Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films: The First and Only List He Ever Created

Image by Moody Man, via Flickr Com­mons

When, over the past week­end, I noticed the words “Stan­ley Kubrick” had risen into Twit­ter’s trend­ing-top­ics list, I got excit­ed. I fig­ured some­one had dis­cov­ered, in the back of a long-neglect­ed stu­dio vault, the last extant print of a Kubrick mas­ter­piece we’d some­how all for­got­ten. No suck luck, of course; Kubrick schol­ars, giv­en how much they still talk about even the auteur’s nev­er-real­ized projects like Napoleon, sure­ly would­n’t let an entire movie slip into obscu­ri­ty. The burst of tweets actu­al­ly came in hon­or of Kubrick­’s 85th birth­day, and hey, any chance to cel­e­brate a direc­tor whose fil­mog­ra­phy includes the likes of Dr. StrangeloveThe Shin­ing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’ll seize. The British Film Insti­tute marked the occa­sion by post­ing a lit­tle-seen list of Kubrick­’s top ten films.

“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),” writes the BFI’s Nick Wrigley. It runs as fol­lows:

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—above)
9. Rox­ie Hart (Well­man, 1942)
10. Hell’s Angels (Hugh­es, 1930)

But see­ing as Kubrick still had 36 years to live and watch movies after mak­ing the list, it nat­u­ral­ly pro­vides some­thing less than the final word on his pref­er­ences. Wrigley quotes Kubrick con­fi­dant Jan Har­lan as say­ing that “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.” He also quotes Kubrick him­self as call­ing Max Ophuls the “high­est of all” and “pos­sessed of every pos­si­ble qual­i­ty,” call­ing Elia Kazan “with­out ques­tion the best direc­tor we have in Amer­i­ca,” and prais­ing hearti­ly David Lean, Vit­to­rio de Sica, and François Truf­faut. This all comes in handy for true cinephiles, who can nev­er find sat­is­fac­tion watch­ing only the film­mak­ers they admire; they must also watch the film­mak­ers the film­mak­ers they admire admire.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

Ter­ry Gilliam: The Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick (Great Film­mak­er) and Spiel­berg (Less So)

Napoleon: The Great­est Movie Stan­ley Kubrick Nev­er Made

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (31)
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  • Dr. Sideshow says:

    “2001: A Space Odd­i­ty”?!

  • Leon says:

    Love the last sen­tence. And it’s true, you always won­der what an amaz­ing direc­tor like Kubrick thought of oth­er movies. I’m not real­ly sur­prised by his picks though. You can expect Wells, Bergman, Felli­ni, and Anto­nioni in just about every direc­tors top ten. They were just that influ­en­tial. I would have liked to look at the revised ver­sion though. What Truf­faut movie did he like best? I guess we will nev­er know.

  • Abe Simpson says:

    Let’s not for­get, short­ly before his death he called Eraser­head his favorite movie.

  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

    I get all of them on the list except Sier­ra Madre. I mean, it’s a bril­liant­ly done movie. I’m just not sure we learn much more from it than that peo­ple are greedy and iden­ti­ties eas­i­ly erod­ed?

  • Jim Smith says:

    The one that sur­pris­es me is Branagh over Olivi­er. Lar­ry’s Hen­ry V may look some­what stilt­ed now, but his vision was remark­able, even though he was ham­pered by the mate­r­i­al lim­i­ta­tions of war-torn Britain in ’43-’44 (it’s amaz­ing enough that he was able to man­age Tech­ni­col­or pro­duc­tion). Branagh is extreme­ly over­rat­ed as a film­mak­er, and now that he’s out­grown the “boy won­der” panache, there’s lit­tle seri­ous men­tion of his Shake­speare films any more.

  • Morgan Yam says:

    He also admired, odd­ly enough, Albert Brooks’ MODERN ROMANCE, which Kubrick called “the best film ever made about jeal­ousy.” He then went on to make EYES WIDE SHUT — also about jeal­ousy — and per­haps his worst film.

  • MindTheRant says:

    Sor­ry, the *real* puz­zler here is “Rox­ie Hart”. I’ve got the movie on DVD and bought it for my daugh­ter because its source mate­r­i­al is the same as that used for the Broad­way musi­cal “Chica­go”, whose sound­track she was addict­ed to for a while. “Rox­ie Hart” isn’t a bad movie by any means … if noth­ing else it demon­strates that Gin­ger Rogers did­n’t need Fred Astaire to car­ry a sto­ry. But a sub­mis­sion for a Top 10 list? Instead of, say, “It Hap­pened One Night” or “Rear Win­dow” or “The 400 Blows”? Good lord.

