Five Essential… Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Gary Collinson selects his Five Essential Films of Alfred Hitchcock…

Without question, legendary director Alfred Hitchcock is among the very best filmmakers in history, and in my opinion the greatest British directing talent of all time. The Master of Suspense enjoyed a long and hugely influential career across six decades, beginning in the silent era and leading to a dominance of British cinema and celebrated Hollywood career. In this time Hitchcock produced a number of cinematic masterpieces, demonstrating true genius of his craft, and his body of work includes enough quality movies to fill several of these lists.

Alas, there can be only five, so here (after much struggle) are what I consider to be the Essential Films of Alfred Hitchcock

5. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

With the next four entries unquestionable, the decision of what to include in fifth place (and therefore, what to exclude) proved most difficult. Shadow of a Doubt makes it due to Joseph Cotten’s performance as Uncle Charlie, a.k.a. the Merry Widow Murderer, who seeks refuge from the police with his sister’s family in small-town America. Hitchcock’s personal favourite, the film is filled with suspense as niece Charlie (Teresa Wright) comes to suspect her uncle, who then sets about to make her his next victim. Perhaps a little dated, but with nail-biting tension through-out.

4. Vertigo (1958)

Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s novel D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead), Vertigo stars James Stewart as retired police detective ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, who happens to suffer from a fear of heights. Scottie is approached by a former acquaintance Gavin Elster to investigate the bizarre behaviour of his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Scottie falls in love with Madeleine but believes she has committed suicide until he meets another young woman, Judy, who bears a striking resemblance to the deceased. Packed with twists and turns and a genuinely shocking ending, Vertigo initially failed to meet with critical and commercial success but is now recognised as one of Hitchcock’s finest mysteries.

3. Rear Window (1954)

I found it immensely challenging to decide the order between Vertigo and Rear Window, as James Stewart provides another captivating performance as L.B. Jeffries, a photographer confined to his apartment due to a broken leg. Stewart – in addition to Hitchcock’s masterful direction – thoroughly engages the viewer into Jeffries’ voyeuristic world as he spies on his neighbours, and comes to suspect that a salesman in the opposite apartment may have murdered his wife. Grace Kelly co-stars as Stewart’s sceptical love interest. Gripping from start to finish, and it is a testament to Hitchcock’s overall body of work that this film is not higher.

2. North by Northwest (1959)

Hitchcock had been playing with and refining the ‘chase’ through-out his career, and by 1959 he had the formula tweaked to perfection. North by Northwest was Hitchcock’s fourth and final collaboration with star Cary Grant, and the screen legend delivers a classic performance as the innocent man caught up in a MacGuffin that sees him pursued across the country. The movie expertly blends action, suspense and humour, and includes one of the most famous and iconic scenes in cinema history as Grant is chased by a crop-dusting plane, in addition to a memorable finale on Mount Rushmore. A true classic in every sense of the word.

1. Psycho (1960)

After the double-header of Vertigo and North by Northwest, Hitchcock wanted to make a small, low-budget film using the crew from his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The result is Psycho (based upon Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name), a chilling film that shocked audiences worldwide and ultimately revolutionised the horror genre. Hitchcock’s fascination with the ‘mother-son relationship’ is taken to the extreme with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a disturbed young motel proprietor with a murderous split personality and penchant for drag. Quite simply, one of the greatest films of all time.

Read more of my Psycho thoughts here.


Final Thoughts

As I said in the introduction to this list, narrowing Hitchcock’s best movies into such a small number is a near-impossible task, and solely dependent on personal taste. While I think my selection provides a good cross-section of his filmography, I’m also 100% sure there are many who would disagree.

Honourable mentions have to go to other classics such as The 39 Steps (1935), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and The Birds (1963). I’ve also got a soft spot for Lifeboat (1944) and The Trouble With Harry (1955), but now I’m just being greedy.

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…

Gary Collinson

Essentials Archive

  • Anonymous

    Spellbound? And Notorious?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18168467177380824337 flickeringmyth

    Both good films but what could I take out? For me, those five are all quite a lot better, but I know a lot of people enjoy Notorious in particular.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14782050188876271457 RED

    I would have put in Rope at #5 and mixed the order a bit, but altogether not a bad list.

