Strap yourself in for the best pulse-pounders ever made
Your hands grip the armrests, all of a sudden you notice that you're beginning to feel a bit sweaty... but hang on, this isn't a horror movie. That's what's so effective about a good ole' thriller. It's not until you're sucked into the story, caught up in the lives of its characters, that you realise that what you're watching is the cinematic equivalent of being on a corkscrew rollercoaster. Plots loop and twist, hurtling you around corners, and some parts might even make you throw your hands in the air and scream like a banshee.
There's not one specific set of criteria that you can use to determine, well, is this movie I'm watching a thriller? It's another genre that lends itself to any scenario; a car chase flick, a gritty invasion encounter, the classic whodunnit setup... Whatever the plot you can guarantee your nerves will be jangling by the end of it. And while it's a tough category to nail down, we've gathered together our top picks for the 30 best thriller movies. This lot will keep you glued to the screen... from the edge of your seat.
30. Shutter Island (2010)
Leo's mission to snag an Oscar started decades back, but before The Revenant earned him that golden doorstop, he delivered an awards-worthy turn in Scorsese's Shutter Island. It all starts simple enough, with Di Caprio's jittery US Marshal Teddy Daniels assigned a sinister case out at an asylum on a distant, foggy isle. Along with his new partner, Chuck, played with terrific nuance by The Hulk Mark Ruffalo, Teddy sets about investigating a missing persons case at the Ashecliffe Institute.
What follows is one of Scorsese's most surprising works; surprising as it comes packed with an incredible sting in the tail. A twist-tastic ending that he'd previously shown little interest towards in his earlier films. That's partly down to the source material, Dennis Lehane's novel which springs to life in the creepiest of ways. The whole film is peppered with little hints here and there to make you question what the hell's happening right along with Di Caprio.
29. The Vanishing (1988)
Some of the best ways that movies get under your skin is when you're able to put yourself in the hero's shoes. What would *I* do in this scenario? Dutch movie Spoorloos (translation: Traceless) does just that. The set-up is killer. A young couple Rex and Saskia are on a road trip across France, and pull into a gas station to stock up on sundries. Rex fuels the car, Saskia enters the store. And never comes back out. Three years later, a mysterious stranger tells him that if he wants to know what happened to Saskia.... he will show him exactly what went down.
To say more would be to spoil one of the most effective thrillers designed. It's structured in such a way that's unheard of, by revealing the bad guy right from the beginning, showing us the man who kidnapped Saskia and some of his motives. That's not how you build tension! But, somehow, director George Sluizer does. His shooting style and expertly-crafted editing heighten the frankly insane scenario Rex finds himself in, and even impressed Stanley Kubrick who called it the most terrifying movie he'd ever seen.
28. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Years before he was evading the authorities as Jason Bourne, Matt Damon was evading the authorities as Tom Ripley, a hustler. A case of mistaken identity leads him to the Italian riviera where he's tasked with befriending Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf as part of a ploy with Greenleaf's father.
Anthony Minghella pulls together a pretty damn clever flick, that flips and turns as Ripley gets himself into an increasing number of dangerous scenarios. But he's hardly blameless, as the film slowly reveals. Damon's in his element here, fresh off his Oscar win for Good Will Hunting and hungry to tackle a chewier, meaty role, and Ripley is arguably his finest turn to date. The same goes for Law who brings more than his matinee idol looks to the role of Greenleaf.
27. Black Swan (2010)
From the first trailer for Darren Aronofsky's twisted ballet tale, it was clear that Black Swan wasn't an arthouse drama about the perils of doing a perfect plie. That one shot of Natalie Portman's ballet dancer turning around to face herself in the mirror, a fucked-up impossibility, saw to that.
The Requiem For A Dream director brings his same sharp, visual style to a story of artistic obsession that follows Portman's Nina, a hard-working perfectionist who aches for the lead in Swan Lake. That's no easy feat, because if she's not battling her unhinged mom (think Carrie's mother but about a million times worse) or the sexual advances of her colleagues, she's facing a monstrous transformation. But then again all those doppelgangers leering at her from surfaces and dark tunnels could just be hallucinations. It's not clear to Nina or to us what's real.
