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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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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  • 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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