What are the best Stanley Kubrick movies of all time? When it comes to the masters of cinema, few figures stand as tall as Stanley Kubrick. During his four-decade career, Kubrick stunned, awed, and inspired countless other filmmakers with his approach to storytelling and visual style.
Almost every genre has been touched by Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic vision, be it sprawling sci-fi epics to the grisly battle scenes of war movies. And with every entry, Kubrick established himself as a titan of the industry. In fact, his successors, so adamant in emulating his near-perfect craft, have even coined the term “Kubrickian” cinema – which has become a widely used and popular saying in the industry. Because, yes, he was just that good.
But, let’s be honest, when dealing with one of the best directors of all time who has also made several of the best movies in Hollywood history, finding his top titles can be tricky. Well, The Digital Fix is up for the monumental task. Here is our list of the best Stanley Kubrick movies of all time.
The 10 best Stanley Kubrick movies:
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Barry Lyndon
- The Shining
- Full Metal Jacket
- A Clockwork Orange
- Paths of Glory
- Eyes Wide Shut
- The Killing
1. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
I think we all can agree nuclear war is terrifying. So, imagine how difficult it would be to make a film that can roll with the scary subject matter and morph it into a straight-fire comedic masterpiece. Well, if anyone could do it, it would have been Kubrick, and do it he did with the 1964 dark comedy Dr Strangelove.
Dr Strangelove is a melding pot of high-stakes action paired with the comedic genius of Peter Sellers. It follows the story of the US trying desperately to stop an attack on the Russians after one of their Air Force generals goes off rogue.
The comedy movie unpacks the general anxiety from the cold war and the militaristic jump towards aggression – when hate and paranoia make the concept of mutual annihilation seem like the better alternative. It is witty, genuinely funny, and scarily timely as the world around us is still struggling to co-exist peacefully.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
If you are a cinema fan, it is impossible not to be in awe and respect one of the best science fiction movies ever to grace the big screen – 2001: A Space Odyssey. No other film has managed to cover the dawn of mankind to the beginning of an entirely new species in a focused yet mesmerising story.
Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story ‘The Sentinel’ and other works, 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a voyage by astronauts and their sentient supercomputer HAL as they set out to investigate an alien monolith.
From its script to its technological wonders, this movie is a testament to humanity, as well as filmmaking as a whole – and it rightfully deserves its high spot on our list as one of Kubrick’s top three films, period.
3. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Kubrick is known for his stunning cinematography work, but Barry Lyndon is a true example of his keen eye and knack for composition. Every frame is like a classic oil painting, and when you pair these visuals with the film’s dramatic script, you can’t help but feel mesmerised.
Telling the life story of the titular Irish rogue and opportunist, Barry Lyndon is a character-driven narrative where we follow the complex and (more often than not) unlikable exploits of a man climbing the social ladder in the 1700s. There is war, romance, heartbreak, and retribution.
It is a movie where life isn’t glamorised. It is shown to be messy, harsh, and filled with moments where you will laugh as well as cry your eyes out. Barry Lyndon is one of the most beautiful movies to ever be made, and while it may be an epic with a lengthy runtime, it is an unmissable title.
4. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is a masterclass in psychological unease, and to this day, few films are as affecting as Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen Kings novel. It is moody, sharp, and with every watch, you manage to notice a new creepy detail or shot.
In short, The Shining is a tapestry of quality filmmaking – that you won’t get tired of. The movie follows the downfall of Jack Torrance’s psyche as he and his family end up stranded in the ominous Overlook Hotel. As a supernatural force begins to tear them apart, you will be left gripping the edges of your seat as Jack swings his iconic axe.
From its suffocating cinematography, script, and well of subtext, it is easy to see why The Shining is considered to be one of the best horror movies ever to grace the big screen – and a favourite of many Kubrick fans, period.
5. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
If the quote, “Show me your war face!”, haunts your dreams like ours, chances are that you understand why the ’80s movie Full Metal Jacket made it on this list – it is unforgettable.
