Creator / Stanley Kubrick
This man cares about his work. His eyes say so.

"When I made my first film, I think the thing [that] probably helped me the most was that it was such an unusual thing to do in the early 50s for someone to actually go and make a film. People thought it was impossible. It really is terribly easy. All anybody needs is a camera, a tape recorder, and some imagination."
—From an interview with East Village Eye in 1968

Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was a controversial director. In a good way. His films spanned nearly every genre he could get his hands on — but start in the wrong place.

Originally a New York photographer, Mr. Kubrick wormed his way into film making with little difficulty. He made documentaries, which provided him the technical skill for turning stills into real movies. He never left England during his last forty years due to a fear of flying.

People he had worked with have described him as acidic to others but amazingly fond of animals, particularly cats, and very close to his wife and children. However, he treated pretty much all of the actors in his movies like crap. Some liked him anyway: Malcolm McDowell thoroughly enjoyed working with him on A Clockwork Orange, but was snubbed after shooting was complete. Equally abrasive individuals such as Jack Nicholson and R. Lee Ermey, however, remained friends with Kubrick until his death.

On average, however, his relationships could be defined by the making of Dr. Strangelove; Actors that did exactly as he said walked away with their paychecks (unless they were named Peter Sellers or R. Lee Ermey, who got to do a surprising amount of Improv). Slim Pickens was never told he was making a comedy, implying that his character was the hero of the film, heroically delivering the bomb that ends the world. Pickens was okay with it in the long run, spinning the publicity into a highly successful career. On the other hand, George C. Scott wanted to play General Turgidson as a dignified Well-Intentioned Extremist, so Kubrick tricked him by assuring him that the cameras were off, and that Kubrick and the rest of the cast and crew are the only ones seeing him. He proceeded to use those takes, leading to Scott swearing to not work with Kubrick again.

He also had a long-time friendship with Steven Spielberg, and in spite of their radically different styles, the two would often have extended talks on the art of filmmaking and other subjects. Because of the England-Los Angeles time difference he would often call the latter up in the middle of the night, and the two would have conversations over the phone for hours. He dismissed Spielberg's Schindler's List for having a happy ending, but possibly he was miffed because he was planning to make his own film about the Holocaust and Spielberg beat him to it. After Kubrick's death Spielberg finished the last movie project that he had been working on as a token to him (although Kubrick had already pretty much given the reins of that project to Spielberg prior to his death), resulting in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

Because of his tendency for blazingly original iconography (his background in photography really shows in his work), his films are ripe for Affectionate Parody. Because his films include some of the bleakest and harshest ever made, it is completely impossible to do a cruel one.

Amazingly enough Kubrick is also a prime example of Dead Artists Are Better or rather Vindicated by History. During his lifetime virtually all his films were met with a polarizing reception by critics and the audience. They were box-office successes but they were all controversial, either for the content or the tone. His movies were never straight genre pieces, they subverted the cliches of Hollywood storytelling and often featured Anti-Hero protagonists. Kubrick was often accused of being too cold and intellectual, his generally cynical Black Comedy and Humans Are Bastards theme and critique of institutions did not often find favor. Of course, because of this he was seen as being ahead of his time and his films tend to be popular among newer audiences than the people who saw his films on first run.

Oh—and many a Conspiracy Theorist has attributed the "faked" footage of the Moon-Landing Hoax to Kubrick. Understandable: considering the often-praised realism of 2001, he was basically the only filmmaker at the time who could have pulled it off. note 

He has appeared in an episode of Epic Rap Battles of History against other directors Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Bay.


