Ranking the Films of Stanley Kubrick


I’m not sure anything I write about Stanley Kubrick is going to do justice to either his brilliant oeuvre or the thousands upon thousands of scholarly words written about him. All I’ll say is that it’s been a joy to watch (rewatch, for the most part, actually) his films and learn more about his directorial process. (For anyone interested, The Stanley Kubrick Archives is a brilliant resource. Gotta publicly thank my buddy Ken for the lend.)

Now, the rankings!

12.) Killer’s Kiss

I take solace in knowing I wasn’t the only one dissatisfied with this film’s conclusion. Kubrick himself decried UA’s recut, and as such, I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t even list this among Kubrick’s filmography (The Killing, I guess, is his debut). Whatever. I’ll give the guy a pass on Fear and Desire because he loathed it so intensely, but Killer’s Kiss is a Kubrick film, and while it’s not bad at all, it’s unquestionably his least successful. I don’t like to call any Kubrick film unsatisfying, though. Instead, I’ll call it a warm up act.

11.) Lolita

The performances are top-notch, and the film’s opening sequence just missed inclusion on my top 10 Kubrick scenes, but the film is too long by 45 minutes or more.

10.) Spartacus

Probably the least “Kubrick-ian” Kubrick film. It’s a classic 1960’s epic with a few true bright spots (Oysters, anyone?), but again, it’s crazy long. Still, no sword-and-sandals film can boast better production values.

9.) The Shining

Though the film features more genuine scares than almost any other in movie history, it’s undone slightly by an incoherent story that places both too much and not enough emphasis on its supernatural elements. With stuff like that, you have to either go all in or leave the shit out.

8.) The Killing

Kubrick’s noir classic is quite slick and has proved to be very influential (see Pulp Fiction, for instance). Also noteworthy is an exceptional performance from Marie Windsor as one of film noir’s most vicious femme fatales.

7.) Full Metal Jacket

Two halves come together excellently in Kubrick’s second of two cautionary war movies. R. Lee Ermey steals the show in part one. Part two belongs to Kubrick and his incredible set pieces.

6.) A Clockwork Orange

I struggled with where to place this one because I admire it deeply, yet it remains an incredibly unpleasant watch. Ultimately, the five above it (as well as a film or two below it) are ones I’d rewatch without hesitation. A Clockwork Orange, for all its strengths, just isn’t that kind of film. But it’s still pretty fucking great.

5.) Paths of Glory

Kirk Douglas’ first at-bat with Kubrick features stakes as high as those in Spartacus, but the end result is something much tighter and more satisfying. Yes, the courtroom drama is familiar, but the way he filmed the battle scenes both personal and very grand, and better than what most other directors are able to accomplish, even considering today’s technical advancements. In other words, Kubrick’s first brush with true greatness.

4.) Eyes Wide Shut

Super underrated. Kubrick’s final film is creepier, better acted, and much more dramatically interesting than The Shining, as well as 99% of horror films. The orgy scene is the stuff of nightmares.

3.) Barry Lyndon

Right up there with Eyes Wide Shut as far as underrated Kubrick goes, this one proves period pieces need not be formulaic. Kubrick fashions perhaps the best-looking film in the genre’s history, as well as one of the most dramatically potent. Call the film long if you must (though I won’t), just please don’t call it cold. It’s anything but.

2.) Dr. Strangelove

At the very least, it’s a vicious skewering of Cold War hysteria. At best, it’s the greatest comedy ever made. Wherever you fall on the spectrum (I, for the record, have no qualms calling it cinema’s greatest comedy), you have to appreciate the zany characters and out-of-nowhere jokes, as well as Peter Sellers’ one-of-a-kind performance (times three!)

1.) 2001: A Space Odyssey

Again, it’s my all-time favorite movie, so there wasn’t much question of its placement on this list. The sense of awe I feel watching it, even on my 8th or 9th go-around, is indescribable. It’s the quintessential example of film as art—the kind of thing you can’t comprehend in one shot and won’t be able to stop thinking about after you take it in. It spans millennia and hypnotizes you with a vision so big yet so clear that all other films, Kubrick’s other efforts included, pale in comparison to the great 2001.

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