Janet Leigh screams in the shower in Psycho

Our 10 Favorite Movies From Alfred Hitchcock, the Enduring Master of Suspense

British film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most influential and prolific directors of all time. His canon is vast, and many of his movies are considered to be culturally and historically significant and among the best films ever made.

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For more than sixty years, Hitchcock dominated cinemas with his noirish psychological thrillers and mysteries, directing more than fifty feature films and earning forty-six Academy Award nominations and six wins.

With so many excellent options, it can be difficult to choose which of Hitchcock’s masterpieces to watch. Below you’ll find ten of his very best movies, with our favorite in the number one spot.

10. North By Northwest (1959)

Cary Grant running from a low-flying plane in North By Northwest
(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

North By Northwest is a spy thriller that begins with a case of mistaken identity. Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, an innocent man who is mistaken for a spy in a busy restaurant. After being kidnapped, the thugs attempt to stage his death in a car accident, but he survives. While fleeing, Thornhill is framed for murder and falls for double agent Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).

This exciting and visually appealing film is considered by critics to be among the best movies ever made. The scene with Grant fleeing a low-flying crop duster plane is one of the most revered in history, as is the pivotal scene in which the main characters climb to the top of Mount Rushmore.

9. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes
(Gaumont-British Picture Corporation)

This is the movie that made Hitchcock an international star! While he’d directed four movies in his native home of England, the first three were not hits at the box office. His second thriller, A Lady Vanishes, premiered on October 7, 1938. The setting feels familiar, calling to mind Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery Murder On The Orient Express, but the action is entirely original.

This is the story of Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a young woman traveling home from vacation via train. After an unpleasant night’s sleep, Iris attempts to return the eyeglasses of an elderly woman she’d met, Mrs. Froy (May Whitty), and winds up getting hit in the head. She wakes up confused, and Mrs. Froy is nowhere to be found. In fact, no one on the train recalls seeing her or her nurse at all. Is Iris suffering from a concussion, or is there something more sinister at play?

8. The 39 Steps (1935)

A man covers a woman's mouth
(Gaumont-British Picture Corporation)

Before A Lady Vanishes, Hitchcock finally endeared himself in British cinema with this 1935 spy thriller starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Donat plays Richard Hannay, a Canadian traveling in London who finds himself in a position to stop a secret society of spies called “The 39 Steps” from stealing critical government secrets. He’s falsely accused of murder and goes on the run in Scotland, where he meets a beautiful woman (Carroll).

7. Notorious (1946)

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious
(RKO Radio Pictures)

Hitchcock displayed a newfound maturity in this noir spy thriller starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains in the love triangle to end all love triangles. Grant plays T.R. Devlin, a United States government agent who works with Alicia Huberman (Bergman) on a mission to locate World War II fugitives hiding in Brazil. The two fall in love, but Huberman also falls for Alex Sebastian (Rains), the man she is hired to seduce.

6. Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

Shadow Of A Doubt: a man leans over a table and holds a woman's hand
(Universal Pictures)

Shadow Of A Doubt forces viewers to ask themselves what they’d do if they discovered a horrifying secret about a family member. Teresa Wright stars as Charlotte “Charlie” Newton, a young woman who lives with her parents in Santa Rosa, California. She’s excited when her beloved uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten), her namesake, comes to visit, but then she finds out he’s a serial killer called the “Merry Widow Killer.” The situation gets very dangerous for young Charlie when her uncle finds out she’s discovered his ugly secret!

5. Rear Window (1951)

James Stewart looks through a camera in Rear Window

Many people consider Rear Window to be one of Hitchcock’s best films, and it was nominated for an impressive four Academy Awards. Indeed, it’s a twisty thriller with an exciting conclusion that keeps audiences guessing to the very end.

James Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a photojournalist who has broken his leg and is recuperating in his Manhattan apartment. To pass the time, Jeff starts casually spying on his neighbors. His imagination is piqued when he witnesses a man, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), seemingly murder his bedridden wife and dispose of the body. Jeff enlists the help of his friends to investigate, and things get sticky when his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) is caught breaking into Thorwald’s apartment. This leads to a dramatic finale in which we question what is real, and what is fantasy.