  • Day Of The Fight (1951) — His first film, a documentary short about a boxing match. Inspired by his boxing pictorials for Look magazine.
  • Flying Padre (1951) — Another documentary short, about a priest who flies around his 400-square-mile parish to minister to his parishoners.
  • Fear And Desire (1953) — His first real film, which he considered his invoked Old Shame. Kubrick and his first wife were the only crew on-set during production. Recently restored and released on video via BluRay.
  • The Seafarers (1953) — Another documentary short, which Kubrick was commissioned to make by the Seafarers International Union of fishermen and sailors.
  • Killer's Kiss (1955) — Kubrick's second wife cameos in this one. Another one Kubrick felt was too bad to be bothered with.
  • The Killing (1956) — The archetypal Film Noir, famous for its Non-Linear Plot.
  • Paths of Glory (1957) — The first of two anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in WWI. The woman who would later become Kubrick's third wife (who would stay with him until his death) appears in this film. Also very underrated, Kirk Douglas once said in 1969 ; "There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now."
  • Spartacus (1960) — The second of the anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in Rome. Not really a Kubrick movie; he came in at the last minute as a favor to Mr. Douglas.
  • Lolita (1962) — Adapted from the novel. Theoretically starred James Mason and Sue Lyon. Really starred Peter Sellers.
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964) — A jet-black Cold War comedy that ends with the whole world dying. Starred Peter Sellers in three brilliant and very different roles. Also features Sterling Hayden, Anti-Hero from The Killing.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — An episodic film that is (probably) about the evolution of man. Starred special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull and was stolen (just as Lolita was stolen by Peter Sellers) by a computer named HAL.
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971) — A bit of the old ultra violence, adapted from the novel. Words can not describe how controversial this was when first released. Kubrick even had it banned himself in his home country until his death.
  • Barry Lyndon (1975) — Just about the most detailed and beautiful period piece in movie history. Martin Scorsese has cited it as a personal favorite.
  • The Shining (1980) — Despite being radically different from the novel, it is a great horror movie in its own right, and is highly notable for its number of fan explanations to the film's ambiguous message. Features one of Jack Nicholson's most indelible performances and cemented Kubrick's reputation as a perfectionist.
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987) — An iconic Vietnam War movie. Theoretically starred Matthew Modine as Private Joker. Really starred R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
  • Eyes Wide Shut (1999) — Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The last film he created, in fact finishing it six days before his death. Initially had a mixed reputation, but it's not as divisive as it once was.

