Known as ‘The master of suspense’, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s pictures are always visceral experiences. With the British director a genius at placing tightly woven plots into living and breathing worlds, for over fifty years he managed to keep expectations on a knife-edge and heart rates skyrocketing long after audiences had left the cinema.
While everyone knows Psycho (1960) and many could name at least a handful of Hitchcock’s most famous films, what about the rest of them? Few realise that Hitchcock directed over fifty feature films and wrote on many more throughout his incredible career.
So taking into account the 52 Sir Alfred Hitchcock feature films where he is credited as the director, here is my personal ranking.
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The complete ranking of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s films
52. Champagne (1928)
The worst feature film Hitchcock ever directed sees a father stop at nothing to prevent his spoiled heiress daughter from running off and marrying her lover. Hitchcock famously said in his interview with Francis Tuffault that this comedy had “no story to tell”. It’s not helped by the misleading beginning, which sets up as important an irrelevant character.
An atypical romance film for the director, Rich and Strange focuses on a bickering married couple who receive an unexpected inheritance and believe it’ll save their marriage. Harking back to the silent movie era, the film only features dialogue for a quarter of the running time, which leads to over-the-top, hammy acting that even the hugely expensive sets can’t cover up.
One of Hitchock’s rare biographical films and the only one based on a musical, it follows the life story of the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss. Unfortunately, the film feels somewhat cobbled together by a director who wasn’t an expert in the subject matter and only took the job because he had nothing else forthcoming that year.
One of two Hitchcock films to use 10 minute long takes, the other being Rope (1948). The story focuses on a man who travels to Australia and rekindles his love for his now-married childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately, the film suffers for an identity, being stuck between a straight romance and a murder mystery thriller. The final nail in its coffin is overwrought and trite dialogue.
A rare Hitchcock comedy that has more than a little in common with The Ladykillers (1955). Number Seventeen focuses on a gang of thieves who hide at a safe house after a robbery, with a detective hot on their heels. The story suffers from being a serious subject carved into a comedy with an overcomplicated plot which leaves the entire experience fun but forgettable.
47. Murder! (1930)
The lowest-ranking thriller of Hitchcock’s career sees a juror have second thoughts after convicting a man for murder and then struggling to find the truth before the execution date. Despite the high-concept idea, Murder! suffers from a cast that can’t quite get the tone right, overegging the drama and coming off as theatrical in the process.
A silent film adaptation of the play by the same name, this romance tells the story of an alcoholic’s ex-wife who falls in love with another, younger man. Hitchcock’s earliest stage play adaptation and the one that couldn’t quite translate to cinema, not least because the exceptional dialogue from the stage is lost in the silent retelling.
1928 wasn’t a stellar year for Hitchcock, as The Farmer’s Wife is the second of his films to feature early on in this list. Its story follows a widowed farmer who asks for help from his housekeeper to help him find a wife. This silent film struggles with gumption: its comedy is lacking, the characters remain shells rather than proper people, and the plot is mediocre.
44. Downhill (1927)
Another from Hitchcock’s silent era, Downhill follows a privileged boarding-school rugby player who takes a trip to continental Europe and falls into its gangland underworld. The failure here is with the source material, which Hitchcock fights to rescue with striking visuals, but can never pull it away from being melodramatic and completely unbelievable.
The story follows an Irish working-class family who experiences a tragedy as they await an inheritance. There’s nothing wrong with the story or acting here; it’s just that Juno and the Paycock is a film that doesn’t need to exist. More a recorded play than anything remotely cinematic, Hitchcock would himself see this as just “photographs of people talking.”
Considered Hitchcock’s directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden tells the story of the troubled romantic relationships of two chorus girls who work in London’s Pleasure Garden theatre. A bit of a soap opera story, the acting and plot never gets exciting or puts a foot wrong. The genuine interest here is seeing where the Sir Alfred Hitchcock story began.
41. The Ring (1927)
Another of Hitchcock’s earlier silent romance films before he found his penchant for thrillers, The Ring focuses on two rival boxers who compete for the love of one woman. The film is more well known for its technical achievements than its plot, as it helped pioneer the Schüfftan process to simulate a large audience in pivotal scenes.
