20 Films Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

James Stewart's character in Vertigo is said to closely resemble Hitchcock himself.
James Stewart's character in Vertigo is said to closely resemble Hitchcock himself.
Publications International, Ltd.

 

Perhaps no other director in the history of film has had a greater impact on the industry or on popular culture than Alfred Hitchcock. "Hitch" made more than 65 full-length movies that have defined cinema for generations. Nicknamed "the Master of Suspense," the round, gravelly-voiced man (who never won a Best Director Oscar) made films that put viewers on the edge of their seats time and time again.

 

Strong characterization, symbolism, surprise endings, and extended chase scenes were a few of Hitch's trademarks. Here are 20 of his most memorable movies.

1
Rebecca (1940)

This early Hitchcock film tells the spooky tale of Rebecca (played by Joan Fontaine), the naive second wife of a rich widower portrayed by Sir Laurence Olivier. It becomes abundantly clear that Rebecca's husband and the servants in his mansion aren't totally over the death of his first wife, and Rebecca is driven mad. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, this movie was tied up in legal trouble over the rights to the script for several years before and after its release.

2
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Leave it to Hitchcock to surprise everyone by making a movie with no murder and no mystery at all. Lighthearted and purely entertaining, Mr. & Mrs. Smith stars Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery as a couple with a rather odd relationship. When the two find out that they might not be married at all, their strained commitment is given new life. It was Lombard who is said to have convinced Hitch to do this beloved departure movie. Sadly, she wouldn't live to see its long-standing success: Lombard died in a plane crash outside of Las Vegas in 1942. Another movie of the same title was made in 2005 with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but it bears little resemblance to the original.

 

Want more? Keep reading to find more suspense thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

3
Saboteur (1942)

This Hitchcock film tells the tale of Barry Kane, a factory worker who sees a Nazi agent blow up his plant. Robert Cummings plays the leading man-on-the-run (though it's rumored that Hitch wanted Cary Grant in the role), and lots of classic Hitchcock moments ensue -- cross-country chases, a lovely blonde, a slimy antagonist, and a big finish. Although it's not one of Hitchcock's top 10, it's definitely a thrilling film.

4
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Who knew Thornton Wilder, the playwright who penned Our Town, had it in him to write such a murderous tale? Hitchcock, ever the innovator, teamed up with Wilder to create this tale starring Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie and Teresa Wright as his niece. Uncle Charlie seems to be a mild-mannered guy, but his loving niece finds out something sinister about him and has to make some tough, dangerous decisions about how to handle the sticky situation. Hitch often said that Shadow was his favorite of all his films.

5
Lifeboat (1944)

Long before Survivor and Lost, there was Lifeboat. Two World War II ships crash at sea and a group of survivors have to figure out how to stay afloat and reach safety with limited options. The group in the cramped boat includes a journalist, a radio operator, a businessman, and a nurse, among others. Many in the cast suffered from pneumonia during filming, but the set's chilly conditions created tension and incredible atmosphere for this fan favorite.

6
Rope (1948)

The first picture Hitch made with his own production company, Transatlantic Pictures, was also his first film in color. Two young men murder for fun and play cat and mouse with a former teacher, played by Jimmy Stewart. This movie, which was based on a true story, is noted for its incredibly long takes -- the film often goes seven or eight minutes without an edit.

7
Dial "M" for Murder (1954)

The first of Hitch's so-called "blonde films," this double-crossing plot is among the filmmaker's best. Grace Kelly is a woman torn between her husband (a handsome but murderous Ray Milland) and her new love (a dashing but philandering Robert Cummings). When Milland learns of the affair, he decides to blackmail an old acquaintance into murdering his wife. Things go a bit haywire, so Milland switches plans and attempts to frame his wife for the murder of the would-be assassin. Everything seems to be going according to Plan B, until an inspector starts snooping around. This film was originally done in 3-D, but switched to 2-D soon after. The 3-D version of this thriller is now available as a reissue.

8
Rear Window (1954)

One of the most acclaimed suspense films of all time features Hitch favorites Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. Stewart stars as Jeff, a snoop who sees a murder take place in his neighbor's house while looking out his window. Jeff's apartment was the set for the movie and except for one or two exterior shots, all shooting was done within the set -- at the time, the largest set Paramount had ever constructed. The suspenseful ending is one of the more gripping finales ever committed to celluloid.

9
To Catch a Thief (1955)

Hitch was among the first to film the engaging story of the reformed thug. Cary Grant plays John Robie, a retired cat burglar who lives a quiet life in the plush Riviera. Naturally, when a fresh set of burglaries explodes in the area, Robie is suspected. In order to clear his name, he sets out to catch the thief himself. He is aided by Grace Kelly, an American heiress initially convinced that Robie is guilty. Look for a long Hitch cameo in this film -- he's an unassuming bus passenger for about ten minutes.

10. The Trouble with Harry (1955)

10. The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Fans either love or hate The Trouble with Harry, a suspenseful satire made in 1955. Jerry Mathers, Academy Award-winner Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, and Shirley MacLaine (in her first film role) all try to solve the problem -- Harry is dead and no one knows what to do with the body -- with mixed results. This comedy revealed the range that the director was capable of, even though many wondered where the dark, foreboding Hitch had gone.

11. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

11. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Jimmy Stewart is back again, this time opposite Doris Day as a naive American couple vacationing in Morocco. When a French spy dies in Stewart's arms and the couple's son is kidnapped, a tense international espionage story plays out. Stewart is chased by the bad guys, since he knows too much about an assassination set to be carried out in London. The scene known as "The Albert Hall Scene" is about 12 minutes long and contains no dialogue whatsoever, delighting film students and cinephiles the world over -- it's a risky filmmaking move and a Hitchcock masterstroke.

