On March 7, 1999, American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick dies in Hertfordshire, England, at the age of 70. One of the most acclaimed film directors of the 20th century, Kubrick’s 13 feature films explored the dark side of human nature.
Born in New York City in 1928, Kubrick took up photography in high school and became a staff photographer for Look magazine at age 17. A photo assignment on boxing inspired him to make The Day of the Fight, a short documentary film about boxing, in 1951. The short was bought by a news service, and he made two more documentaries before making a short feature-length film, Fear and Desire (1953), which dealt with war. The movie, produced independently, received little attention outside New York, where critics praised Kubrick’s directorial talents.
Kubrick’s next two feature films, Killer’s Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956), brought him to the attention of Hollywood, and in 1957 he directed actor Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory, a story of military injustice in the French army during World War I. Douglas later enlisted Kubrick to take over production of Spartacus (1960), a historical epic about the slave rebellion led by the Roman slave Spartacus in 73 B.C. The film was a box office smash and won four Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, which was attributed to Russell Metty but was largely Kubrick’s work. Behind the scenes, the director’s characteristic obsession with detail created some tension with the cast and crew.
After Spartacus, he moved permanently to England, where he directed Lolita (1962), based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Two years later, Kubrick scored another major critical and commercial hit with Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, Dr. Strangelove was a dark comedy about the nuclear arms race that earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Peter Sellers).
Kubrick spent four years working on his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), co-written with English writer Arthur C. Clarke. Now widely regarded as the greatest science fiction film ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey won Kubrick a well-deserved Best Visual Effects Academy Award. Kubrick followed up 2001 with A Clockwork Orange (1971), a controversial social commentary set in the near future. It was given an X rating in the United States for its extreme violence and banned in the United Kingdom, but nonetheless received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture.
Barry Lyndon (1975) was a picturesque movie based on the 19th-century novel by William Thackeray. Kubrick, who had become famous for his perfectionist tendencies, took a record 300 days just to shoot the film. The Shining (1980), starring Jack Nicholson as the caretaker of a mountain resort who goes insane, was hailed as a masterpiece of the horror genre. Full Metal Jacket (1987) addressed the Vietnam War and was another critical and commercial success. In 1997, after a 10-year absence from filmmaking, Kubrick began work on Eyes Wide Shut (1999), an enigmatic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The director died soon after turning in his final cut of the film.