  • Harry Overcoat says:

    He told Richard Rush that FREEBIE and the BEAN was one of his favorite movies.

  • geo whets says:

    The Bank Dick?? I can’t dis­agrees but I also don’t expect to see that on any­one else’s list.

  • geo whets says:

    Rain,a,dust bowl sto­ry. Anoth­er some­body that wants a “MESSAGE MOVIE” I hate mes­sages ! I just want enter­tain­ment.

  • Arthur H Tafero says:

    I agree with sev­en of the ten; but I would replace three with Lawrence of Ara­bia, Cin­e­ma Par­adiso and Lost Hori­zon. See my “2000 of the Best Films of All Time — 2014 Edi­tion” pub­lished by for more.

    Arthur H Tafero

  • Don says:

    Good list, except that I would add “Paths of Glo­ry” and maybe “Dr. Strangelove” and maybe “2001”

  • Marcello La Gala says:

    Bar­ry Lyn­don?

  • Billy says:

    He used to take friends home and screen them Eraser­head, he said it was his favourite film ever.

  • Bishal says:

    Eyes Wide Shut is the best he ever made.

  • LoserMcLose says:

    I must say that Ken­neth Branagh‘s 4 hour ver­sion of Ham­let is a mas­ter­piece.

  • Niels Pemberton says:

    In Schindler’s List Amon Goeth remind­ed me eeri­ly of HAL-9000.r
    He had the same atti­tude. Unc­tious but ruth­less.

    Last Win­ter I down­loaded 2001 but I watched it using the music of John William’s sound­track and Bil­ly Hol­i­day’s God Bless the Child
    when the Star Child appears and the sound­track fit the movie !
    amaz­ing­ly well.

  • Hawkeye Doublemint says:

    Must have been as his vocal cords were erod­ing and could­n’t pro­duce the word ‘least’.

  • Hawkeye Doublemint says:

    Lame joke. At least I hope for your sake it was a joke. EWS is a mess, plus it stars the biggest ego­ma­ni­a­cal cult-fol­low­er wank in movie his­to­ry.

  • Hawkeye Doublemint says:

    You’re not a very good read­er, are you Don­nie? This is a list of Kubrick­’s favorite films, not of his films. Did you actu­al­ly think he direct­ed those movies in the list?!

  • Rob L says:

    Con­trary to what some crit­ics have tried to main­tain, Kubrick obvi­ous­ly had a sense of humor — putting The Bank Dick, Rox­ie Hart, and Hel­l’s Angels on this list proves that. Thus Kubrick does a sendup of the idea of mak­ing such lists.

  • Brandon says:

    He took all his friends home and pro­ject­ed what he said was his favourite film ever: Eraser­head. I read it some­where, will have to search through a lot of books, but it´s there.

  • Brandon says:

    There you go:

    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.

  • acgogo says:

    In the late 70s I had the good for­tune to live in Boston where there were 4 or 5 2nd run and art house cin­e­mas. Once I went to see “Eraser­head” and John Water’s “Female Trou­ble” Dou­ble bill as they used to say. I kid you not. I walked out on “Eraser­head” It gave me a headache. In the lob­by I passed the man­ag­er. He said stick around because “Female Trou­ble” was ter­rif­ic. I did and it was. One of the most rad­i­cal anar­chic films ever made.

  • lou says:

    Michael Beasley is my favorite play­er’s favorite play­er.

  • eht% says:

    Hol­ly­wood is and always was INTEL.

    ALL direc­tors are SPOOKS on a project.

    Since 1950, year one of Yale in Chi­na’s –fave– FTM — -‘MAO say DUNG’,
    that project here has been ‘Men are Pigs’.

    It runs thru lit­er­al­ly –ALL— of STAN­LEY’s ‘CUBE–BRICK’s’ work.



    and BEHOLD !

  • Martin Fennell says:

    Excel­lent movie. I’m not sure about mas­ter­piece.

  • Martin Fennell says:

    LoserM­cLose says:
    Decem­ber 5, 2015 at 2:11 pm
    “I must say that Ken­neth Branagh‘s 4 hour ver­sion of Ham­let is a mas­ter­piece.”

    Excel­lent movie. I’m not sure it’s a mas­ter­piece.

  • Martin Fennell says:

    4.5, and 9 are favourites of mine. But I would­n’t 9 in a top ten.

  • Phil Lupo says:

    I believe Sum­mer of 42 was also one of his favorites. It’s play­ing on the TV in The Shin­ing.

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