  • Anonymous

    Solid list but I still maintain Psycho is his most overrated. It&#39;s not really one of his movies which benefits from repeat viewings. Just my opinion though..<br /><br />I would definetly have Notorious in there and perhaps Strangers on A Train.

  • Anonymous

    Strangers on a Train is in my top 5 – the soft-spoken, well-dressed man who is thoroughly and irretrievably insane, and all the more frightening because he looks harmless. I would replace Shadow of a Doubt with Strangers on a Train.<br /><br />And then, of course, there&#39;s Frenzy – Hitchcock&#39;s last masterpiece. Why wasn&#39;t this one even mentioned?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15084611485747810565 Davey Morrison

    The Lady Vanishes would make my top four, with Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho. I&#39;d have a hard time picking between North By Northwest and Strangers On A Train for the fifth slot. Five is hardly enough for the Hitch.

  • Anonymous

    To me, Rear Window has always been my favorite but I also love one that doesn&#39;t get mentioned at all: Torn Curtain. I was on pins and needles the entire time during that movie!

  • Anonymous

    I would dial m for murder in my top five, that&#39;s one of my favorites. Also I agree with what was said above about replacing Shadow of a Doubt with Strangers on a Train.

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I&#39;d go with Notorious over North by Northwest. Both are exellent but the former embodied his directorial philosophy more in my opinion, not to mention has the emotional depth that&#39;s the trademark of his very best work.<br />To me, Vertigo is and will always be number 1. I can understand arguments for both Rear Window and Psycho in the position even those masterpieces can&#39;t

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14217074337508305878 viktor

    I prefer The Lady Vanishes over Shadow of a Doubt: more buoyant, better rhythm, plus there has to be a British movie in the selection. Strangers on a train also has its place here, but I&#39;d rather have a more comic Hitchcock to give a large approach of his skills. Now your top 5 is perfect!<br /><br />I also have a soft spot for Notorious, Trouble with Harry, Rope, Frenzy or even East of

  • Anonymous

    Shadow of a Doubt is a good pick since Hitchcock considered it his favourite film of his own; and it&#39;s also it first purely American film even tough Rebecca was shot in the states first.

  • Anonymous

    Show me some love for Frenzy.

  • Anonymous

    Can&#39;t fault you for your picks as limiting it to five Hitchcock films is simply not fair. Having said that, how can you exclude &quot;Rebecca&quot; &quot;Notorious&quot; and &quot;Spellbound&quot; from even the honorable mentions?<br /><br />I would have even replaced &quot;NbyNW&quot; with &quot;Notorious&quot;

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16495923606953607851 pblitt

    Clearly, the problem here was your decision to limit the list to five. I would have no trouble naming my ten favorites, but have to reject any list that doesn&#39;t include Notorious (or Rebecca). Great post, at any rate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18168467177380824337 flickeringmyth

    Hi guys,<br /><br />Thanks for all the comments – as a few of you have said, it is a (very) difficult task trying to get even close to five with so many great movies to choose from! <br /><br />These are just my personal favourites; as for some of the other films mentioned in the comments I do enjoy Rebecca and Notorious but I&#39;ve never really been a big fan of Frenzy. To be fair, it&#39;s a

  • Anonymous

    How about ten?<br /><br />10. The Man Who Knew Too Much<br /> 9. Shadow of a Doubt<br /> 8. Rebecca<br /> 7. The Lady Vanishes<br /> 6. Spellbound<br /> 5. North by Northwest<br /> 4. Psycho<br /> 3. Notorious<br /> 2. Rear Window<br /> 1. Vertigo

  • CW Bardsher

    I am glad that you gave Lifeboat a shout out, though i may have put it where Shadow of a Doubt was

  • http://gothamnights.wordpress.com/ gothamnights

    As others have said, Notorious definitely belongs on a list of Hitch&#39;s best. Also, though Psycho has rightfully won great acclaim, I think that the Master&#39;s masterpiece was Vertigo.<br /><br />Honorable mentions from me: The Lodger, Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, Saboteur, The 39 Steps and Blackmail. Let us not forget that Hitch&#39;s British films were great, too. Other than NbNW, though

