9 Groundbreaking Movies. 10 Discs. One Visionary Moviemaker.
SPARTACUS (1960) The genre-defining epic tale of a bold gladiator (Kirk Douglas) who leads a triumphant Roman slave revolt.
LOLITA (1962) Academic Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is obsessed with a blithe teen (Sue Lyon) in a dark comedy from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel.
DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) “Accidental” nuclear apocalypse, anyone? Peter Sellers heads the cast of one of the most blazingly hilarious movies of all time.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) “The most awesome, beautiful and mentally stimulating science-fiction film of all time” (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic).
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: 40th Anniversary Edition (2-Discs) (1971) Future world neo-punk Malcolm McDowell becomes the guinea pig for a government cure of his tendency toward “the old ultraviolence.”
BARRY LYNDON (1975) The visually spellbinding tale of an 18th-century Irish rogue’s (Ryan O’Neal) climb to wealth and privilege.
THE SHINING (1980) In a macabre masterpiece adapted from Stephen King’s novel, Jack Nicholson falls prey to forces haunting a snowbound mountain resort.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987) Marine recruits endure basic training under a leather-lunged D.I., then plunge into the hell of Vietnam.
EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) A wife’s admission of unfulfilled longing plunges a Manhattan doctor into a bizarre erotic odyssey. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star.
SPARTACUS: Stanley Kubrick was only 31 years old when Kirk Douglas (star of Kubrick's classic Paths of Glory) recruited the young director to pilot this epic saga, in which the rebellious slave Spartacus (played by Douglas) leads a freedom revolt against the decadent Roman Empire. Kubrick would later disown the film because it was not a personal project--he was merely a director-for-hire--but Spartacus remains one of the best of Hollywood's grand historical epics. With an intelligent screenplay by then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (from a novel by Howard Fast), its message of moral integrity and courageous conviction is still quite powerful, and the all-star cast (including Charles Laughton in full toga) is full of entertaining surprises. Fully restored in 1991 to include scenes deleted from the original 1960 release, the full-length Spartacus is a grand-scale cinematic marvel, offering some of the most awesome battles ever filmed and a central performance by Douglas that's as sensitively emotional as it is intensely heroic. Jean Simmons plays the slave woman who becomes Spartacus's wife, and Peter Ustinov steals the show with his frequently hilarious, Oscar-winning performance as a slave trader who shamelessly curries favor with his Roman superiors. The restored version also includes a formerly deleted bathhouse scene in which Laurence Olivier plays a bisexual Roman senator (with restored dialogue dubbed by Anthony Hopkins) who gets hot and bothered over a slave servant played by Tony Curtis. These and other restored scenes expand the film to just over three hours in length. Despite some forgivable lulls, this is a rousing and substantial drama that grabs and holds your attention. Breaking tradition with sophisticated themes and a downbeat (yet eminently noble) conclusion, Spartacus is a thinking person's epic, rising above mere spectacle with a story as impressive as its widescreen action and Oscar-winning sets. --Jeff Shannon
LOLITA: When director Stanley Kubrick released his film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel about a hopelessly pathetic middle-aged professor's sexual obsession with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, the ads read, "How did they ever make a film of Lolita?" The answer is "they" didn't. As he did with his "adaptations" of Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, and, especially, The Shining, Kubrick used the source material and, simply put, made another Stanley Kubrick movie--even though Nabokov himself wrote the screenplay. The chilly director nullifies Humbert Humbert's (James Mason's) overwhelming passion and desire, and instead transforms the story, like many of his films, into that of a man trapped and ruined by social codes and by his own obsessions. Kubrick doesn't play this as tragedy, however, but rather as both a black-as-coffee screwball comedy and a meandering, episodic road movie. The early scenes between Humbert, Lolita (a too-old but suitably teasing Lyons) and her loud, garish mother (Shelley Winters in one of her funniest performances) play like a wonderful farce. When Humbert finally fulfills his desires and captures Lolita, the pair hit the road and Kubrick drags in Peter Sellers. As the pedophilic writer Clare Quilty--Humbert's playful doppelgänger and biggest threat--Sellers dons a series of disguises with plans of stealing Lolita away from her captor. It's here more than anywhere that Kubrick comes closest to the novel. He extends Nabokov's idea of the games and puzzles played between reader and writer, Quilty and Humbert, Lolita and Humbert, etc., to those between filmmaker and audience: the road eventually goes nowhere and Humbert's reality is exposed as mad delusion. Perhaps not a Kubrick masterpiece, or the provocative film many wanted, Lolita still remains playfully fascinating and one of Kubrick's strongest, funniest character studies. --Dave McCoy DR.
