Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 March 7, 1999) was an American film director and screenwriter, known for creating some of the most important, controversial, and stylistically distinctive films of the second half of the 20th century.
Born to a middle-class Jewish family in New York City, Kubrick was a college dropout (albeit one who was also a voracious reader and autodidact). From an early age, he was a cinephile who was especially fond of foreign films and arthouse film-makers such as Josef von Sternberg and especially Max Ophuls (who he cited as his favorite, and his biggest influence).
The Fall of the Studio System began when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an antitrust suit that broke up the monopoly of film distribution formerly held by major studios, and an indirect effect of this was the nurturing of independent theaters, and by extension, independent cinema. Kubrick could make documentary newsreels and find a way to distribute it without having to cross many hurdles, and he quickly taught himself the nuts-and-bolts of film-making without dealing with the studio system, cultivating an independent sensibility that he carried with him to the end of his life.
His early films, Fear and Desirenote and Killer's Kiss were made entirely on his own, and Kubrick on his first feature served as not only his own director, but his own cinematographer, editor and sound-man, which provided him a thorough technical knowledge of film-making. The Killing proved to be his first success, and with that film, produced by associate James B. Harris, Kubrick found a foot in Hollywood, and he attracted the attention of Kirk Douglas who partnered with him to make Paths of Glory which became his Breakthrough Hit, earning him respect and good notices from America and England. The interim period between that film and Lolita (his first film made in self-imposed exile in England) featured a period of striving in the Hollywood system, including an attempt to collaborate with Marlon Brando on One-Eyed Jacks and Spartacus, produced by Kirk Douglas, who brought Kubrick in after firing original director Anthony Mann. Although Spartacus was a major success, Kubrick felt dissatisfied because the project was clearly Douglas' (and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's) more than his, he didn't feel personally invested in the subject and was generally too independent-minded to do journeyman work. He resolved to maintain his independence against all odds. He went to England to make Lolita and never returned to America, citing a fear of flyingnote .
In England, Kubrick was able to cultivate a sense of mystery and excitement about his work. At a remote distance from Hollywood he was able to assert control over all aspects of film-making from pre-production to editing and sound-mixing, from advertising to exhibitionnote . He was able to do this thanks to support from excellent producers such as James B. Harris and Jan Harlan (who was also his brother-in-law) and the fact that his films were, relatively speaking, less expensive than other Hollywood super-productions of the time, and they were generally successful at the box-office.
During this time, Kubrick also became, so to speak, a Reclusive Artist. He would give interviews as per his convenience and would be inaccessible to journalists and celebrity gossip-columnists and generally interact only with his collaborators and producers. As such, a number of legends cropped up about him.
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. Actors who worked on his films described him as manipulative, distant and aloof. Malcolm McDowell thoroughly enjoyed working with him on A Clockwork Orange, but was snubbed after shooting was complete. Others, such as Ryan O'Neal, Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and R. Lee Ermey, however, enjoyed working with him and described him fondly.note In other cases, most notably his treatment of Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining, his behavior went beyond controlling and became abusive, some even say to the point of psychological torture. note
Because of his high artistic ambitions (he was obsessed with originality and doing things that had never been done before), his insistence on personally researching each aspect of pre-production (a side-effect of his autodidact originsnote ) and his insistence on doing a film that interests him thoroughly, his production pace slowed down drastically.
He made four films in The '60s and five films in the next three decades, much of his time spent on pre-production for unmade projects such as a planned Biopic on Napoléon Bonaparte, a film on The Holocaust, and a science-fiction project about an android. The former two he abandoned because he felt he had been beaten to the punchnote . The latter project was subsequently completed after his death by Steven Spielberg as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence as per Kubrick's suggestion.
Yet despite this seeming procrastination, Kubrick was still able to more or less make a film as per he pleased as evidenced by A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and much later Eyes Wide Shut. During his lifetime virtually all his films were met with a polarizing reception by critics and the audience, but most of them were box-office successes. They were shocking and controversial not merely in terms of content but mainly for the really cold, detached and even sardonic tone, that somehow made his films feel more European than American, and certainly like nothing in Hollywood.
