Stanley Kubrick, cinephile

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Niccolo and Donkey
Stanley Kubrick, cinephile


Nick Wrigley

July 26, 2013

On the occasion of Stanley Kubrick’s 85th birthday, Nick Wrigley explores the director’s favourite films and viewing habits with the help of Kubrick’s right-hand man, Jan Harlan.

Stanley Kubrick, photographed by Dmitri Kasterine in 1969 on the set of A Clockwork Orange. Credit: Dmitri Kasterine:

Stanley Kubrick worked for almost half a century in the medium of film, making his first short documentary in 1951 and his last feature in 1999. He went to extraordinary lengths to avoid mediocrity in his work, in order that it might last and not fall into oblivion. With each project, his initial preoccupation involved trying to find the right story. Some arrived quickly – Terry Southern handed Kubrick a copy of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange in the 1960s and Kubrick persuaded Warners to buy the rights immediately – but later projects came more slowly or were regretfully abandoned after years of research due to events out of his control. However, once a story was settled on, Kubrick strove to make a film unlike any other before it.

Fourteen years after Kubrick’s sudden passing, the intensity of his exacting filmmaking methods seems to be mirrored by the enthusiasm of his admirers to learn everything about him. Every aspect of his films continue to be pored over endlessly. In the late 1990s when he was making his last film, Sight & Sound suggested there were “few directors still working [who are] so fascinating to our readers” [S&S, September 1999].

I count myself among the many admirers of Kubrick’s films and his remarkable aptitude for problem solving in all areas of life. I would argue that the only remaining unexplored area of Stanley’s life in film is his relationship with, and love of, other people’s films. In his later life he chose not to talk publicly about such things, giving only a couple of interviews to large publications when each new film was ready – but through his associates, friends, and fellow filmmakers it’s now possible to piece together a revealing jigsaw.

I wanted to try and pull together all the verified information I could locate and have it looked over by a wise, authoritative eye. I was delighted to find Jan Harlan , Kubrick’s confidant, relieved to talk about something other than the director’s own films (there’s only so many times a man can be asked about the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey ), so I set out to try and dislodge some recollections from his memory bank. Read the interview here.

If you don’t find it interesting that David Lynch counts Rear Window and Sunset Blvd. among his favourite films, that Woody Allen doesn’t find Some Like It Hot at all funny, or that Kubrick loved all these filmmakers, the following is probably not going to be of much interest.

Why does it matter what Kubrick liked? For years I’ve enjoyed unearthing as much information as I can about his favourite films and it slowly became a personal hobby. Partly because each time I came across such a film (usually from a newly disclosed anecdote – thanks internet! – or Taschen’s incredible The Stanley Kubrick Archives book) I could use it as a prism to reveal more about his sensibilities. My appreciation of both him and the films he liked grew. These discoveries led me on a fascinating trail, as I peppered them throughout the 11 existing Kubrick features (not counting the two he disowned) I try to watch every couple of years. I’m sure a decent film festival could be themed around the Master List at the end of this article…

Early days

Young 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.

In 1987, Kubrick touched on this period of his life in a newspaper interview:

“My sort of fantasy image of movies was created in the Museum of Modern Art, when I looked at Stroheim and D.W. Griffith and Eisenstein . I was starstruck by these fantastic movies. I was never starstruck in the sense of saying, ‘Gee, I’m going to go to Hollywood and make $5,000 a week and live in a great place and have a sports car’. I really was in love with movies. I used to see everything at the RKO in Loew’s circuit, but I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t know anything about movies, but I’d seen so many movies that were bad, I thought, ‘Even though I don’t know anything, I can’t believe I can’t make a movie at least as good as this’. And that’s why I started, why I tried.”​
— Interviewed by Lloyd Grove, Washington Post, June 28th 1987

The first and only (as far as we know) Top 10 list Kubrick submitted to anyone was in 1963 to a fledgling American magazine named Cinema (which had been founded the previous year and ceased publication in 1976). Here’s that list:

1. I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
2. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)
5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
6. Henry V (Olivier, 1944)
7. La notte (Antonioni, 1961)
8. The Bank Dick (Fields, 1940)
9. Roxie Hart (Wellman, 1942)
10. Hell’s Angels (Hughes, 1930)

As Harlan told me: “Stanley would have seriously revised this 1963 list in later years, though Wild Strawberries, Citizen Kane and City Lights would remain, but he liked Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V much better than the old and old-fashioned Olivier version.” (It’s interesting to note just how many formidable filmmakers have included City Lights in their lists of favourite films: Bernardo Bertolucci , Robert Bresson , Milos Forman , Kubrick, David Lean , Carol Reed , Andrei Tarkovsky , King Vidor , and Orson Welles all have.)