STRANGELOVE: Arguably the greatest black comedy ever made, Stanley Kubrick's cold war classic is the ultimate satire of the nuclear age. Dr. Strangelove is a perfect spoof of political and military insanity, beginning when General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a maniacal warrior obsessed with "the purity of precious bodily fluids," mounts his singular campaign against Communism by ordering a squadron of B-52 bombers to attack the Soviet Union. The Soviets counter the threat with a so-called "Doomsday Device," and the world hangs in the balance while the U.S. president (Peter Sellers) engages in hilarious hot-line negotiations with his Soviet counterpart. Sellers also plays a British military attaché and the mad bomb-maker Dr. Strangelove; George C. Scott is outrageously frantic as General Buck Turgidson, whose presidential advice consists mainly of panic and statistics about "acceptable losses." With dialogue ("You can't fight here! This is the war room!") and images (Slim Pickens's character riding the bomb to oblivion) that have become a part of our cultural vocabulary, Kubrick's film regularly appears on critics' lists of the all-time best. --Jeff Shannon
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: When Stanley Kubrick recruited Arthur C. Clarke to collaborate on "the proverbial intelligent science fiction film," it's a safe bet neither the maverick auteur nor the great science fiction writer knew they would virtually redefine the parameters of the cinema experience. A daring experiment in unconventional narrative inspired by Clarke's short story "The Sentinel," 2001 is a visual tone poem (barely 40 minutes of dialogue in a 139-minute film) that charts a phenomenal history of human evolution. From the dawn-of-man discovery of crude but deadly tools in the film's opening sequence to the journey of the spaceship Discovery and metaphysical birth of the "star child" at film's end, Kubrick's vision is meticulous and precise. In keeping with the director's underlying theme of dehumanization by technology, the notorious, seemingly omniscient computer HAL 9000 has more warmth and personality than the human astronauts it supposedly is serving. (The director also leaves the meaning of the black, rectangular alien monoliths open for discussion.) This theme, in part, is what makes 2001 a film like no other, though dated now that its postmillennial space exploration has proven optimistic compared to reality. Still, the film is timelessly provocative in its pioneering exploration of inner- and outer-space consciousness. With spectacular, painstakingly authentic special effects that have stood the test of time, Kubrick's film is nothing less than a cinematic milestone--puzzling, provocative, and perfect. --Jeff Shannon
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: 40th Anniversary Edition: Stanley Kubrick's striking visual interpretation of Anthony Burgess's famous novel is a masterpiece. Malcolm McDowell delivers a clever, tongue-in-cheek performance as Alex, the leader of a quartet of droogs, a vicious group of young hoodlums who spend their nights stealing cars, fighting rival gangs, breaking into people's homes, and raping women. While other directors would simply exploit the violent elements of such a film without subtext, Kubrick maintains Burgess's dark, satirical social commentary. We watch Alex transform from a free-roaming miscreant into a convict used in a government experiment that attempts to reform criminals through an unorthodox new medical treatment. The catch, of course, is that this therapy may be nothing better than a quick cure-all for a society plagued by rampant crime. A Clockwork Orange works on many levels--visual, social, political, and sexual--and is one of the few films that hold up under repeated viewings. Kubrick not only presents colorfully arresting images, he also stylizes the film by utilizing classical music (and Wendy Carlos's electronic classical work) to underscore the violent scenes, which even today are disturbing in their display of sheer nihilism. Ironically, many fans of the film have missed that point, sadly being entertained by its brutality rather than being repulsed by it. --Bryan Reesman
BARRY LYNDON: In 1975 the world was at Stanley Kubrick's feet. His films Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, released in the previous dozen years, had provoked rapture and consternation--not merely in the film community, but in the culture at large. On the basis of that smashing hat trick, Kubrick was almost certainly the most famous film director of his generation, and absolutely the one most likely to rewire the collective mind of the movie audience. And what did this radical, at-least-20-years-ahead-of-his-time filmmaker give the world in 1975? A stately, three-hour costume drama based on an obscure Thackeray novel from 1844. A picaresque story about an Irish lad (Ryan O'Neal, then a major star) who climbs his way into high society, Barry Lyndon bewildered some critics (Pauline Kael called it "an ice-pack of a movie") and did only middling business with patient audiences. The film was clearly a technical advance, with its unique camerawork (incorporating the use of prototype Zeiss lenses capable of filming by actual candlelight) and sumptuous production design. But its hero is a distinctly underwhelming, even unsympathetic fellow, and Kubrick does not try to engage the audience's emotions in anything like the usual way. Why, then, is Barry Lyndon a masterpiece? Because it uncannily captures the shape and rhythm of a human life in a way few other films have; because Kubrick's command of design and landscape is never decorative but always apiece with his hero's journey; and because every last detail counts. Even the film's chilly style is thawed by the warm narration of the great English actor Michael Hordern and the Irish songs of the Chieftains. Poor Barry's life doesn't matter much in the end, yet the care Kubrick brings to the telling of it is perhaps the director's most compassionate gesture toward that most peculiar species of animal called man. And the final, wry title card provides the perfect Kubrickian sendoff--a sentiment that is even more poignant since Kubrick's premature death. --Robert Horton
