Best Stanley Kubrick Movies - Featured - StudioBinder-min

There’s no doubt about it: Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmaking pioneers of all time. 

Stanley Kubrick was, in many ways, a perfectionist. As such, his filmography isn’t as expansive as those of his contemporaries. But for what Kubrick lacked in quantity he made up for in quality: Each film he directed was a product of detailed planning and masterful execution.

Here, we’re going to rank the best Stanley Kubrick films based on these four criteria: legacy, acting, filmmaking, and story.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

13. Fear and Desire (1953)

The hosts of Welcome to the Basement revisit Kubrick's Fear and Desire

Stanley Kubrick’s directorial feature debut is mighty rough around the edges. In fact, it’s rumored that Kubrick was so disappointed in the final cut of the film that he fought against its circulation.

Fear and Desire is an anti-war film that was made in the midst of the Korean conflict, although it is worth noting that the picture has no explicit connection to that war or any other.
50%
Acting
50%
Filmmaking
30%
Story
43%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Anti-War Sentiment
  • Cinematography
  • Otherwordly Atmosphere
  • Weak Story
  • Snail-Paced
  • Somewhat Directionless

stanley kubrick films: fear and desire

Conclusion

Fear and Desire is the weakest film made by Stanley Kubrick, but still contains kernels of the singular vision he would refine in future works, such as his keen eye for visual detail.


BEST STANLEY KUBRICK MOVIES RANKED

12. Killer’s Kiss (1955)

Early Stanley Kubrick Films

Although markedly better than his first, Kubrick’s second feature, Killer’s Kiss, still suffered from tonal inconsistencies. Killer’s Kiss is a drama/thriller about the relationship between a boxer and a “taxi” dancer. Both characters deal with different kinds of abuse and later fall in love when they discover safety in one another.

70%
Acting
80%
Filmmaking
70%
Story
73%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Brilliant Visuals
  • Lead Performances
  • Layered Story
  • Tonally Jarring
  • Story Arc
  • Mannequin Scene

Stanley Kubrick Films: killer's kiss

Conclusion

Killer’s Kiss is by no means a bad film… it just struggles to live up to the lofty standards of Kubrick’s later works.

BEST STANLEY KUBRICK MOVIES RANKED

11. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

The password for the house? Fidelio. 

Eyes Wide Shut is a near-three hour movie, but it should have been cut to under two. Unfortunately, that was impossible because Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise deliver most of their lines in this exact manner: The camera draws into focus, the character draws a deep breath, the drama intensifies, and then, just as we wait to hear what profound words are about to be said, they proceed to verbalize their lines in slow-motion. 

Seriously, the scene with Kidman in the ballroom is unbelievable. You could run a half-marathon in between words.

Dialogue pacing aside, there are very few films quite like Eyes Wide Shut. Narratively, it’s a mix between Federico Fellini’s City of Women and the Tom Cruise thriller The Firm, yet made visually fresh by Kubrick’s uncanny attention to detail.
60%
Acting
100%
Filmmaking
80%
Story
80%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cinematography
  • Set Dressing
  • Tension
  • Some Acting
  • Too Long
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: eyes wide shut

Conclusion

Stanley Kubrick’s excellent direction can’t save Eyes Wide Shut from being bogged down by poor performances and a story that doesn’t know when to end.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

10. Lolita (1962)

I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!

Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita is based on the highly controversial novel of the same name by Vladimir Nabokov. The story follows a middle-aged man named Humbert (James Mason) who becomes fatally attracted to a teenage girl. 

For all of Lolita’s difficult subject matter, the film really is an engrossing look at a taboo obsession. In the end, Kubrick deftly balances comedy and drama and creates a complete picture of Nabokov’s novel.
90%
Acting
90%
Filmmaking
90%
Story
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Anti-War Sentiment
  • Cinematography
  • Otherwordly Atmosphere
  • Weak Story
  • Snail-Paced
  • Somewhat Directionless

Stanley Kubrick Films: Lolita

Conclusion

Kubrick struggled to make the picture he wanted to with Lolita, since much of the film was censored due to its subject matter. But its excellent lead performances and soundtrack make it a worthwhile watch.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

9. The Killing (1956)

The racetrack bank robbery scene from The Killing

The Killing is a foundational piece of American cinema. It’s not quite in the same vein as the James Cagney gangster pictures of the 1930s, nor the Humphrey Bogart film noirs of the 1940s: Instead, The Killing takes inspiration from both and creates something new. 

Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing was a quantum leap forward in quality for the director, and went on to inspire such films as Reservoir Dogs, Ocean’s Eleven, and Logan Lucky.
80%
Acting
80%
Filmmaking
90%
Story
83%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Ending
  • Filmmaking
  • Enduring Legacy
  • Slow Start
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: The killing

Conclusion

The Killing is Kubrick’s first great film and one of the all-time best heist movies.

Best Stanley Kubrick Films Ranked

8. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Behind the scenes of Full Metal Jacket

There are few films that are more gut-punching than Full Metal Jacket. Stanley Kubrick’s famous reconstruction of the Vietnam war is psychologically haunting and emotionally exhausting. Yet, through the violence and bloodshed, the film emerges with a simple indictment on the nature of war.

Full Metal Jacket is widely regarded as the last of Hollywood’s Vietnam films—a string of movies made about the war by some of the world’s premiere directors, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.
85%
Acting
90%
Filmmaking
80%
Story
85%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Iconic
  • Explosive Moments
  • Brilliant Direction
  • Jarring Story Structure
  • Acting Inconsistencies
  • N/Af

Stanley Kubrick Films: full metal jacket

Conclusion

Full Metal Jacket is an essential anti-war film, told through the singular vision of Stanley Kubrick.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

7. The Shining (1980)

A look at the infamous production of The Shining

Much like its maze-like setting, The Overlook Hotel, The Shining is a labyrinth in and of itself. Stanley Kubrick’s film, adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name, is one of the most visually haunting and emotionally unsettling pictures ever made.

The most notable aspect of The Shining is Kubrick’s unabashed vision of Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) descent into madness. Sure, the story doesn’t make much sense. (What even is “the shining?”) But Kubrick replaces narrative clarity with mood and tension, ultimately adding up to a horror story that’s filled with unforgettable moments.
90%
Acting
95%
Filmmaking
75%
Story
87%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Legacy
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Brilliant Visuals
  • The Shining Device
  • Story Ebbs and Flows
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: the shining

Conclusion

For better or worse, there’s no horror film quite like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

6. Barry Lyndon (1975)

The cinematography of Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon is a historical epic about an opportunist that waywardly travels from place to place looking for wealth and fame. The film stars Ryan O’Neal in the title role and hosts an ensemble cast with dozens of other actors.

Many critics have argued that Barry Lyndon is slow and plodding, a perspective that I’d largely agree with. But ultimately, the ends do justify the means, amounting to a beautiful recreation of Europe in the 18th century.
90%
Acting
100%
Filmmaking
80%
Story
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cinematography
  • Drama
  • Period Detail
  • Tad Too Long
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: barry lyndon

Conclusion

Cinematographer John Alcott’s work on Barry Lyndon remains some of the best in cinema history.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

5. Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory — Tracking Shot

Stanley Kubrick’s first collaboration with Hollywood star Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, served as the jumping off point for the budding auteur.

Paths of Glory is a beautifully realized anti-war picture that falters only due to issues with its pace. But there’s no doubting how ahead of his time Kubrick was in 1957 with his use of advanced filmmaking techniques, such as long shots and audio design.
90%
Acting
95%
Filmmaking
85%
Story
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cinematography
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Ending
  • Story Pacing
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: paths of glory

Conclusion

Paths of Glory is an under-appreciated gem of the Hollywood Golden Age.

BEST STANLEY KUBRICK MOVIES RANKED

4. Spartacus (1960)

The making of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus

The great Hollywood epic Spartacus is one of Kubrick’s most fun pictures, and also one of the most critically and financially successful films of the 1960s.

Spartacus during the Hollywood Blacklist period, in which communist sympathizers were left without work. One such sympathizer was Dalton Trumbo, who worked around the Blacklist under pseudonyms. 