  • Anonymous

    I think I prefer The Birds over Psycho.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03329884188917612529 ToeAndno

    Great list, pretty much agree with it (not fond of Vertigo) and def agree with Psycho at the top spot.<br /><br />A big congrats to making front page on IMDB

  • Anonymous

    NOTORIOUS

  • Anonymous

    i would have to replace &quot;shadow of a doubt&quot; and &quot;psycho&quot; with &quot;strangers on a train&quot; and &quot;notorious&quot;, with honorable mentions going to &quot;psycho&quot; &quot;the birds&quot; &quot;the 39 steps&quot; &quot;lifeboat&quot; and &quot;the lady vanishes&quot;. it&#39;s hard to choose only five!

  • Anonymous

    D&#39;entre les morts means: &quot;From among the Dead&quot;, NOT &quot;The Living and the Dead&quot;

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03447141018779024939 Prospero

    Good list, though I&#39;d probably choose &quot;Strangers..&quot; over &quot;Shadow…,&quot; but that&#39;s just me.

  • Anonymous

    I would put Foreign Correspondent in there somewhere. Great scenes-umbrellas, windmill and the plane crash. I also love The Lady Vanishes. Never liked Vertigo very much, but that is just me.

  • Anonymous

    It is not just you — I have never understood why anybody thinks Vertigo is so great. To me it is 1) not credible in part or in whole, 2) overdone, repetitious camera effects, and 3) not about vertigo at all. Call it &quot;obsession,&quot; or &quot;fear of heights,&quot; but don&#39;t call it vertigo.<br />Can anybody explain what they think is good about this movie?

  • http://www.filmaniac.ca/ James Martin

    Great list! Inspired by this posting, I have assembled my own &quot;Essential Hitchcock&quot; list. Take a look at: http://www.filmaniac.ca

  • http://openid.aol.com/KillBilltj19 KillBilltj19

    I agree except for the omission of Rebecca.

  • Anonymous

    Barely anyone ever talks about it, but I think &quot;I Confess&quot; deserves at least a shout out! Amazing cast with Montgomery Clift and Ann Baxter. Hitchcock also portrayed the inner struggle of the preist dealing with a power out of his hands perfectly. I don&#39;t know why it&#39;s not more famous.

  • http://www.rossvross.com/ Ross McG

    I think thats a pretty good list Gary – a solid five – no matter what you do youre going to get mauled. I reckon Rebecca might sneak into my own top five, its such a creepy movie without ever resorting to cheap scares. It would be hard to argue with anyone who put Psycho, Rear Window or Vertigo at the top.

  • Anonymous

    39 Steps did receive an honorable mention from you, but I see through the comments that hardly anyone mentions it.<br /><br />For me, even though it&#39;s not in Hitchcock&#39;s very debatle top five, it&#39;s highly amusing, ever-suspenseful and defintely groundbreaking (technically and story wise… pairing a man vs. a &quot;self suficient&quot; woman was easily something new for audiences back

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18168467177380824337 flickeringmyth

    Thanks everyone for the comments, it&#39;s great to get so many opinions and I&#39;m certainly going to have to go back and rewatch a few – particularly Notorious, and I might even give Frenzy another try!<br /><br />On the subject of his British films, Sabotage is quite interesting, although it&#39;s rare to hear much about it. An important film in shaping Hitchcock&#39;s opinion on how to

  • Anonymous

    I can&#39;t believe that I&#39;m the only person who thought of &quot;lifeboat&quot;. I love that film and think it&#39;s one of the best &quot;one room&quot; scripts ever. A bit difficult to find however and that may be it&#39;s biggest trouble.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10877160131142098157 Patetico Hombrecillo

    I agree. Shadow of the doubt is one of my favorite hitchcock&#39;s movie, but, for me is more essencial Strangers than Shadow… It;s a classic. Also I would add to the list:<br /><br />Dial M for Murder<br />To Catch a Thief<br />Suspicion

  • Anonymous

    You definitely picked the films that get the higher ratings. Rebecca should definitely have a mention or be in the top 5. I am not a fan of Jimmy Stewart. The casting of certain actors can ruin a film for me, no matter how good it&#39;s made. My favorites are easily Psycho and The Birds. I have yet to see Suspicion or Lifeboat, but they are on my list. Strangers on a Train is also in my

  • Anonymous

    Can&#39;t believe &#39;The Wrong Man&#39; doesn&#39;t get a mention.

