Much has been written about Stanley Kubrick over the years but simply put, he is one of the most influential and pioneering film directors of all time. As such, and despite him only releasing 13 movies between 1953 to 1999, it is no easy task to rank Kubricks top 5 films.
From the universe's outer reaches with crazed intelligent computers to studies of the human psyche in possessed hotels, Kubricks films spanned all genres. And while Kubrick may not be cinemas most iconic or favourite director, when it comes to cinema's most revered and respected director, it's quite possibly Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick received 13 Oscar nominations and is often cited as one of the greatest directors of all time with fans, including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, George Lucas, James Cameron, Terry Gilliam, and the Coen brothers, to name just a few. Spielberg once said of Kubrick that "nobody could shoot a picture better in history".
Before jumping into our top 5 Stanley Kubrick films, a few honourable mentions must be made for those films that don't quite make the cut but still stand up as great films. Kubrick's second feature film, The Killing, a tense heist movie released in 1956 and cited by Quentin Tarantino as a significant influence on Reservoir Dogs. A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick's most controversial and disturbing film, banned for many years in countries worldwide, just misses out on our list. Clockworks omission from our top 5 may be controversial in itself to some people, but that just proves the high level of films released by Stanley Kubrick and how difficult it is to narrow them down.
To-DoLists.com's Top 5 Kubrick Films
Barry Lyndon (1975) – Barry Lyndon was written, directed, and produced by Stanley Kubrick and based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director at the 48th Academy Awards, Barry Lyndon is a complex character piece of a man doomed by Georgian society.
Of the 7 Oscar nominations and the four wins the film received, the most notable win was awarded to John Alcott for Best Cinematography. As with most Kubrick films, Barry Lyndon was a showcase for innovation, with many scenes shot using only natural light. Special ultra-fast lenses were developed and used, allowing Kubrick to shoot using only candlelight as lighting for certain scenes.
But beyond its look, Barry Lyndon is a wonderfully told narrative of a fool with no remorse for climbing the social ladder. With a whopping 187 minutes running time, it can feel slow to some, but it's probably Kubrick's most interesting character study and one that doesn't get nearly enough credit.
Paths Of Glory (1957) - Co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Paths Of Glory is as anti-war a film as you'll ever find.
Set during World War I and starring Kirk Douglas, the film tells the story of Dax, a commanding officer of French soldiers who refuses to continue a suicidal attack. Dax, played by Douglas, giving one of his most outstanding performances, attempts to defend them against charges of cowardice in a court-martial.
The film was ahead of its time, consisting of impressive, protracted battle sequences and a knock-out ending. It was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress in 1992.
Due to its anti-war message being so strong, the film was banned from all United States military establishments, both at home and overseas. Paths Of Glory was nominated for a BAFTA Award in the Best Film category but lost out to The Bridge on the River Kwai.
The Shining (1980) – While not particularly popular in Stephen King's home, The Shining may well be most peoples favourite Stanley Kubrick film, and it's easy to see why. What 2001 did for science fiction, The Shining did for horror.
Visually haunting and emotionally unsettling, The Shining tells the story of one man's descent into madness and a young boys psychic ability to see into the gruesome past of the hotel where the film is set.
Shooting of the film is full of tales of Kubrick's constant need for perfection including long shooting days and multiple takes, driving the films two main actors Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, into a kind of madness themselves. Some suggest Kubrick's insistence on long days, constant re-writes and multiple takes was part of his plan to unsettle the two actors to capture their frustration on camera.
Dr Strangelove (1965) No list of the top 5 Stanley Kubrick films would be complete without multiple Oscar-nominated, Dr Strangelove. If making one of the most definitive horrors of all time isn't enough to convince anyone of his genius and versatility, Dr Strangelove shows Kubricks ability to make a comedy considered by many to be one of the best.
In 2000, Dr Strangelove was listed as number three on its list of the funniest American films by The American Film Institute and was one of the first twenty-five films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
What makes the film more remarkable is that it is a dark comedy about a nuclear apocalypse set during and released at the height of the Cold War.
The film is also best known for THREE incredible Oscar-nominated performances from Peter Sellers, portraying three very different characters in the movie. The reason for this was Columbia Pictures would only put up the money for the film if Kubrick agreed to Sellers' multiple roles. In Kubrick's previous film, Lolita, Sellers had played a character who assumed numerous identities. Columbia Pictures opinion that much of the success of Lolita stemmed from Sellers performance resulted in one Peter Sellers giving one of his greatest success'.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Is it any surprise to anyone that 2001 is top of this list? Probably not, as it comes in at the same position in nearly every other Kubrick list. Not only does it top most Kubrick lists of his best movies, but it also claims incredibly high spots in any movie list, not to mention lists of science fiction movies.
Steven Spielberg has referred to the film as his generation's "big bang", which is probably not overstating its impact and importance on film making. On a first watch, the movie can seem slow, with very little dialogue but as the tension arises through the film, the sound of just the astronauts breathing adds to the sense of fear that permeates through the story.
Not only was 2001 a sci-fi movie like no other at the time of its release, but it also broke new ground in visual effects, from a bone thrown into the air turning into a spacecraft to realistic zero-gravity effects. And while initially splitting critics and audiences, 2001 received 4 Oscar nominations, with Kubrick deservedly winning one for special effects.
It's also a movie that leaves the ending open to interpretation. Is the conclusion a good one or a bad one? That depends, and that's one of the great strengths of the movie. You're not told what to think at the end, as is the case with most films; you're instead encouraged to think for yourself about what the ending means.
Another aspect of 2001 and it's influence was that until it's release, the science fiction genre was deemed as 'lightweight'. A Space Odyssey proved that big-budget "serious" science-fiction films could be commercially successful. Without 2001 there would be no Close Encounters, Blade Runner, Intersteller and many many more.
It's also the inspiration for one of our most popular to-do lists!