Known as one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time, the name Stanley Kubrick is well-known not just in movie buff circles, but among casual movie fans as well. His style is weird, dark, and oftentimes unsettling, but there’s no denying the genius of his films.
After watching a Stanley Kubrick movie, your faith in humanity is usually shaken, your mind is usually in knots, you may even have trouble sleeping, but a small voice in the back of your head will surely be saying, “That was a work of true artistic genius.” Kubrick’s ability to prove that art doesn’t always have to be beautiful or even comfortable made him one of the biggest names in Hollywood until his death in 1999.
Kubrick grew up in the Bronx, where he showed a strong interest in literature, photography, and film from a very young age. He began his career as a photographer for Look magazine and then used the money he earned to start producing short films on a tiny budget.
Finally, after earning $1,000 by showing his short films to family and friends, he was able to finance his first feature-length film Fear and Desire in 1953. The movie would prove to be a commercial flop, but it did gain recognition from some prominent critics who recognized Kubrick’s ability as a photographer and cinematographer.
From there, many of Kubrick’s films would enjoy widespread popularity in the years to come, and he soon propelled himself to the position of one of the most lauded filmmakers in the world.
Over the span of his career, Stanley Kubrick made at least 20 movies, some of which are ranked among the best films ever made. So, it’s difficult to narrow down Kubrick’s incredible body of work to just a few of his best movies. However, in this article, I’ll try to identify which of Kubrick’s films I believe are the most profound and deserve the most praise. Here are, in my opinion, the five best Stanley Kubrick movies of his career.
1. The Shining
Of course, The Shining is probably the most widely known of all of Stanley Kubrick’s films, and it’s not for nothing that it earned that honor. It’s undoubtedly one of the most unique and disturbing psychological horror movies ever made, largely because of Kubrick’s unsettling and eerie cinematography (not to mention a legendary performance from Jack Nicholson).
The film follows Jack who takes a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Shortly after arriving, the manager informs Jack that the previous caretaker killed his family and then himself last winter, already setting the stage for the mania that is about to ensue.
One of the best parts about this film is that you can never really be sure how much of the madness can be attributed to the supernatural qualities of the hotel and what is just a deranged hallucination of Jack’s.
2. A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange is quite possibly the most disturbing of all of Kubrick’s movies (and that’s really saying something). The film takes place in a futuristic Britain in which there are gangs of “droogs” running around and committing acts of ultraviolence.
Alex, the protagonist, seems to be the worst degenerate of them all, but yet also a connoisseur of the arts. He’s fascinated with the music of Beethoven and enjoys singing the classic song “Singin’ in the Rain” while he’s raping his victims.
Things take a dark turn for Alex when he’s arrested and offered up as a subject for a twisted experiment that essentially involves getting tortured until he’s not a bad boy anymore. Kubrick does an amazing job of getting the audience to sympathize with the main character, a person who any sensible person would loath for the entire first hour of the film. Alex is one of the most twisted and awful characters in any movie, yet the audience feels sorry for him by the time the ending credits come up.
3. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb isn’t just the Stanley Kubrick movie with the longest title, it’s also one of the most profound comedies ever made. And its timing was impeccable.
Dr. Strangelove came out in 1964, in the heat of the Cold War when the entire world was on edge about the threat of a nuclear attack. Kubrick decided to use those anxieties to his advantage by making a satirical movie about a meeting in the War Room of the Pentagon where a group of officials gathered to discuss how the Russians have a doomsday machine that threatens the existence of the entire world.
The entirety of Dr. Strangelove is absolutely hilarious, although the subject matter is about as grim as it gets. Some of the characters are straight-up insane. Some of them are completely delusional. Almost all of them are strangely nonchalant about the threat of a world-ending event. This movie is a perfect satire for the time period in which it was created, and that’s why it should be considered one of Kubrick’s finest works.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
When the brilliant minds of Stanley Kubrick and the incredibly talented sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke come together to create a screenplay, it’s inevitably going to be a timeless classic. That’s exactly what 2001: A Space Odyssey was: a film that called into question the very relationship between time, space, and reality.
The film was inspired by Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” and it calls to mind questions about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the future of artificial intelligence, and the history of human evolution.
2001 has been lauded for its scientifically accurate depiction of space flight, its cutting edge special effects, and, of course, those iconic black monoliths that have become one of the most recognizable images in all of sci-fi media.
In fact, it was so well-received that it was actually added to the National Film Registry at the United States Library of Congress. Truly, this may be Kubrick’s critically acclaimed work of his career.
5. Full Metal Jacket
Another addition to the list of extremely disturbing movies made by Stanley Kubrick, Full Metal Jacket is a depiction of military life that is nothing short of chilling. The first half of the movie centers on Private Pyle, a reclusive and inept recruit to the United States Army that ends up murdering his commander and then committing suicide while one of the other soldiers in the platoon, who is nicknamed Joker, watches helplessly.
The second half of the movie follows Joker through the war in Vietnam where he eventually encounters a teenage girl who has been wounded by a sniper and mercy kills her.
Overall, this film is a horrifically accurate depiction of the Vietnam War, one of the darkest periods of human history. Kubrick flips the traditional structure of a war movie on its head in this two-part masterpiece and provides the audience with profound dialogues, intense battle scenes, and historically accurate depictions of the Vietnam War. For those reasons and many others, Full Metal Jacket is considered one of the best war movies ever and one of the best works of Stanley Kubrick’s career.