Ranking the Films of Stanley Kubrick
Updated: Sep 26
It is universally agreed upon that Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. As his 92nd birthday would have occurred a couple of weeks ago, here at The CinemaScope we felt like it would be a fitting time to rank all of his feature films.
DISCLAIMER: The reviews listed below are much briefer than our other reviews.
13. Fear and Desire (1953)
Fear and Desire was Kubrick’s first feature film. Despite its low budget of $20,000, there is no excuse for the horrible screenplay, dreadful sound mixing/editing, and boring plot. The only aspect that this hot mess of a film could have an excuse for could be the abysmal acting, which is as horrible as it turned out to be due to the fact that the movie was supposed to be a completely silent film, re-edited and voiced-over in post-production after Kubrick received $7,000 to add on to his budget.
The only compliment that you could give this film is that many shots are visually stylish, which seems to be influenced by Kubrick’s past as a photographer for Look Magazine.
I would not recommend watching this movie AT ALL unless you're interested in learning of Kubrick’s early days as a filmmaker.
12. Lolita (1962)
Lolita is a movie about a middle aged british novelist’s (Humbert Humbert) obsession with a 14 year old girl named Lolita. Lolita is actually a huge step up from Fear and Desire, but still falls victim to many flaws, mainly being censorship: Kubrick was forced to cut out major parts and scenes of his film due to the Hollywood system that plagued filmmakers over fifty years ago. Another problem with this film is the fact that the movie begins with the ending, which then makes many future scenes feel anticlimactic.
Lolita has a lot of positive aspects, however, the best of which perhaps being Peter Sellers’s charming performance as Claire Quilty.
In the end, Lolita is a passable and average film, and only worth checking out if the film’s synopsis interests you.
11. Killer’s Kiss (1955)
Killer’s Kiss is a film noir about an aging boxer getting mixed up in some trouble involving a dancer and her violent employer.
Killer’s Kiss has a largely uninteresting plot, and would have been extremely boring to watch if it weren’t for the fact that it was so short, running at a mere 68 minutes.
The only reason why Killer’s Kiss is ranked above Lolita is because it was the first of Kubrick’s movies to show his mastery of cinematography (specifically, his work on practical lighting). In fact, Killer’s Kiss has one of the best looking shots of Kubrick’s early filmography.
Although it is short, Killer’s Kiss is plagued throughout its runtime by Kubrick’s choice to have the film’s protagonist narrate the film, which ruins all of the suspenseful moments as we know that he will survive all of the events transpiring.
Killer’s Kiss is a fine yet flawed film noir which is worth renting if you have an hour to burn.
10. Spartacus (1960)
Spartacus is a 1960 epic based on the true story of a Roman slave named Spartacus, who starts a rebellion, allowing him to become a popular leader in ancient Rome.
At its best, Spartacus is an entertaining historical film filled to its brim with great action sequences, amazing setpieces, and sets that are out of this world. But at its worst, Spartacus is what’s been wrong with big-budget Hollywood dramas for a long time: their only intention is to win awards. Due to this, Spartacus has an abundance of emotional scenes which feel extremely out of place when put in perspective with the rest of the movie.
As I mentioned before however, the film is filled with stellar set pieces and location designs, making the film feel extremely realistic for its time.
Spartacus’s three hour runtime might seem intimidating at first glance, but if you have the time, I would recommend that you check out this epic (although it is certainly not a “must-watch”.
9. The Killing (1956)
Believe it or not, Stanley Kubrick made a noir heist film, and… it is actually not bad.
For the first two thirds of the movie, The Killing is just a normal heist film: the protagonists recruit a team, and the team orchestrate a heist. This makes the film feel insanely bland at first. But, from the moment the heist begins in the third act, the movie turns into one of the most interesting films that you will ever watch, making up for much of the boring introduction. From the exciting plot to all the twists and turns that follow the heist, The Killing has become one of the most iconic heist films of all time, and is definitely something special in comparison to all of the other films of the genre.
8. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut was the visionary director's final film, and even though it is not his best, it's still very much above average. Without a doubt, the best part of Eyes Wide Shut is the moody and dreamy atmosphere set up by Kubrick that haunts the audience long after the credits roll. This same chilly atmosphere also causes the film to feel cold and awkward in many sequences, however.
Eyes Wide Shut is a great film which is worth checking out, although it is still far from perfect.
7. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a film that needs no introduction to people above the age of seven. This classic horror movie from 1980 has been a staple of Halloween nights for decades.
One of the best parts of The Shining is the amazing horror imagery that will never leave your mind, even if you haven't revisited the film in years. Everyone who has seen The Shining remembers the elevator full of blood or the twins who haun the overlook.
