction, and best picture. However, it did not end triumphantly.
8. Dial M for Murder  –
‘Dail M for Murder’ is a courtroom drama which tells the story of an ex-tennis pro who plots to murder his wife. However, he eventually resorts to an inscrutable plan-B to get away with the murder. This thriller had elements of adultery and blackmail. The film depicts an arcane camera work, which is Hitchcock’s style of creating suspense in audiences. The best part about this classic is it becomes an entertaining watch and doesn’t have too much of psychological intricacies which are rather an integral part of Hitchcock films, but even in the absence of it, the film manages to be a thrilling experience that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
9. Rear Window  –
This is one of the films in which psychological attribute of a character plays the role of a MacGuffin. The main character of the film chooses voyeurism. It becomes the only element that drives the story. However, what happens in the film is much important to an audience than the attribute itself. Rear Window is one of the greatest films and has elements of comedy, romance, thriller, and mystery. Yet again, the film depicts sly camera work and also confounds audience with cryptic frames. The film is a must watch for suspense film lovers. Academy awards had nominated Rear Window for five categories, but did not win any of them.
10. The Man Who Knew Too Much  –
The film tells the story of a family on vacation that comes across a murder plot, but the conspirators prevent them from interference. History of cinema is full of filmmakers who made similar films and that include Federico Fellini. However, Alfred Hitchcock remade his own 1934 film – The Man Who Knew Too Much. The film has James Stewart and Doris Day. It becomes refreshing to watch a rather comedic heroine Doris Day giving an intense yet outstanding performance in a challenging role. Even though it’s a remake, but Hitchcock had hired screenwriter John Hayes on the condition that he would not watch the older one or even read the script.
11. The Wrong Man  –
It tells the story of a man who is whom the police wrongly arrest for robbery. The script of the film took inspiration from Maxwell Anderson’s own novel “The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero”. The style of shooting makes the film Freudian and gives it a shape of a dream, like it happens in Martin Scorsese’s use of montage in ‘Taxi Driver’ which came later in 1976. The film in a way gets very depressing as the story progresses and audience witnesses a rather despondent and miserable story of the protagonist.
12. Vertigo  –
Post-1955 is arguably Hitchcock’s golden era as a filmmaker. Vertigo is one of the films that comprehensively affirm the statement. It tells the story of a detective who is suffering from acrophobia and goes on to investigate the activities of an old friend’s wife only to become obsessed with her. Critics and audiences regarded Vertigo as Hitchcock’s artistic triumph. The film has an impeccable screenplay and the performances of the characters make it look even better. The film’s enigmatic essence promises to linger on for quite a while after watching it. One of the very few films by Hitchcock that was not just about mastering the genre of suspense, but about raising the standards of his own filmmaking.
13. North By Northwest  –
Alfred Hitchcock had a strong affinity towards showing a man wrongly accused of something. Yet again in ‘North by Northwest’, an advertising man is mistaken as a government agent by a group of foreign spies who follow him across the country, while the man finds ways to escape. The film has witty dialogues and some funny sequences which satiate the appetite for laughter. However, what’s the best thing about the film is how Hitchcock crafts the suspense in the narrative. The film is more of a spy adventure flicks, that hits the right chords just right to entertain the audiences. It was nominated for 3 nominations in Academy Awards.
14. Psycho  –
This perhaps is the eeriest scenario in an Alfred Hitchcock film. The way the filmmaker has shot only makes it even scarier. It tells the story of a Phoenix secretary, who checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother. Moreover, the film depicts a restrained mother-son relationship, again a pattern of Hitchcock movie. Out of Hitchcock films, it is ‘Psycho’ that has that frightful resonating effect as Hitchcock uses all his elements of excellence including psychological projection and edgy camera work, subsequently giving the film shape of an indelibly unnerving thriller.
15. The Birds  –
The film is based on the novella of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, which tells the story of a series of horrific bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay over the course of few days. Even though it doesn’t depict Hitchcock’s brilliance in giving psychological depths to the characters, but it does thrive on the hair-raising horror it creates. He uses the fearful narrative and turns the birds into scary monsters. The scene wherein the birds attack the town is one of the most horrific moments in the history of cinema. Famous film critic David Thomson regarded it as Hitchcock’s last “unflawed film”.
Study of Alfred Hitchcock’s affluent filmography depicts his much-celebrated mastery in suspense genre with right plot twists, obscure scenarios and more importantly an impeccable ability to culminate the plot into a comprehensible resolving sequence which expounds all the mysteries within the story. Moreover, it’s also interesting to note that with so many films in his oeuvre, Alfred Hitchcock has worked with a myriad of performers and his characterization displays his competency in casting the right actor for a suitable role, and he often gave a cameo in his films, something that many filmmakers have adapted. Hitchcock’s films are evergreen and his movies will always be an imperative subject in cinema.
Alfred Hitchcock did not win an Academy Award as a director. However, the Academy presented him with Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1979.