The film follows several marines throughout their time in preparing and then going off for the Vietnam War. In the first half of the movie, we see the men at a rigorous boot camp, where they are slowly broken down and made into killing machines. The second half is a strikingly different shift as we are thrown into Vietnam, facing off against the Viet Cong.
Full Metal Jacket explains the dehumanising training that soldiers go through and then the surreal situation that the Marines find themselves in once they are in the jungle of Vietnam. It is one of the best war movies ever made and is haunting in its portrayal of trauma and aggression.
6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Violence, crime and punishment, and the nature of society’s relationship with youth are all knocked over the head with A Clockwork Orange. Set in a dystopian future and following the antics of Alex – the leader of a teen gang who loves committing some ultra-violence – the film is a collection of intelligent themes and stunning acting all around. In fact, many consider this film to be the best Malcolm McDowell performance in his career.
While many may remember this film for its beginning with the ultra-violence on full display, what makes A Clock Work Orange truly stand out was its conversations around punishment and the concept of free will. The movie is a hard watch, it is graphic, disturbing, and truly there hasn’t been a picture to be released like it since.
7. Paths of Glory (1957)
Based on the novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory is an anti-war movie which demonstrates Kubrick’s stable focus on humanity in times of violence. Set during World War 1, the movie sees Kirk Douglas star in the leading role of the French commanding officer Colonel Dax.
When Dax defies orders to continue a suicidal attack, his reputation, profession and character is dragged through the mud. Like Full Metal Jacket, and Dr Strangelove, here, war isn’t glamorised or popped up on a pedestal. Rushing towards death doesn’t a brave man make, and in the face of pressure keeping human lives in the mind is paramount.
8. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick’s final movie, and while it marks the occasion of one of the best directors of all time passing, it also stands strong in its own right as an erotic psychological thriller movies. Besides presenting viewers with a dreamlike mystery, Eyes Wide Shut is a layered examination of relationships and masculinity in crisis.
The story, like all the picks on this list, is perfectly crafted as we follow a man’s night-long journey through the streets of New York to a masked orgy after learning that his wife contemplated an affair. Eyes Wide Shut isn’t just one of Kubrick’s best films. It is also one of the best Tom Cruise movies too and wholly deserves its placement on our list.
9. Spartacus (1960)
When you think about cinematic pop cultural moments, let’s not lie “I am Spartacus” is a timeless catchphrase. And it is all thanks to Kubrick’s efforts on the Academy Award-winning historical epic Spartacus.
Starring the likes of Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier, Spartacus is a film inspired by the life story of the titular leader of a slave revolt during the Third Servile War. While Spartacus’ script may not be as unique as some of the other entries on this list, the romance and tension throughout the flick is gripping, and it is easy to see why the film managed to win the hearts of the award bodies and critics back in the day.
The Battle scenes are grand, the acting is faultless, and Kubrick shows us once again that he was a man with an eye for spectacle through and through.
10. The Killing (1956)
The Killing is a prime example of Kubrick’s mastery of storytelling. His projects don’t have to be long sprawling epics or hefty psychological trips to make an impact. Kubrick was a director who could do any genre – including a sleek and economical noire heist movie. Based on Lionel White’s novel Clean Break, The Killing revolves around a crook’s final job and has no extra bells or whistles to complicate its narrative.
If you want a focused crime classic, well, The Killing gets to the point and gives you everything you need. It is purely a heist film – we see the planning, the theft, and the tense aftermath – and oh damn, does it work. It is impossible not to be entertained as we watch Kubrick’s take on mask-wearing gunmen trying to get that big score in the face of the law.
For more top picks, here is our list of all the new movies heading our way this year. Or you can look over more classics with our lists of the best fantasy movies of all time, and the best drama movies of all time. Or for more Kubrick, here’s our feature on how Stanley Kubrick completed the art of filmmaking.