4. Strangers On A Train (1951)

Two men have an intense discussion on a train
(Warner Bros.)

Arguably one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made, Strangers on a Train is based on the 1950 novel by master of the genre Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Farley Granger stars as Guy Haines, an amateur tennis pro who meets Bruno (Robert Walker) on a train. Bruno strikes up a conversation, and before Guy knows what’s happening the man suggests they make a pact to kill the person who’s causing them each trouble. In Guy’s case, it’s his wife Miriam (Kasey Rogers), whom he wants to divorce, while Bruno wants his own father dead. Guy doesn’t think Bruno is serious, but he is … deadly serious.

The cops are soon following Guy, and Bruno starts pestering him to complete his end of the bargain. The final scenes involve an out-of-control carousel, a case of mistaken identity, and carnies coming to the rescue in unexpected ways.

3. Rebecca (1940)

A woman cowers from another woman
(United Artists)

Hitchcock made his American directorial debut with Rebecca, a haunting story based on the equally- incredible gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier. It was a critical and commercial success from the start, earning eleven Academy Award nominations and winning two: Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

Sir Laurence Olivier stars as the rich and powerful Maxim de Winter, who rescues a poor young woman (Joan Fontaine) from her horrible boss (Florence Bates) and whisks her away to his seaside estate, Manderley. There, the second Mrs. de Winter unravels the mystery of her predecessor, Rebecca, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Judith Anderson plays Mrs. Danvers, Manderley’s housekeeper, who holds the key to Rebecca’s disappearance.

2. The Birds (1963)

Tippi Hedren trapped in a phone booth in The Birds
(Universal Pictures)

In one of his most well-known films, the most innocuous and harmless creatures turn on humanity, and the effects are chilling! Tippi Hedren (in her first movie role) plays Melanie Daniels, a single woman who meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), an eligible bachelor, in a pet store in San Francisco. They strike up a friendship, and Melanie buys a pair of love birds in a cage and brings them to his home in Bodega Bay to give to his young daughter, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). While taking a ferry across the bay, a seagull attacks Melanie and draws blood, which kicks off the action.

Soon, birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors are attacking people left and right. There are multiple intense scenes depicting these attacks, and Hitchcock does an amazing job of realizing the damage thousands of “harmless” creatures can inflict when they want to do so.

As an aside, many people might not realize that, like Rebecca, The Birds is also based on the work of Daphne du Maurier. Her short story The Birds was published in a collection entitled The Apple Tree in 1952.

1. Psycho (1960)

Anthony Perkins as Mother in Psycho
(Paramount Pictures)

Hitchcock basically invented the slasher film! Critics weren’t sure what to make of this low-budget offering that came hot on the heels of the hit film North By Northwest, but audiences loved it. Word of mouth encouraged people to head to the theaters to watch the gruesome scene that would make us all paranoid while taking a shower for generations to come.

It’s the story of a secretary named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who has embezzled money from her employer and is driving to her boyfriend’s house in California. She stops at the rundown Bates Hotel on the way, where she meets lonely hotelier Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). She overhears him talking to his disapproving mother, and later that night she gets in the shower and … well, we all know what happens next!

Psycho may not be the most technically impressive movie on Hitchcock’s roster, but it’s arguably the most well-known. It’s been remade and adapted several times, yet few versions come close to the original 1960 version. Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Hitchcock and Best Supporting Actress for Leigh.

It’s hard to believe that this prolific director never won an Oscar for Best Director, but his enduring legacy speaks for itself. There’s a reason he’s still referred to as the “master of suspense!”

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)


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Author
Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She writes about pop culture, entertainment, and web memes, and has published a book or a funny day-to-day desk calendar about web humor every year for a decade. When not writing, she's listening to audiobooks or watching streaming movies under a pile of her very loved (spoiled) pets.