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Stanley Kubrick on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928. Till his death on March 7, 1999, he directed some of the most emblematic movies in the History of Cinema. Our effort to rank his films was extremely difficult. Why? Simply because Stanley Kubrick had a unique charisma to create such original universes. He was a once-in-a-lifetime visual storyteller who tried almost all genres. And he was successful in all of them. He directed 13 full-length feature films and these ones we will try to rank. Let’s begin:

Number 13: Fear and Desire (1952)

Stanley Kubrick’s first full-length feature film was a box office failure. And Kubrick himself later denounced this film “as amateurish, like a child’s drawing on a fridge”. Although he was very harsh with himself, this movie is not something extraordinary. For the true fans though, it is worth a watch.

Number 12: Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Kubrick’s second feature movie is a film noir about a boxer, the relationship with a dancer and her boss. The film has very interesting locations and keeps some of the conventions of film noir. Although more mature than his debut film, “Killer’s Kiss” didn’t reveal Kubrick’s great talent till that time.

Number 11: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

You may wonder why we rank “Eyes Wide Shut” so low. The hottest couple on the planet at that time, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, were the protagonists. The shots are so gorgeous. But the story lacks on so many levels. Exploring sexuality can be provocative, but everything seems too fictitious and unrealistic. The repetition on several themes may be annoying. If any other filmmaker had directed “Eyes Wide Shut“, we would comment that she/he did an excellent job. However, when we speak about Stanley Kubrick, we expect more. Which he delivered, as you will read below.

Number 10: Spartacus (1960)

We can imagine your arguments. We totally understand them. How can “Spartacus” be that low on your ranking?, you may ask. And you will be right. Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov. That’s a dream cast. And they delivered great performances. And Stanley Kubrick offered a an epic drama with unforgettable battles. Moreover, it won 4 Academy Awards. Furthermore, it was a huge commercial success. Nevertheless, it did not avoid some of the clichés of these movies, reminding us old movies by Cecil DeMille. Still a great film, we totally recommend it and we are totally fine if you have it higher on your rankings.

Number 9: Lolita (1962)

Who would be “crazy” enough to want to direct the book by Vladimir Nabokov? Yes, Stanley Kubrick is the correct answer. A middle-aged man, who is a lecturer at a college, falls in love with a 14-year-old girl. The theme of child sex abuse is quite shocking by itself. Stanley Kubrick tried to tone down some of the elements of the book. And yet, this film was quite provocative. Sue Lyon, who portrayed Lolita, was actually 14 at the time of shooting. Although its “heavy” theme, the film has a comedic touch. Kubrick was disappointed by the censorship he had to deal with, but he managed to deliver a great adaptation of the book, although there were differences on several occasions.

Number 8: The Killing (1956)

This is one of my favorite film noir films and I am kinda sad I had to rank it that low. A veteran criminal plans a last heist before retiring. For this reason, he will assemble a team of 5 criminals in order to achieve a risky plan. Sterling Hayden, as Johnny Clay, probably delivers the best performance of his career. Its non-linear structure was not appreciated at the time of its release, but, nowadays, we consider it iconic. We can see this in Quentin Tarantino’s films, such as “Reservoir Dogs“, “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill“. The suspense on this film makes us wonder what will happen next. A must-watch for all Kubrick’s fans.

Number 7: Barry Lyndon (1975)

There are several critics that cite “Barry Lyndon” as Kubrick’s best film. We can totally relate with them. The cinematography is outstanding. The costumes are so perfectly unique. William Hogart’s paintings were the inspiration for the settings. Ryan Neil’s performance was exceptional. On the other side, the duration of the film make us not rank it higher. Not because it lasts 3 hours (some of the best films ever last over 3 or even 4 hours), but the pace of the film is uneven in several parts of the film. And that can alienate some audiences, especially the young ones. Yet, a great film, you should definitely explore it.

