Stanley Kubrick if alive, would have been celebrating his 96th Birthday on 26th July 2020. Born in 1928 in New York City, Stanley Kubrick first started as a photographer for the “Look” magazine before directing short documentaries. Kubrick’s first few features like “Fear and Desire” and “Killer’s Kiss” were produced out of his own pocket on an insignificant budget.
He then went ahead to make a noir thriller “The Killing” and the anti-war drama “Paths of Glory”. Before long, he was making the epic “Spartacus” and “Lolita” an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel, the latter two brought him Golden Globe nominations for Best Director.
A black-comedy war film “Dr Strangelove”, which is also considered as one of his funniest movies brought Stanley Kubrick Oscar nominations for writing, directing and producing. After that, he created his magnum opus in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a science fiction which looks at man’s intergalactic journeys through time and the solar system. Stanley Kubrick won his solitary Oscar for the film’s revolutionary special effects and received additional nominations for directing and writing.
Stanley Kubrick did go-ahead to collect more Oscar nominations; three for producing, writing and directing “A Clockwork Orange”, three more for writing, producing and directing “Barry Lyndon”, one for writing “Full Metal Jacket”. He also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Director as he directed “A Clockwork Orange” and “Barry Lyndon” and won once for “Barry Lyndon”.
“The Shining” a horror film that Kubrick made, surprisingly did not get nominations for either Oscar or Golden Globe. Finally, he shot his last film called “Eyes Wide Shut” for over a year, which was finished shortly before his death. Kubrick made 13 full-length films throughout his close to 50-year career and excelled in many genres ranging from war, film noir, black comedy, horror, historical epics and more.
The audience could have witnessed a western from him called “One-Eyed Jack” starring Marlon Brando, but unfortunately, that did not happen as Kubrick for unknown reasons stepped down from the film just two weeks before production started. Stanley Kubrick was infamously meticulous to the highest degree, a true auteur; Kubrick got a reputation of being a perfectionist soon enough and insisted on multiple takes (just ask Shelly Duvall).
Stanley Kubrick selected the ideal piece of music to illustrate his scenes, built expansive sets. At the same time, he enjoyed tremendous artistic freedom, but he made challenging, thought-provoking cinema that stands tall alongside any of the other cinematic giants. Each film he made was a product of detailed planning and brilliant execution, and this makes Stanley Kubrick one of the greatest filmmaking pioneers of all time.
With many of his films considered as authentic masterpieces, The Hollywood Tribune takes on the tedious task of ranking every Stanley Kubrick film from worst to best.
13. Fear and Desire (1953)
Runtime – 1hr. 2min. | IMDb – 5.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 80% | Metacritic – 51%
Stanley Kubrick was a reasonably successful photographer at 23 and had made two short films, which he used to raise money for ‘Fear and Desire’. Fear and Desire is an anti-war film which was made amidst the Korean War, but it has no connection to that war or any other war for that matter.
The story focuses on four soldiers trying to survive desperately after crash landing behind enemy lines. The acting is not good plus the script is dull, but the film’s theme of best-laid plans gone wrong through human frailty will be worth a watch for a Kubrick fanatic.
The film has a sense of realism although it is rumoured that Kubrick was so embarrassed with his first film that he fought against its circulation and tried to suppress it.
12. Killer’s Kiss (1955)
Runtime – 1hr. 7min. | IMDb – 6.6/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 85% | Metacritic – NA
Kubrick borrowed $40,000 to make his second feature film, which he went on to sell to United Artists for $100,000. The story follows a boxer trying to rescue a beautiful dancer from her violent employer.
The film shot entirely in New York, captures an authentic Manhattan as it really was, which has many classic noir tropes. The film is told in flashback form by a narrator; there is love, deception, revenge, murder and a hero and villain battle in a warehouse.
By no means is Killer’s Kiss one of the Best Stanley Kubrick Movies, nor is it one of his worst. It simply struggles to live up to the standards of Stanley Kubrick.
