Stanley Kubrick's Films Ranked Best to Worst

With a career spanning 50 years and 13 feature films and an expensive exploration across many genres, Stanley Kubrick is regarded by many as the greatest filmmaker of all time.

After taking a recent visit to the Kubrick Exhibition in London (here are some photos on my instagram) Kubrick has been on my mind a lot so I've decided to take up the imposing task of ranking Kubrick's filmography. So without further ado here is my personal ranking of Stanley Kubrick's films from best to worst.

13. Fear and Desire (1953)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 3 Stars ★

"Fear and Desire" is Kubrick's debut film and he has stated himself in interview that he didn't know what he was doing at the time of making this film and it really does show. Whilst it does show some of the trademarks the director would later master, "Fear and Desire" really does feel like an amateur attempt and Kubrick himself was very aware of that. In fact, Kubrick had the original negative destroyed because he grew to hate this film so much, and it's rumoured that he even attempted to destroy all the remaining copies.

What I do really love about this film is that it features themes that the director would later improve on in films like "Full Metal Jacket" and "Paths of Glory". If you watch this and then watch the rest of Kubrick's filmography you can really see the learning curve between this film and "Full Metal Jacket", and as an aspiring filmmaker it's really reassuring to realise that even the greatest masters of cinema didn't start of as masters, just like us they were beginners too. 

12. Spartacus (1960)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 3½ Stars ★

Pretty rousing and undoubtedly a gorgeous piece of classic spectacle but has it aged with time? Absolutely. It's fun and entertaining but certainly doesn't live up to the quality of film you expect when you hear the name Stanley Kubrick.

It's pretty widely know that Kubrick's artistic freedom was very limited during the shooting this film as it was a huge studio feature during the strange transition of old Hollywood to new Hollywood. And it's more than understandable that a young up and coming director would get overwhelmed by the prospect of a big Hollywood feature film.

If you want a Kubrick film with his directorial trademarks plastered all over it then "Spartacus" really isn't the film you need as Kubrick's style barely leaves a fingerprint here, instead the film serves as more of a platform for Kirk Douglas to build up his own ego again after being rejected for the lead role in "Ben Hur".

11. Killer's Kiss (1955)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 4 Stars ★

An underrated film-noir that turned out to be far more engaging than I initially expected. "Killer's Kiss" is far from a masterpiece in my opinion but it did serve its purpose well as a warm up exercise for Stanley Kubrick to hone in on his craft before he started churning out one masterpiece after another until the very end of his legendary film career.

The film employs many new & unconventional filmmaking tricks from start to finish and exhibits the remarkable eye for detail Kubrick has when it comes to camera placement & lighting. The editing also never lets the uncertainty go out of the story & the music manages to fit its accompanying sequences rather well. The performances by the cast isn't anything special but every one chipped in fine in their given roles.

On an overall scale, "Killer's Kiss" is a very well crafted & firmly composed film which over the years has influenced cinema in a number of ways with its narrative structure & inventive use of camera angles. But since Kubrick went on to achieve even greater prominence in his later films, "Killer's Kiss" seems to be faced with no choice but to accept it''s place ranked at the back end of Kubrick's filmography.

10. Lolita (1962)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 4 Stars ★

"Lolita" was the last Kubrick film I watched out of his entire filmography. And unfortunately, I feel very divided after this first watch.

It's very apparent that "Lolita" suffers from the Hays Code censorship that forces Kubrick to water down the nastiness inherent in the source material. That said, the greatest achievement of "Lolita" is Kubrick's ability to bury the lede. Whispering, double talk, creepy characters, and body language, are used as cues to the sexual relationship between Humbert and his underage stepdaughter Lolita. It is these subtleties that allow the film to rise above its perverse plot.

Overall, "Lolita" is an enjoyable film that may not be one of Kubrick's best, but it is hard to top his very best. It could be a bit overlong, but I enjoyed every second of this twisted little black comedy about perversion, obsession, and some 1960s gender roles.

9. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 4 Stars ★

Eyes Wide Shut marks the final entry in the decades-spanning, unprecedented & extraordinary filmmaking career of Stanley Kubrick. And just like all of his reappraised works, is a classic that unveils more of its intricate layers on multiple viewings.

Eyes Wide Shut may not be as groundbreaking as Kubrick's other masterpieces but it's nonetheless a deeply fascinating exploration of sexual relations and despite its cynical tone, manages to be an erotic, enthralling & engaging thriller. While the plot is heavy & explicit in sexual content, approaching it as a sex-romp flick won't do enough justice for Kubrick. The film digs much deeper into the primordial aspects of human nature to put up an exquisite looking tale that's aesthetic, artistic, abstract & unlike anything before or since. It may not be Kubrick's greatest, but it's still a genre masterpiece.

8. Paths of Glory (1957)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 4½ Stars ★

Making a profound statement against war, crafted with precision care & sincerity, and featuring some truly memorable & exquisitely detailed shots throughout its run time, Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" is one of the finest examples of its genre which established the then 28 year old filmmaker as one of the most promising directors of its time & continues to influence warfare filmmaking, even today.

Anti-war films don't get much better than this for "Paths of Glory" presents Stanley Kubrick in prime form & is a timeless classic that hasn't lost even an ounce of its effectiveness despite being 60 years old. Brilliantly directed, deftly scripted, boldly shot, splendidly photographed, tightly edited & nicely scored, Paths of Glory is an amazing portrait of greed, fear, death, war & duty. Would highly recommend a viewing if you haven't seen it already.