Number 6: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

“I see a red door and I want it painted black”. The song by Rolling Stones will always be combined with “Full Metal Jacket“. In the first part of the film, we follow the stories of “Joker” and “Pyle” who struggle through their boot camp, preparing to go to Vietnam. In the second part of the film, we follow “Joker” and other Marines in Vietnam and their actions during the war. Honestly, we find the first part so unique and exceptional, that the second part, which is still great, feels as something that we have already witnessed elsewhere. Lee Ermey’s performance as Sergeant Hartman is one of a kind.

Number 5: Paths of Glory (1957)

Kirk Douglas in “Paths of Glory

We can all agree that this was Kirk Douglas’ best performance ever. A great anti-war film, “Paths of Glory” examines the cruelties that happen during the war and puts human dignity over power. Set in World War I, the films focuses on Colonel Dax, who is a commanding officer of French officers who disobey to go on a suicidal attack. For this reason, Colonel Dax attempts to defend them against charges of cowardice in court-martial. The great black-and-white photography, the realistic settings and the bleak atmosphere create an authentic experience and we can simply categorize “Paths of Glory” as one of the greatest anti-war films ever made.

Number 4: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Probably there has never been any other director in the History of Cinema who has worked on so different genres and delivered such masterpieces. From here till number 1, we will see 4 different genres. And all these 4 movies are masterpieces. So, technically, we could all rank them as our number 1. But, for the sake of this article, we will rank “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” as no. 4 on our list.

The black humor of this film is tremendous. Peter Sellers, who portrays Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove, showed us why he was one of the best comedians ever. The film satirizes the Cold War and the fears of a nuclear holocaust. It openly mocks both sides (U.S.A. and Soviet Union) for creating weapons that can actually annihilate humanity. Undoubtedly, with this film, Stanley Kubrick entered to the pantheon of comedy.

Number 3: The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”

From comedy to horror. Something so difficult, for the 99,9% of the filmmakers out there. Nevertheless, Stanley Kubrick could literally do anything. And deliver one of the best horror films ever made. For the majority of the people who saw “The Shining” for the first time (and that’s a warning for those who haven’t seen it yet), the film didn’t look that scary. Only when you re-watch it, you have the ability and capacity to evaluate all this shocking horror. The same happened with the film itself. During its release, the feelings were mixed. Even Steven King, the writer of the novel, was not satisfied with the result. But over the years, the film gained the recognition it deserved. And now it stands to the pantheon of horror movies and an inspiration for all the new filmmakers who want to make horror films.

Number 2: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

One of the main reasons the science fiction movies are so popular today is this film. “2001: A Space Odyssey” explores the themes of human evolution, artificial intelligence and the possibility of life out there in the space. The stunning and ambiguous cinematography captivates us more than 55 years after the movie’s release. There are very few dialogues in the film. Its hypnotic pace makes us delve into the film and experience it the way Kubrick intended. And we will be forever thankful to him for this masterpiece.

Number 1: A Clockwork Orange (1973)

Malcolm McDowell drinking his milk in “A Clockwork Orange”

No matter where you live around the world, if you are a university student and want to watch a movie with your friends, then there will always be someone suggesting the film “A Clockwork Orange“. Normally, we don’t go with the flow, but this time, we will follow the hype. “A Clockwork Orange” is a disturbing crime film by Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’ novel with the same name. We follow the story of Alex, an anti-social person who leads a small gang and they commit robberies, they fight with other people and they rape women. When the police will arrest him, Alex will eagerly decide to become the guinea pig for a new technique that can cure him.

The depiction of violence is so realistic that it is barely hard to watch. The film shocked the audience at that time and the film had to deal with censorship in several countries. McDowell gave the performance of his life. However, he hated this film for several years. Nowadays, “A Clockwork Orange” is a cult classic and probably on of the best and disturbing films in the History of Cinema. This is a paradox, but Stanley Kubrick was a paradox himself.


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