11. Lolita (1962)
Runtime – 2hr. 33min. | IMDb – 7.6/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 91% | Metacritic – 79%
Making this film by adapting Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel was not an easy task. The film follows the story of a middle-aged professor who falls in love with a 14-year-old “nymphet”. Stanley Kubrick later claimed that if he knew how severe the censorship restrictions were at the time, he would not have made Lolita.
The decision to alter the chronology of the novel and beginning with the climax of the book only weakened the story of the film, although he did manage to bring some humour to it.
Lolita was made at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Kubrick was constricted, had he been given a chance to remake this movie he probably would have turned it into a black comedy instead. Unfortunately, Lolita will always be remembered as a lost opportunity.
10. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Runtime – 2hr. 39min. | IMDb – 7.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 75% | Metacritic – 68%
Released shortly after Kubrick’s death, his final film can be considered his most diverse, yet controversial one. The film is narratively mixed between City of Women and The Firm, yet it is visually fresh, given Kubrick’s attention to detail.
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star as married doctors, and their relationship is tested as Kidman reveals a fantasy she had, sending Tom Cruise on an odyssey through the mysterious underbelly of New York City. This film also takes place during Christmas, thereby making it the sexiest Christmas movie ever.
The film tackles with the concept of obsession and isolation, though it is not at the top of the Best Stanley Kubrick Movies, it’s quality will undoubtedly be valued in the future.
9. Spartacus (1960)
Runtime – 3hr. 17min. | IMDb – 7.9/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 93% | Metacritic – 87%
Spartacus is perhaps Kubrick’s most mainstream film, and the great Hollywood epic is considered as one of his most critically and financially successful films of the 1960s.
Kirk Douglas personally produced and starred in this epic about the slave Spartacus, who leads a revolt against the tyrannical Roman Republic. The film is modern in its view of sexuality and politics but lacked the director’s visual style and controversial themes.
Despite the film’s success, the experience of working on this epic soured his feelings towards Hollywood, and he moved to England the following year, where he could have much greater artistic control. There he continued to work for the rest of his life.
8. The Killing (1956)
Runtime – 1hr. 25min. | IMDb – 8/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 98% | Metacritic – 91%
The Killing is one of the Best Stanley Kubrick Movies, and also one of the best heist flicks ever, although what is disheartening is that only a few people have even considered watching this movie in the recent years.
The film follows a crook that assembles a group of thieves to pull off a race-track robbery before he retires in Florida with his fiancée. The film is told non-linearly where nothing goes to plan and is now considered as a foundational piece of American Cinema.
The film takes inspiration from Cagney’s gangster pictures of the ’30s and Bogart’s noir from the ’40s and creates something new and fresh which went on to inspire future films like Ocean’s 11, Reservoir Dogs and Logan Lucky.
7. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Runtime – 1hr. 56min. | IMDb – 8.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 91% | Metacritic – 76%
This film can be divided into two distinct parts, with part one playing out like a great play, in which a real-life drill sergeant tries to break Private Pyle into becoming a soldier, but it leads to a tragedy instead.
The second half takes us to the battle, which culminates in a stunning sniper sequence. Full Metal Jacket is a gut-punching film that reconstructs the Vietnam War and is both emotionally exhausting and psychologically haunting. Through this violence and bloodshed, Kubrick examines the nature of war.
Regarded as the last of Hollywood’s Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket can be considered amongst the best Vietnam movies, alongside films like Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and Platoon.
6. The Shining (1980)
Runtime – 2hr. 24min. | IMDb – 8.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 85% | Metacritic – 66%
This one is Kubrick’s most atmospheric film. The film takes a psychological approach to the horror genre, which includes some groundbreaking camera movement. Surprisingly, it was not well received by the critics.
The story follows Jack Nicholson as a struggling writer who slowly descends into madness as he brings his family to the Overlook Hotel. Stanley Kubrick adapted this film from Stephen King’s novel of the same name and makes it visually haunting and emotionally unsettling, which adds up to a horror story filled with unforgettable moments. This is truly one of the Best Stanley Kubrick Movies.