26. Marathon Man (1976)
If you weren't already terrified of the dentist then a) what's your secret? and b) don't feel too smug because Marathon Man will soon change that. With a torture scene guaranteed to have you clenching your teeth this is a slick piece of paranoid '70s cinema from director John Schlesinger.
The movie's plot is a pure nightmare for Dustin Hoffman's grad student Babe, whose athlete career gets put on pause when he discovers his government operative brother is tracking down a Nazi war criminal. Yeah, things like that tend to make you a little less concerned with being the next Usain Bolt. Some of its most tense scenes revolve around Babe being pursued and having to, you know, run for his life - so it helped his cause anyway. But aside from Hoffman's naive-to-assured turn, the biggest takeaway from this film is Laurence Olivier as Dr. Szell. His one-line "Is it safe?" is such an innocent question, and one that's so utterly sinister when he delivers it.
25. Primal Fear (1993)
While its title sounds like something you might find for pennies in the bargain bin, Primal Fear is a '90s gem that still packs a punch twenty years later. If courtroom thrillers are your thing, then this is worth seeking out.
Richard Gere stars as a lawyer assigned the case of a choirboy accused of murdering an Archbishop. Enter: the butter-wouldn't-melt Aaron Stampler. We'd yet to see Edward Norton curbstomping in American History X so the true extend of his acting range was unknown when he made his film debut. This is a masterclass in performance from Tyler Durden's better half who earned an Academy Award nomination. He's just as impressive as Gere and even Laura Linney, who puts in a fantastic performance as the prosecutor.
24. Wait Until Dark (1967)
Picture Audrey Hepburn and your mind may shoot straight to Roman Holiday or Breakfast at Tiffany's. But one of her most underrated performances is in this late sixties thrillfest, about a woman whose apartment is broken into by intruders. If you've seen Mike Flanagan's latest film Hush which features a deaf woman being pursued by a killer, then parts of this may feel familiar. See, Hepburn's character Susy is blind.
Left alone one night after thugs lure her hubby away, the crooks terrorise her while they try to find a doll stuffed with heroin. Susy has no idea that the doll in her possession is crammed with contraband, but, as is the case in films - the criminals don't care. Things unfold over the course of the evening and all take place in one location, which, together with the fantastic lighting design also drew comparisons to Hitchcock. How do you carve out fear in the space of a single apartment? It's not easy but director Terence Young will definitely make you jump of your seat at least once.
23. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
A serial killer Reverend is on the loose, with a misogynistic streak and a desire for cold hard cash. Not a man of the cloth you'd want over for tea and biscuits, that's for sure, but if movies have taught us anything it's this: evil wears a mask that looks like all our faces. That's the central idea in actor Charles Loughton's first and last directorial effort, as Robert Mitchum plays the madman who pursues a widow (Shelley Winters) with a stack of bills hidden away. That he knows about.
The 1940s and 1950s were a hotbed of this type of thriller. Ones with lots of double crossings that usually take place in only a handful of locations. But Loughton wanted to make more of his filmmaking introduction, and in doing so, influenced a generation of directors with his at-the-time unusual lighting designs and shot constructions. It looks both beautiful and dangerous, with shadows bringing a chilling dimension to his locations.
22. Inception (2010)
That damn spinning top. You know what I'm talking about. It's the one question that Christopher Nolan gets asked about still now during interviews, testament to the staying power of Inception.
It goes big right off the bat with viewers flung into the world of Leonardo Di Caprio's professional thief who commits corporate espionage in the most batshit of ways: he infiltrates peoples' subconscious. That in itself is a premise that many filmmakers might struggle to convey, but to Nolan, it's small potatoes. His real concern is the meatier plot at its core, a major heist within those dream worlds that slot together like Matryoshka dolls.
The technology brought in to show onscreen how those levels of consciousness actually work? Yeah, that's all equally as nutty as its plot. Nolan's cast works within a CGI-grafted world that's constantly shifting and never truthful. This is one of the brainiest thrillers ever constructed.
21. Misery (1990)
Stephen King is typically known for being the "King of horror" (chortle, chortle) but Misery tiptoes into thriller territory. This isn't a blood n' guts n' monsters story, but a truly chilling look into the world of obsessive fandom - of which King knew a thing or two at the time he penned the book. James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, a famous figure rescued from a snowy car crash by his number one fan: Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes. As an author chained to his best-selling series of melodrama novels, that Annie just LOVES, his desperate need to create something fresh doesn't go over well with her.
