Alfred Hitchcock isn’t just known for being one of the most famous directors of horror and thriller, but is easily one of the most influential movie directors from the classic movie era.
With over 50 feature films under his belt, released across six decades, Hitchcock has proven as prolific as any director in cinema history. His techniques paved the way for today’s best directors.
Classic films are often overlooked these days, or simply disregarded as snobby or irrelevant, but they laid the groundwork for every film that came after. As for Hitchcock, he was a master of suspense with the uncanny ability to keep you thrilled without gore or special effects.
Here are some of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies of all time and what kind of impact they had on future films. Consider renting all of these and experience a bit of cinema history!
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1. Rear Window
In Rear Window, James Stewart stars as the incapacitated protagonist Jeff who has a broken leg. He watches his neighbors for entertainment, until one day his neighbor’s strange behavior leads him to believe that the neighbor has murdered his wife.
Rear Window was one of the first Hitchcock movies I saw, and it’s a great study in how to do suspense well on screen. The tension is palpable as you try to figure out the mystery alongside Jeff, who inadvertently puts himself in danger as well.
2. The Birds
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Hitchcock’s The Birds is one of his more well-known films, if only because of its unique premise: a series of violent bird attacks take place over several days, which leads to all kinds of suspense.
The Birds was a truly unique movie for its time, with nature coming after people. The US Library of Congress even deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and added it to the National Film Registry for preservation.
The scenes where birds attack people are surprisingly well done, and it’s an unnerving movie to watch. Tippi Hedren made her film debut in The Birds and puts in an outstanding performance. She even sustained injuries by the birds, which makes the whole thing even creepier.
In Dial M For Murder, Grace Kelly stars as Margot who saves her own life by killing a man who comes to kill her—and that man, as it turns out, was an old acquaintance hired by her husband. The dialogue is well-written, and the ending is brilliant.
This movie was Kelly’s first collaboration with Hitchcock. (Rear Window came next, followed by To Catch a Thief.) Hitchcock paid particular attention to her wardrobe, having her costumes grow progressively darker as the movie goes on.
Grace Kelly made a significant contribution to her wardrobe as well. She insisted that no woman would put on a fancy robe to answer the telephone, especially when home alone, so she did the attempted murder scene in her nightgown instead.
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Featuring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, To Catch a Thief revolves around a retired jewel thief who sets out to prove his innocence after someone else copies his style. The chemistry between Grant and Kelly is captivating, and the narrative mystery is intriguing.
This film is where Kelly first met the Prince of Monaco, who she later married in 1956. The famous chase and picnic scenes in To Catch a Thief were filmed not far from where Grace Kelly would eventually suffer a fatal car accident in 1982.
Her retirement from acting would have a lasting impact on the movies that came after for years to come.
Another Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock combination, North by Northwest features Grant as an advertising executive who enters into a dangerous world of mistaken identity: a group of foreign spies mistake him for a government agent and try to kill him.
The chemistry between Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest is off the charts. Check out the scenes on the train—the innuendo is thick and expertly delivered.
Psycho is easily Hitchcock’s most famous movie. Even if you’ve never heard of Hitchcock himself, you’ve certainly heard of Psycho—and you certainly know about its infamous shower murder scene with Janet Leigh, which is one of the most iconic scenes in all of horror.
Hitchcock paid careful attention to wardrobe in Psycho. Leigh’s character, Marion, wears a white bra at the beginning of the movie; after she steals the money, she wears a black bra. This color change is a subtle nod to her moral shift.
Psycho has been referenced many times, not just in other movies but also TV shows, books, and even video games. It has stood the test of time, and continues to make people afraid to shower.
Notorious is notable for two reasons: not only is it one of many iconic collaborations between Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock, but it also stars Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, who appeared together in Casablanca four years prior.
Bergman’s character is asked to spy on a group of Nazi friends in South America. She gets in deep, and even marries one of them to get closer—but she’s in love with her contact, played by Grant.
Notorious is so interesting to watch. Even though Grant is the hero of the movie, he doesn’t exude the same kind of charm that we’re used to seeing from him. He departs from this, yet remains intriguing.
There’s also Grant and Bergman’s kiss scene, which is notorious for skirting the Hays Code of Hollywood at the time. Kisses couldn’t be longer than three seconds, but they got around that by breaking their kisses up before immediately going back for more.
Often considered one of Hitchcock’s best movies in retrospect, Vertigo was actually considered a failure at the time. Hitchcock liked to blame this on Kim Novak, who he felt was miscast—but Novak brings depth to both of the roles she plays, and works very well with James Stewart.
What makes Vertigo so good? Well, you’ll have to watch it yourself to understand, but suffice it to say that Vertigo keeps you hooked from start to finish. It keeps you guessing, and it all culminates in a surprise ending. This movie is a must-watch if you haven’t yet!
Rope is a movie that’s loosely based on the real-life murder commited by two University of Chicago students. In this collaboration with James Stewart, Hitchcock explores the idea of whether superior intellect can pull off the perfect murder.
After two students murder a former classmate, they throw a dinner party and invite the victim’s father, aunt, fiancee, friend, and an old professor of theirs played by Stewart. None are aware that the victim has died, or that his body is in the apartment they’re at.
What makes Rope so unique is that it was filmed in just 10 takes, in a single apartment unit, and played in “real-time” like a play.