All his movies were adaptations of literature, both Lit Fic and genre fiction, but they were all Genre-Busting, subversive of Hollywood conventions, featuring Anti-Hero protagonists, violence and disturbing sexuality. They are celebrated for their visual design, use of musicnote , blazingly original iconography (his background in photography really shows in his work) and the overall bleak view of humanity and institutions made his films ripe for Affectionate Parody, Pop-Cultural Osmosis and cult appeal.
In short, he's a film-maker no one is going to stop talking about any time soon.
- 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 parishioners.
- Fear and Desire (1953) — His first real film, which he considered his Old Shame. Kubrick and his first wife were the only crew on-set during production. Recently restored and released on video via BluRay. Incidentally one of the actors is Paul Mazursky who later went on to become an actor-director in his own right.
- 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 tyro-work.
- The Killing (1956) — A Film Noir, his first real success, the first collaboration with Sterling Hayden, famous for its non-linear variation on The Asphalt Jungle-style heist movie plot that was highly popular in The '50s.
- Paths of Glory (1957) — The first of his two films starring Kirk Douglas, he also met Jan Harlan during productionnote and his Breakthrough Hit. Set in France during World War I with a critical look at the military establishment that was quite daring for its time and which led to it being banned in France.
- Spartacus (1960) — The second his films starring Kirk Douglas and the last film he would make in America and Hollywood. Despite Kubrick's dissatisfaction, it's considered a landmark Epic Movie, critical for ending The Hollywood Blacklist and one of the most subversive mainstream blockbusters of that era. Also notable for being Kubrick's longest movie, beating out Barry Lyndon by just ten minutes.
- Lolita (1962) — Adapted from the novel by Vladimir Nabokovnote Starring James Mason, one of Kubrick's favorite actorsnote , Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters and Peter Sellers in the scene-stealing expanded role of Quilty.
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) — A jet-black satire on the Cold War with a screenplay by Terry Southern that ends with the whole world dying to the strains of Vera Lynn. Starring Peter Sellers in three brilliant and very different roles, but also George C. Scott, James Earl Jones, a second appearance by Sterling Hayden and a scene-stealing turn by Slim Pickens.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — A landmark science-fiction with groundbreaking special effects by Douglas Trumbull, co-created with Arthur C. Clarke and a film that revolutionized the science-fiction genre, albeit made by a man who generally disliked the genre and wanted to bring it Out of the Ghetto.
- A Clockwork Orange (1971) — Adapted from a minor novel by Anthony Burgess. A major commercial success in its year of release, but extremely controversial for its scenes of violence and rape. The negative publicity was such that Kubrick himself shelved it after it turned out profits, and prevented it from being widely exhibited until his death. Extremely influential for its production design, its costumesnote and unusual use of music.
- Barry Lyndon (1975) — Adapted from a minor novel by W. M. Thackeray, it's a Genre Deconstruction of period films that shows how oppressive and downright weird European society was. It is often incorrectly cited as the first movie to have a scene lit only with candlelight (The Night of the Hunter did it first.) Unpopular and neglected by the audience, it is the preferred favorite of cinephiles like Martin Scorsese, who consider it his masterpiece.
- The Shining (1980) — Radically different from the novel, to Stephen King's distaste. It's now considered a great classic of the genre, provoking a number of fan explanations and much like 2001, Kubrick eschewed conventional genre features by bringing in highbrow elements. Features one of Jack Nicholson's most famous performances and its extended production, with the gigantic set built in England and his treatment of Shelley Duvall, cementing Kubrick's reputation as a perfectionist. Also notable among videophiles for being Kubrick's first film to be explicitly shot in open matte, meaning it was filmed in Academy rationote but cropped to a widescreen aspect ratio in theaters (thus allowing it to avoid Pan and Scan when broadcast on television and included on home media releases before the mass adoption of 16:9 TVs by simply uncropping the vertical space of the picture), a practice he would carry onto his next (and last) two filmsnote .