That's just for starters. Annie's off her rocker, a genuine madwoman who thinks nothing of a light spot of hobbling before dinner. Her brutishness made so convincing thanks to director Rob Reiner's spot-on editing. Each scene is crafted to squeeze every bit of tension from Paul's imprisoned scenario. The moment with the penguin figurine? Man. Talk about palpitations.
20. The Departed (2006)
How many stars can you pack into one movie? Scorsese's remake of Infernal Affairs has got 'em all, and they're mostly playing against type in this complex story of deceit in the criminal underworld.
Repackaged for western audiences, this one of those rare occasions when a remake remains just as good as the original. The whole thing is played out via a simultaneous double cross: Leonardo Di Caprio's cop goes undercover with the mob, while Matt Damon's gangster infiltrates the NYPD. That scenario is never gonna end well, especially with a huge cast of supporting characters in on the sting - Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga and Alec Baldwin to name a few. But that's half of the thrill here. Watching everyone figure out what's really happening. Scorsese drops in several visual clues about future events, letting them fester in your subconscious and reworks some of the main twists to keep it fresh for purists.
19. The Game (1997)
Michael Douglas' entire '90s resume is playing guys pissed at the status quo and wanting something different. In Falling Down he chose to riot his way through Los Angeles, whereas in The Game he chooses to say 'yes' to new experiences. It's something he regrets, obviously, as the movie wouldn't be fun for us if nothing went mammaries skyward for him. David Fincher follows up Seven with another sting-in-the-tail thriller about businessman Nicholas Van Orton. Bored with his vast wealth and fearful that he may turn into his father, he longs for change, so his brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a voucher for a game as a birthday gift.
It's baffling that the movie didn't do better in theaters, despite a really strong critical response. This is a straightforward set-up that has a twist you should see coming. Heck, it's told to us often enough throughout the film, but that's the genius of Fincher, managing to construct an atmosphere of paranoia that's truly gripping.
18. Double Indemnity (1944)
Barbara Stanwyck introduced audiences to the allure of the femme fatale with her performance in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. While it might seem now that the plot isn't anything special, at the time of release? It was a trendsetter in the thriller department.
The movie, a hard-boiled story based on a James M. Cain novel, follows a relationship between housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred Murray). Where most films prior to this would have cast Stanwyck as the housewife pushed into a dubious plot by a door-to-door insurance salesman, in this film it's the other way around. She's sick of her husband and wants him dead, and so enlists Neff into a cunning scheme to off her spouse and make oodles of cash. It's dark and claustrophobic, with some never-before-seen shooting techniques that makes this one of the most glorious film noirs ever made.
17. Cape Fear (1991)
When deciding to remake the 1962 film Martin Scorsese thought the best way to pay homage while maintaining the original's sense of (cape) fear, was to remix Bernard Hermann's ominous score and bring in credit sequence maestro Saul Bass. It's a choice that pays off: the second the film begins, you know trouble isn't far away. That comes in the shape of Robert De Niro's thuggish convict Max Cady, recently released after a 14-year prison term and seeking revenge on the man who put him there. That'll be Nick Nolte's public defender, who's a far less sympathetic figure than in the original, but no more deserving of the menace brought upon he and his family by Cady.
It's a lot of fun to watch Scorsese's methods for making a thriller that's reminiscent of 1950s suspense movies. While it might have been simpler - and more expected - to just pile on the gore and brutality, he chooses to instead create a film concerned with the way man finds it so easy to become evil.
16. The Lives Of Others (2006)
Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck's directorial debut comes over at first like a throwback to the paranoid thrillers of the '80s. Until you realise this flick tackles a subject matter that hadn't really been addressed on screen, the Big Brother tactics of the East Berlin secret police. It's a period piece, shining a light on the intrusive behavior of the "Stasi" - well, of course, they're illegally spying on people - while also being a neat thriller in its own right.
Taking place in East Berlin of the early 1980s, the plot orbits around an arty couple: playwright Georg Dreyman and actress Christa-Maria Sieland. Deemed 'undesirables' and put under surveillance by a Stasi captain, their lives are exposed through all of those intimate moments we have when we think no-one is looking. Alas, the Captain's superior takes a shine to Christa-Maria and tries to convince his lackey to kill Georg.
15. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Mulholland Dr. was originally a pilot for David Lynch's return to TV. Funding fell out, and he opted to reshoot and resculpt that footage into a hallucinatory, fever dream feature. It's a cautionary tale about the perils of stardom told through the eyes of Naomi Watts' ingenue, Betty Elms, who arrives in Hollywood and is immediately thrown into a bizarre amnesiac mystery.
Lynch is the master of disjointed narratives that don't obey to the rules of your conventional Hollywood thriller. Each time you watch, there's another clue, a new piece to the puzzle, that then also changes with every subsequent viewing. Nothing stays fixed in Lynch's City of Angels. That's what makes Mulholland Dr. a stand-out in modern cinema; there's no explaining why your heart is racing during a simple two-shot of a coupla guys chatting in a diner, or when a cowboy passes through the back of a room, seemingly undetected. But you know it in your gut; something is wrong. Something bad is happening.
14. Chinatown (1974)
Roman Polanski's final movie shot in the US was the last true film noir. Yeah, there's a lot been made of that time Faye Dunaway threw a cup of piss (her own, apparently) at Polanski, but really it seems as if that off-screen angst churned up to make for a cracking thriller. Jack Nicholson puts in a career best performance as Detective Jake Gittes, an embittered LAPD cop assigned to what seems like a straight-up murder and soon develops into a much bigger case, involving citywide corruption.
Polanski says that while screenwriter Robert Towne was desperate for a happy ending he pushed for the film's darker conclusion. His goal wasn't to make "just another thriller where the good guys triumph in the final reel," but for Chinatown "to be special." And it certainly is, earning Towne the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
13. Rope (1948)
Hitchcock has his own distinct way of making audiences bite their fingernails and get all jumpy. The everyday heroes, exasperated and desperate for answers, are trying to figure out what the hell's going on and we're right there with them. It's a formula that, okay, a lot of movies use but Hitchcock's the maestro who made that type of stuff creepy.
That's the unique part of Rope. We see Brandon and Philip murder their friend in the very opening scene. After the pair shove David's still-warm corpse into a chest, then realise oh yeah, we've got guests coming round for a fucking party! that's when it gets good. What increases the tension is that this 1948 flick that appears to be one, long uninterrupted take. It's not. It's ten lengthy scenes spliced together, but you're still never able to take a breather from the constant threat of someone discovering David. The remainder of the film is a lesson in how not to look supremely guilty when you're literally standing over a dead body.
12. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
At the time of its release John Frankenheimer's mad blend of thrills, satire and action was a huge success. Never before had a film been so spot-on about contemporary issues, giving mainstream audiences a glimpse inside America's well-greased political machine. Folks, this is how you do a solid, A-list political thriller. Break it down to its most basic elements and it's easy to see how movies today continue to be influenced by its core plottings. The Bourne franchise being just one example.
Taking place during the Korean War, a platoon of US soldiers are kidnapped by Soviets and only one survives; Laurence Harvey's decorated serviceman Raymond Shaw. It's revealed that he only managed to live because he was actually brainwashed by Communists and forced to carry out an assassination back on US soil. Enter Frank Sinatra, in one of his best non-singing turns, to bring him down. A year later, JFK's murder would bump up the film's profile for its eerie foreshadowing of those events.
11. Oldboy (2003)
If you've yet to experience the mind-bending, oh-no-he-didn't madness of Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy then get this on your watchlist, immediately. The middle chapter of his revenge trilogy put the Korean filmmaker's name into the spotlight, and is now a firm cult favorite, even spawning an inferior Hollywood remake a few years back.
Nothing quite prepares businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) for the events that follow a drunken night out. Tossed in jail, he calls his buddy to bail him out and is then kidnapped. For FIFTEEN YEARS. The entire time he's left to stew in a tiny hotel room, until he's mysteriously set free and given five days to track down his captor or suffer the consequences. This isn't just a whodunnit, it's a whydunnit. Dae-su's journey is a bloody, thrilling affair, full of plot twists and reveals that are jaw-dropping. It's Lynch tossed into a blender with Tarantino.
10. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan made his mark when he dropped this absolute beast of a thriller back in 2000. Memento showed the world what he was made of, contorting a heart-wrenching tale of loss into a twisted game of cat-n-mouse featuring Guy Pearce's Leonard Shelby at its heart.
Shelby isn't your ordinary hero. After the brutal murder of his wife, he vows to track down her killer. The only snag? He's now suffering from short-term amnesia and is surrounded by people he's not entirely sure he can trust. He inks his body with tattoos and takes countless Polaroids to guide him on his journey, which ends up the place you're least likely to expect.
Storywise, that's an interesting conclusion, and plotwise it's flat-out batshit because the entire film is told backwards. Nolan's not one for taking the easy route, and it's a gamble here that pays off, making the final reveal land with a weightier punch than if he's taken the traditional narrative path.
9. Fatal Attraction (1987)
Fatal Attraction introduced the term 'bunny boiler' into the cultural conversation, acting as a shorthand for women who are utterly off their rocker. Loads of subsequent films latched onto that concept - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, for example - but none succeeded in making you feel sympathy for a womanizer quite like this late '80s thriller. Seriously, Michael Douglas is a total sleaze, embarking on an extramarital affair with Glenn Close's Alex Forrest. He soon learns that he probably shouldn't have done that when she begins to stalk and threaten him, and his family. Director Adrien Lyne pulls a really menacing performance from Close, that makes such an impact thanks to some truly great editing.
The scene when his cute-as-a-button daughter Ellen runs toward her rabbit cage, cut together with a shot inside the house of his wife Beth approaching a boiling pot she never put on the stove... it's superb. It's heartbreaking too, because his family are so lovely and watching their terror is just plain awful.
8. North by Northwest (1959)
A crazy sequence on a revered US monument, an even crazier sequence involving a crop duster plane.... Hitchcock went BIG on North by Northwest. Unlike his earlier suspense films, that made recognisable, everyday locations really scary, this is the equivalent to his Mission Impossible. This is his action movie. It's still undoubtedly Hitchcock, though, with a puzzling mystery pushing forward the plot: who is Cary Grant?
As Roger Thornhill, he's an advertising exec happily going about his life until a case of mistaken identity finds him getting chased across the US by a shady organization who believes him to be a spy. The look of confusion on Grant's face throughout the entire film isn't entirely because of his superb acting skills - he genuinely had no clue what was going on the movie. "It's a terrible script," he told Hitchcock, "We've already done a third of the picture and I still can't make head or tail of it!” The director decided Grant's predicament would make his character more convincing on screen so kept him in the dark.
7. Seven (1995)
Part of Seven's legacy is *that* ending. It's a chilling conclusion to a compelling two hours spent dredging through the darkness of a man's psyche, a lone figure so repulsed by the world around him he decided to... err... make it even more horrible. The thing about that ending is that it very nearly didn't happen; Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman were "accidentally" sent an earlier version that Fox execs didn't like. They loved it, with Pitt even refusing to sign on if a word of it was changed.
Praise be to Pitt. Because without that final scene everything that takes place beforehand loses its impact. Nothing readies you for that shocker, and that's saying something after we follow two cops hunting down a serial killer who probably worships Travis Bickle. The cleansing of the streets is what Seven's villain does, but this isn't a horror: this is pure thrills all the way.
6. Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock carved out his own special place within cinema as the master of suspense. He knew what really got folks buzzing in the theater. Released only a year after North by Northwest, Psycho saw him go in a completely new direction. Initially, his pitch was turned down by Paramount execs who weren't taken by the premise or the source material. But he pursued it anyway, stripping the original novel down to its bare bones and choosing to shoot on a very low budget, in black and white.
While the film is often heralded as the beginning of the slasher genre, it's more than *that scene*. A slow-burner with great pacing, Psycho had the luck of hitting theaters at a time when audiences weren't used to being scared silly - for the duration. Hitchcock builds tension and maintains it for an entire movie, starting out with secretary Marion Crane on the run after stealing from her bosses, and then doing a total turn into a much more sinister set-up shortly afterwards. It's been done to death since, but this is the first time it was achieved without anyone having a clue before they took their seats.
