'Psycho' heads list of top 100 film thrillers
by Bruce Westbrook
The Houston Chronicle, 13 June 2001 page 1
Pick your poison: The ugly alien, the wicked demon, the
pecking birdies, the peckish Hannibal or the ravenous shark.
All gave us movie thrills, in "Alien," "The Exorcist," "The
Birds," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Jaws." But the thrill of all thrills
began with Janet Leigh's
innocent shower in the quaint Bates Motel.
Meet "Psycho"- the newly acclaimed champion of American movie
thrillers. At least, that's the opinion of 1,800 people in the film community
who were polled by
the American Film Institute for its fourth 100-best list.
The AFI came up with its own list of 400 top American
thrillers, then sent ballots to filmmakers, film historians and film critics,
including the Chronicle's Eric
Harrison, Louis B. Parks and Bruce Westbrook.
Respondents were asked to choose 100 films from AFI's list of
400, though five write-in votes were allowed. (No write-in movies made the final
The result is a ranking that may spark the same heated debates
that AFI triggered for its previous centennial lists. Those covered 100 Films,
100 Stars and
100 Laughs (comedies).
Each list has been showcased in a lavish three-hour TV
special. AFI's 100 Years . . . 100 Thrills aired Tuesday night on CBS.
It's only fitting that the No. 1 film came from the movies'
widely acknowledged master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.
The British-born director, known largely for his Hollywood
work, had nine entries among the top 100 thrillers - more than any other
director. They included
three in the top seven.
After No. 1 "Psycho," Hitchcock's other winners were No. 4
"North by Northwest," No. 7 "The Birds," No. 14 "Rear Window," No. 18 "Vertigo,"
"Strangers on a Train," No. 38 "Notorious," No. 48 "Dial M for Murder" and No.
Steven Spielberg was second with six films on the list,
including the Top 10's "Jaws" (No. 2) and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (No. 10).
Spielberg also wrote and
produced No. 84 "Poltergeist," directed by Texan Tobe Hooper.
Hooper's far scarier "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," although
named on the initial ballot, did not make the final cut.
After Spielberg came director Stanley Kubrick with five films
on the list, starting with No. 21 "A Clockwork Orange."
But don't forget William Friedkin. Though his recent work
hasn't been held in high regard, the director had two 1970s films in the top 10:
"The Exorcist" at No.
3 and "The French Connection" at No. 8.
It's also worth noting that Friedkin got his start directing
for TV's Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Because he often had cameos in his movies, Hitchcock was the
list's most represented actor, with eight appearances. (He was seen only in a
"Dial M for Murder.")
From a more realistic starring standpoint, Harrison Ford and
Claude Rains were tops, each with four films on the list.
For Ford, they were Raiders of the Lost Ark at No. 10, Star
Wars at No. 27, The Fugitive at No. 33 and Blade Runner at No. 74.
For Rains, they were "Lawrence of Arabia" at No. 23,
"Casablanca" at No. 37, "Notorious" at No. 38 and "The Adventures of Robin Hood"
at No. 100.
In chronology, the list went from 1923's Safety Last from
silent-film comic Harold Lloyd to 1999's "The Sixth Sense" and "The Matrix."
The most popular decade was the 1970s, with 22 on the list.
Next came the '60s with 21.
The most recent film to be high on the list was 1991's
Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. Another Oscar winner, 1997's Titanic,
was No. 25.
As these entries show, the AFI's ballot yielded a widely
While true thrillers dominated the list, also included was a
fanciful musical ("The Wizard of Oz," No. 43); a courtroom drama (12 "Angry
Men," No. 88); a
drama-driven Western ("High Noon," No. 20); and an inspirational sports story
("Rocky," No. 52).
Epics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus (No. 62) also
invaded the dominant ranks of horror, sci-fi and action-adventure.
Other odd choices abound. Thelma & Louise as a thriller? Or
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial - not to mention the warm and lovable Oz?
Besides Chainsaw, other worthy no-shows from the list of 400
include Aliens, Apollo 13, The Empire Strikes Back, From Russia With Love,
Invasion of the Body
Snatchers (1956), Mean Streets, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Straw Dogs.
Any such selections leave room for disagreement - and that's
clearly the way the AFI wants it.
By sparking debates over its lists of 100, the AFI generates
more interest in film history and draws attention to its film preservation
So it's nice to know that when "Psycho's" Anthony Perkins
invaded Leigh's shower with a butcher knife, it was all for a good cause.
© 2001 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company