Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is widely considered to be among the best big-screen adaptations of a Stephen King story—and with good reason. (Though King himself isn't much of a fan.) Even if you've seen the movie 100 times, there's still probably a lot you don't know about what went on behind the scenes.
1. Stanley Kubrick had an interest in horror long before he made The Shining.
Stanley Kubrick is known for his forays into different genres—and horror was a genre that piqued his interest early on in his career. In the early '70s, he was in consideration to direct The Exorcist, but he ended up not getting the job because he only wanted to direct the film if he could also produce it. Kubrick later told a friend that he wanted “to make the world’s scariest movie, involving a series of episodes that would play upon the nightmare fears of the audience.”
2. The Shining was inspired by an episode of Omnibus.
In 1952, Kubrick worked as the second unit director on one episode of the television series Omnibus. But it was a different episode, about poker players getting into a fight, that inspired parts of The Shining.
"You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight," Kubrick said of the episode. "But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.”
3. Stanley Kubrick didn't even read the screenplay that Stephen King wrote for The Shining.
According to David Hughes, one of Kubrick’s biographers, Stephen King wrote an entire draft of a screenplay for The Shining. However, Kubrick didn’t even deem it worth a glance, which sort of makes sense when you consider that the director once described King’s writing “weak.” Instead, Kubrick worked with Diane Johnson on the screenplay because he was a fan of her book, The Shadow Knows. The two ended up spending eleven weeks working on the script.
4. But Stanley Kubrick still had questions for Stephen King about The Shining.
A now-legendary story that King reportedly still tells at some of his book readings goes like this: Stanley Kubrick called him at seven in the morning to say that he believed ghost stories were fundamentally optimistic because the existence of ghosts suggested that humans survived past death. When King responded with the question of how hell fit into that picture, Kubrick simply responded, “I don’t believe in hell.”
5. Stanley Kubrick was surrounded by family on the set of The Shining.
The executive producer of The Shining was Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan. Christiane Kubrick and Vivian Kubrick—Stanley's wife and daughter, respectively—helped with both the design and the music, though Vivian might be better known for the on-set documentary she made, The Making Of The Shining. The 30-minute film, which aired on BBC, was a very rare look into Kubrick’s directing styles. (You can watch it above.)
6. Stephen King was "disappointed" in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining.
In 1983, King told Playboy, “I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result. Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat.”
One thing King didn’t like was the casting of Jack Nicholson. “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part," King said. "His last big role had been in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and between that and the manic grin, the audience automatically identified him as a loony from the first scene. But the book is about Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness through the malign influence of the Overlook—if the guy is nuts to begin with, then the entire tragedy of his downfall is wasted.”
7. Stanley Kubrick wasn't around for location shoots on The Shining.
Kubrick hated to fly and refused to leave England toward the end of his life, so he was not in attendance when the opening credits of The Shining were shot. A second unit crew headed to Glacier National Park in Montana, where they filmed from a helicopter.
8. Room 217 was switched to Room 237 for The Shining at the request of the Timberline Lodge.
In the book, the spooky events are set in Room 217, not Room 237. Oregon's Timberline Lodge, which was used as the hotel’s exterior for some shots, is to blame for this swap. The Lodge’s management asked for the room number to be changed so that guests wouldn’t avoid Room 217. There is no Room 237 in the hotel, so that number was chosen. The website of the Timberline Lodge notes, “Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.”
9. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" has many different translations.
The iconic sentence actually changes meaning for foreign translations of the film, at Kubrick’s request. In German versions, the phrase translates to: “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” The Spanish translation is: “Although one will rise early, it won’t dawn sooner.” In Italian: “He who wakes up early meets a golden day.”
10. Rumors abound that Stanley Kubrick actually typed up all of those "All Work" pages.
No one is quite sure whether Kubrick typed 500 pages of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Kubrick didn’t go to the prop department with this task, using his own typewriter to make the pages. It was a typewriter that had built-in memory, so it could have turned out the pages without an actual person. But the individual pages in the film contain different layouts and mistakes. Some claim that it would have been characteristic of the director to individually prepare each page. Alas, we’ll never know—Kubrick never addressed this question before he died.