For the most part, The Shining is a fantastic film, but it does face the issue that is Shelley Duvall’s performance as Wendy Torrance, which feels very over the top and unrealistic, almost resembling a performance in a b-movie.
The Shining is still a masterclass in horror, despite this flaw, and is the first film on this list worth purchasing for later viewings. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out.
6. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Barry Lyndon is a three hour epic about the rise and fall of Redmond Barry.
Barry Lyndon’s strength is its mind-bending camera-work and cinematography. Kubrick insisted that all scenes be shot with natural light to make it seem more realistic. The end-result is an insanely beautiful visual style that you won't find in many other films. Barry Lyndon is one of the best looking movies of the 1970s and would probably be the best if it weren't for Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola's well-known masterpiece).
Perhaps the only problem that lies behind Barry Lyndon is its story-structure. Barry Lyndon follows a very common formula (that of a rise and fall story) so closely, that the film becomes, at a certain point, predictable. This issue also plagued many other films of the time (Scarface, Once Upon a Time in America, etc.) Despite this, Barry Lyndon is a film that everyone should check out, and definitely worth owning.
5. Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Dr. Strangelove was Kubrick's hilarious satirical view of the cold war, which was adapted from the 1958 novel “Red Alert” written by Peter George. One of the strengths of Dr. Strangelove is the amazing “laugh of loud” style of comedy which still holds up after more than 60 years of comedic innovation. One aspect of the movie which I think is greatly underrated is the production design. Ken Adam, who is famous for creating other infamous sets from films such as Barry Lyndon and Doctor No., designed the scenery for some of the film’s most well-known moments, all out of a fairly low budget.
In the end, Dr. Starngelove is a fantastic satire and one of the funniest movies of the 60s, and one that is definitely worth checking out.
4. Paths of Glory (1957)
Paths of Glory is an anti-war film about a C.O. in the French army in WW1 defending three soldiers who are being unjustly tried for the death penalty. One of the main criticisms that Kubrick’s films frequently face is that they are very “cold” and “lifeless”. Paths of Glory proves this claim wrong. The film is easily Kubrick’s most emotional film, as it deals with themes such as social injustice and death as a whole. This film also has what I would consider Kubrick’s most emotional scene in his entire filmography.
In the end, Paths of Glory is a diamond in the rough for fans of emotional films, and definitely worth watching.
3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A Clockwork Orange is undoubtedly Kubrick's most controversial film out of all of his filmography. The movie was even banned in the United Kingdom from 1973 until the year 2000, right after Kubrick’s death.
After almost 50 years, A Clockwork Orange is still talked about due to the fact that it dares to discuss all of humanity’s flaws in regards to its basic instinct. The film seems to have a voice that says, “as much as humanity will evolve, basic human nature will never change,” making A Clockwork Orange a timeless masterpiece that will provoke discussions for generations of the future, as it did for the ones of the past.
A Clockwork Orange is a film worth checking out, regardless of your opinion on the director himself or his filmography, simply due to the discussions it provokes.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Kubrick always said that he wanted to make a movie that revolutionized filmmaking in some way or another. I would say that in 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the movie that achieved that goal. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a weird film: it has no protagonist to root for, it starts off with a twenty minute montage starring monkeys, and it ends with really no explanation, leaving the audience to interpret the final message of the film completely by themselves.
One of the aspects of this film that gets the most praise are the visuals, which I would say are even more beautiful than the ones in Barry Lyndon. If you have any interest in the visual arts of cinema or movies as a whole then you definitely should check out 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Another aspect that has gained 2001 much praise is its state of the art special effects. 2001 looks even more realistic than some modern blockbusters from today, films from over fifty years in the future!
I have already reviewed 2001 on this website, and if any of you feel like reading a little more about why this film is such a masterpiece, then you should check out my review here.
1. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Back in 1987 when Full Metal Jacket came out, the biggest complaint that it received was that it was poorly structured. I beg to differ: Full Metal Jacket simply has a very different story-structure from the average film. Essentially, the story is separated into two parts which in themselves have a beginning, middle, and end, making for a very unpredictable first watch.
One aspect of this movie which I think is pretty underrated is the screenplay. Full Metal Jacket is filled with iconic lines and memorable moments. There are scenes from this movie that you won't forget even after years of not watching it, similar to The Shining.
The soundtrack to the film is also incredible, having all of the songs chosen by Kubrick and his crew. (not to mention they were songs that soldiers in Vietnam really listened to).
Full Metal Jacket is also filled with stellar performances from R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman), Matthew Modine (Joker), Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), and Vincent D’Onofrio (Pvt. Pyle). These great performances were also heavily influenced by the amazing screenplay.
For these reasons, Full Metal Jacket is, in my opinion, Stanley Kubrick’s best film, and is worth owning for all of the same reason we’ve mentioned time and time again: they will stick with you.
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