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All 13 Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

14 March 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Redmond Bacon

7. Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths Of Glory

A heartbreaking tale of man’s inhumanity to man, Paths Of Glory is the closest Kubrick ever gets to a real tearjerker. Its strength comes from its central moral dilemma: when a commanding officer (Kirk Douglas) refuses to send his men towards certain death, he is then court-martialled for disobedience.

Kubrick’s austerity works wonders here; reflecting the unbending nature of unthinking bureaucracy and patriotism. This is made all the more effective considering the nature of what we have seen before: the utter horrors of the battlefield.

Kubrick makes use of incredible camera-tracking here, moving through the trenches and then onto the battlefield, creating the type of action sequence that was rarely seen before in Hollywood; creating a template that would later be seen in such films as Saving Private Ryan, The Big Red One and the standout sequence in Atonement.

By making these shots run on for much longer than audiences typically expect, Kubrick shows the lingering effects of such conditions on the moral psyche; there is no running away from them, not in a war like this. This is seen in the film’s extraordinarily bleak conclusion, in which Hollywood tradition is done away with, and we are left with the true horror of inhumanity. It still remains an emotional rollercoaster to this day.

 

6. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

eyes-wide-shut

Coming 12 whole years after Full Metal Jacket, hopes were riding high for what was Kubrick’s last ever movie, which cast the two biggest movie stars — Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman — of the day. Many were left disappointed — by the three hour run time, the papier-mâché New York (built in London) and the bizarre sexual titillation.

Yet, in this film a different type of Kubrick was emerging, one far more obsessed with the erotic than ever before. Adapting Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut is arguably Kubrick’s most grounded movie, as it is based in the very real psychological problems that can occur in a big city between an egotistical man and his wife.

The film tells a story of marital woe, and the late night of the soul some men have when they figure out their wives have sexual fantasies about other men. Perhaps much of the ridicule the film received was that it took female desire seriously, and was willing to satirise the nature of man when he attempts to go deeper into the realm of the erotic.

This is then dressed up in a conspiracy that seems to have no real end; much like a waking dream where you can feel that you are an agent in the story, but unable to achieve any kind of real outcome. Kubrick’s underrated late masterpiece.

 

5. The Killing (1956)

The Killing (1956)

A film that would change the course of noir and heist films forever, The Killing’s legacy can be seen in films by directors as diverse as Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino, especially in Reservoir Dogs.

The auteur’s first studio film, it saw him retain his unique spirit throughout nearly ever aspect of the production. The genius of the film is in its constant narrative twists and turns, deploying a breathless and remote voiceover (six years before Jules et Jim) to keep the plot moving at a brisk and highly entertaining pace.

It shows that having a small budget is no constraint for the imagination, Kubrick milking every dollar of its $320,000 price tag in order to squeeze out a taut story of deception and intrigue.

The characters do not know the whole picture, and neither do we; only Kubrick seemingly has omniscience to the events of the heist. He made use of real locations, including sleazy motels and broken-down apartments, to give the film a naturalistic vibe that only heightens this sense of confusion in the midst of a bigger plan.

That the film remains so compelling despite the fact that the plot is almost impossible to fully understand, only shows the mastery at work and the inherent strength of the writing and editing.

 

4. Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Dr Strangelove is Stanley Kubrick’s most anarchic movie, and as a result, his most fun. Revolutionary in its own time for making fun of the cold war and the presence of imminent destruction, it still feels fresh even today.

Its biggest masterstroke was casting Peter Sellers, who gives a career best performance as not one but three different characters. Remarkably for a studio-mandated movie — Kubrick was against the casting — it seems like a move that was planned all along, showing that not every great part of Kubrick’s oeuvre was necessarily controlled by him.

Stuffed full of quotable lines, such as “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room,” Dr Strangelove is a continuous barrel of laughs. Yet underneath the satire is a serious message about the gung-ho nature of both the Americans and the Russians that could easily have led to total annihilation.