- Full Metal Jacket (1987) — One of the most iconic Vietnam War movies, starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin and, in scene-stealing turns, R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Vincent D'Onofrio as Gomer Pyle. Controversial in its year of release for the fact that the film's two halves are entirely different from each other, with most preferring the first half (starring aforementioned scene-stealers).
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999) — Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, it became his last film, completed six days before his death with some sound mixing work still left to be done. Three years in the making, and preceded with incredible publicity and buildup, the film faced a mixed reception only to receive appreciation very recently.
You can now vote for your favorite Kubrick film by heading over to the Best Film Crowner!
His movies provide examples of:
- 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:
- Paths of Glory was banned in France until 1970 due to its critical depiction of the French Army.
- It was widely believed that A Clockwork Orange was banned in England. But in truth, after accusations of Life Imitates Art, the film was withdrawn from distribution in the UK at Kubrick's request. Not that he believed it had actually inspired the crimes but he was worried because his family received threats and saw protests staged outside his home and he was a man who liked his privacy. It remained unavailable in the UK until after Kubrick's death in 1999 and Kubrick and his family moved to a new home in England during the production of Barry Lyndon to avoid any further fallout.
- Certain scenes of Eyes Wide Shut were digitally altered in the USA at the time for being too sexually explicit. In other Western countries, people got the uncensored version. There was also censorship in the UK owing to the use of a recitation of the Bhagavad Gita (as part of the music by Jocelyn Pook which Kubrick excerpted) during the orgy scene, which Hindu organizations protested as sacrilege and it was removed for the UK release and remains missing in Region 2 releases.
- Bad Boss: Up to Eleven. In making The Shining he deliberately treated Shelley Duvall horribly so she would be sad and scared all the time for real. She even lost a lot of hair from the stress.
- A lesser known example is when Tom Cruise avoided telling Kubrick he had an ulcer while filming Eyes Wide Shut, fearing how Kubrick would react.
- Beleaguered Bureaucrat: In A Clockwork Orange, society's institutions are run by people who believe they can "fix" dangerous products of society like Alex De Large, without taking any responsibility for the world that created him.
- Big Applesauce: It was his home but aside from Killer's Kiss, none of his films were shot in New York. One of his films that was set in New York — Eyes Wide Shut — was shot in London, using sets, second-unit projection and carefully chosen streets.
- Bittersweet Ending: He generally favored Downer Ending or Gainax Ending. The only outright happy ending in his films is Killer's Kiss which contrary to belief was his call and not forced by Executive Meddling. In the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut at least, it's possible to see the endings of both films as positive, especially the latter where the couple seem to put aside their baggage and re-commit to their relationship, but the tone and approach in both is kind of ambiguous and comic, and left to the audience.
- Black-and-Grey Morality: Sometimes shown during moments of his stories, particularly Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange. However, because his films are known for their realism, morality is more portrayed as Gray-and-Grey Morality.
- Black Comedy: His stories often include this kind of humor 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: Averted; despite being a New Yorker, Kubrick is famous for his cold, detached way of film-making. It's often surprising to hear him speak in interviews with a thick Noo Yawk accent.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: 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.
- Central Theme: The dark side of human nature, effects of war, dehumanization in order to support the plan, broken systems, corruption.
- 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.
- The Conspiracy: A running motif in his movies is characters undone by fate, institutions, machinations by unknown figures who are mysterious, powerful and whose interests and motives they cannot seem to comprehend, and to whom they will always remain small-fry. Whether it's Alex DeLarge finally being cured and engaging in ultra-violence with the support of the dystopian government, Humbert being undone by Quilty and Lolita, Dave Bowman being undone by HAL and then the Monolith, Redmond Barry by society and class. Eyes Wide Shut directly uses conspiracy as a major element and its left ambiguous how much of it is an actual conspiracy and how much of it is just Hartford imagining and projecting his paranoia and sexual frustration externally.
- Control Freak: He had a reputation 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 when he started making films in The '50s).
