“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” When asked about his techniques and style of direction, this was Alfred Hitchcock’s reply. An idea which is still used so effectively to this day. Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most intriguing, influential and visionary directors of modern cinema. Like all great filmmakers, he sought to push past the barriers of his generation, paving way for a new generation influenced by his films.
Hitchcock is responsible for some of the greatest films ever made. You have Fincher, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan, but there can only be one Master of Suspense. Let’s take a look at the 10 greatest films made by Alfred Hitchcock:
10. Rope (1948)
Rope is one of the most unforgettable tales ever told by Alfred Hitchcock. The movie narrates not only a gripping tale about murder but also investigates the lives of those who are affected by it. It’s an underrated piece of work as the mystery and suspense will keep you hooked for the entire duration of the film. But do yourself a favour. Don’t watch the trailer before the film. It might ruin some things. After all, trailers weren’t really in fashion back in the day.
Nevertheless, the sheer amount of shock and suspense is ginormous and well-crafted. It is a balanced and extremely mysterious film that is definitely among the finest in Hitchcock’s career.
9. Strangers On A Train (1951)
A study in human psychology, Strangers on a Train is simply one of the best films of all time. The movie concerns two men who meet on a train. It all seems like a chance encounter but their fates and destines get irreversibly intertwined when one of them turns out to be a murderous maniac. The deliberations on the value of life and the burden on one’s conscience is amazingly profound. The movie is so suspenseful yet quite action-packed for a Hitchcock movie. Strangers On A Train gives us some of the best performances in Hollywood. And with that, we get a plot that is completely original and stimulating. The movie is a sheer tour de force. It is brilliant and surely a masterpiece among Hitchcock’s collections.
8. The Birds (1963)
This is a quintessential Hitchcock movie. It tells the story of a small town that is ravaged by a violent bird population. The premise seems like something drawn out from a B-grade script. After all, the simplicity is off the charts. But leave it to Hitchcock to turn something as insignificant as a bird infestation into material for unhinged horror, unsolved mystery and unrelenting suspense. The thing that I absolutely love about the movie is its capacity and its courage to keep the audience in the dark long into the film. And there’s no escape. Add to that some excellent performances and a tone that is chilling and you get what is, arguably, the rawest emotion Hitchcock has ever presented on screen.
7. Rebecca (1940)
Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who falls desperately in love with, and then marries a wealthy widower. But as soon as she’s settled in his country estate, she finds disturbing secrets about his late wife, Rebecca.
It was one of the best psychological thrillers produced by the industry. The gothic feel of the novel has been captured wonderfully as we witness elements of horror being incorporated without much effort. The horrific style lies not in the plot but in the architecture of the movie itself. And that is what is so brilliant about the film.
Surprisingly, this was the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture.
6. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Starring Grace Kelly as Margot, Dial M for Murder is a story of a husband plotting to kill his wife after he finds out about her affair. But his plans go awry when Margot manages to fend off her attacker, killing him. Her husband frames her for the murder, and she is set to be executed. Luckily, her lover suspects her husband all along.
The moral dillema now rests with the audience. Who is right and who is wrong? Nothing is clear any more. The dialectic opposites are battling with each other not only in the movie but also in the minds of the viewers, who are also partly shouldering the burden of the crime of the one they are actually rooting for.
This is Hitchcock at his brilliant best, using the audience’s emotions to create an atmosphere of extreme tension.
5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Hitchcock has referred to this film as his personal favourite. This was Hitchcock’s classic dark and suspenseful tone in its highest form. Teresa Wright plays Charlie Newton, a bored teenager in Santa Rosa who’s excited by the arrival of her worldly uncle (and namesake) Charlie Oakley ( played by Joseph Cotten). But Charlie soon learns that her uncle might be the notorious “Merry Widow Murderer.” Cue suspense.
One of the most underrated movies of Hitchcock, in conjuncture with Rope, Shadow of A Doubt is undoubtly one of the best artistic pieces created by Hitchcock. Today, it has gained the reputation that it deserved then and all the acclaim it is worthy of.
4. Rear Window (1954)
It’s always hard trying to rank the films of someone like Alfred Hitchcock, but this is where it becomes near impossible, as the rest of these films are all some of the greatest movies ever made. So bear with me here.
Alfred Hitchcock makes an extremely well structured, extremely suspenseful thriller using one confined space with a man in a wheelchair and a telescope. The man’s a genius. Rear Window refers to the window of a photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) confined to a wheelchair who passes his time spying on his neighbors. But Jeff soon becomes suspicious that his neighbour had murdered his wife and was getting away with it. And no amount of Grace Kelly, Jeff’s love interest, appearances could distract him from that fact. In a rather genius move, rather than go to the scene of the crime, Jeff’s inability to move while a crime is taking place seems to increase the suspense even more.
Goes to show the wonders you can do when you’re bored. Take note, people.
3. Vertigo (1958)
*phew* Putting this at number three was a tough one. The top three movies in this list have all been hailed at one point as Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Vertigo is definitely one of them. Jimmy Stewart, frequent Hitchcock collaborator, stars as Scottie, a detective suffering from a bad case of vertigo after watching his partner fall to his death. He is hired by an acquaintance to follow his wife (Kim Novak), and soon falls in love with the beautiful, mysterious woman. When she jumps off a bell tower, he decides to remake a strikingly similar lady (Novak in a dual role) in her image.
No words can describe how good this movie is. And it’s also a surprise that Vertigo was a box-office flop. The man’s light years ahead of his time.
2. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock abandoned his refined and polished tone to make a grittier, creepier film, made in black and white. Psycho tells the story of desperate secretary (Janet Leigh) who steals $40,000 from her boss’s client, goes on the run, and hides out at a motel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a lonely and mysterious man, and his unseen mother.
I’m not ashamed to say this. Okay, I am a little bit. I cover my ears every time the secretary is stabbed to death in *that* shower scene with that screeching score, which has been used WAY too many times since. But what shocked me most is the ending. Classic Hitchcock twists. The sequels were just horrible (not Hitchcock’s).
1. North By Northwest (1959)
My grandfather recommended North by Northwest when I was 14. I’ve been hooked to Hitchcock ever since. The top three are all flexible, really, so if you ask me, they can be arranged in any order you like. But since this was the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw, and for the sheer brilliance of the film, this Cary Grant-starrer takes top spot.
Grant is a man who is mistaken for a spy by the name of George Kaplan, which forces him to constantly be on the run. In a way, you could say that North by Northwest paved the way for daring male roles like James Bond, Han Solo and Indiana Jones. But what this movie will most be remembered for is the crop duster chase scene which NEVER gets old. A milestone of cinema. In fact, a lot of the movies on this list are just that.
“What is a man but a miserable pile of secrets?” This quote strongly resonates with the sentiments and core thematics of Hitchcock movies. The expertly crafted mysteries and the perfectly executed suspense are all magnificent by-products of the genius of Hitchcock.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, waste no time. Start bingeing!
By Aditya Sarma
(Additional writing by Deepjyoti Roy)