His movies provide examples of:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: It is now widely suspected, at least among fans, that he may have had Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism. Those who knew him, his family and friends merely see him as a normal artist who did not like being a public figure.
  • Auteur License: Kubrick is admired by film-makers for creating a niche within Hollywood despite the fact that he wasn't prolific, rarely made films with big stars and never made purely commercial films. More importantly he held on to this license right till the end of his career, despite never making a single blockbuster film, though his movies were generally hits. None of his movies faced Executive Meddling and with the chief exception of Spartacus, all of them exist as Kubrick intended. Indeed, while Orson Welles codified this idea with Citizen Kane, Kubrick is seen by film-makers as a more successful example of making a career as an auteur within Hollywood, and was highly respected by the New Hollywood generation for the same reason.
  • Banned in China: invoked
    • Paths of Glory was banned in France until 1970 due to its critical depiction of the French Army.
    • Mixed with Creator Backlash after accusations of Life Imitates Art: A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from distribution in the UK at Kubrick's request - he did not believe it had actually inspired the crimes blamed on it, but his family received threats and saw protests staged outside their home. It remained unavailable in the UK until after Kubrick's death in 1999. invoked
    • Certain scenes of Eyes Wide Shut were blurred out in the USA at the time for being too sexually explicit. In other Western countries people got the uncensored version and wondered what the hell the fuss was about?
  • Big Applesauce: It was his home but aside from Killer's Kiss, none of his films were shot in New York. Two of his films which were set in New York, Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut- was shot in London, using sets, second-unit projection and carefully chosen streets. Kubrick's insistence on perfection did not allow for location shooting and he generally preferred to shoot on studio sets.
  • Bittersweet Ending: This is as happy as his films get. The only happy ending Kubrick made was when he was forced to shoot a happy ending for Killer's Kiss due to Executive Meddling.
  • Black Comedy: His stories often include this kind of humour as an integral and natural part of the events. Dr. Strangelove is built around it. A Clockwork Orange is mostly this throughout the entire story.
  • Brooklyn Rage: He was a New Yorker but he's famous for his cold, detached way of film-making. So maybe an aversion. It's often surprising to hear Kubrick speak in interviews with a thick Noo Yawk accent.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: As mentioned above, Kubrick was famous for being eccentric, but the quality and impact of his films, as well as his good relations with Warner Bros. studios and ability to sustain an unusual niche career in the mainstream, speaks for itself.
  • The Cameo: His daughter Vivian plays minor uncredited roles in four of his movies. She also wrote the soundtrack of Full Metal Jacket under the name of Abigail Mead. His third wife, Christiane Harlan played the German woman who sings at the end of Paths of Glory and Kubrick himself can be heard as the voice on the radio in Full Metal Jacket.
  • The Chessmaster: Both literally and figuratively. He once attempted to assert himself over an uncooperative George C. Scott by challenging him to a chess game. Scott unwisely accepted. He also tended to see his actors and staff as pieces to be placed in his compositions.
  • Children Are Innocent: During the filming of The Shining, Kubrick didn't expose Danny Lloyd to the disturbing elements of the movie, and severely re-edited the footage shown to Lloyd to cut out anything scary. It got to the point where Lloyd thought he was starring in a boring drama about a family doing nothing in a hotel. A major Pet the Dog moment for Kubrick, seeing how it was happening simultaneously with his treatment of Shelley Duvall.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Due to Kubrick's perfectionist views towards filming, it has been on record that during the filming of The Shining he was antagonistic to the actors (with the exception of Danny Lloyd see above for explanation) and bullied Shelly Duvall more than the others in order to make her a better actress for the film and while his treatment was really far from good for Duvalls mental health and stress levels, she did admit that she learned more from Kubrick's directing than her other films.
  • The Conspiracy: Kubrick's entire filmography shows a huge distrust of humanity and institutions, like the government, the army, the police.
  • Control Freak: Famous for being a legendary perfectionist in movie history (though reading some of the stories of Charlie Chaplin, William Wyler and Josef von Sternberg will make you think Kubrick is quite reasonable). He would demand dozens of takes for very minor scenes (which was not very unusual as a production practice at the time). Very few actors got to ad-lib a single word in his movies, but the exceptions are remarkable, see Throw It In below.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Bathroom scenes, often ominous.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: During his lifetime Kubrick's work had already received recognition for being artistically and intellectually more interesting than your average movie, but nearly all his works were polarizing upon their intitial release. Paths Of Glory was dismissed because it showed the army as cold and inhuman and didn't glorify the military. Lolita caused controversy because it was about a middle aged man falling in love with a teenage girl. Dr. Strangelove upset people because it showed governments as incompetent and unable to prevent a nuclear war. 2001: A Space Odyssey was criticized for being pretentious and incomprehensible. A Clockwork Orange caused outrage for glorifying rape and violence. Barry Lyndon was seen as boring and soulless. The Shining was lamblasted for relying more on creepy atmosphere than actually showing anything happening, not to mention Jack Nicholson's over the top performance. Full Metal Jacket got mixed reviews because the second half just pads on without the strength of the first half. Eyes Wide Shut got better reviews, but this had more to do with Kubrick's death before the film came out. A lot of people still felt it was a slow erotic movie that wasn't sexy at all and just resulted in a Shaggy Dog Story with an anticlimax. All of his films have been Vindicated by History nevertheless, usually within 10 years after their initial release.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Every film up to 2001, with the exception of Spartacus.
