Stanley Kubrick's favorite films

by Joshua Warren

Created 10/27/12

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I think Kubrick would have loved The Criterion Collection if he was still alive today and quite a lot of the films that have been cited as his favorites are in the collection.
Since Kubrick was such a famously reclusive (or "private" as he preferred to call it) and rarely interviewed person, it's very interesting to get a glimpse what kind of films that inspired and entertained him.
(I've compiled most of the information on this list from interviews with Kubrick's family, friends and colleagues, an interview he did in 1957 for Cahiers du cinéma as well as an interview in 1963 for Cinema magazine and the 'Master list' by the BFI.)

I have presented these films here in no particular order.

Cited films that aren't in the collection: Citizen Kane, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Roxie Hart, Hell's Angels, An American Werewolf in London, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Metropolis, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Abigail's Party, Roger & Me and oddly enough Mary Poppins, White Men Can't Jump, Modern Romance and The Jerk.


I've given this list a sort of 'revision' in the light of the 'Master List' that was recently published by the BFI (25 October 2013). This list is now more than twice as big as it used to be thanks to all the new information found in their interviews with Jan Harland and Anthony Freewin.

  • Since Kubrick actually worked with Olivier during the making of Spartacus in 1959 I think that most people will be fascinated to learn that he listed Henry V as one of his favorite films during an interview he did in 1963 for Cinema magazine. Looking back at Kubrick's films now one suddenly notice what an important influence Olivier might have been on his early films.

  • A young Stanley Kubrick, in addition to his other great love at the time – chess, which he played daily – “assiduously attended screenings at the Museum of Modern Art”, in the words of Michel Ciment. Here he saw the great films of the silent era, amongst others. His high-school friend and early collaborator Alex Singer particularly remembers them both going to see Alexander Nevsky (1938) - because immediately afterwards Kubrick bought an LP of the Prokofiev score and played it continuously, until he drove his younger sister so crazy she smashed the LP on his head.

  • "Highest of all I would rate Max Ophuls, who for me possessed every possible quality. He has an exceptional flair for sniffing out good subjects, and he got the most out of them. He was also a marvellous director of actors." - "I particularly admired his fluid camera techniques." - excerpt from an interview by Cinema magazine in 1963.

  • Film_443w_ronde_w160

    3. (tie)
    La ronde

    Max Ophuls

    On March 25, 1957 Kubrick was shooting a scene for Paths of Glory which consisted of a single long tracking shot. The shot was apparently quite a strain for the actors and after they had finished for the day Kubrick confided to one of them that he had done it as a tribute to Max Ophuls who had died earlier that day.

    (The play La Ronde was based on was written by Arthur Schnitzler who also wrote Traumnovelle ('Dream Story') which was the basis for Kubrick's last film Eyes Wide Shut.)

  • "Madame de… with Danielle Darrieux - Stanley loved it.” - Jan Harlan

  • “The filmmaker I admire the most after Max Ophuls is without a doubt Ingmar Bergman, whose every film I’ve seen. I like enormously Smiles of a Summer Night” - Kubrick interviewed by Raymond Haine, Cahiers du cinéma, July 1957

  • "Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today" - appraisal from Kubrick in a letter sent to Ingmar Bergman in February 1960.

    (The whole letter can be read at

  • Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and the producer for several of his films, had this to say about Bergman's Cries and Whispers:
    “He was very impressed and depressed by Cries and Whispers – he could barely finish it. I was with him.”

  • Excerpt from Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch:
    "Stanley Kubrick is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and he did me a great honor early in my career that really encouraged me. I was working on The Elephant Man, and I was at Lee International Studios in England, standing in a hallway. One of the producers of The Elephant Man, Jonathan Sanger, brought over some guys who were working with George Lucas and said, "They've got a story for you." And I said, "Okay." They said, "Yesterday, David, we were at Elstree Studios, and we met Kubrick. And as we were talking to him, he said to us, 'How would you fellas like to come up to my house tonight and see my favorite film?'" They said, "That would be fantastic." They went up, and Stanley Kubrick showed them Eraserhead. So, right then, I could have passed away peaceful and happy."

    Kubrick allegedly screened Eraserhead to the cast and crew of The Shining to "put them in the mood" that he wanted to achieve for the film.

