In theory, all cinema is voyeurism. We are looking into these people’s lives without their knowledge or consent for our entertainment. Of course, those people are fictional, but it’s not hard to see why the idea of voyeurism is so ripe for exploration in movies, an art form explicitly about looking.
But there are multiple kinds of voyeurism, especially in the digital age, where video surveillance is ubiquitous in public spaces, and digital surveillance is on the rise.
One film fan, specifically curious about movies about peeking through windows, asks fellow movie lovers for recommendations on movies where looking at other people through windows is a major plot point, and they are full of suggestions.
1. Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is undoubtedly the most famous movie about looking through a window. The film follows a photographer who’s broken his leg and is confined to his apartment. He becomes convinced that he witnessed one of his neighbors commit a murder.
He begins to watch the neighbor more closely and tries to convince the people around him. But there’s not much evidence of anything out of the ordinary. It’s a masterclass in suspense from the master of suspense himself.
2. Witness to Murder (1954)
Released before Rear Window in the same year, Witness to Murder follows a similar plotline. But here we know that a murder has been committed. Cheryl (Barbara Stanwyck) witnesses a neighbor kill a woman, and the film follows her as she attempts to convince the authorities of what she saw. It’s a thrilling movie and a surprising indictment of sexism in the mid-1950s.
3. Windows (1980)
Unsurprisingly, not all movies about people peeking through windows center those peepers as heroes. Windows follows Emily (Talia Shire) as she becomes the center of another woman’s obsession. Emily’s stalker creates entire plots to drive Emily into her arms. But while she waits for those plans to pay off, she spies on Emily through her window and a telescope.
4. Body Double (1984)
Body Double brilliantly combines two Hitchcock films (Rear Window and Vertigo) into one incredible story. The film centers on a struggling actor in LA who is asked to house-sit for an acquaintance. From that home, he witnesses the murder of a beautiful neighbor who performs the same dance every night (that he peeks at from the window).
But shortly after that sees another woman perform the same dance on TV. The film then follows his investigation into who this other woman is and why these two women dance the exact same way.
5. Fright Night (1985)
Most of the movies on this list could be categorized as thrillers. But Fright Night is the only outright supernatural horror movie. That said, it’s also one of the few comedies, so don’t get too scared. Fright Night follows a teenage boy who, after peeking at his new neighbor through the window, becomes convinced that the neighbor is a vampire.
6. Lady Beware (1987)
Lady Beware offers a slight twist on the usual concept of peeking through windows as its narrative begins with a man looking at display windows. Those windows are designed by Katya (Diane Lane), who soon becomes this man’s obsession as he starts to stalk her. But as the film goes on, Katya decides to turn his own voyeurism back on him. It’s a great film that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition.
7. Addicted to Love (1997)
Addicted to Love is the only outright comedy included here. The movie follows Sam (Matthew Broderick), who sets up a surveillance operation across the street from his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend’s apartment.
Soon he meets Maggie (Meg Ryan), who has set up a similar operation next to his because Sam’s ex is Maggie’s ex’s new girlfriend. Naturally, hijinks ensue, and you can guess how it ends.
8. Disturbia (2007)
Disturbia is the closest another film has come to Rear Window without being a direct remake (which also exists). The movie centers on a teenager spying on his neighbors after being sentenced to house arrest.
Throughout his surveillance, he becomes convinced that one of his neighbors is a serial killer and does his best to convince others that something needs to be done.
9. The Voyeurs (2021)
Every few months, a conversation erupts on Twitter about whether movies need adult scenes. The Voyeurs seeks to definitively answer the question: “Who cares if they’re this good?” The film follows a young couple who become obsessed with watching another couple across the street from them and takes a turn for the erotic when the couples finally meet.
10. Watcher (2022)
Watcher has its cake and eats it, too, regarding voyeurism. The film centers on a young American woman Julia (Maika Monroe), who moves to Bucharest with her husband and looks out the window while he’s at work. One day she notices a man looking back at her, then she sees him again the next day.
She becomes nervous about this mysterious figure constantly watching her. But her husband asks: how are you seeing him looking if you aren’t also looking? It’s a tense thriller with a phenomenal central performance from Monroe.
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