Also called Imposter and Personal History, Foreign Correspondent tells the story of a US reporter who tries to expose enemy spies involved in a Europe-wide conspiracy in the build-up to WWII. Viewed more now as a bit of a propaganda / B-movie than one of Hitchcock’s greats, this film sees Hitchcock grow into an above-average director who hasn’t yet achieved genius.
Based on Daphne du Maurier‘s 1936 novel of the same name, Jamaica Inn tells the story of a young woman living in Cornwall in 1819 who discovers she’s living near a gang of criminals who arrange shipwrecks for profit. Despite huge commercial success at the time, the film fails to capture the sinister atmosphere of the novel, opting for a lighter, comedic tone that falls flat.
38. Topaz (1969)
The biggest dud from Hitchock’s later works, Topaz is about a French agent who first uncovers events that lead up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis then breaks up an international spy ring. The plot is complicated and lengthy, which even seems to confuse Hitchock because his direction lacks a direction, with bland performances and far less style than his better works.
By far Hitchcock’s best fully-silent film, The Manxman follows the story of a woman who must struggle against her father’s wish that she marry a lawyer instead of the man she truly loves. While the classic romance story is nothing special, the first glimpses into a director who’s finally found his style surely are. It’s filled with extreme close up shots contrasted with subtle humour.
36. Saboteur (1942)
A film from one of Hitchcock’s most-returned-to genres, the spy thriller, Saboteur tells the story of a young man who goes on the run to prove his innocence from the accusation of sabotage. Saboteur is a fast-paced thriller that moves so quickly because it needs to: it’s filled with plot holes and a branch of the FBI that doesn’t follow the laws of logic. Fun, but foolishly forgettable.
A struggling actress tries to help a friend prove his innocence after he’s accused of murdering the husband of a high society entertainer in this film noir. The film’s intriguing events seem to happen in a vacuum where they’re perfectly watchable on their own but seem unable to influence those around them, the result of which is a film with a poor story.
An intriguing anomaly from Hitchcock’s filmography for being a screwball comedy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith deals with the fallout after a man admits to his wife he’s not satisfied with their marriage. This perfectly serviceable comedy will give you a few chuckles throughout. Still, with the thinness of the plot, you can’t help but think Hitchcock’s talents are best served elsewhere.
It’s a testament to Hitchcock that a film once voted the 5th best British film of all time only ends up at number 36 on a list of his best works. Secret Agent is about three British agents who struggle with their consciences after being sent to assassinate a German spy during WWII. Despite the heavy subject matter, it seems Hitchcock never quite knows what he wants to say with the film.
A classic Hitchcock crime thriller film tells the story of a young man who goes on the run from a murder charge and gains the help of a woman who puts her life in danger for his cause. Young and Innocent is one in a string of films that technically doesn’t put a foot wrong – with a tight script, excellent acting and solid direction – it just doesn’t reach the art of his later works.#
One of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s films you’d expect to see nearer the top of the list for its stellar cast. Starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, the story follows a retired cat burglar who has to save his reformed reputation by catching an impostor preying on wealthy tourists. With this comedy thriller, Hitchcock appears to fall in love with its glamorous location at the expense of its story.
One of Hitchcock’s later films and a big misstep, Torn Curtain tells the story of a US scientist who publicly defects to East Germany as a ruse to find the formula for a resin before struggling to reach the West. The film is long, cliche-ridden and old fashioned at the time of its release. Worst of all, it’s self-referential of Hitchcock’s older work as he harks back to better projects.
The Skin Game focuses on two rival families, one traditional and one modern, who battle over land and almost destroy each other in the process. Important in the canon of Hitchcock films more for teaching him the tools to tackle dramatic scenes than the results of this film itself, The Skin Game is Hitchcock’s best straightforward drama.
28. Blackmail (1929)
Voted the best British film of the year it was released, Blackmail is the story of how, after killing a man in self-defence, a woman is blackmailed by a witness who saw the killing. Another Hitchcock film more famous for its place in cinema history than its production, Blackmail is considered the first British “all talkie” film. It’s a little clunky but covers some interesting themes.
