Stanley Kubrick: Ranked
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
It's no secret here that Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director of all time. Next month will mark the 22nd anniversary of his passing and since I recently completed his entire filmography I've decided to rank the films of the greatest director who ever lived from his first short films to Eyes Wide Shut. Hope you enjoy!
The Seafarers (1953)
This 30 minute documentary was the first of Kubrick's films to be produced in color. It was distributed by the International Seafarers Union in 1953 and is narrated by American journalist, Don Hollenbeck. In the most basic sense, it is a short documentary about the ISU and how they operate but the reason why it is ranked last is because it is so incredibly tedious and boring. Watching it is like reading an instruction manuel and despite Kubrick's interesting filming style, The Seafarers does not have a very broad appeal and that is why it takes the #16 spot on the list.
Flying Padre (1951)
Similar to The Seafarers, Flying Padre is yet another one of Kubrick's short documentaries. This time about a slightly more entertaining topic. Only clocking in at 9 minutes, Flying Padre is about Reverend Fred Stadtmueller whose 4,000 square mile parish in New Mexico is so large that he uses a propeller plane named the Spirit of St. Joseph to travel throughout the area. While it is more interesting than The Seafarers, it's amateurly produced and way too short to rank higher on the list than 15.
Day of the Fight (1951)
The last of Kubrick's short documentaries and by far the...least uninteresting. Day of the Fight is the first professional film the director ever made. The short is just twelve minutes long and is about Irish-American boxer, Walter Cartier on the day of his match against Bobby James. It is probably the most straight forward film Kubrick has ever released which isn't necessarily a bad thing but it lacks originality and imagination. While it's probably the best out of Kubrick's short documentaries, it's not exactly the best.
Fear and Desire (1953)
Fear and Desire was Stanley Kubrick's feature length debut as a director although it is still very brief for an official movie, clocking in at only 62 minutes. It's about a group of soldiers during some nonspecific war who kidnap a girl that does not speak English and tie her to a tree, essentially holding her hostage. Despite having a decent amount critical success the film does not have a very good reputation, many find it creepy and it currently has an audience score of 36% on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 2.4/5 average on Letterboxd. Personally, I'm not the biggest fan, despite being a "comedy" it's not a very enjoyable watch and I don't revisit it very often. Let's just say, I can understand why Kubrick wanted this film destroyed.
Killer's Kiss (1955)
Killer's Kiss was Kubrick's return to film two years after directing 1953's The Seafarers and it's probably the first project of his that feels like a real movie. It's not much longer than Fear and Desire, only running for about 67 minutes but unlike Fear and Desire, this film has a decent story and sympathetic characters. It is a crime drama film about boxer Davey Gordon and his girlfriend, Gloria Price, a taxi dancer. It's decently entertaining but like Kubrick's early shorts it lacks the originality that the director would soon be known for. The brief runtime is one of the film's strengths because it tells a conventional story without feeling like it overstays its welcome.
The Killing (1956)
The Killing is yet another crime drama flick filmed in black and white. Famous critic, Roger Ebert called it Kubrick's "first mature film." However it has been criticized for being hard to follow yet vehemently praised for its suspense and acting. Like the films that came before it, The Killing is a blissfully short feature being only 75 minutes in length. While it holds an insanely high score of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, it's not the most entertaining watch. The best part about this movie is how it demonstrates Kubrick's potential as an artist during his early projects. While not being as enjoyable as his later films, it is an essential watch for anyone who wants to learn about Kubrick's development as a filmmaker.
Paths of Glory (1957)
And now for the movies you've heard of. To this day, Paths of Glory remains not only one of Kubrick's highest rated movies but arguably the most celebrated performance by Kirk Douglas. It was also the director's first picture to have both critical and commercial success in the mainstream. The film tells the story of Colonel Dax, a French commanding officer during World War I who defends a group of soldiers in a court-martial over their refusal to carry out a suicidal attack. Paths of Glory has brilliant cinematography by Georg Krause and great performances throughout, bur it struggles to maintain the audience's attention for long stretches of time. But this is probably just a classic case of me "not getting the hype" but it's still a great movie nonetheless.
1960's Spartacus marked the first of two collaborations Kubrick has with screen legend, Kirk Douglas and is the director's first attempt at a historical epic. Emphasis on the "epic" because this is officially the longest film Kubrick has ever made with a runtime of 197 minutes, a far cry from the 60 minute features he used to make. Although the absolutely monstrous length makes the film unique it also leads to its downfall. While packed with entertaining action, great costumes, memorable performances and one iconic scene, there is so much content in Spartacus that could've been cut out to prevent it from being a whole afternoon long. However, if you've got a little over three hours to spare, Spartacus is a film you won't regret watching.