- Creator Thumbprint: Bathroom scenes, often ominous.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Every film up to 2001, with the exception of Spartacus. Since Kubrick preferred control and independence he preferred black-and-white which was cheaper than color at the timenote .
- Doing It for the Art: 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 of his violent tendencies.
- 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 (Killer's Kiss, The Killing), and horror (The Shining).
- George Lucas Altered Version: A number of Kubrick films were altered between premiers, original release, and re-release:
- The original version of 2001 was longer than the current version, and Kubrick himself cut down and removed the scenes. He did the same with The Shining removing the original ending of the film between the premier and general release.
- In the case of Spartacus, Kubrick never considered that one of his personal works and was fairly indifferent to the restoration in the '90s which sought to restore lost scenes, only agreeing to look into it at Steven Spielberg's request. He was consulted, and he okayed the work of Harris and Katz who restored several scenes, some of which were redubbed by Anthony Hopkins mimicking Laurence Olivier's Crassus.
- For home video releases, a major problem is trying to determine what Kubrick's preferred aspect ratio was. Kubrick apparently composed most of his films in the Academy Ratio, even when movie theaters shifted to widescreen as default from the '60s onwards. As such his films still looked natural on early home video releases and TV viewings, before black bars became the norm. When the Kubrick DVD collection came out (which he oversaw), he allowed for multiple ratios, not anticipating the rise and spread of wide-screen TV, which happened after his death. As such a number of his films are overseen by assistant Leon Vitali to ensure that proper aspect ratios are maintained for Blu-Ray releases.
- Gray-and-Grey Morality: Where his films are mainly portrayed in terms of human morality and nature.
- Hobbes Was Right: His work is at times misanthrophic, critical of institutions and governments, and social mores which despite appearing civilized are often poor disguises for appalling violence and cruelty. Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange definitely show Kubrick's hatred for these things as does Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut in a more subtle manner.
- Humans Are Flawed: Kubrick's films show mankind at its weakest and most anti-heroic, especially political and military institutions and organizations. 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 ape-mans in with a huge bone. However, further evolved humans are shown still trying to change for the better.
- 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.
- Moon-Landing Hoax: A common joke goes that NASA hired him to fake the Moon Landing. Unfortunately for them, his famous perfectionism meant that he insisted they shoot on-location. More "straight" portrayals of a faked moon landing will inevitably feature him (or a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo of someone who looks suspiciously like him) behind the camera and calling the shots on the lunar set.
- No Woman's Land: Kubrick has generally been considered a director of men, with very few strong women characters in his movies. The fact that the main exception is the titular Lolita is saying something.
- A number of his movies are set during wartime such as Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket where the main options for women are either sex objects, potential and actual rape victims, or a child soldier, as in the case of the Sniper at the end of the film. Likewise, his dystopian film A Clockwork Orange is set in a future where women are more or less sex objects, and rape is more or less a constant never-ending crime.
- His film, Barry Lyndon was one of the few period films of its time, and times afterward, that really put across how misogynist and sexist the period setting romanticized in earlier literary adaptations are. A society where the only careers available to women is marriage and children is not healthy either for women, for children or for their spouses. Depresssingly this seems to have gotten worse in his "contemporary" Eyes Wide Shut where by the turn of the millennium, women are once again trapped in boring marriages, with careers as prostitutes and Disposable Sex Worker, and/or Trophy Wife being their primary roles in bourgeois society. Whether this reflects how Kubrick believes society to be, or reflected his own imagination is, of course, a separate issue.
- Odd Friendship: With Steven Spielberg. They were very different in terms of style but they had a friendship and collaboration, often talking on the phone. When Kubrick thought he couldn't deliver on A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, he gave Spielberg his blessing to direct the project. Spielberg stayed true to Kubrick's style for the making of the 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 (think the polar opposite of Dan Brown).
- Quite amusingly, Kubrick denied being a perfectionist. Dorian Harewood, who played Eightball from Full Metal Jacket, said that in an interview that Kubrick was a perfectionist. Kubrick called Harewood a few days 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.
