Although Stanley Kubrick enjoyed a healthy career of 48 years in the film industry, making 13 feature films throughout his time before passing away at the premature age of 70, film fans across the world have long wondered what the industry might look like if he’d still be making films today.
Pioneering his own style of filmmaking that focused on innovative and spectacular cinematography and long tracking shots, the films of Kubrick were dense in subtext, carrying a narrative power way beyond that of his peers.
For the iconic filmmaker, directing movies was a noble quest to access a deeper, profound truth, stating in a video acceptance speech of the D.W. Griffiths Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, “When you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling”.
Since his unfortunate passing in 1999, Kubrick has passed the filmmaking baton on to the great number of directors that he inspired with movies like The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.
Such filmmakers include David Fincher, Jonathan Glazer and Paul Thomas Anderson, with each of these influential directors appearing on the following list of the top ten greatest modern Kubrickian movies.
The top 10 modern Kubrickian movies:
10. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
A great lover of science fiction, Kubrick would’ve approved of Alex Garland’s modern genre classic Ex Machina starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Corey Johnson.
Having once been linked to the project A.I. Artificial Intelligence that was eventually directed by Steven Spielberg, Kubrick had a considerable interest in the inner workings of the robotic mind, further evidenced in the mechanical character of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is explored in Garland’s Ex Machina, following an imprisoned A.I. humanoid who is hoping for a better life outside her limited space.
9. The Death Of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)
It’s easy to forget that Stanley Kubrick was a great lover of comedy, releasing his classic satire Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb in 1964 starring Peter Sellers, aiming his critical sights at the Cold War between the USA and Russia.
Scottish comedian Armando Iannucci produced a similar film in 2017 with The Death Of Stalin, a hilarious, surprisingly cinematic comedy that satirises the political backstabbing that went on following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Perhaps a little funnier and not as sharp as Kubrick would’ve gone for, the film remains to concern itself with the spikey satire that the iconic director loved and practised.
8. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
Much like Ex Machina by Alex Garland, Duncan Jones’ Moon concerns itself with the psychology of human-designed A.I. that struggles with the realisation that it is finite and ultimately not capable of human emotion.
Nodding back to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in several ways including the onboard technology system with similarities to HAL 9000, Moon takes note of the film’s philosophical themes too. Exploring the effects of loneliness and isolation on the human condition, Duncan Jones’ film is a tragic one in many ways, exploring the existential realisation of a being that comes to realise its own pointlessness. Kubrick would applaud.
7. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2016)
A sprawling Amazonian adventure, Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra takes license from both the films of Werner Herzog and Stanley Kubrick, managing to capture the same cinematic spectacle as the latter.
Concerning itself with a dense narrative that spans two separate timelines, Guerra’s film is a sprawling story exploring the relationship between a shaman and the last survivor of his people and two scientists working to search the area for a sacred healing plant. Slow and methodical much like many of Kubrick’s films, Embrace of the Serpent is a peculiar philosophical journey with a trippy final sequence with only one comparison in cinema history, the ‘Stargate Sequence’ of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
6. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
Potentially a little too pessimistic and nightmarish for Stanley Kubrick, regardless, Melancholia by Lars von Trier toys with similar existential questions that the director of Dr Strangelove and 2001 often dabbled in.
Starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the film follows the strained relationship of two sisters that is further put to the test when a planet threatens to collide with earth, sparking existential panic. Taking inspiration from Kubrick’s own penetrating Nietzschean questions, von Trier also borrows a grand cinematic eye and a remarkable fondness for classical music from the classic director.
5. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
Having long been inspired by the filmmaking of Stanley Kubrick, many of David Fincher’s films bear similarities to the influential filmmaker, including Mank, Gone Girl, Fight Club and his 2007 true-crime film Zodiac.
Being a similar stickler for details, Fincher imbues his films with a complex, enigmatic story that is not unlike Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. Zodiac is a shining example of this, telling the intricate story of the real-life Zodiac killer and the men tasked with tracking him down. Similarly mystifying in its narrative to many Kubrick films, Zodiac also contained impressive cinematography, tracking shots and an eerie ethereal quality.
4. Elephant (Gus van Sant, 2003)
Cropping up every so often with either a middling movie or a modern masterpiece, Gus van Sant is capable of true greatness, with his 2003 Palme d’Or-winning film Elephant likely being his greatest ever film.
Inspired by the Columbine school shootings of 1999, Gus van Sant’s film follows the lives of several school students who are going about their daily lives in the school before a deadly attack begins. Though narratively different from anything Kubrick had attempted, the style of Elephant takes much influence from Kubrick, using wide-angle shots to make the school look empty and devoid of life, much like he did with the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The film also shares a loving affection of Beethoven with A Clockwork Orange from 1971.
3. Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
Much like David Fincher, the cinema of Jonathan Glazer shares an affinity with that of Stanley Kubrick, with the British director approaching his stories with a similar sense of intrigue, mystery and the existential.
Whilst his 2013 film Under the Skin could quite easily be brought up in the same discussion, it is his underappreciated 2004 film Birth that shares more likeness with the films of Kubrick. Telling the strange story of a ten-year-old boy who claims to be the reincarnated late husband of a young widow, played by Nicole Kidman, the film begins to question whether the child is indeed an impossible miracle or a troublesome boy.
Quiet and cold, with regular use of Steadicam, the New York City of Birth recalls Eyes Wide Shut, particularly with the presence of Kidman and the same curiosity behind some of the world’s strangest and most intriguing concepts.
2. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Often preferring to address more grand concepts and ideas, Kubrick wasn’t averse to a character study, decoding the mind of Alex in A Clockwork Orange as well as the fiendish psychology of the titular Barry Lyndon.
For this reason, we think Kubrick would’ve been a fan of Steve McQueen’s Shame, a film that deals with the life of a sex addict that is thrown into disarray following the arrival of his sister who comes to stay at his flat. With intense psychological interest, McQueen examines his lead character with a cinematic stillness that isn’t unlike the intrigue Kubrick holds with Tom Cruises’ Bill Harford in Eyes Wide Shut as both protagonists wander the New York City streets.
Both deconstructing the faultlines and psychological fragilities of modern masculinity, Shame, Eyes Wide Shut, McQueen and Kubrick hold a lot in common.
1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
Though many filmmakers try to replicate the success of Stanley Kubrick, there is no director who so accurately recreates his professionalism and class than the American visionary, Paul Thomas Anderson.
Recalling the influence of Kubrick, from 1999s Magnolia to There Will Be Blood in 2007, there is no film that better utilises Kubrickian elements than his 2012 film The Master. A complicated psychodrama, Anderson’s film follows a WWII veteran who finds solace in a religious movement known as The Cause shortly after he returns from service, sharing themes of free will with A Clockwork Orange as well as the psychological torment of the war film Full Metal Jacket.
Sharing similar filming techniques to both movies, its greatest resemblance comes in the psychological breakdown of the protagonist Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a character left with the indelible mark of war that has forever mutated his individualism.