Even today, Lolita remains not only one of the most polarizing Kubrick features but also one of the most controversial films ever. Based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel of the same name, Lolita tells the story of literature professor, Humbert Humbert and his stepdaughter, Dolores Haze. Despite the story's notorious reputation, the implications are a lot more subtle than you'd think. What makes Lolita so compelling is the lack of a reliable narrator, even the main character's name is a pseudonym. The performances are great throughout including James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, and British comedy legend, Peter Sellers. Although it might not be for everyone and it's easy to see how it could make someone feel uneasy, I can't help but feel like this is a movie that everyone needs to see at least once in their life.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Barry Lyndon is Kubrick's second attempt at a historical epic after 1960's Spartacus and it too clocks in at just over three hours long. However, unlike its predecessor Barry Lyndon utilizes its runtime much more effectively. Where this movie shines is not the story but the technical aspects such as the brilliant costume design by Melissa Canonero and the gorgeous cinematography from frequent Kubrick collaborator, John Alcott. The film is often criticized for feeling aimless and meandering, however it rewards those who have the patience for it. Barry Lyndon is probably the best looking film in Kubrick's filmography and a great period piece as well.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut was the last film Stanley Kubrick worked on before his fatal heart attack on March 7th 1999, four months before his film would be officially released. Since Kubrick was known to work on his films up to the very last minute in the editing room, the completion of Eyes Wide Shut has been heavily debated. In spite of the tragedy surrounding this film there's no denying its one of the most cryptic and intelligent projects to ever come from the director. It includes themes of infidelity, sexuality, and the complexity of marriage. Some highlights of course are the excellent lead performances by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. It's the kind of movie that stays with you long after you've finished it. In conclusion, Fidelio.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Arguably the film that launched Stanley Kubrick into national stardom. 2001: A Space Odyssey is as brilliant as it is divisive. Loved by passionate cinephiles around the world and loathed by casual moviegoers due to its slow pacing and ambiguous symbolism. This film single-handedly revolutionized the world of special effects and is a huge reason why franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek look the way they do. The effects in this movie were so good that conspiracy theories have arisen about the 1969 moon landing being staged by Stanley Kubrick. Since we live in the age of instant gratification, more and more people are finding it impossible to sit through 2001 but at the end of the day, there is no doubting how important it is to the world of film. If you have the iron will to complete Barry Lyndon or Spartacus, you need to give this one a shot.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
One of the most tragically misunderstood movies in the history of film. Full Metal Jacket was Kubrick's second attempt at a war movie after 1957's Paths of Glory. Recently I wrote a 2000 word essay on this film's themes and politics and let me tell you, this movie is genius. Everything from the cinematography to the acting and soundtrack are all amazing but what truly blows me away with this film is the story and symbolism throughout. It is one of the most effective and brilliant anti-war movies ever made.
The Shining (1980)
Arguably the greatest horror movie of all time, The Shining's impact on the world pop culture is way too large to ignore. Every element of this film is so meticulously crafted and well thought out. I must have seen The Shining at least 100 times and the performances still amaze me to this day. The film utilizes suspense and tension in a slow-burn style that makes the climax feel so riveting and iconic. Even for those who have not seen this movie, they're still aware of most of the references such as the Grady Twins, REDRUM, and of course, "here's Johnny!" Considering how important this film is to American pop culture, it is an absolute must-watch for any horror fan.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned How To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
One of the smartest and funniest political comedies ever, Dr. Strangelove is a movie that only gets better the more times you watch it. In spite of the fantastic writing, the absolute crown jewel of this film are the incredible performances by Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott and especially Peter Sellers who plays three separate characters. By making a comedy this good, Kubrick proves how versatile of a filmmaker he was. It's a real shame I don't see this get talked about a lot because it is truly one of the funniest, most well-made movies I've ever seen and I hope everyone gets the chance to see it at least once in their lifetime.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
1971's A Clockwork Orange is not only Kubrick's greatest acchievement but also my personal favorite movie of all time. There isn't a lot I can say about this film that hasn't been said a million times already but I'll try my best. A Clockwork Orange is truly an original work of art and is still known as one of the most controversial films of all time because of its graphic subject matter and disturbing themes, but I believe it is truly a masterpiece. At the time of its release the movie was either heavily censored or straight up banned in a number of countries such as South Africa and Brazil. This film has so much to say on the topics of nature vs. nurture, humanity and moral ambiguity. It's not for the faint of heart and I would strongly recommend doing some research before viewing. However, it is the single most impactful movie I've ever seen and I truly believe the film world is better off because of its existence.