  • Doing It for the Art: invoked This was the man who converted lenses from NASA to shoot in natural candlelight in Barry Lyndon looking right. Perhaps more impressive was getting an entire fleet of the Spanish army to be extras in Spartacus. This also extends to actual methods of filming as well, with Kubrick always quick to embrace the next development in film technology. This has led to problems when the time came to archive his original prints and reels since the means for playing them are no longer available due to obsolescence.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Paths of Glory ends with the soldiers accused of desertion being shot.
    • Dr. Strangelove ends with the entire world succumbing to nuclear war.
    • Alex in A Clockwork Orange is sent back in the streets, despite his criminal record, and now hailed as a victim of the people who tried to cure him from his violent tendencies.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Invoked in many of his films.
  • Executive Meddling: invoked
    • A Clockwork Orange suffered this. It was banned in some places because censors were afraid it would incite violence. Some claim it did. Added to this is the fact that Kubrick himself pulled the film out of circulation in England when he recieved reports of copycat crimes.
    • Barry Lyndon almost got this when executives wanted to film to be "zanier" with more slapstick comedy and songs, in the vein of Tom Jones. Kubrick sent back with an awesome response about how William Makepeace Thackeray (upon whose book the film is based) was known for his wit and satire but not for his zaniness, pratfalls, or musical numbers.
  • The Film of the Book. Every Kubrick feature film after the first two was an adaptation of a book or short story. 2001 is a partial exception, as the original Arthur C. Clarke story only dealt with Heywood Floyd's trip to the Moon, and the rest of the story was written by Kubrick and Clarke in collaboration.
  • Genre Roulette: While many film directors usually work within one identifiable genre Kubrick tried out different kinds of genres all his life: war/anti-war films ("Fear and Desire", "Paths Of Glory", "Full Metal Jacket"), science-fiction ("2001", "A Clockwork Orange"), historical drama ("Spartacus", "Barry Lyndon"), comedy ("Dr. Strangelove"), erotic thriller ("Lolita", "Eyes Wide Shut"), film-noir ("The Killing"), and horror ("The Shining").
  • Hobbes Was Right: His work evokes extreme distrust of humanity and the lengths people will go through to control, hurt and kill each other as part of the grander scheme of the system. Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange definitely show Kubrick's hatred for these things. Full Metal Jacket is a bit more fodder for polarizing discussion. On the one hand it shows how the army dehumanizes its soldiers, but at the same time Kubrick doesn't seem really sure if it ever could/would or should be another way?
  • Humans Are Bastards: Kubrick's films show mankind at its worst, especially political and military institutions and organisations. A telling moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey is that one of the first things apeman does with his higher intelligence is bashing the head of his fellow apemans in with a huge bone.
  • Insufferable Genius: Despite his perfectionist tendencies, Kubrick did not actually have much in common with this trope. He did poorly in school and even stated that his IQ was below average. On the other hand: if something interested him he wanted to know everything about the subject matter and you better take that literally. Every other book written about the topic, until the tiniest detail, was scrutinized by him.
  • Kubrick Stare: Trope Namer; a lot of his films used it.
  • Light is Not Good: In virtually *any* of Kubrick's movies that are filmed in color, an abundance of fluorescent lighting and polished floors/walls (giving the impression of a White Void Room) hint that something really, really bad is going to happen.
  • Odd Friendship: Kubrick and Spielberg were polar opposites as far as film styles go. They had a close friendship and Kubrick handpicked Spielberg to direct his final film.
  • The Perfectionist: In preparation of each new project Kubrick read every possible book about topics concerning the story that he could lay his hands on. One has to see this to believe it, because he also categorized the information in files and tried to find answers to really odd problems that seemed trivial to others. Nevertheless the end results were often staggering, with officials often wondering how on Earth he was able to get his facts and details so accurately precise.
    • Quite amusingly, Kubrick denied being perfectionist. Dorian Harewood, who played Eightball from Full Metal Jacket, said that in an interview that Kubrick was a perfectionist. A few days later, Kubrick called Harewood later and denied being considered such. Likewise, Kubrick said that he kept doing multiple takes because he thought his actors, though they got the right idea, weren't happy with their performance.
  • Pet the Dog: Several. Especially during the filming of The Shining.
    • Since the movie was Danny Lloyd's first acting job and that he was very young, Kubrick was genuinely concerned and highly protective of the child. Kubrick treated Danny's scenes like a little game, and kept him from discovering the true nature of the film. During the filming, Lloyd was under the impression that Kubrick was making a drama. He only realized the truth several years later, when he was shown a heavily edited version of the film. He did not see the uncut version of the film until he was 17 - eleven years after he had made it.
    • Despite his reported abuse of Shelley Duvall on set, Kubrick spoke very highly of her ability in multiple interviews and found himself quite impressed by her performance in the finished film.
  • Prima Donna Director: The Trope Codifier. After earning his Auteur License, every one of his movies were productions which extended for years where he controlled every tiny detail and forced the actors to do over 20 takes at minimum. This resulted in great films. It also ensured that virtually no actor worked with him twice.
  • Production Throwback: Re-insertions of "CRM 114", originally the comunication device onboard the bombers of Dr. Strangelove
  • Properly Paranoid: Kubrick's work shows a deep paranoia and fear of humanity and how it is forced to function within certain systems.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: A prominent use of classical music in all his films from 2001 onwards.
  • Reclusive Artist: invoked After he went to the UK, helped by his fear of flying. It should be noted that Kubrick was only reclusive in terms of being a public figure and Hollywood celebrity. He was generally accessible to critics who wanted to interview him about his films, such as Michel Ciment of Positif, and he also maintained friendships with producers and directors and kept up to speed with new film-makers. He also sent fan letters to film-makers he admired, such as this one to Ingmar Bergman.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • Kubrick really "composed" his backgrounds. Many rooms and settings have an almost photographic quality to them. They have been carefully constructed, built or put in the frame in a way that they too become interesting to look at. Small significant and symbolic details can be spotted by the observant viewer.