  • “I know only La Strada [of Fellini’s films] but that is amply sufficient to see in him the most interesting poetic personality of the Italian cinema.” - Kubrick interviewed by Raymond Haine, Cahiers du cinéma, July 1957

  • During his interview with Cinema magazine in 1963 Kubrick listed I Vitelloni among his top 10 favorite films.

  • Kubrick allegedly decided to cast Malcolm McDowell for A Clockwork Orange immediately after he saw If.... and wouldn't make the film unless he could get him for the role.

    Kubrick also refused to give McDowell any advice on how to play his character and would simply tell him "acting's your job, not mine". McDowell then called Lindsay Anderson to get advice and relates the story as such: "[Anderson] said 'Malcolm, this is how you play the part: there is a scene of you, a close-up in if...., where you open the doors to the gymnasium, to be beaten. You get a close-up.' He said 'do you remember...' I said 'yes. I smiled'. He said 'that's right. You gave them that smile. That sort of ironic smile, and that's how you play Alex'."

  • Anthony Frewin, Kubrick's personal assistant for several decades, had this to say about Kubrick's love for Kurosawa's films:

    “What struck me immediately while looking through this ‘Master List’ (referring to a list made by the BFI) was the conspicuous absence of Akira Kurosawa. Stanley thought Kurosawa was one of the great film directors and followed him closely. In fact I cannot think of any other director he spoke so consistently and admiringly about. So, if Kubrick was cast away on a desert island and could only take a few films, what would they be? My money would be on The Battle of Algiers, Danton, Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood…

  • “Talking of Kurosawa, a poignant tale: Stanley received a fan letter from Kurosawa in the late 1990s and was so touched by it. It meant more to him than any Oscar would. He agonized over how to reply, wrote innumerable drafts, but somehow couldn't quite get the tenor and tone right. Weeks went by, and then months, still agonizing. Then he decided enough was enough, the reply had to go, and before the letter was sent Kurosawa died. Stanley was deeply upset.”

  • “All films are, in a sense, false documentaries. One tries to approach reality as much as possible, only it’s not reality. There are people who do very clever things, which have completely fascinated and fooled me. For example, The Battle of Algiers. It’s very impressive.” - Kubrick interviewed by Renaud Walter in Positif

    Anthony Frewin had this to say about Kubrick's fascination with The Battle of Algiers when interviewed by the BFI: “Stanley raved (or what passed as raving with him!) about The Battle of Algiers, and Wajda’s Danton, over a lengthy period of time. When I started work for Stanley in September 1965 he told me that I couldn't really understand what cinema was capable of without seeing The Battle of Algiers. He was still enthusing about it prior to his death.”

  • Tarkovsky supposedly made Solaris in an attempt to one up on Kubrick after he had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey (which he referred to as cold and sterile). Interestingly enough Kubrick apparently really liked Solaris and I'm sure he found it amusing that it was marketed as the "the Russian answer to 2001".

  • In a really odd reversal the scene where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in The Shining chops through a bathroom door with and ax in an attempt to reach his wife and son so he can murder them is a direct tribute to a scene in The Phantom Carriage where David Holm (Sjöström) does the same to get through a locked door to reach his frightened wife and children.

    What's really funny is that the scene in The Phantom Carriage was already a tribute to D. W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms where a man breaks through a closet door with a hatchet to reach his daughter who is hiding from him.

  • According to Kubrick's biographer; John Baxter, Kubrick decided to make The Shining after he had seen Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, because he didn't like the idea of someone making such good horror films without having been allowed to make one himself to prove that he could do it just as well, if not better.

  • "If something is really happening on the screen, it isn't crucial how it's shot. Chaplin had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always hypnotized by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else's." - Kubrick on Chaplin's style as a director.

    During his interview with Cinema magazine in 1963 Kubrick listed City Lights among his top 10 favorite films.

  • “Stanley thought Danton was very nearly beyond criticism and ‘perhaps the finest historical film ever made’. He loved everything about it and said he would never tire of watching the scenes with Gérard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak (‘I’d love to use that Polish actor in something’).” - Anthony Frewin interviewed by the BFI.

  • Kubrick watched it three times and told Sluizer that it was “the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen”. Sluizer asked; “even moreso than The Shining?”. Kubrick replied that he thought it was.