27. Sabotage (1936)
This espionage thriller tells the story of a detective who becomes exposed when on the trail of a saboteur who plans to set off a bomb in London. Sabotage is the first excellent film on this list and one of Hitchcock’s early masterpieces. Its gritty London setting adds to the thrills and pace of this thriller which twists and turns all the way to its climax.
26. Suspicion (1941)
A tense romantic psychological thriller, the story focuses on a romantically inexperienced woman who marries a charming playboy and then slowly begins to suspect he’s attempting to kill her. Suspicion is a film that shows Hitchcock as being well on the way to his ‘Master of suspense’ moniker with a slowly building terror only let down by an abrupt ending.
The film noir courtroom drama follows the tale of a married barrister who falls in love with his female client, who’s accused of murder, much to the dismay of his wife. The Paradine Case is finally a melodrama that Hitchcock gets right, with a deftly woven love triangle matched by an equally intricate inner battle for the protagonist to choose between head and heart.
Considered one of the best from Hitchcock’s early period in Britain, The Man Who Knew Too Much follows the story of a couple who accidentally witness a murder and get embroiled in an assassination attempt. The film is incredibly fast-paced, and the writing is clever, with the protagonists finding ingenious solutions to their problems – it just doesn’t say very much.
The final feature-length film directed by Hitchcock sees him unusually take on the black comedy genre. The story features a con artist psychic and her actor boyfriend who encounter a pair of serial kidnappers while trailing a missing heir in California. The tight script that builds to a satisfying conclusion makes it feel like a classic Hitchcock, even without the suspense.
Hitchcock’s best pre-1930s film focuses on the search for a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer who haunts the streets of London. The Lodger offers the first glimpses of what would become Hitchcock’s style, using cinematography, sound, editing and composition to create a visceral feeling of terror that creeps in throughout the story to chill the viewer to the bone.
21. I Confess (1953)
One of the rare films in Hitchcock’s filmography to tackle religious themes, I Confess tells the story of a priest who comes under suspicion for murder and must choose between clearing his name or breaking the confessional seal. I Confess is a bleak, suspense-filled script where Hitchcock draws out the tenseness from frosty human relationships to great effect.
A US remake of Hitchcock’s 1934 film of the same name, this version sees an American family witness a murder while on a trip to Morocco and then becoming the centre of an assassination attempt. Considered the definitive version of the story, the 1953 version sees a now experienced Hitchcock use long-held shots to ramp up the tension of this well-plotted high-concept affair.
A psychological thriller, the story follows a psychoanalyst who falls in love with a colleague to find out he’s an imposter suffering amnesia and potentially a murderer. A rare film from Hitchcock where he fully utilises even the supporting characters to create a melodrama full of touching human spirit that’s never too far from the grip of the most extreme terror.
18. Marnie (1964)
Hitchcock’s final critically acclaimed film, Marnie tells the story of a man who marries a woman with severe psychological problems as he tries to help her resolve them. A film that never ceases to make the viewer feel uneasy, Hitchcock deftly navigates the tension and terror a troubled mind can place between two people who love each other.
One of the few Sir Alfred Hitchcock films based on a true story, The Wrong Man follows a man arrested after being mistaken for an armed robber. This is perhaps the director’s strongest dissection of the nature of morality, where he applies a grippingly realistic style to an incredible though true story to ask what innocence even means.
16. The Birds (1963)
Easily one of Hitchcock’s most well-known pictures, The Birds is the story of a woman who moves into a new town and experiences deadly attacks by birds over several days. While the effects look dated on modern viewings, The Birds remains able to shock mainly due to the sheer terror Hitchcock manages to find within the film’s most arresting set-pieces.
15. Notorious (1946)
Hitchcock’s finest espionage thriller, Notorious follows the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy tasked by the Americans with infiltrating a ring of Nazi scientists in South America. A picture with all the hallmarks of a Hitchcock film: sublime acting, precise storytelling and cinematography that places the camera in just the position to always cause a spark of doubt.
14. Rebecca (1940)
Another romantic thriller from Hitchcock sees a self-conscious woman adjust to being an aristocrat’s wife while haunted by his first wife’s ghost. The only one of Hitchcock’s films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, in Rebecca, the director manages to capture all the nuances, disturbances, beauty and strangeness of these characters into an eerie masterpiece.