    • A scene in or just outside a bathroom. Or both. Involving someone breaking into the bathroom.
    • Shots down long paths with parallel walls.
    • Later in his career, extensive Steadicam use. Kubrick was one of the first filmmakers to really embrace the technology. Interestingly, he was also known for personally handling the camera whenever a handheld (shaky) shot was necessary. Examples are 2001 (when descending the ramp on the moon), and The Killing, which is notable because it creates a Jitter Cam effect (meant to portray the chaos after a gunfight) in a black and white movie, in 1956.
  • Short-Lived Big Impact: invoked He only made thirteen films from 1953 to 1999, yet most of those films are regarded as some of the best ever made. It must be noted that Kubrick deliberately carved himself this niche with Warner Bros. studios. All his films were box-office successes and every film was an event, so each film stood out individually among all other films brought out that year.
  • Shrouded in Myth: invoked
    • Due to Kubrick's reluctance to talk about the hidden meanings of his films he's probably one of the most analyzed and discussed film directors of all time. There are still scenes in his work that remain mysterious and are open for interpretation.
    • Likewise, Kubrick's refusal to have a public profile means that there are many misconceptions about his style, approach and methods of making films as well as his habits as a working professional in the film industry.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Many a film student will note that Kubrick was fond of a particular 2-act structure in his films, one with a "shiny" aesthetic half and one with a "gritty" aesthetic half. A Clockwork Orange, for example, begins with a gritty portrayal of gang violence and is followed by a shiny portrayal of the main character's life in prison and going through human experimentation. Full Metal Jacket opens with a "shiny" first act that ends with a tragic murder, followed by a jarringly Lighter and Softer yet visually "gritty" second act of the main characters' tour in Vietnam.... and so on. Usually, it's the "shiny" part of the movie where the most unnerving events of the movie take place.
  • Signature Style: Very far on the cynicism side for Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism, lots of hallways and tracking shots (he was particularly fond of the Steadicam), almost always an adaption of a book, mentally unstable protagonists, surrealism, classical music (many times used for ironic effect), tons of black humor, the Kubrick Stare, at least one scene involving a toilet and above all meticulous attention to detail. And, of course, tons and tons of eerie, artificially polished environments doused in a wash of fluorescent lighting to convey a sense of unease.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Kubrick was an avid chess player, and it forced him to be slow, methodical and deliberate with his actions, as seen in his movies.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Kubrick often used well known classical music and pop melodies and put them in an ironic new context. This has led to Pop-Cultural Osmosis in some cases where one can't hear the original piece without associating it with a Kubrick film instead. Notable example would be "Also sprach Zarathustra", the main theme to 2001.
  • The Spartan Way: Curiously and disconcertingly applied to filming up to Jerkass levels. Kubrick was a hardened and noted perfectionist, and the lengths he went to get the results he wanted were extreme. Jack Nicholson in particular swore off working with him after The Shining because of the way he treated the cast and crew.
  • Take That: Much of Dr. Strangelove's plot was inspired by Kubrick's conversations with the political scientist Thomas Schelling, whose influential book Arms and Influence took a very different perspective on nuclear weapons and the likelihood of their use by either Cold War power.
  • Throw It In: invoked Despite his reputation for being a perfectionist and retaking shots over and over, many of Kubrick's films' most iconic moments were unscripted, including:
  • Verbal Tic: A lot of the dialog in his movies goes... very... slowly... sometimes with lots of pauses within a line, or more commonly, characters pausing before EVERY reply, sometimes causing a conversation of four or five lines to take nearly a minute.
  • Wag the Director: invoked
    • In a bit of Early Installment Weirdness and in a non-hostile manner during the production of Spartacus. Kirk Douglas fired Anthony Mann and hired Stanley Kubrick, as two of them were very good friends and Kubrick did it as a favor to Douglas. However, though directing the film made Kubrick famous, they weren't friends by the end, as Kubrick later claimed that almost everything was really controlled by Douglas, who was also the producer, and the picture really wasn't big enough for both of them. Douglas later went on to describe Kubrick as "a talented shit."
    • Kubrick quit the production of Marlon Brando's vehicle One Eyed Jacks (1961) after it became clear that Brando wanted to direct the film himself and Kubrick would be the director in name only.
  • What Could Have Been: invoked
    • Kubrick's film about Napoleon Bonaparte. A project he dreamt about making for years and garnered an unbelievable amount of documentation about. But it was thwarted by the movie Waterloo (1970), which got such a bad reception that producers weren't willing to invest in another Napoleon movie. Barry Lyndon is set in part of the same time period and is probably the closest he ever got into making it.
    • His movie project about the Holocaust, Aryan Papers, which also got scrapped because he saw Schindler's List and felt he couldn't top it. Not to mention that Kubrick himself found the subject matter to be incredibly depressing.
    • A.I. a science fiction movie he felt was more something for Steven Spielberg, who eventually made it posthumously for Kubrick: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
    • According to this article, Kubrick was planning on making a children's film and a film in World War II. Specficially, a film about Pinocchio and one on Monte Cassino, one of the most bitter and bloody battles of the second world war.
    • Kubrick had wanted to film John le Carré's novel A Perfect Spy, and was even willing to work for The BBC when they outbid him for the rights, but fearing cost overruns, they turned him down.
  • Worthy Opponent: In chess, according to George C. Scott. It's why he still respected him after what Kubrick did to him in Strangelove.