- This extended to the foreign-language dubbing and subtitling of his films. Kubrick would make sure that he had frequent contact with the translators he chose and would grill them on things such as past translation problems and how they'd solved them. Additionally, the translators and Kubrick would agree on the former's methods and processes before the translating had begun.
- Posthumous Popularity Potential: 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.
- 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.note
- Production Throwback: Re-insertions of "CRM 114", originally the comunication device onboard the bombers of Dr. Strangelove
- Public Domain Soundtrack: A prominent use of classical music in all his films from 2001 onwards. Most notably he removed Alex North's original composition for 2001 during production, neglected to tell North about it, and the composer expectantly discovered the changes when he went for the screening. Alex North was a respected composer certainly and his unused score for ''2001'' is considered pretty good.
- Reclusive Artist: To the point that one conman successfully managed to impersonate him in front of an experienced film critic. It should be noted though 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) inspired perhaps by a similar sequence in Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground made a few years back.
- Short-Lived Big Impact: 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. Most of 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:
- 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 Idealism vs. Cynicism: Mostly on the cynical end of the scale. 2001: A Space Odyssey might be his most idealistic film.
- 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: Mostly 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 adaptation 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.
- 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. A notable example would be "Also sprach Zarathustra", the main theme to 2001.
- 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!: Despite his reputation for being a perfectionist and retaking shots over and over, many of Kubrick's films' most iconic moments were unscripted, including:
- Much of Peter Sellers' dialogue in Doctor Strangelove.
- Much of R. Lee Ermey's dialogue in Full Metal Jacket.
- The inclusion of "Singing in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange.
- The inclusion of "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" in Eyes Wide Shut.
- Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!" line in The Shining (due to his long residence in the UK, Kubrick had no idea what the line meant and had to be talked out of using a different shot).
- FilmCritHulk argues that this was a much bigger part of Kubrick's MO than is typically acknowledged and that rather than looking for perfection, the retakes were intended to break actors out of conventional acting to better serve the director's intentions. Indeed this was the reason why directors in the Golden Age such as William Wyler or Charlie Chaplin used multiple takes, since they had specific intentions and were not usually comfortable with actors trained in multiple styles and approaches, and generally preferred a process to wear their resistance until they got the results they wanted.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Well more trans-Pacific, but Kubrick carries one nonetheless with Isao Takahata. Both were film directors known for being incredibly strict towards the people they worked with, sometimes to the detriment of their physical and mental health, but were also wildly acclaimed for making some of the artistically strongest films in their respective mediums (live-action for Kubrick, animation for Takahata), films which ranged from bittersweet to cynically depressing, tapped into the flaws of human nature, delved into a number of different genres, and tended to be bigger successes with critics than box offices.
- Two-Act Structure: The first half of most Kubrick films will typically take place in a sterile, brightly lit, "civilized" environment that accentuates and contrasts the human suffering that takes place within it. The second half is set in a location of relative wilderness and chaos (such as outer space, a prison, or a war zone) but provides glimmers of hope for the protagonist(s).
- 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.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Stanley Kubrick's films are full of Black Comedy, with major characters who are incredibly cold and unsympathetic in nature.
- Jack in The Shining is an incredibly self-centered and abusive alcoholic, and his Sanity Slippage over the course of the film slowly peels back the layers separating Affably Evil, Faux Affably Evil, and Axe-Crazy.
- Alex is a cold, sociopathic, criminal who rapes and steals along with his droogs who is doing it because of human choice.
- Barry Lyndon, the titular character of the Kubrick classic. He only gets worse within time.
- Quite a few of the major characters in Dr Strangelove fall into this, such as the chilling-yet-hilarious lunacy of General Ripper, and the antics of those in the War room.
- Wag the Director:
- 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. Brando was insecure and uncertain and finally did direct the film, and it's considered a pretty good film in its own right, albeit not really having the Kubrickian elements.
- What Could Have Been:
- Kubrick's film about Napoléon 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. Specifically, 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.
References to Kubrick in popular culture
- Celebrity Song Instrumental Stanley Kubrick by Mogwai.
- An appearance in Epic Rap Battles of History.