THE SHINING: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is less an adaptation of Stephen King's bestselling horror novel than a complete reimagining of it from the inside out. In King's book, the Overlook Hotel is a haunted place that takes possession of its off-season caretaker and provokes him to murderous rage against his wife and young son. Kubrick's movie is an existential Road Runner cartoon (his steadicam scurrying through the hotel's labyrinthine hallways), in which the cavernously empty spaces inside the Overlook mirror the emptiness in the soul of the blocked writer, who's settled in for a long winter's hibernation. As many have pointed out, King's protagonist goes mad, but Kubrick's Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is Looney Tunes from the moment we meet him--all arching eyebrows and mischievous grin. (Both Nicholson and Shelley Duvall reach new levels of hysteria in their performances, driven to extremes by the director's fanatical demands for take after take after take.) The Shining is terrifying--but not in the way fans of the novel might expect. When it was redone as a TV miniseries (reportedly because of King's dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film), the famous topiary-animal attack (which was deemed impossible to film in 1980) was there--but the deeper horror was lost. Kubrick's The Shining gets under your skin and chills your bones; it stays with you, inhabits you, haunts you. And there's no place to hide... --Jim Emerson
FULL METAL JACKET: Stanley Kubrick's 1987, penultimate film seemed to a lot of people to be contrived and out of touch with the '80s vogue for such intensely realistic portrayals of the Vietnam War as Platoon and The Deer Hunter. Certainly, Kubrick gave audiences plenty of reason to wonder why he made the film at all: essentially a two-part drama that begins on a Parris Island boot camp for rookie Marines and abruptly switches to Vietnam (actually shot on sound stages and locations near London), Full Metal Jacket comes across as a series of self-contained chapters in a story whose logical and thematic development is oblique at best. Then again, much the same was said about Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a masterwork both enthralled with and satiric about the future's role in the unfinished business of human evolution. In a way, Full Metal Jacket is the wholly grim counterpart of 2001. While the latter is a truly 1960s film, both wide-eyed and wary, about the intertwining of progress and isolation (ending in our redemption, finally, by death), Full Metal Jacket is a cynical, Reagan-era view of the 1960s' hunger for experience and consciousness that fulfilled itself in violence. Lee Ermey made film history as the Marine drill instructor whose ritualized debasement of men in the name of tribal uniformity creates its darkest angel in a murderous half-wit (Vincent D'Onofrio). Matthew Modine gives a smart and savvy performance as Private Joker, the clowning, military journalist who yearns to get away from the propaganda machine and know firsthand the horrific revelation of the front line. In Full Metal Jacket, depravity and fulfillment go hand in hand, and it's no wonder Kubrick kept his steely distance from the material to make the point. --Tom Keogh
EYES WIDE SHUT: It was inevitable that Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut would be the most misunderstood film of 1999. Kubrick died four months prior to its release, and there was no end to speculation how much he would have tinkered with the picture, changed it, "fixed" it. We'll never know. But even without the haunting enigma of the director's death--and its eerie echo/anticipation in the scene when Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) visits the deathbed of one of his patients--Eyes Wide Shut would have perplexed and polarized viewers and reviewers. After all, virtually every movie of Kubrick's post-U.S. career had; only 1964's Dr. Strangelove opened to something approaching consensus. Quite apart from the author's tinkering, Kubrick's movies themselves always seemed to change--partly because they changed us, changed the world and the ways we experienced and understood it. And we may expect Eyes Wide Shut to do the same. Unlike Kubrick himself, it has time. So consider, as we settle in to live with this long, advisedly slow, mesmerizing film, how challenging and ambiguous its narrative strategy is. The source is an Arthur Schnitzler novella titled Traumnovelle (or "Dream Story"), and it's a moot question how much of Eyes Wide Shut itself is dream, from the blue shadows frosting the Harfords' bedroom to the backstage replica of New York's Greenwich Village that Kubrick built in England. Its major movement is an imaginative night-journey (even the daylight parts of it) taken by a man reeling from his wife's teasing confession of fantasized infidelity, and toward the end there is a token gesture of the couple waking to reality and, perhaps, a new, chastened maturity. Yet on some level--visually, psychologically, logically--every scene shimmers with unreality. Is everything in the movie a dream? And if so, who is dreaming it at any given moment, and why? Don't settle for easy answers. Kubrick's ultimate odyssey beckons. And now the dream is yours. --Richard T. Jameson