AFI Releases Top 100 Thriller Flicks

The mother of all slasher films, Psycho, topped the American Film Institute list of 100 most thrilling movies, with Jaws and The Exorcist coming in second and third.

Psycho director Alfred Hitchcock and Jaws director Steven Spielberg combined for 15 films on the list released Tuesday.

Hitchcock placed nine movies on the list, with two others in the top 10 North by Northwes at No. 4 and The Birds at No. 7. Spielberg had six films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark at No. 10.

The rest of the top 10 were: No. 5, The Silence of the Lambs; No. 6, Alien; No. 8, The French Connection; and No. 9, Rosemary's Baby.

The rankings were announced in a special aired Tuesday night on CBS. The institute began issuing an annual list on different movie themes three years ago, with a roster of the top 100 American films.

The latest list was chosen by about 1,800 directors, actors, studio executives, critics and others in Hollywood, who voted from a field of 400 nominated movies.

Considering that 16 Hitchcock films were nominated, there was little doubt he would fare well. And it's small surprise that Psycho led the way, considering that even co-star Janet Leigh was so affected by her death scene in the shower that she only takes baths to this day.

"Psycho scared the hell out of me when I saw it finished. Making it and seeing it are two different things," Leigh said. "That staccato music and the knife flashing. You'd swear it's going into the body. I still don't take showers, and that's the truth."

The 1960 Hitchcock classic starred Anthony Perkins as mild-mannered Norman Bates, a nutcase who donned his dead mother's clothes to kill Leigh's character, a guest at the Bates Motel.

Linda Blair, who scored an Oscar nomination as the demonically possessed girl in The Exorcist, said she still hears from fans who were so terrified by the movie that they recall exactly when, where and with whom they saw it.

"If you do one project in your lifetime that people remember like that, that's a terrific thing to have been a part of," Blair said.

While the list was heavy on horror, mystery and murder, it also included suspenseful dramas. The Godfather ranked 11th, The Great Escape was 19th, Lawrence of Arabia was 23rd and Casablanca was 37th.

The list featured Westerns such as High Noon (No. 20) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (No. 54), the boxing flick Rocky (No. 52) and even The Wizard of Oz (No. 43).

"It cuts across drama and disaster and epic and horror and music and noir and sci-fi and sports and Westerns," said Jean Picker Firstenburg, the institute's director. "Each of these genres can affect you with the same emotional response, which is that your heart races."

The oldest film was Safety Last (No. 97), the 1923 silent classic that features Harold Lloyd's dazzling stunts on a high-rise building. The newest films were from 1999, The Sixth Sense (No. 60) and The Matrix (No. 66).

Stanley Kubrick had five films on the list, including A Clockwork Orange (No. 21) and "The Shining" (No. 29).

Harrison Ford, host of the CBS special, tied with Claude Rains for best-represented actor, with four films each. Ford's were Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars (No. 27), The Fugitive (No. 33) and Blade Runner (No. 74); Rains' were Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, Hitchcock's Notorious (No. 38) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (No. 100).

Technically, Hitchcock himself was the on-screen presence with the most films on the list. He made cameos in eight of his ranked films, while in Dial M for Murder he appeared in a photograph on a wall.

Eva Marie Saint, co-star of North by Northwest, said Hitchcock had a talent rare among today's filmmakers: creating suspense subtly, without car crashes, explosions and high body counts.

Saint recalled her fright on first seeing The Birds, which includes a quiet yet terrifying scene in which birds slowly gather behind the film's star, Tippi Hedren, in prelude to an attack.

"I remember walking with my husband in Santa Barbara, and a couple of blackbirds came up," Saint said. "We kept walking, and about six more flew up and landed. Then maybe six more came, and I found myself saying to my husband, 'Remember that scene? Let's just walk away slowly. Don't run, just walk.'

"When a film scares you that much, it stays with you."