Michel Ciment has pointed out that Max Ophuls and Elia Kazan are notably absent from Kubrick’s 1963 Top 10. In an early interview with Cahiers du cinéma in 1957, Kubrick said:

“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.”​

Also in 1957, Kubrick considered Kazan:
“…without question the best director we have in America. And he’s capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.”​

In the 1960s, Kubrick said:

“I believe Bergman , De Sica and Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists. By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.”​

Another rare comment, this time from 1966:

“There are very few directors, about whom you’d say you automatically have to see everything they do. I’d put Fellini, Bergman and David Lean at the head of my first list, and Truffaut at the head of the next level.”​

Kubrick rarely discussed in public his thoughts on other filmmakers, so the few times he did are worth repeating. On Chaplin :

“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 hypnotised 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.”​

On Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927):

“I know that the film is a masterpiece of cinematic invention and it brought cinematic innovations to the screen which are still being called innovations whenever someone is bold enough to try them again. But on the other hand, as a film about Napoleon, I have to say I’ve always been disappointed in it.”​

On two actors he admired:
The Blue Angel (1930)

“When you think of the greatest moments of film, I think you are almost always involved with images rather than scenes, and certainly never dialogue. The thing a film does best is to use pictures with music and I think these are the moments you remember. Another thing is the way an actor did something: the way Emil Jannings took out his handkerchief and blew his nose in The Blue Angel, or those marvellous slow turns that Nikolay Cherkasov did in Ivan the Terrible.”​

— all from an interview with Philip Strick and Penelope Houston in Sight & Sound, Spring 1972

And on unexpected inspiration:

“Some of the most spectacular examples of film art are in the best TV commercials.”​
— Kubrick, Rolling Stone, 1987

The only other authoritative list of films Kubrick admired appeared in September 1999 on the alt.movies.kubrick Usenet newsgroup courtesy of his daughter Katharina Kubrick-Hobbs, introduced with her premonitory words:

“There does seem to be a weird desire from people to ‘list’ things. The best, the worst, greatest, most boring, etc. etc… Don’t go analysing yourself to death over this half-remembered list. He liked movies on their own terms… For the record, I happen to know that he liked:​

and I know that he hated The Wizard of Oz . Ha Ha!”​

In late 2012, a user-generated list appeared at the website of the esteemed American Blu-ray and DVD label The Criterion Collection and promptly shot around the internet, eventually forming the basis of a number of poorly written articles wrongly believing that Criterion themselves had compiled the list. The list in question, compiled by Criterion fan Joshua Warren, combined the two above lists of Stanley’s favourite films that are known to exist (the 1963 Cinema Top 10 and Katharina’s list), along with a smattering of other interesting titles – but the main list only contained titles that had been released by Criterion on disc.

The purpose of this article is to attempt to compile an exhaustive chronological Master List of every film Kubrick is known to have expressed admiration for in some way. Hopefully this will lead to even more stories coming to light. I aim to keep it up to date.

(Strong but unconfirmed rumours suggest three other titles might be added to this list: Jindrich Polák’s Ikarie XB-1 (1963), Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1970) and Michel Khleifi’s Wedding in Galilee (1987). Can anyone confirm?)
Niccolo and Donkey
The Master List, 1921-1993

“Stanley was generally very disappointed with commercial cinema… that it could have been so much more… budgets that were squandered on silly stories.”​
Anthony Frewin , assistant to Kubrick (1965–69 and 1979–99), in 2012
The Phantom Carriage

Victor Sjöström, 1921
Fritz Lang, 1927

Hell’s Angels

Howard Hughes, 1930
Harlan: “I realise it’s on this 1963 list, but strangely, he never mentioned Hell’s Angels to me when we played the forever changing Desert Island Discs game with films.”​

The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg, 1930
Harlan: “A must.”​

City Lights

Charles Chaplin, 1931
The Bank Dick

W.C. Fields, 1940

Citizen Kane

Orson Welles, 1941

Roxie Hart

William Wellman, 1942

Henry V

Laurence Olivier, 1944

Les Enfants du Paradis

Marcel Carné, 1945

La Belle et la Bête

Jean Cocteau, 1946

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

John Huston, 1947

La Ronde / Le Plaisir / Madame de…

Max Ophuls, 1950 / 51 / 53

Harlan: “La Ronde, yes – he was a real Arthur Schnitzler fan. Madame de… with Danielle Darrieux – Stanley loved it.”​

I Vitelloni

Federico Fellini, 1953

Bob le flambeur

Closely Observed Trains (1966)
Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956
“The perfect crime film”​
— Stanley Kubrick
Wild Strawberries

Ingmar Bergman, 1957

La notte

Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961

Very Nice, Very Nice

Arthur Lipsett, 1961
[Kubrick asked Arthur Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove, but he declined. Kubrick edited the trailer himself and it’s very Lipsett influenced.]