After all, the Russians really did own a Doomsday machine, and there was really nothing stopping a rogue general from launching nuclear weapons. Considering who is now in the White House, its depiction of nuclear warfare started by a madman seems all the more prescient today.

 

3. Barry Lyndon (1975)

Barry Lyndon

Oft-criticised for being too long or just a little too boring, Barry Lyndon in in fact Kubrick’s most beautifully composed film. Using special lenses from NASA that were hitherto used to photograph the far side of the moon, Kubrick deployed them in order to shoot his nighttime scenes by candlelight.

Here, he mastered the use of the reverse shot; starting from a close-up before backing up to reveal an entire canvas, marking the closest live-action cinema has ever come to resembling the art of painting. The film took 300 days to make, and it shows in the final product; the art direction, costume design and meticulous production accumulating the kind of detail usually reserved for a 19th century novel.

Telling the picaresque story of Redmond Barry, expertly played by Ryan O’Neal as a man to whom things happen, rather than the agent of his own destiny, as he moves through a continent embroiled in war, this reserved yet highly stylised technique of filming is the perfect reflection of his calm worldview.

This is the film that most Kubrick critics would argue is the height of his cold style, yet it is perhaps the most representative film of the notion that technique can guide one’s attitude towards a movie.

 

2. The Shining (1980)

The Shining

The combination of Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick in The Shining is one of the finest collaborations in film, turning a very good Stephen King novel into one of cinema’s most riveting horrors. Nicholson gives his second best performance here (after Five Easy Pieces), his peculiar mannerisms turning the character of Jack Torrance into a true yet always compelling enigma.

What Kubrick achieved so well in this film was creating an uncanny mood which although undecipherable still works as pure cinematic experience. From the tracking shots of Danny on his bike, to the two twins in the hallway, to the woman in the bathtub, Kubrick knew that true horror wasn’t merely about jump-scares or a murderous killer, but a lingering sense of dread that keeps on compounding scene after scene.

What makes the film so satisfying is the amount of different meanings that can be applied to it. Whether you think its Kubrick’s apology for filming the space landings, an indictment of American genocide or merely an alcohol soaked nightmare — whatever you feel about the movie can probably be brought to it as a possible interpretation.

However, much like Last Year In Marienbad, which The Shining apes in its suggestion that Jack has been to this hotel before, there is no fixed meaning to the film; making it an experience one can dive into over and over again.

 

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1967)

2001 A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is not only Stanley Kubrick’s greatest film, but surely a contender for one of the greatest films ever made. It is a space epic that takes us on a remarkable journey from the dawn of man to outside the space-time continuum itself.

If any film ever needed to be seen in a cinema, it would be this one. The opening — scored to “Thus Spake Zarathustra” — is as iconic as they come, whilst the ending, in all its enigmatic glory, shows Kubrick to be the most visionary director of his generation, all the more extraordinary for making the film in the midst of the groundbreaking 1960s.

Rarely in the history of cinema has philosophy and spectacle ever complimented each other so well. Whilst the classically-scored sequences of spaceships dancing through space beguile us; the question of man’s place in the universe and the idea of machines gaining consciousness are also pondered to unsettling effect.

What makes the film so successful is that the characters, with the exception of HAL, are never allowed to dominate the screen, ironically making its humanity shine through as a result of its austere yet playful style. A one of a kind experience that still hasn’t been matched.

Author Bio: Redmond Bacon is a professional film writer and amateur musician from London. Currently based in Berlin (Brexit), most of his waking hours are spent around either watching, discussing, or thinking about movies. Sometimes he reads a book.

 

 

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  • Brandon Thompson

    Ranking Kubrick’s movies are like ranking fruit. Everyone will have a different opinion and therefore sort of pointless.

    Unless it’s a general consensus where it’s just an aggregate of all of Kubrick’s films.

