10 Must-Watch Alfred Hitchcock Classic Movies

Guest blog by film enthusiast Craig Hunter.

Making more than 50 movies over that many years, Alfred Hitchcock earned himself the status of cinema icon and an eternal place as the preeminent master of suspense. Just like a close NFL game, Hitchcock’s films keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Discovering the world and wiles of Hitchcock doesn’t require watching his whole half-century creations. You can dive in to the world of Hitchcock, especially his film noir offerings, by watching these 10 classic films spanning his filmmaking career.

Each one demonstrates, in a different way, Hitchcock’s keen eye for both the camera lens and the human condition, each one sure to thrill.

1. The 39 Steps (1935)

Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Godfrey Tearle, Lucie Mannheim

Streaming on: YouTube, Max

When a London man (Robert Donat) stands accused of killing a counter-espionage agent whom he attempted to aid, he must flee to clear his name and stop the ring of spies who framed him. Along the way, he teams up with a young woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). They embark on a thrilling adventure that takes them all over England.

In this film, Hitchcock weaves a thick and convoluted tapestry full of endless, dizzying twists and turns keeping audiences on their toes and guessing from start to finish. The film’s iconic set pieces, such as the windmill chase scene and the Forth Bridge climax, are still thrilling to watch today.

For many critics, this film is the one that singled Hitchcock out as a director to watch and a potential master in the making.

2. Rebecca (1940)

Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders

Streaming on: YouTube

The new wife of an aristocrat struggles simultaneously with her own feelings of inadequacy and her intimidation by the ghost of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca is told to have died in a mysterious boating accident. As the wife learns more about Rebecca’s life and death, she begins to suspect that her husband is not all that he seems.

Joan Fontaine’s performance as the insecure and intimidated new wife is masterful. She aptly captures the character’s growing sense of fear and isolation.

Don’t just watch this film because it’s the only Alfred Hitchcock movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture (though that’s one good reason.) Watch it for its chilling representation of Gothic atmosphere and haunting suspense.

3. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Hume Cronyn

Streaming on: Peacock

When a teenage girl’s favorite uncle comes to visit her small town, her joy turns to suspicion and terror as she increasingly suspects him of being a renowned serial killer on the run. As the evidence mounts, she must decide whether to confront her uncle or risk putting her family in danger.

For many, this film is considered Hitchcock’s first classic; it also happens to be his own favorite. It practically invents classic thriller tropes that would ultimately wend their way into modern horror: like hidden evil in a small town and the insurmountable hurdle of a fresh-faced innocent to unmask a devious villain.

4. Notorious (1946)

Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern

Streaming on: Tubi

American agents enlist a convicted Nazi spy’s daughter Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) in collecting valuable intel on a ring of dangerous scientists. She must decide how far she will go to aid the agents vs. protecting her romantic relationship with one of them.

This film is a rarity among Hitchcock’s canon in that it stands out as one of the only, and certainly the most, overtly romantic one. It gives a Hitchcockian twist to the age-old struggle between love and right and wrong. In truth, Grant and Bergman’s historic kiss–one of cinema’s longest still–is reason enough to watch this whole film just for context.

5. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Starring: Robert Walker, Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll

Streaming on (rent/buy): Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu

It’s the perfect crime: I kill your intended victim, and you kill mine. That’s the premise of this fast-paced thriller about a psychopath who proposes just such an arrangement with a famous athlete.

Guy Haines (Farley Granger), a successful tennis player, meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) on a train. Bruno proposes a strange deal: he will kill Guy’s wife if Guy kills his father. Guy initially dismisses Bruno’s proposal as a joke, but when his wife is murdered, he begins to suspect that Bruno may have been serious.

The set unmistakably plays a leading role in this compelling cinematic creation.

6. Rear Window (1954)

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr

Streaming on: AMC

A wheelchair-bound photographer/voyeur becomes convinced one of the neighbors he spies on from his apartment’s courtyard window has committed murder, though his girlfriend won’t believe him. A claustrophobic film that constricts around you as it unwinds, this film is a lesson in how you can do so much with so little, its shooting area almost entirely confined, like its hapless hero, to a single room.

Grace Kelly is stunning as the girlfriend and James Stewart compelling as the photographer in this gripping film.

7. Vertigo (1958)

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Streaming on: AMC

A former cop Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman’s haunting presence while wrestling with his own inner demons.

Telling any more will spoil both the plot and what makes this film such a classic, but we will also say it’s the origin of the famed and familiar “Dolly Zoom Effect” for which Hitchcock is attributed and that so many filmmakers since have emulated.

For all its thrills and chills, this film also transcends its genre by offering a heartfelt meditation on love and loss.

8. North by Northwest (1959)

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll

Streaming on: TCM

Classic suspense by every measure, this iconic film sets the foundation for so many action thrillers to come. From story to acting to visuals, this film set a new bar for what audiences now expect from the genre. Trains, planes, automobiles all feature as Cary Grant seeks to clear his name as a fugitive.

In this seminal work, Hitchcock presents a classic case of mistaken identity and uncertain loyalties.

9. Psycho (1960)

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin

Streaming on: Peacock, AMC

A Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) on the run for embezzling a large sum from her client checks into a motel in a remote town.  There, she catches the interest of its manager, a reserved young man Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) with a dominating mother.

Besides its widely-adapted plot, this film is also where you’ll finally get to witness Janet Leigh’s famous shower scene and understand once and for all the meaning behind every devotee’s demonic cries of “Mother!” anytime the film is mentioned.

10. The Birds (1963)

Starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy

Streaming on: Peacock, AMC

Enjoy this time now when you can look up at the sky and smile as a flock of birds flies by. Because after you see this film, you’ll never look up at a winged creature in flight again without a pang of irrational panic.

That’s what a wealthy socialite and her potential beau discover when they show up at a small, peaceful town that suddenly turns not-so-peaceful. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), a socialite, travels to Bodega Bay to visit. While there, she notices a strange behavior in the birds, who begin to attack the townspeople.

This film is a class on the essential role of a good set-up in eliciting specific audience emotions.

It’s hard to describe a Hitchcock film without spoiling it, which means all descriptions defy its raw, visceral and indelible impact. The only way to truly understand and experience either, then, is to watch it.