  • Anonymous

    strangers on a train is my favoritebecause Robert Walker was a much better actor than most people thought he was

  • http://www.flixster.com/magnolia12883 Eric Robert Wilkinson

    5. FRENZY<br />4. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN<br />3. VERTIGO<br />2. PSYCHO<br />1. SHADOW OF A DOUBT<br /><br />I agree wholeheartedly about SHADOW OF A DOUBT, except it&#39;s my favorite Hitchcock film I&#39;ve seen to date. The others are pretty much a tie for runner-up. And there ARE so many others to include…

  • Anonymous

    Going to ten:<br /><br />1. Psycho<br />2. Shadow of a Doubt<br />3. The Birds<br />4. North by Northwest<br />5. The 39 Steps<br />6. Rear Window<br />7. Strangers on a Train<br />8. Vertigo<br />9. Notorious<br />10. The Wrong Man<br /><br />In like Vertigo, but I couldn&#39;t keep it in the top 5. The Birds is really remarkable; it&#39;s almost surrealist. And the 39 Steps I think holds up

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04620136601852898555 Pat

    I think Notorious is much better than most of the films on this list; more intense than North by Northwest, more put-together than Psycho, and with a climax far superior to the weak end of Shadow of a Doubt. I also prefer Lady on the Train to The 39 Steps, as far as &#39;30s Hitchcock goes.

  • Anonymous

    Ken said<br />glad you added lifeboat found it on dvd my second favourite. first is rear window. forgot about Shadow of a Doubt have seen it once like to see it again&#39;

  • Anonymous

    vertigo<br />marnie<br />shadow of a doubt<br />notorious<br />north by northwest

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09635982077886070570 Douglas

    1. Strangers on a Train<br />2. Shadow of a Doubt<br />3. Saboteur<br />4. Lifeboat<br />5. Mr. and Mrs. Smith<br /><br />Honorable mentions: The Birds, Psycho, The Trouble with Harry, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca. I have always found Marnie utterly predictable, Notorious somewhat tawdry (the Grant/Bergman romance always struck me as terribly juvenile, not at all as sophisticated as the film

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09635982077886070570 Douglas

    (Sorry, hit post too soon) North by Northwest is essentially an overblown remake of Saboteur, but in his ardor to depict his characters as sexual urban sophisticates, Hitchcock forgot to make them into people we can actually identify with. I have a much easier time making that connection with a nice-guy everyman and his same-aged former antagonist-cum-girlfriend than I do with a middle-aged

  • Anonymous

    Five great films from Hitchcock is not enough! I would choose ten: a few older British films like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, the five you chose, and Strangers on a Train. The last two could be any of Notorious, Spellbound, Frenzy, Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, Suspicion, To Catch a Thief, or The Birds.

  • Anonymous

    Strangers on a Train is my fifth … and by the way, D&#39;entre les Morts means Between Deaths, not The Living and the Dead. It&#39;s about what happens between the two deaths suffered by Madelaine and Judy .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18168467177380824337 flickeringmyth

    Apologies for the translation error, but the version of the book I have is called &quot;The Living and the Dead&quot;. Perhaps the publisher altered the title for some reason. Worth a read anyway, with an even better ending than the film in my opinion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04136298642261219342 schmo

    Please lose Vertigo. Way overrated. Substitute Notorious, with a great Claude Rains performance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10877160131142098157 Patetico Hombrecillo

    I agree. Shadow of the doubt is one of my favorite hitchcock&#39;s movie, but, for me is more essencial Strangers than Shadow… It;s a classic. Also I would add to the list:<br><br>Dial M for Murder<br>To Catch a Thief<br>Suspicion

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16495923606953607851 pblitt

    Clearly, the problem here was your decision to limit the list to five. I would have no trouble naming my ten favorites, but have to reject any list that doesn&#39;t include Notorious (or Rebecca). Great post, at any rate.