    • colonelkurtz

      Much too true. I found myself saying “what?” in argument a few times to this list. And with modern cinema’s speeding pace, I’m sure we’ll find many people who would never put 2001 at the top of the list anymore (20 minutes of flickering lights and music). But a list of Kubrick’s work is still pleasant to see.

    • Trevorillo

      Ranking anything is like ranking fruit, the author just gave it a shot. He just happens to post it in a respectable website. You can differ from him, I don’t agree that FMJ is one of Kubrick’s worst, in the contrary, that schizophrenic feeling is what gives it its power.

      Not even a general consensus would be objective, even with fruit.

      • You guys are right, fruit doesn’t belong on pizza – and Full Metal Jacket doesn’t belong this low on a Kubrick list. For shame to the writer, who clearly likes loads of pineapple on his pizza

  • Jeffrey Wilsey

    This list must have been incredibly difficult to put in order. So much great work and great scenes, even in the films that may be lesser achievements for Kubrick. Dr. Strangelove is my personal favorite Kub-flick, but you really can’t go wrong with any Kub-flick

  • FUNKADELIAN

    Fave 5 K. movies :

    2001: A Space Odyssey
    The Shining
    Eyes Wide Shut
    Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
    Clockwork Orange

  • PBear92

    I completely agree that 2001 needs to be seen in a theater. I had the good fortune to be able to see it about 22 years ago on a huge screen at an old classic movie theater in my hometown which had been renovated and turned into a concert venue. They set up a 40 ft screen and used an old Drive-in projector and lamp to show it. Absolutely jaw-dropping…

  • I wouldn’t put Lolita that low although it’s hard to rank Kubrick’s films as they all have something different to offer. Here’s my list which is more complete since I include the trio of early shorts that he did.

    • UnforcastedStorm

      I like yours better.

  • Amerigo Hrr

    I agree !

  • Abhishek

    So you think EWS and Lyndon are better than Clockwork and FMJ. I think you need to re watch these movies!

  • Ninad Antar

    Ranked according to ability to understand Kibricks films of the article writer.
    But there might be different standards….hopefully.

  • Wyatt W.B

    This is exactly how I would rank them

  • Wow. AWFUL rankings. Oh well. Here’s how they SHOULD be ranked:

    13. Fear and Desire
    12. Killer’s Kiss
    11. Eyes Wide Shut (an unfinished film)
    10. Spartacus
    9. Lolita
    8. Barry Lyndon
    7. The Killing
    6. Full Metal Jacket
    5. The Shining
    4. Clockwork Orange
    3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
    2. Paths of Glory
    1. Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

    • David Goodall

      It’s quite arrogant from you to say that this list is how it should be. We all have different views, especially when it comes to Kubrick.

  • Henrik Vinther Sørensen

    Well when it comes to Kubrick, you can basicly but his films in any order as long as Fear and Desire is at the buttom, the rest are all great or amazing. It has become a weird trend though, that people seem to either bash Lolita or Eyes Wide Shut when making these lists, as both are brilliant film making and have a lot of depth in my opinion.
    Also, why does 2001 always have to top the lists? It’s a masterpiece for sure, but I feel it gets too many points just for it’s grand ambition, which it never truly delivers on (which would be almost impossible to achieve of course). I feel Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut and a lot of Kubrick’s other movies give me a deeper understanding of their subject matters, 2001 doesn’t really nail it to the same degree, the ending is basicly Kubrick trying to make us understand something he doesn’t understand himself, which is okay I guess, but having seen the sequence 10+ times, it still leaves me kind of cold, and doesn’t bring me closer to any kind of meaning. Also – I know Kubrick made the humans flat characters on purpose, but that still makes the movie duller. Anyway, it is still a big masterpiece and is on the same level as his other movies, it just doesn’t have to top all lists just because of it’s ambition.

