"Psycho' Heads List of Top 100 Thrillers

With apologies to Michael Jackson, the real thriller in show business is Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock loomed large Tuesday, when the American Film Institute released its list of top 100 thrillers. Psycho, North by Northwest and The Birds landed in the top 10, and six of his other films made the list.

Jaws and The Exorcist round out the top three. Steven Spielberg, with six films, followed Hitchcock as the director with the most films in the running.

Oz a Thriller?

While most of the titles are familiar to moviegoers — the list boasts such titles as The Maltese Falcon and The Godfather — some of the films don't seem to fit very well in the thriller category.

There's no argument that The Wizard of Oz and E.T. the Extraterrestrial are classics. But are these family-fun flicks really thrillers? The institute endeavored to keep the pool of candidates broad so that the final list could include a diverse selection, including the science-fiction classic Planet of the Apes and the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men.

What makes Psycho worthy of the top spot? Janet Leigh, the actress slashed to death in the famous shower scene, says it's "brilliant editing, and the score and how his [Hitchcock's] camera brought the knife to the body. You'd swear it went in, and of course, it never could, because we couldn't show that."

In that scene, Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, dons his dead mother's clothes to kill Leigh's character.

And how did Hitchcock achieve that eerie crunching sound when the knife rips through human flesh? He used melons.

"He brought a watermelon, a casaba, a cantaloupe," Leigh says. "At the end, Mr. Hitchcock said without hesitation, 'The casaba.'"

Harrison Ford and the late Claude Rains each appeared in four of the top 100 thrillers, more than any other actors.

The oldest film on the list was the 1923 silent release Safety Last, while the newest offerings were 1999's The Matrix and The Sixth Sense

Blair: 'Why Make Me So Ugly?'

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 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.

Just reading through the top 100 makes it all the more apparent that Americans just love getting the stuffing scared out of themselves. For the actors, the monsters, murders and mayhem are just part of the job.

Linda Blair, who starred in The Exorcist as a demonically possessed young girl, said it took some getting used to. She was somewhat bemused by the physical transformation her character underwent as the devil took over.

"I used to stare in the mirror and just wonder why," Blair said. "Why did those boys want to make me so ugly?" ABCNEWS.com's Buck Wolf and ABCNEWS Radio contributed to this report