An almost one-room film adaptation of a play by the same name. Dial M for Murder sees a tennis star arrange the murder of his cheating wife.
Often slightly overlooked, the film is sophisticated and chilling, with the action most confined to a flat that gradually begins to choke the life of our protagonist, played unforgettably by Grace Kelly.
A mystery thriller where a young woman, Iris, notices an old lady has disappeared from a busy moving train, and nobody on board testifies to ever having seen her.
Known as Hitchcock’s best British-made film, what makes The Lady Vanishes so successful is the many selfish reasons why everyone on board would rather Iris believe she’s going insane than ever let on the truth.
Hitchcock’s best comedy is an absurd black comedy farce. The Trouble With Harry tells the story of four villagers who each believe they’re responsible for the death of their neighbour. The irreverence Hitchcock shows death is what brings The Trouble With Harry to life, with romance, deception, idiocy and macabre jokes, all set in an idyllic setting while standing over a corpse.
10. Frenzy (1972)
The final film Hitchcock ever recorded in Britain sees a man mistaken by the police for a serial killer and going on the run. As its name suggests, Frenzy is a fast-paced thrill ride through the streets of London as our protagonist desperately tries to seek a way to clear his name while remaining one step ahead of the police. Watch out for the long tracking shot down the stairs.
A technical feat of a survival film and one of Hitchcock’s famous one-room type films. Lifeboat sees a group of passengers struggle to survive in their lifeboat after their vessel was sunk by a Nazi U-boat. Here Hitchcock gives a masterclass in leading the audience astray – getting us to shift our sympathies with the lifeboat’s occupants before delivering a fateful climax.
Perhaps Hitchock’s most high-concept film sees a real-world philosophical thought experiment play out in front of our eyes. The story follows a psychopath who convinces a renowned tennis star they can get away with each other’s murders. Human nature is the theme in this exciting and wicked film which sees our poor protagonist’s will slowly erode past the point of no return.
Hitchcock’s greatest earlier work and one of the best in his line of innocent men forced to go on the run. The 39 Steps follows a man accused of killing an agent who must go on the run to clear his name. With the feel of a Bond movie mixed with just enough light relief comedy, in The 39 Steps, Hitchcock finds his style while weaving together some fast-paced, propulsive sequences.
Of all Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Psycho is undoubtedly the most famous. The story sees a secretary embezzle $40,000 and go on the run, where she fatefully checks into a seedy motel. Often considered the earliest example of the slasher genre, Psycho takes the radical step of killing its protagonist off halfway through the story to really set tension running rampant.
Upon its release, The New York Times immediately hailed North By Northwest as a masterpiece, and it has indeed gone on to become one of Hitchcock’s signature pictures. The story follows a man who goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies and falls for a woman whose loyalties he begins to doubt.
4. Rope (1948)
Critically panned upon its release, Rope has recently been assessed to much greater praise. The story focuses on two men who attempt to prove they committed the perfect crime by hosting a dinner party after strangling their former classmate to death. Rope was famously recorded in several 10 minute takes, which add to the suspense as the plan unravels.
A psychological film noir, Vertigo has several times been voted the greatest film of all time. The story follows a former police detective who struggles with personal demons while becoming obsessed with the woman he has been hired to trail. Hitchcock’s most interesting delve into the human condition; the film artfully shows us how life is the illusions we create for ourselves.
Said to be Hitchcock’s personal favourite of his films, Shadow of a Doubt follows a teenage girl who slowly begins to suspect her visiting uncle is an infamous serial killer on the run. In Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock plays no MacGuffins or red herrings, he simply tells the story straight to its gut-wrenching conclusion, and it’s all the more terrifying for it because we know what’s coming.
The ultimate ‘one-room’ film where the action takes place away from where the protagonist is confined. Rear Window follows a wheelchair-bound photographer who spies on his neighbours and becomes convinced one of them has committed a murder. It’s Hitchcock’s most patient picture, where 1hr 42minutes of suspense builds to an electric final 10-minute conclusion.
Editor & Artwork/Banner (Film Forums): Richard Williams
Image sources: Alfred Hitchcock Walk of Fame [Willem Van Bergen]. Otherwise as credited above.
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