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The 13 Best Hitchcock Films

March 12, 2012  |  8:30am
The 13 Best Hitchcock Films

Today is National Alfred Hitchcock Day, so to pay tribute to the legendary master of suspense, we’re revisiting 13 of his finest pictures.

Hitch himself would be pleased that we settled on a nice, odd number to whittle our picks down to—the unlucky number 13 repeatedly crops up in his work, and it was reportedly his favorite number. But these are certainly only the tip of the iceberg; the prolific filmmaker managed to direct 54 movies over the course of six decades. It’s an unparalleled body of work that’s certainly worth revisiting.

That being said, we’re sure the suspense (see what we did there?) is killing you, so without further ado, we give you the Best Alfred Hitchcock Films.

13. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

This is actually Hitchcock’s second attempt at telling the story of an American couple (Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) caught up in an assassination plot while vacationing in Morocco—it’s a remake of his 1934 film of the same name. In 1967, Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he believed this version was the better movie, calling the original the work of “a talented amateur.”

12. Frenzy (1972)

Hitchcock’s penultimate (and arguably last great) film is also his grisliest. As movie censors became slightly more relaxed in the 1970s, Hitchcock was allowed to show more violence and even some nudity. It’s still tame by today’s standards, but the tale of a London serial killer who rapes and strangles his female victims with a necktie is the master of suspense at his most graphic.

11. Rope (1948)

Inspired by Niezsche’s Ubermensch concept and the idea of the “perfect murder,” two college students kill a classmate simply to prove they can and then host a dinner party for their victim’s friends and family to see if they’ll catch on. Rope is notable for its extremely long takes and for taking place in real time, making it one of Hitchcock’s more experimental movies.

10. Rebecca (1940)

Joan Fontaine stars as a woman haunted by the memory of her husband’s (Laurence Olivier) first wife. Like most of Hitchcock’s work, what makes it truly spooky are its relatable themes—in this case, living in someone else’s shadow and worrying that a loved one’s hiding something. As a result, it took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 1940.

9. The Birds (1963)

Film geeks have gone back and forth for decades about what the birds who terrorize Tippi Hendron in this classic horror movie are supposed to represent. Some critics claim that the birds are a metaphor for the countercultural movements of the ‘60s, while others insist they’re a symbol of female sexuality. It doesn’t matter which theory you subscribe to—getting your eyes pecked out seems pretty scary either way.

8. Dial M for Murder (1954)

The first of Hitchcock’s collaborations with Grace Kelly, this film follows a man who attempts to have his cheating wife murdered. Like Rope, the majority of the movie takes place in a single apartment, adding an air of claustrophobia to the thriller.

7. Strangers on a Train (1951)

In which Hitchcock goes wild with visual metaphor: doubles and criss-crosses both crop up consistently throughout the film, a play on the “criss-cross murders” that two men—Guy, a soft-spoken tennis star, and Bruno, a flashy stranger—who meet on a train agree to commit. The director also expertly plays with lighting here, using it to symbolize the darkness that lies within us.

6. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

In 1964, Hitchcock revealed that he believed this film to be his finest work, and it’s easy to see why. Shadow of a Doubt features a stellar performance by Joseph Cotten, and its idyllic, suburban setting was hugely influential to the horror genre. By revealing the menace that often lies within seemingly safe, quiet neighborhoods, Hitchcock laid the groundwork for other spooky suburban locales in movies like Halloween and Scream.

5. Notorious (1946)

Plenty of what Notorious deals with—espionage, attempted murder—is old-hat for Hitchcock, but what sets this film apart is that it’s also one of his greatest love stories. When they’re not hunting Nazis, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are exuding white-hot chemistry. Their two-and-a-half-minute kissing scene is famous for being a blatant attempt to get around censors. The rule at the time was that on-screen kisses could only last three seconds, so Hitchcock simply had the actors break apart every three seconds before resuming the liplock.

4. Rear Window (1954)

Perhaps the most classic example of a Hitchcock film, Rear Window features many of the director’s hallmarks, including being set in a single room and tackling the topic of voyeurism. Shot almost entirely from the point-of-view of Jeff (Jimmy Stewart), an injured photographer confined to his apartment, it makes the audience feel as though they too have been spying on their neighbors, raising questions about human nature and reminding us that we have, in fact, “become a race of Peeping Toms.”

3. Pyscho (1960)

Easily one of the most iconic movies of all time—Hitchcock or otherwise—this film set a new standard for horror movies with its major twists. The director deliberately tried to mislead the audience by casting the all-American Anthony Perkins as the villainous Norman Bates and killing off his main character within the first third of the film (in the infamous shower scene, which features a whopping 77 different camera angles).

2. North by Northwest (1959)

This stylish thriller is arguably Hitchcock’s most visually stunning, featuring a memorable scene atop Mount Rushmore, a run-in with a cropduster and Cary Grant as an ad man who sports some sleek suits that would do Don Draper proud.

1. Vertigo (1958)

Hitchcock’s masterpiece features a phenomenal performance by frequent collaborator Jimmy Stewart. His typically warm everyman on-screen persona is gone, and here he’s neurotic, cold and obsessed—and brilliant. It’s also regarded as Hitchcock’s most personal film; the idea of a man remaking a woman in the image of another he’s lost is often said to reflect the director’s decision to keep casting Grace Kelly-esque blondes after feeling “abandoned” by Kelly, who retired from acting in 1956.

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