5. The Usual Suspects (1995)
A contemporary classic that arrived slap bang in the middle of the twist-obsessed '90s, The Usual Suspects brought director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie acclaim for their fresh spin on the tired gangster genre. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in which case, Singer and McQuarrie should be overwhelmed with it: this film's influence can still be felt in cinema to this very day. It's unlike any other movie of its time, completely confident in going out of the box with the way its story is delivered.
I mean, who doesn't love a good flashback? That kicks things off as the shy and nervous Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) is interviewed by cops in pursuit of a criminal kingpin known as Keyser Soze.
If you've never seen the movie, there is one WTF? twist in the last act that's only effective if you don't know about it beforehand. Yes, it's super cool, and it's the thing that people normally talk about with the film. But don't forget that it wouldn't be so bracing if we weren't so in love with Singer's bunch of crazy crooks in the first place.
4. Rear Window (1954)
Hitchcock's simmering thriller might stop you from being a nosey neighbor. James Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound photographer LB Jeffries who passes the time armed with a pair of binoculars and a healthy disrespect for other people's privacy (If this were made today he'd have a camera-fitted drone streaming live to YouTube.) Instead of spying on freshly-showered women, Jeffries takes an interest in his neighbor Lars Thorwalk (Raymond Burr) who he suspects has murdered his wife.
Much has been said about Hitchcock exposing the way we view cinema, and how we're all really voyeurs, and it's absolutely true. The reason we're sucked into Jeffries' obsession with Thorwald is because hell, we saw the same thing he did through the window. We want to know if he did kill his wife or if it's all in Jeffries' mind. Stewart's great as the lead, but hats off to Grace Kelly as his girlfriend. It's she who's tasked with breaking into Thorwald's apartment and having a good ole snoop around... right as he's coming home. Nerve-shredding stuff.
3. The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man is an absolute masterpiece that's stood the test of time. Carol Reed's suspenseful Brit flick wraps together a bunch of terrific performances for a noir-infused thriller about a writer who heads to Vienna to track down an old friend. When he arrives in the Austrian-occupied city, he learns that his pal died mysteriously several hours earlier. Sounds fishy, no? Well, it is, and the remainder of the movie finds Joseph Cotten's writer Holly Martins embarking on an unforeseen adventure.
The film received a lot of attention for including Orson Welles in the role of charming rogue, Harry Limes, a lengthy cameo that presents him as foreboding, rather scary figure. It's the final scene that finds Welles and Cotten in the shadowy recesses of the Vienna sewers, that terrified the crap out of Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures.
2. The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
"You will let me know when those lambs stop screaming, won't you?" That one line, delivered by Hannibal Lecter to Clarice Starling, inspires the film's beautifully cryptic title and also constitutes a large chunk of Anthony Hopkins' performance. While it's his cerebral, almost charming performance as the imprisoned cannibal that's at the heart of the film, he's only onscreen for 16 minutes. That's some impression he makes for what's, let's face it, an extended cameo. He's the perfect opposite to Jodie Foster's FBI agent. Their relationship is what pushes forward the plot, him helping her to catch another killer on the loose.
Director Jonathan Demme slices together a film that's chilling and repulsive, a perfectly-honed thriller which preys on our biggest fears. The score from Howard Shore plays a large part in upping the suspense, and it's the absolute top-notch editing job in that final showdown which really seals the deal. As the scene cuts from Clarice following up a lead, to her superior Jack Crawford and his SWAT team, it's not until the last second you realise: you've had the lambswool pulled right over your eyes.
1. Vertigo (1958)
Time is vital for the true appreciation of artisanal cheeses and vintage wines, and the same applies to Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo. It did okay at the time of release, recouping its budget and all, but it failed to make a real impression with critics. Steadily that changed with most cinephiles now agreeing that this is arguably Hitchcock's finest work.
And what's not to love about it? It's less Tom Cruise-y than North by Northwest, yet more action-packed than Psycho. Oh, and James Stewart's back after his turn in Rear Window, playing a private eye with a severe fear of heights that proves problematic when he's tasked with locating the missing wife of an old friend. It's a straightforward enough set-up, and handled by suspense-meister it's a brilliant lesson in eliciting fear in audiences through some nifty shooting techniques. It's Vertigo that first used the dolly zoom that's almost guaranteed to make you also scared of heights and want to hurl at the same time. That'll be Bernard Hermann's unnerving score working its magic, too.