12. Vertigo (1958)

12. Vertigo (1958)

Based on a French novel, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star in this megahit movie -- filmed in "VistaVision" color. The dark story is set in San Francisco and features Stewart as an obsessive man who falls for a girl who kills herself. Novak plays two roles in the film. This is said to be Hitch's most "confessional" movie, dealing directly with how he feared women and tried to control them. Stewart is essentially playing Hitchcock himself.

On the next page you will find five more classic suspense thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

10
The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Fans either love or hate The Trouble with Harry, a suspenseful satire made in 1955. Jerry Mathers, Academy Award-winner Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, and Shirley MacLaine (in her first film role) all try to solve the problem -- Harry is dead and no one knows what to do with the body -- with mixed results. This comedy revealed the range that the director was capable of, even though many wondered where the dark, foreboding Hitch had gone.

11
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Jimmy Stewart is back again, this time opposite Doris Day as a naive American couple vacationing in Morocco. When a French spy dies in Stewart's arms and the couple's son is kidnapped, a tense international espionage story plays out. Stewart is chased by the bad guys, since he knows too much about an assassination set to be carried out in London. The scene known as "The Albert Hall Scene" is about 12 minutes long and contains no dialogue whatsoever, delighting film students and cinephiles the world over -- it's a risky filmmaking move and a Hitchcock masterstroke.

12
Vertigo (1958)

Based on a French novel, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star in this megahit movie -- filmed in "VistaVision" color. The dark story is set in San Francisco and features Stewart as an obsessive man who falls for a girl who kills herself. Novak plays two roles in the film. This is said to be Hitch's most "confessional" movie, dealing directly with how he feared women and tried to control them. Stewart is essentially playing Hitchcock himself.

13
North by Northwest (1959)

This movie sold itself as "A 3,000 mile chase scene!" with a star-studded cast that included Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason. The chase reaches its climax on Mount Rushmore. Naturally, Hitch wanted to go big and film on location, but the powers that be didn't want an attempted murder taking place on a national monument. The entire set was constructed on a soundstage instead. The film was nominated for three Oscars and is often touted by critics as one of the best movies of all time.

14
Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock didn't use his usual, expensive production unit for this cultural juggernaut, opting instead to use his TV crew because he wanted Psycho to look like "a cheap exploitation film." Anthony Perkins stars as Norman Bates, a creepy mama's-boy innkeeper who offers Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) a place to stay for the night. Hitchcock chose to shoot in black and white to resemble the newsreels of the time -- and also because the gory nature of the film would be too much in living color. Psycho is truly Hitchcock's masterpiece, a must-see for anyone who has ever wanted to be entertained -- or scared out of their mind.

15
The Birds (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock will forever be known as "the Master of Suspense" because of his ability to take the everyday and make it terrifying. Hotels, heights, neighbors, women, and birds were benign until Hitch got ahold of them. The Birds is the ultimate example of this -- any shred of avian cuteness is obliterated when swarms of birds attack a northern California town. Tippi Hedren plays the doomed blonde alongside handsome Rod Taylor. Hitch said the characters in The Birds "are the victims of Judgment Day," making the film an acceptably horrifying follow-up to Psycho.

16
Marnie (1964)

Tippi Hedren is back, playing a compulsive thief in this rock-solid psychological thriller. Sean Connery is the dashing leading man who tries to get Marnie to confront her schizophrenia. Long scenes and heavy dialogue kept this picture from having the mass appeal of Psycho or The Birds, but the suspense is every bit as potent. Hitch originally wanted Grace Kelly to play Marnie but she had just married the Prince of Monaco and his people weren't thrilled about their new princess portraying such an unstable character.

17
Torn Curtain (1966)

Nothing is what it appears to be in this "trust no one" thriller set during the Cold War. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews star as a young couple caught up in an international mystery in which everyone is a suspect. This would be the last picture that Hitch and composer and longtime collaborator Bernard Herrmann would work on together. Universal Pictures convinced Hitch that the score Herrmann penned wasn't upbeat enough, so the director cut the score and a brilliant, 11-year relationship was officially over.

 

On the next few pages you will find the final three entries on our list of films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

18
Topaz (1969)

Another tense Cold War adventure, Topaz is based on a Leon Uris novel about the Cuban Missile Crisis. John Forsythe is a CIA agent who hires a French operative to investigate rumors of missiles in Cuba and a shady NATO spy known as "Topaz." True to Hitchcock form, much intrigue, double-crossing, and death transpire. Hitch admitted that Topaz was one of his more experimental films and had elements that didn't totally work, but true fans still appreciate the film as a risky but important fixture in the Hitchcock arsenal.

19
Frenzy (1972)

Stop the presses! Frenzy was the first Hitch film to earn an R rating with the new ratings system that took effect in 1968. This ultra-dark comedy about an innocent man on the run was filmed in England, putting Hitch back home for the first time in nearly 20 years. Jon Finch, Alec McCowen, and Barry Foster make up the strong cast in this gallows-humor story that incorporates many trademark Hitchcock touches -- bathrooms, continuous camera shots, and criminals around every corner.

20
Family Plot (1976)

Hitch's final film uses both humor and suspense to tell a tongue-in-cheek tale of a rich lady's eccentric foibles and the trouble they cause. Stars abound in this film, including Bruce Dern and William Devane, but Hitch had originally wanted the likes of Liza Minnelli and Al Pacino in the picture. If you look closely, there is a street sign in Family Plot that reads "Bates Ave.," a nod to Psycho, one of the many films that made this director one of the most influential men of the 20th century.

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS:

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen

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