Closely Observed Trains

Jirí Menzel, 1966

The Fireman’s Ball

Milos Forman, 1967


Lindsay Anderson, 1968

Rosemary’s Baby

Roman Polanski, 1968

Ådalen 31

Bo Widerberg, 1969

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Richard Fleischer, 1970
Harlan: “I remember Stanley remarked: “How clever that the Japanese speak Japanese – what a difference it makes.’”​

The Emigrants

Jan Troell, 1970
Harlan: “He adored The Emigrants. He was so enthused by the look of it that he hired the costume lady Ulla-Britt Söderlund for Barry Lyndon, who then worked with Milena Canonero. I remember Stanley wanting to talk to Jan Troell to congratulate him and ask him a few questions, and what happened so often to him when making these calls, after finally getting the person he wanted: ‘Is this Jan Troell?’, ‘Yes, who is this?’, ‘This is Stanley Kubrick’, ‘I bet you are’, and click, hung up. Then Stanley had to try again with: ‘Don’t hang up!’ etc.”​

Get Carter

Mike Hodges, 1971
[According to Mike Kaplan, Kubrick said: “Any actor who sees Get Carter will want to work with [Hodges].”]

Harold and Maude

Hal Ashby, 1971
Harlan: “He loved Harold and Maude but I don’t know whether he ever spoke to Hal Ashby or not.”​


Bob Fosse, 1972
Harlan: “Cabaret led to Marisa Berenson getting the part in Barry Lyndon.”​

Cries and Whispers

Ingmar Bergman, 1972
Harlan: “He was very impressed and depressed by Cries and Whispers – he could barely finish it. I was with him.”​


John Boorman, 1972

The Godfather

“He watched The Godfather again […] and was reluctantly suggesting for the 10th time that it was possibly the greatest movie ever made and certainly the best cast.”​
— Michael Herr, Vanity Fair, 1999


Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972

La bonne année

Claude Lelouch, 1973

The Exorcist

William Friedkin, 1973

The Spirit of the Beehive

Víctor Erice, 1973

Freebie and the Bean

Richard Rush, 1974
[In a Rolling Stone article about Rush’s The Stunt Man it was claimed Stanley thought Freebie and the Bean was the best film of 1974.]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Tobe Hooper, 1974

The Terminal Man

Mike Hodges, 1974
“It’s terrific.”​
—Kubrick, quoted by Mike Kaplan in a Guardian piece. Also much-loved by Terrence Malick .

Cría Cuervos

Carlos Saura, 1975
Harlan: “I saw Cría Cuervos in Zurich when it came out and loved it. I told Stanley what a great film it was and I remember his answer: ‘I am hungry for a great film – try to borrow a print.’ I called Primitivo Álvaro at Carlos Saura’s office in Madrid and told him how I loved the film and that Stanley Kubrick asked me call, etc etc – could we borrow a 35mm print? The answer was, “of course, we would only be too pleased” etc etc. I reminded him that it must have English subtitles. “Of course” was the answer.​

“Two days later Emilio drove to the agent at Heathrow, at that time still temporary import formalities and stuff like this, we had the print ready on the next Saturday and invited a lot of people. Stanley and I ran the film. NO SUBTITLES! For the first ten minutes it doesn’t matter so much, one is enthralled by what we see – the little girl on the staircase, the woman coming out of the man’s bedroom, the girl calling Papa. He is dead. She sees the empty glass, takes it, washes it carefully in the kitchen and mixes the glasses. We are intrigued. Mum comes in, lovely little encounter before the masks of happiness slips from Mum’s face – and the girl is off to feed the pet. What a beginning.​

“It became clear that there were no subtitles. Stanley first suggested to stop because it’s unfair. ‘Let’s just finish the reel’, someone said. I knew the film, briefed everybody between the reel changes about what we had seen, and we watched the whole film and loved it.”​