  • “The perfect crime film” according to Kubrick.


  • By Kurt
    October 28, 2012
    12:46 PM

    This is a really cool list...thanks for sharing!
  • By Filiusd99993
    November 20, 2012
    05:41 PM

    The Jerk deserves a Criterion Blu Ray release. Amirite?
  • By David_Zou
    November 21, 2012
    04:03 AM

    Thanks for sharing the list,Joshua.Love those notes you made.
  • By Craig J. Clark
    November 22, 2012
    10:46 PM

    I would love to hear Kubrick's thoughts on Beauty and the Beast since that is one of my all-time favorites.
  • By Sleestak
    November 25, 2012
    01:04 AM

    You have been spared from Caligula-Bob's wrath due to your unique insights! Nice work. You have been deemed worthy of promotion to the rank of Quaestor in my empire!
  • By Michael Heilemann
    December 01, 2012
    07:08 PM

    All the films on this list couldn't be sourced? How are they on the list then?
    • By Joshua Warren
      December 02, 2012
      03:54 AM

      But they are sourced.
  • By HUSKY
    January 11, 2013
    12:31 PM

    They played Bob le flambeur the other night on TCM and in the introduction they said when Stanley saw it he vowed to never make another crime film because Melville had already made the perfect one with Bob le flambeur. I never knew that. Pretty cool!
    • By Rififi
      April 01, 2013
      05:38 AM

      Hmmmm.....was he aware of Touchez pas au Grisbi or Rififi? No contention intended, Kubrick has excellent insight, I am simply curious.
  • By Skip Y.
    January 23, 2013
    02:24 PM

    Kubrick was very fond of The Decalogue, the Polish TV mini-series. This comes up often in Frederic Raphael's 1999 book, "Eyes Wide Open". Kubrick thought it was very important for Raphael to watch The Decalogue in preparation for co-writing Eyes Wide Shut.
  • By Jack K.
    March 01, 2013
    06:39 PM

    Does the LaserDisc color timer Maria Palazzola or someone at Criterion have Kubrick's comments on the LaserDisc transfers? The Criterion Dr. Strangelove disc, or maybe the old Criterion newsletter noted that Kubrick was given a transfer to review at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in which it was generally exhibited and he commented that he preferred a full frame with some shots matted in camera to 1.66:1. Lolita had a similar variable aspect ratio. I assume that the information was passed through intermediaries but Kubrick had a reputation for occasionally responding with long detailed memos, so if they still exist, they might be interesting to see on this website. There has been a lot of controversy over the proper aspect ratio for some of Kubrick's titles and the current Blu-Rays and DVDs of Dr. Strangelove are presented at 1.85:1.
  • By Froster
    March 06, 2013
    01:07 AM

    Okay, everyone...calm down. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares what he "liked". You all speak in the hushed tones of acolytes, and seem to want to place Kubrick on a peculiar pedestal of his own; a pantheon of one. In fact, he was an extremely uneven filmmaker who gave us some real masterworks along with more than one whopping white elephant..
    • By Rififi
      April 01, 2013
      05:39 AM

      No argument here
    • By Froster
      January 22, 2014
      10:38 PM

      @BK. Oh. EXCUUUUUUUUSE me. That was an OPINION, of course. But, as you see, others seem to share that opinion. (And THAT is a fact). But I'm sure the SPCD (The Society for the Prevention of Critical Dissent) is justly proud of you. Keep paying those dues.
  • By futurestar
    April 02, 2013
    05:58 PM

    one of my favorite directors "favorites". imagine such......................
  • By William Forrest
    November 14, 2013
    09:20 PM

    You can add City Lights and La Notte now, you will be able to add Eraserhead soon.
  • By Derrek J Wright
    May 13, 2014
    04:15 PM

    Barry Lyndon is one of the greatest movies ever made.
  • By D.j. West
    September 28, 2014
    09:05 PM

    Surprised at the lack of Malick
  • By LyleG
    February 19, 2017
    12:59 AM

    Every time I read that story about how Eraserhead inspired the tone for The Shining, I always smile :)
  • By Sean Ramsdell
    August 17, 2017
    09:21 PM

    He liked Albert Brooks' Real Life