Top Ten: Alfred Hitchcock Films

Alfred Hitchcock, celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday last week, is undeniably my favorite director. I’ve seen almost all of his filmography, barring a few scattered ones here and there and most of the silents, and even though there are a few I’m not that crazy about (looking at you, Under Capricorn), by and large I’m going to be at least entertained and often blown away by his work. In fact, an Alfred Hitchcock film is my #1 of all time, and three Hitchcock films are in my Top Twenty, more than any other filmmaker by far. Looking farther down, all of my Top Ten Hitchcock films are in the top 15% of my Flickchart, and I have 16 Hitchcock films in my Top 1000 (basically the top 1/3 of my chart). Not too shabby for the Master of Suspense.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The Trouble with Harry is my go-to recommendation for underrated Hitchcock films. In a small New England town, one of those places where everyone knows everyone else, a man ends up dead in the woods and no one seems particularly upset about it. In fact, several people are fairly convinced they’re the ones who killed him. The dark comedy side of Hitchcock is in full view here, and it’s gleefully macabre and dry. Also, Shirley MacLaine’s screen debut. So there’s that.

9 – The 39 Steps (1935)

The sole British film on my list, The 39 Steps epitomizes the witty charm that characterized Hitchcock’s British period while also foreshadowing many of the themes that would run throughout his career – mistaken identity, the wrong man on the run from shadowy pursuer, a forced entanglement leading to a romance, a cool blonde, etc. Robert Donat is the man mistaken for a spy who ends up handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll while they suss out the spy ring threatening England.

8 – Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Said to be Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films, this small-town family suspenser is far better than its unassuming surface suggests. Young Charlie (Teresa Wright) idolizes her uncle Charlie (a subtly terrifying Joseph Cotten), but he’s not at all what he pretends to be. Filled with great details like Charlie’s dad and his friend plotting the perfect murder for fun – details that seem like comic relief but are intimately related to the overall theme of the film.

7 – Strangers on a Train (1951)

Speaking of being subtly terrifying, Robert Walker came back from a career playing the male ingenue to play the absolutely psychotic Bruno in Strangers on a Train. When he meets Farley Granger, a tennis pro who’s trying to divorce his estranged wife, he suggests they swap murders – Granger’s wife for Walker’s father – no motive means neither will be suspected. Granger thinks he’s kidding. He’s not. There are so many great set-pieces in here that it remains one of Hitchcock’s most memorable films just on a scene-by-scene basis.

6 – The Birds (1963)

If this were a list of “most unsettling films,” The Birds would be at the top, no question. For no apparent reason, the birds in the seaside town of Bodega Bay are systematically attacking humans. Of course, this is Hitchcock, so there’s more going on than just the creature feature; our lead characters are dealing with their own alienation, their halting attempts at connection interrupted by the forces of nature. The final scene leaves me unable to breathe no matter how many times I see it.

5 – Notorious (1946)

Hitchcock’s second outing with Cary Grant (after Suspicion) and Ingrid Bergman (after Spellbound) was definitely the charm, an espionage tale about a woman with a troubled past asked to romance a suspected spy (Claude Rains). When she goes far enough to marry him to avoid his suspicion, her CIA handler Grant is concerned, and not just for professional reasons.

4 – North by Northwest (1959)

There are films lower on this list and not even on this list that are deeper than North by Northwest, but for pure entertainment, it’s really hard to beat. It was, in fact, one of Hitchcock’s biggest commercial hits, and it’s easy to see why. In a case of mistaken identity again), Roger O. Thornhill is dragged into a cat and mouse game between the CIA and a criminal smuggler. Excitement, romance, and hanging from Mt. Rushmore ensue.

3 – Psycho (1960)

Psycho is probably the film that Hitchcock is still most known for, but at the time it was a gamble for him – a black and white, low budget film with an unorthodox story structure and an unredeemable psychokiller, right after the big thrills of North by Northwest? But Hitchcock’s instincts were spot on, and he basically created the prototype of the slasher film, albeit a slasher film with much more intelligence and actual suspense than most of those that followed. While the film isn’t that scary by today’s standards, it gets under my skin and stays there.

2 – Vertigo (1958)

The ultimate portrait of obsession, a moody tone piece that is as much about driving the streets of San Francisco and looking at a woman in the light of a green neon sign as it is about a murder plot or a man’s debilitating fear of heights. That all makes it sound very abstract, and in some ways it is, but Vertigo is simply an experience, one that’s totally mesmerizing no matter how many times I see it.

1 – Rear Window (1954)

I’ve probably seen Rear Window a dozen times, yet every time feels fresh and new and amazing. This is the film I use when friends ask me to give an intro to film criticism/theory (yes, that actually happens occasionally), because it’s incredibly open to almost every critical approach, and almost every approach brings new insight to the film. But all that aside, it’s immensely entertaining, suspenseful, and funny. It really is the film that just keeps on giving no matter what, and that’s why it’s my #1 film of all time.

Me vs. Flickchart

As much as I love Hitchcock, apparently the Flickchart community likes him even more! He’s pretty much the only classic-era director whose films consistently rank this high, with seven in the global top 100. That speaks to his enduring popularity, as well as his appeal to all kinds of moviegoers, from casual film buffs to professional critics and everything in between.

# My List Flickchart’s Global List
1 Rear Window (1/3349) Rear Window (10)
2 Vertigo (11/3349) North by Northwest (17)
3 Psycho (16/3349) Psycho (40)
4 North by Northwest (41/3349) Vertigo (43)
5 Notorious (47/3349) Notorious (53)
6 The Birds (72/3349) Strangers on a Train (64)
7 Strangers on a Train (153/3349) Shadow of a Doubt (92)
8 Shadow of a Doubt (164/3349) Ropw (111)
9 The 39 Steps (261/3349) Rebecca (147)
10 The Trouble with Harry (401/3349) Dial M for Murder (167)