    Here’s my list:
    The bad:
    13. Fear and Desire (It truly is a mess)

    The good (Basicly interchangeable):
    12. Spartacus (I like it, it doesn’t feel like a Kubrick movie though, it’s among the better movies of it’s genre)
    11. Killer’s Kiss (Underrated little Noir gem, not super unique for its genre, but it holds up pretty well)

    The amazing (Basicly interchangeable):
    10. Paths of Glory (Amazing movie with a ton of pathos, not among Kubrick’s deepest movies though)
    9. The Shining (Very effective horror movie, so well filmed, dripping with atmosphere and has amazing performances. I never quite understood what Kubrick wanted to tell with this one though)
    8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (I covered this one, fantastic movie)
    7. The Killing (Amazing noir movie, ranks among the greatest in the genre, very interesting structure)
    6. Lolita (Very strong character study, emotional movie)
    5. A Clockwork Orange (Very interesting movie about how society deals with or should deal with criminals, without giving any answers)
    4. Eyes Wide Shut (Strong movie about the dark sexual desires of men, also extremely well directed)
    3. Dr. Strangelove (Amazing dark satire, with an intresting message)
    2. Full Metal Jacket (A war movie that focuses on the psychology of soldiers and their degradation of their humanity. Amazing!)
    1. Barry Lyndon (Oh yes! Such an incredible charater study, and gorgeously filmed)

  • x x

    nope.
    1) 2001
    2) Barry Lyndon (close second)
    3) Clockworck Orange

    Eyes wide shut is too high, as is the killing.

  • David Goodall

    I’d rank Barry Lyndon as # 1, Scorsese probably would too, but placing it at # 3 is fine with me.

    And I prefer Adrian Lyne’s adaption of Lolita.

    • Lugh

      Barry Lyndon will forever be tainted by Ryan O Neal’s terrible Irish accent.

  • Special_One

    “There are two films in Full Metal Jacket. One is up there with Kubrick’s best, the other is woefully flat. Judging on the first half alone, the film would be in Kubrick’s top five; the second half, somewhere just near the bottom.”

    Yeah, except that the second part is easily better than the first. The second part of Full Metal Jacket is the best work Kubrick ever did. How is it even possible to regard the first part as “top 5” and the second part as “near the bottom”? The first part doesn’t even work without the second part. The contrast of boot camp and real combat, and the evolution of Private Joker is the single most fascinating psychological study ever portrayed on screen. But I guess you’re only watching the film for R. Lee Ermey’s insults, which says a whole lot.

  • David Pace

    This list is out of whack!

  • Alka Lino

    Opinions, taste. Everyone has its own. The list is good but my order:
    1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    2. Barry Lyndon (1975)
    3. Paths of Glory (1957)
    4. The Shining (1980)
    5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    6. The Killing (1956)
    7. Dr Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
    8. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
    9. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
    10. Killer’s Kiss (1955)
    11. Spartacus (1960)
    12. Fear and Desire (1953)
    13. Lolita (1962)

    • Andreina

      I haven’t seen your #10, #11, #12, #13.
      My top 9 is very similar:
      1. 2001: A space odyssey
      2. Paths of Glory
      3. The Shining
      4. Barry Lyndon
      5. A clockwork orange
      6. The Killing
      7. Full Metal Jacket
      8. Eyes Wide Shut
      9. Dr Strangelove (i really need to rewatch this)

      • Alka Lino

        10. Killer’s Kiss (1955)
        11. Spartacus (1960)
        12. Fear and Desire (1953)
        13. Lolita (1962)

        🙂 similar views hey?

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  • UnforcastedStorm

    Killer’s Kiss is not better than Full Metal Jacket. Eyes Wide Shut is not better than Paths of Glory. *sigh*

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    2001: An overrated Odyssey.

  • Tim Schösta Karlsson

    The killing great movie but still overrated

  • jaimion

    How can you just Rank a master like that !!

  • Stephus

    Tbh I don’t think ranking Kubrick is accurate at all but his worst film is definitely Spartacus