Alfred Hitchcock began his career in the silent era. An important part of the director’s visual art was learning, film after film, to tell a story with nuance without using dialogue. One of the great strengths of his career when the industry moved to “talkies” was just that. Although he has often worked with excellent scripts, Hitchcock is the master of suspense thanks to his ability to reveal plot, character and motive exclusively through images. The storytelling of him intensified when Technicolor was born because his directing use of color was exceptional. He conveys the inner motivations and psychology of his characters using specific color schemes.
Updated November 24, 2022: If you’re here about Alfred Hitchcock and all of his outstanding work, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve updated this article with new entries.
It goes without saying that Hitchcock left an invaluable mark on the history of cinema. Along with all-time classics like Rear Window, Psycho, and Vertigo, Hitchcock will always be remembered as one of the greatest. The master of suspense has left a filmography that serves as a “how to” for any director who wants to make a thriller. Here are the best films of him.
12/12 Frenzy (1972)
A freewheeling dervish on the streets of London, Frenzy has the darkest sense of humor of Hitchcock’s later films. Early in his career, Hitchcock abandoned the close craftsmanship for which he had become known. Following a “wrong man, wrong place” storyline familiar from the author’s filmography, a serial killer using a tie is rampant.
The murders are brutal, while the killer’s attempts to dispose of the body have a sickly sense of humor, while the police procedural scenes have a biting sense of satire. With actor Jon Finch at the center, he gives a passionate and delirious performance as the man who must clear his name.
Marnie 12/11 (1964)
A taut psychological thriller with an incredibly menacing atmosphere that lingers throughout, Marnie stars Sean Connery as a wealthy man who uses his power and devious charm to lure a kleptomaniac played by Tippi Hedren into his hold. The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but is instead shrouded in the mystery of Hedren’s character, his origins, and how Connery tries to use her sick sense of love to face his demons. Filled with a terror that culminates in one of Hitchcock’s most brutal endings, Marnie is as twisted as she is for the master of suspense.
10/12 The 39 Steps (1935)
Gaumont distributors in the UK
The 1935 thriller The 39 Steps is undoubtedly Hitchcock’s first true classic. Full of suspense and humor, the film follows Richard Hannay, the innocent man with a murder charge on his head (a favorite Hitchcock trope, this time played by Robert Donat), who is unknowingly drawn into a spy chase. With The 39 Steps, the director popularized his famous plot device of the MacGuffins (in this case, otherwise accidental military secrets), who drive the film but are actually unimportant and irrelevant.
9/12 The Birds (1963)
At times hilarious, romantic and above all terrifying, The Birds will stand the test of time despite the noise of its special effects due to the terrifying conviction of the attacks. Hitchcock is a director known for his outspokenness and brutality, but no director of his stature was as willing to endanger all characters, including schoolchildren, as Hitchcock was. The Birds is a testament to horror movies with an iconic performance by the legendary Tippi Hedren.
8/12 To Catch a Thief (1955)
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A beautiful travelogue across the French Riviera in stunning Technicolor in which Hitchcock continued to shoot, To Catch a Thief is a film that draws on the strength of its directors’ visual style, striking a balance with the charisma of its stars. Cary Grant plays a retired master thief who must catch a new impersonator cat burglar to clear his name, while falling in love with an incredible Grace Kelly. The night scenes, shot in an ominous green hue, induce a sense of mystery throughout, never knowing who Grant’s thief can trust. To Catch a Thief is a masterclass in visual brilliance and immaculate design.
7/12 Strangers on a Train (1951)
It’s not always the mystery that makes a thriller memorable; often it’s the ingenuity and brilliant wit of a twisted character at the center of the film’s conflict that gives audiences a big bad guy to hate. This is the case of Strangers on the train. Robert Walker plays the psychopath in question who lures a pro tennis star, played by Farley Granger, into a wacky situation about her getting away with murder.
However, the tennis star has apprehensions, creating a conflict with Walker, a psychotic figure, who plans to carry out the murder plan. The plot leads to one of the great peaks of Hitchcock’s work. Strangers on a Train is a showcase of Hitchcock’s talents because it takes a simple setup and elevates it.
Rope 6/12 (1948)
Hitchcock always perfected his visual style, finding new ways to establish motifs, themes and key character ideas to later be revealed as plot details. In his 1948 feature film Rope Alfred Hitchcock wondered if he could do the same thing, but all at once – and he could!
By crafting a murder mystery to look like a gunshot before it was fashionable, Hitchcock did what, at the time, seemed impossible. With the charming and shrewd wit of its dependable leader Jimmy Stewart at its core, Rope is the culmination of innovative style and palpable, throbbing tension.
5/12 Infamous (1946)
RKO radio images
With a dream cast led by Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, this dark post-WWII film noir follows a seductive spy, Alicia Huberman, who is recruited by government agent TR Devlin to gather intelligence on a group of Nazis in the South. America. One of the most memorable scenes from Notorious is a two-and-a-half minute passionate kiss between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant that circumvented Hollywood’s production ban on kisses longer than three seconds. Hitchcock’s films are rarely so romantic.
4/12 Psycho (1960)
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Another setting from the master of suspense that will forever be remembered by viewers is the infamous shower scene. Not only was this scene groundbreaking for its depiction of murder and the number of scenes cut in a short period of time, but also for killing whoever we thought would be the main character in the first 20 minutes.
Hitchcock was more innovative with Psycho, and he gave us the ultimate evil mama’s boy in Norman Bates. Played with a subtle naïveté turned into psychopathy by Anthony Perkins. Psycho is one of the greatest slashers of all time and has been endlessly influential; even half a century later, it inspired the underrated horror series Bates Motel.
3/12 Vertigo (1958)
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A director whose color palette and directing were unmatched displayed an even richer tapestry in his psychological mystery Vertigo. With his Everyman muse James Stewart traversing the streets of San Francisco, Hitchcock propelled his work to dizzying, rediscovered intellectual and cinematic depths. As Stewart tries to solve the case of the mysterious woman, played with intimate delicacy by Kim Novak, the two embark on an unforgettable ghostly journey of identity, fear and love.
2/12 from north to northwest
The funniest and most absurd film Alfred Hitchcock ever made, North by Northwest is an uninterrupted journey of close calls, whodunnits and expertly designed sets, with two of the most famous scenes in cinematic history playing out up close. 30 minutes away: the close call of the duster and then the chase to the top of Mount Rushmore, one of the villains’ final hangouts.
Hitchcock has relied on the always charming and likable Cary Grant to deal with the suave evil of James Mason as Grant must extricate himself from false murder charges. A path that takes him down a dangerous road but done in the style that only the master himself could lead.
Rear window 1/12
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The sense of mystery Hitchcock manages to create on a controlled set is an ode to his power as a visual storyteller. The deceptions, false epiphanies, and gestures that allude to the violence taking place on this small block all make for one of the greatest thrillers ever made, all told from James Stewart’s point of view as a wounded reporter through his camera. Rear Window has become the definitive textbook of voyeurism, using the camera to peek into a world we don’t fully understand, projecting our senses onto the cuts and objects Hitchcock shows us. It is the pinnacle of Hitchcock’s photographic skill and power of suggestion.