Trumbo was the writer of Spartacus, and star Kirk Douglas wanted to make sure that he was given proper credit.

When President-elect John F. Kennedy publicly attended a screening of Spartacus, the Blacklist effectively ended.
90%
Acting
90%
Filmmaking
85%
Story
88%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Legacy
  • Epic
  • Fun
  • Winding Story
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: spartacus

Conclusion

Although Kubrick wasn’t the first director to work on Spartacus, he ended up seeing the project through to its end.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey — Standing on the shoulders of Kubrick

The first time you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might not know what to make of it. For those unfamiliar with Kubrick, the film may seem narratively obtuse, especially since it relies heavily on its visuals to tell the story of humanity across the cosmos.

But narrative density aside, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a colossal technical achievement. Stanley Kubrick truly pioneered the scope of cinema with the film’s elaborate sets and imposing props. Further, Kubrick’s signature approach to shot compositions has never been as refined as it is with 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many argue that 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest films ever made, and even if you don’t agree with that assessment, it’s easy to see why it’s so widely made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is attuned to a director’s sensibilities more than it is a screenwriter’s, and that ultimately makes its allure subjective. Still, it’s impossible to deny its artistry and that it’s one of the top three pictures of Kubrick’s career.
85%
Acting
100%
Filmmaking
85%
Story
90%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Massive Influence
  • Brilliant Set Design
  • Epic
  • Dense
  • Reliance on Metaphors
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: 2001 a space odyssey

Conclusion

At the end of the day, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the best sci-fi movies of all time and one of the most influential pieces of worldwide cinema ever made.

The making of Dr. Strangelove

Every so often, a film comes along that ends up becoming a symbol for a period of time. One such film is Stanley Kubrick’s Cold-War satire Dr. Strangelove.

Released amidst rising global tension over nuclear proliferation, Dr. Stangelove sought to expose the danger and ludicrousy of the time’s worsening world politics. To do this, Kubrick used structural irony as a satirical device. This allowed him to create an otherworldly version of 1964 in which one small mistake could be the undoing of all life on Earth.
95%
Acting
95%
Filmmaking
95%
Story
95%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Peter Sellers
  • Satirical Elements
  • Ending
  • Strange Structure
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: dr. strangelove

Conclusion

Actor Peter Sellers gives it his all in three different roles in the film, including the eponymous Nazi Dr. Strangelove.

Best Stanley Kubrick Movies Ranked

1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange — Turning Like Clockwork

Is A Clockwork Orange a movie I’d recommend to my mother? Absolutely not. If I were alive in 1971, I probably wouldn’t have dared to ask anybody to go with me to see it. But is it the best movie that Stanley Kubrick ever made? Undoubtedly.

A Clockwork Orange is a nightmarish vision of a dystopia in which everything is dysfunctionally functional. Buildings are torn to rubble, the government is totalitarian, and gangs go around causing reckless violence with little fear of repercussions. But there are still schools, stores, and well-furnished clubs and houses. This dichotomy creates an unsettling feeling that this horrid future could one day become real. 

It’s because of this groundedness that A Clockwork Orange works so well. Kubrick imbues this cynical world with comedic touches, and the violence perpetrated by its characters is dealt indiscriminately. The film presents a world that has lost all its good and has been reduced to its primal and carnal nature.
100%
Acting
100%
Filmmaking
100%
Story
100%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Unique
  • Visually Daring
  • Malcolm McDowell
  • Controversial
  • N/A
  • N/A

Stanley Kubrick Films: a clockwork orange

Conclusion

A Clockwork Orange is an undeniably tough film to watch, but one that shows us the evil of our world with searing satire.

Up Next

The directing style of Kubrick

Now that we’ve ranked Kubrick’s best films, let’s examine his style to understand why his films are so momentous. Stanley Kubrick is one of the world’s most influential writer-directors and he’s made some of the most acclaimed films for each genre. Let’s dive into Kubrick’s extraordinary filmography.

Up Next: Kubrick Movies Ranked →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows. 

Learn More ➜

1.6K Shares
1.6K Shares
Copy link