5. Paths of Glory (1957)
Runtime – 1hr. 28min. | IMDb – 8.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 95% | Metacritic – 90%
Paths of Glory is without any doubt Kubrick’s most under-appreciated movie. This film follows Kirk Douglas as a colonel in the French Army, who in the middle of World War I has to defend three of his men who are facing the death penalty, as they refused an order to charge toward what would have been their own demise.
Kirk Douglas anchors the film throughout its narrative, and the film ends with Christina Harlan singing “The Faithful Hussar”, making it one of the most emotional and effective endings in film history. The actress mentioned above would later also become Kubrick’s wife and his partner until his death 42 years later.
Kubrick’s anti-war film does not have any his trademarks, but the story is told brilliantly and is bound to touch the viewer every time. Definitely one of the Best Stanley Kubric Movies we have seen.
4. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Runtime – 3hr. 4min. | IMDb – 8.1/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 90% | Metacritic – 89%
Barry Lyndon is Kubrick’s most disliked movie by the public because it is dreadfully slow. It is a historical epic about an opportunist that travels from place to place, looking for wealth and fame.
The cinematography does get its due attention as some of it is modelled after paintings. Kubrick took measures to shoot interiors with only candlelight, another risky decision that ended up making this one of the most beautiful movies you will ever come across with magnificent costumes and art direction. The cinematography also used a unique fo.7 lens made by NASA to capture 70mm images lit by candlelight, which in itself, is a masterpiece.
If you have not watched this work by Kubrick or disliked the first time you watched this, give this movie a try once again, as with the right mindset, it will definitely grow on you.
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Runtime – 2hr. 16min. | IMDb – 8.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 87% | Metacritic – 80%
This is undoubtedly his most controversial film as the story follows some young men, known as droogs, who like to engage in ultraviolence. If you’ve never seen this film, do not make the mistake of recommending this to your family.
A Clockwork Orange follows a nightmarish vision of dystopia in which everything is dysfunctionally functional. The government is totalitarian, buildings are torn to rubble, and this creates an unsettling feeling. Stanley Kubrick creates a cynical world which has been adapted from Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel, where the world has lost all its good and has been reduced to its primal and carnal nature.
This film has all of Kubrick’s trademarks and is probably the most Kubrickian film the director ever released.
2. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Runtime – 1hr. 35min. | IMDb – 8.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 98% | Metacritic – 97%
Dr Strangelove is a comedy about a possible nuclear apocalypse. If this is not Kubrickian, then The Hollywood Tribune does not know what is. The story is set during the Cold War and is about a general who orders a strike against the Soviet Union. Everybody from other generals to the President has to talk the event down to prevent Armageddon.
Released during a period of heightened global tension, the film aims to expose the danger and ludicrousy of the time’s worsening world politics. The film is supremely funny as Stanley Kubrick takes all the seriousness of the possible scenario and makes it sound ridiculous.
Stanley Kubrick did not try to be funny in his movies, but when he did, he was rather successful. A masterpiece!
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Runtime – 2hr. 22min. | IMDb – 8.3/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 93% | Metacritic – 84%
It simply could not be any other film. The first time you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might not know what to make of it. The film is narratively obtuse and relies heavily on its visual to tell the story of humanity across the universe.
Stanley Kubrick truly pioneered the scope of cinema with 2001: A Space Odyssey which is a technical masterpiece. The film uses elaborate sets and imposing props, showing what a visionary Kubrick was, both as a film-maker and a thinker. Kubrick brings to life an artistic use of visual effects and a vision of artificial intelligence which is not only fresh but also capable of embarrassing many of today’s film-makers.
The atmosphere, the story, the music, the obelisk and the intro where the monkey throws the bone into space, and it transitions into a satellite, makes it one of the greatest technical feats in the history of cinema. While the film may not be Kubrick’s most re-watchable film, it certainly tops the list of the Best Stanley Kubric Movies ever made. The film was not only groundbreaking; it was Genius.
Stay tuned to The Hollywood Tribune for lists like this, and more news from Hollywood and beyond!