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The Best Alfred Hitchcock Movies: Ranking Every Feature Film by the Master of Suspense

Today, August 13, is the birthday of Alfred Hitchcock, the first film director whose name I ever knew. I was introduced to his movies as a child, during a summer I spent at my grandmother’s house in Illinois. One of the local TV stations ran a Hitchcock Week, five straight nights airing some of his most famous works: Rear WindowVertigoThe Man Who Knew Too MuchThe Birds, and North by Northwest. I was thrilled by these suspenseful and macabre (qualities now synonymous with the term “Hitchcockian”) stories that also featured moments of great humor.

I can rattle off the names of many more great filmmakers today, but Hitchcock remains among my favorites. Over the course of the last year, I took my relationship with the “master of suspense” to another level by viewing every one of his feature films. That’s a whole lot of innocent men on the run, icy femmes fatales, director’s cameos, and MacGuffins.

Hitchcock-with-birds
Hitchcock in a publicity shot for “The Birds,” one of his most overrated movies.

Starting with his silent cinema work in 1920s England and then his move to Hollywood, I continued through the height of his powers in the 1950s and the semi-decline of his later years. With a couple exceptions, I watched these 52 films in the order in which they were produced.  Many I was already familiar with and adored, but most I’d never seen before. Some I’d never heard of before.

There were cases, as with Psycho, when I found myself unable to deny the greatness of a movie that I’d previously considered to be overrated. Likewise there were films, including Marnie, that I discovered weren’t nearly as good as I’d thought they were when I first saw them years ago. Most thrilling was discovering brilliant moments in his lesser-known works, like the fantastic crane shot in Young and Innocent that reveals the identity of the killer to the audience (though not to the protagonists) and the astonishing way in which Hitchcock builds tension in a scene from Sabotage by cutting between shots of a woman, her husband, and a knife. Only 1926’s The Mountain Eagle remains unseen, and that’s just because the film appears to be lost for good, unavailable anywhere.

And so, on Hitch’s birthday, here is my definitive ranking of his oeuvre. First presented in descriptive groups of similar quality, and then numbered individually, 1-52, the best to the worst.

 

The Essentials
Vertigo  — How marvelous that a film replete with old Hollywood glamour, featuring one of the biggest stars of the studio system,  contains such a kinky underbelly to its story of obsession. The ending devastates.

Rear Window  — This time through I was struck by how entertaining, and subtly told, are all the little stories Jimmy Stewart can see inside his neighbors’ homes, not just the frightening tale of Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald.

"Rear Window": Why would you spend time spying on your neighbors when you've got Grace Kelly in your apartment?
“Rear Window”: Why would you spend time spying on your neighbors when you’ve got Grace Kelly in your apartment?

Notorious  — A man and a woman must set aside their own romantic desires in the name of serving a cause greater than themselves. Echoes of Casablanca as a spy thriller, especially since Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains are on hand.

Psycho  — Never before had I fully appreciated the efficiency of this taut and horrifying story. Hitchcock at his most daring.

Strangers on a Train  — It’s Robert Walker’s turn as the greatest villain in any of Hitch’s films that makes this a twisted delight.

 

Most Underrated
The 39 Steps  
The Lady Vanishes  
Frenzy  

Most Overrated
North by Northwest  
To Catch a Thief  
The Birds  

The best scene in the too-gimmicky "North by Northwest."
The best scene in the too-gimmicky “North by Northwest.”

Masterly Suspenseful
Shadow of a Doubt  
Rebecca  
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Blackmail  
Lifeboat
Sabotage
Dial M For Murder  
Stage Fright  
Family Plot  
The Trouble With Harry  
Rope  
Secret Agent

Good and Hitchcockian Enough
Murder!  
Young and Innocent  
Suspicion  
The Wrong Man  
Torn Curtain  
The Paradine Case  
The Lodger    
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
I Confess  
Foreign Correspondent  

That's TV's Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) discovering the "Trouble With Harry."
That’s TV’s Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) discovering the “Trouble With Harry.”

Good but Not-so-Hitchcockian
Rich and Strange
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Champagne  
The Manxman

Not-so-Good but Hitchcockian
Saboteur
Marnie  
Spellbound
Jamaica Inn  
Number 17  
Under Capricorn  
Topaz

"Torn Curtain", starring Paul Newman, is the better of Hitchcock's two 1960s Cold War spy thrillers. ("Topaz" is the other.)
“Torn Curtain” is the better of Hitchcock’s two 1960s Cold War spy thrillers. (“Topaz” is the other.)

For Completists’ Eyes Only
The Skin Game
The Pleasure Garden  
Downhill  
The Ring  
Easy Virtue
Waltzes From Vienna  
The Farmer’s Wife  
Juno and the Paycock  

 
 
 
 
The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, From Best to Worst 

1          Vertigo
2          Rear Window  
3          Notorious
4          Psycho  
5          Strangers on a Train  
6          The 39 Steps  
7          Shadow of a Doubt  
8          Rebecca
9          The Lady Vanishes  
10        Frenzy
11        The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
12        Blackmail  
13        Lifeboat
14        Sabotage
15        Dial M For Murder  
16        Stage Fright  
17        Family Plot  
18        The Trouble With Harry  
19        Rope  
20        Rich and Strange
21        Secret Agent
22        Mr. and Mrs. Smith
23        Murder!  
24        North by Northwest  
25        Young and Innocent  
26        Suspicion  
27        The Wrong Man  
28        Torn Curtain  
29        The Paradine Case  
30        The Lodger    
31        The Man Who Knew Too Much  (1934)
32        I Confess  
33        To Catch a Thief  
34        Foreign Correspondent  
35        Champagne
36        The Manxman
37        The Birds  
38        Saboteur
39        Marnie
40        Spellbound
41        The Skin Game
42        Jamaica Inn  
43        The Pleasure Garden  
44        Downhill  
45        Number 17  
46        Under Capricorn  
47        Topaz  
48        The Ring  
49        Easy Virtue
50        Waltzes From Vienna  
51        The Farmer’s Wife  
52        Juno and the Paycock  

 

Almost all of these films are available on DVD. For those that aren’t (and even some that are), this site has a good rundown of where you can stream them online for free.