7. The Killing (1956)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 4½ Stars ★

An ingenious work of filmmaking & a thrilling example of film-noir, "The Killing" is Stanley Kubrick's breakthrough feature that showcased the potential of a director who would later go on to cement his legacy as one of the greatest filmmaker of all time. Modest in budget yet unrelenting with its subject matter, "The Killing" experiments with many aspects, especially the manner in which its plot is structured & narrated as well as the characterisation of its finely-scripted characters.

"The Killing" is Kubrick's first masterpiece that commercially bombed at the box-office at its time of release but over the decades has built a celebrated cult following that's only going to get stronger as the years pass by. "The Killing" remains one of Kubrick's most underrated films as well as one of his most enjoyable works. If you've been postponing it for long, like I did, then stop putting it off and just watch it. You can thank me later.

6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

An audacious blend of imagery and allegory, Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" is a film that may take multiple viewings to fully appreciate. On first viewing, however, the film bursts with colours, shapes, and a searing observation of the battle between youth culture and adult stolidity. Kubrick's film, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, is a striking and layered piece of work.

A drama that defies genre, a visual canvas that defies convention, and a narrative that defies the rules of obvious and concrete plotting. "A Clockwork Orange" is a mesmerising and provocative experience. Though its insistence on slowing to a narrative crawl in its final third dampens the film's momentum, it, still, is a finely constructed and rich cinematic symphony. With its potent imagery and classic allegory, "A Clockwork Orange" is a film well worth its massive reputation.

5. Barry Lyndon (1975)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

I avoided watching this for so long because it's a 3 hour period piece about a social climbing Irish man in 18th century Europe and frankly, it sounded boring to me. I didn't want to put myself through that, but it's a Kubrick film so of course I put myself through it. And of course I was wrong about it being boring. Of course. It is easily one of the most beautiful films I've ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on, but it is much more than just aesthetically flawless. Rise and fall narratives are nearly always fascinating and this one is no exception. Through the 184 minute run time, I didn't pause once. I was totally engrossed start to finish and I'm sure you will be just as hooked.

4. The Shining (1980)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

If I had to select one horror film to show someone who isn't interested in the genre, I would choose "The Shining". Other films are scarier, purer examples of horror, but if you're uninterested in the capacity to scare as a meaningful goal for a movie, something like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has nothing really to offer.

Films that constantly finds a way to grow on you after the first viewing often tend to be the best cinema has to offer and "The Shining" is one of those movies. With a perfectly fitting and inventive score it has one of the most eerie tones of any film I've seen. This movie could only be made by a perfectionist like Kubrick and he hits it out of the park. The Shining is not only one of the most essential horror films. It's one of the most essential films in general and a must see for every cinephile.

3. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

I love this film a lot more than other people seem to but this film was pivotal in me becoming so fascinated with cinema and taking my first steps in becoming a filmmaker. It's the first Kubrick film I watched as it's one of my dad's all time favourite films. And to say it's left a lasting impression would be a massive understatement.

Having earlier shown the futility & irony of warfare in "Paths of Glory", Stanley Kubrick returns to the genre of war once again to observe the tactics used by military to transform its newly recruited marine corps into killing war machines and captures the dehumanising effects Vietnam War had on soldiers through the eyes of Pvt. Joker, who is also the narrator of the film. What does it take to transform a normal human being into a remorseless assassin? "Full Metal Jacket" is Kubrick's attempt to answer that question.

There are very few war films out there which so meticulously depict the gruesome effects war has on human psyche and Full Metal Jacket is unquestionably one of those. The first half of this film clearly outshines the second half but the second half is still unbelievably great in it's own right. In Joker's words, it tells how important a human life really is & how lucky it is to be alive and, on the whole, it's one of Stanley Kubrick's most tightly crafted films that is aesthetic, artistic & influential in every possible manner.

2. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

Absolutely, positively, stupidly, insanely, gut-bustingly, head-scratchingly, thigh-slappingly marvellous. Drenched in a mood and style that practically sputters and yells "sharp satire," "Dr. Strangelove" sets up its own universe and world-logic within the span of ten minutes; a world in which mini-guns are kept in golf-bags, generals get calls from their mistresses during military discussion, and prices must be paid by a man who desecrates a Coca-Cola machine. In Kubrick's silly and intelligent vision of politics, Cold War paranoia is only matched by the levels of imbecilic impulsiveness that resides within our world leaders. So unapologetically madcap, yet so simultaneously heavy, "Dr. Strangelove" is a film that is so mesmerising for the fact that it can make you lose yourself in the fun, yet underneath there is a much, much, much darker reality to behold. The best political satire ever made? No doubt about it.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

★ Masters of Cinema Rating - 5 Stars ★

I'm sat here about to type out a small review for this but is there anything I can say about "2001: A Space Odyssey" that hasn't already been said? Groundbreaking in absolutely every sense of the word. An absolute f**cking masterpiece! I didn't think it was possible for me to love this film any more than I did before, and then I had the absolute honour of watching it at BFI in IMAX and as soon as the film started my jaw hit the floor in awe.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" is a landmark moment in film history that nearly killed the science fiction genre after it set a standard so high that it hasn't been equalled or challenged ever since. Universally & unanimously hailed as one of the greatest & most influential films ever made, it is the best work by the master filmmaker who made a career out of crafting one masterpiece after another. This film is cinema at it's highest artistic peak.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, I certainly enjoyed looking back at all the films of one of my favourite filmmakers. If you liked the content and want to see more stuff like this then consider picking up come merch from my store, it goes a long way towards supporting this page. Thank you!

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