Dog Day Afternoon

Sidney Lumet, 1975

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

Milos Forman, 1975

Annie Hall

Woody Allen, 1977

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg, 1977

Abigail’s Party

Mike Leigh, 1977


David Lynch, 1976

[ Listen to David Lynch himself tell the story. ]
Girl Friends

Claudia Weill, 1978
“I think one of the most interesting Hollywood films, well not Hollywood – American films – that I’ve seen in a long time is Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends. That film, I thought, was one of the very rare American films that I would compare with the serious, intelligent, sensitive writing and filmmaking that you find in the best directors in Europe. It wasn’t a success, I don’t know why; it should have been. Certainly I thought it was a wonderful film. It seemed to make no compromise to the inner truth of the story, you know, the theme and everything else.​
“The great problem is that the films cost so much now; in America it’s almost impossible to make a good film – which means you have to spend a certain amount of time on it, and have good technicians and good actors – that aren’t very, very expensive. This film that Claudia Weill did, I think she did on an amateur basis; she shot it for about a year, two or three days a week. Of course she had a great advantage, because she had all the time she needed to think about it, to see what she had done. I thought she made the film extremely well.”​
— Kubrick, 1980, interviewed by Vicente Molina Foix

The Jerk

Carl Reiner, 1979

Harlan: “He didn’t think The Jerk was such a good film, but it is true that he considered (for a very short time) Steve Martin as an actor. Early days!”​

Woody Allen, 1979

Harlan: “‘Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat’ – we laughed out loud.”​

All That Jazz

Bob Fosse, 1979

An American Werewolf in London

Jon Landis, 1981
Blood Wedding

Carlos Saura, 1981

Modern Romance

Albert Brooks, 1981
[ Brooks tells how Kubrick saved his life in Esquire, 1999.]

E.T. The Extra-terrestrial

Steven Spielberg, 1982


Edgar Reitz, 1984
Harlan: “Stanley was completely taken by Heimat. The idea of telling such an ‘impossible to tell story’ through the eyes of a bunch of simple villagers he considered completely new and brilliant. To show ‘heaven’ convincingly and without special effects on the top floor of a country inn and have the dead people observe ‘us’ – he was deeply moved. There are a number of other scenes like that. He was so taken by it that he hired the art director and costume designer for preparation of Wartime Lies (Aryan Papers). There are some specific scenes we saw together again and again (having videotaped the BBC2 broadcast) and I remember it all very well.”​

The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice (1986)
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986
Harlan: “Very important.”​

Babette’s Feast

Gabriel Axel, 1987

House of Games

David Mamet, 1987

Pelle the Conqueror

Bille August, 1987

Radio Days

Woody Allen, 1987
Harlan: “Stanley loved it, not so much because it is a great film, but because this was his childhood too.”​

The Vanishing

George Sluizer, 1988
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.​
Harlan: “The Vanishing was real – The Shining was a ghost film – a huge difference.”​

Henry V

Kenneth Branagh, 1989
Harlan: “Stanley liked Branagh’s version much better than the old and old-fashioned Olivier version which he had on his 1963 list. He thought it was far superior.”​

Roger & Me

Michael Moore, 1989
Harlan: “He greatly admired the guts[iness] of Michael Moore – substantial content and a major US figure.”​


Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1990
Harlan: “I believe the only foreword to a book he ever wrote was for the scripts of Kieslowski’s Dekalog – and he did this with pleasure. A great masterpiece.”​

The Silence of the Lambs

Jonathan Demme, 1990

Husbands and Wives

Woody Allen, 1992

White Men Can’t Jump

Ron Shelton, 1992

The Red Squirrel

Julio Medem, 1993
Harlan: “1993–1999 was such a hectic period – over a year intensive prep for Aryan Papers then the same again for A.I. – both ‘postponed’. These were tough times and watching films was mainly research. He saw fewer films during that time – still, he didn’t shut himself away and certainly saw The Silence of the Lambs and every Woody Allen film. But I can’t tell you specific titles as I could for the earlier periods.”​
Niccolo and Donkey

I wish Kubrick made Napoleon.


A few things:

Terry Southern is one of those peripheral characters that pops up in all sorts of odd places - kind of like Sam Cutler, who worked on the Rolling Stones tour that ended up at Altamont. People like that fascinate me.

Among Kubrick's favourite films was Closely Watched Trains; the stationmaster was played by Vladimir Valenta, a Czech resistance fighter (who also worked with Milos Forman), who died not too far from where I live. I seriously curse myself for not approaching him when he was alive.

I wonder if I Vitelloni stayed on top of his list? I know a few people who prefer that era of Fellini to the later, more florid films that won him so much attention.
Niccolo and Donkey

I doubt I Vitelloni stayed on the list (I haven't seen it) and recall that he considered only Fellini, Bergman, and De Sica the only 'real' filmmakers. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see any of the French New Wave on the list.

Besides seeing his love of Woody Allen and Tarkovsky, I'm very, very happy to see Heimat on the list. You MUST watch the first series.

He had Truffaut in the "next rank." Somehow i doubt that he would have been sold on Godard.
What would you have told him?
Niccolo and Donkey

Bumping this Kubrick piece.