11. There's a hidden Playgirl magazine in The Shining.
Kubrick was famous for being a particularly detail-oriented director. So when Jack Torrance is seen reading a Playgirl in the lobby of the Overlook before he gets hired, it’s probably not meaningless. There is an article in the issue about incest, so the most common theory is that Kubrick was subtly implying that Danny may have experienced sexual abuse. Another article advertised on the cover is “Interview: The Selling of (Starsky & Hutch’s) David Soul.” Perhaps Kubrick was throwing in some extra foreshadowing. Regardless, no normal hotel leaves copies of Playgirl lying around, so the magazine serves as an immediate red flag in the film.
12. The Shining was Danny Lloyd's only movie.
The Shining seemed to introduce a promising child star in Danny Lloyd. He ended up having a role in a TV film two years later, but that was the extent of his acting career. “We kept trying for several years ... until I was in high school and I stopped at about 14 with almost no success," he told the New York Daily News in 2013. Lloyd did, however, have a brief cameo as a spectator in Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan's 2019 sequel to The Shining.
13. Danny Lloyd didn't know he was making a horror movie while shooting The Shining.
To protect Lloyd, who was 5 years old when he made the film, Kubrick told him that they were filming a drama. He didn’t even see the actual film until he was 16. “I just personally don’t find it scary because I saw it behind the scenes," Lloyd later said. "I know it might be kind of ironic, but I like funny films and documentaries.”
14. Jack Nicholson improvised The Shining’s "Heeere's Johnny" line.
Jack Nicholson is responsible for the only line from The Shining to make it onto AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes. While filming the scene in which Jack breaks down a bathroom door with an ax, Nicholson shouted out the famous Ed McMahon line from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The catchphrase worked and stayed in the film. Some behind-the-scenes footage shows Nicholson’s Method acting before filming the iconic scene.
15. Jack Nicholson wrote a scene for The Shining.
In addition to improvising one of the most famous lines of the film, Nicholson actually wrote an entire scene. He felt a particularly deep understanding of Jack Torrance's berating of his wife while he is trying to write.
“That’s what I was like when I got my divorce," Nicholson explained in an interview with The New York Times. "I was under the pressure of being a family man with a daughter and one day I accepted a job to act in a movie in the daytime and I was writing a movie at night and I’m back in my little corner and my beloved wife Sandra walked in on what was, unbeknownst to her, this maniac—and I told Stanley about it and we wrote it into the scene.”
16. Stanley Kubrick did not get along with The Shining star Shelley Duvall.
Though Kubrick had a good relationship with Nicholson, the director was notoriously brutal on Shelley Duvall during filming. In her words, “From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”
The scene in which Wendy is swinging a bat at Jack is an example of this pushing. The scene actually made it into The Guinness Book of Records because it took 127 takes, the most for a scene with spoken dialogue.
17. Slim Pickens was offered the role of Dick Hallorann in The Shining.
Slim Pickens had already worked with Kubrick before. He played Major T. J. King Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Regardless, he was a particularly strange pick for the role of Dick Hallorann because the character is Black in the book. Pickens chose to not work with Kubrick again, as he did not like the strenuous Dr. Strangelove shoots. The role then went to Scatman Crothers.
18. The Overlook Hotel doesn't make sense from a spatial perspective.
Rob Ager, an observant fan of The Shining, noticed that there are many aspects to the set of the Overlook Hotel that make no sense. For example, Ullman’s office has a window to the outside, but there are rooms surrounding the office, making that window impossible. This is the case for many of the windows in the film—they don’t work in context. There is also a hallway in the Colorado Lounge that essentially appears out of nowhere. Ager created a video in which he maps out the nonsensical visuals.
The executive producer of The Shining, Jan Harlan, has stated that this was intentional. “The interiors don’t make sense," he said in 2012. "Those huge corridors and ballrooms couldn’t fit inside. In fact, nothing makes sense.”
19. Much of The Shining’s set burned down.
Toward the end of shooting, a fire broke out and destroyed multiple sets. According to the set still photographer, “It was a huge fire in there one night, massive fire, we never really discovered what caused that fire and it burned down two sound stages and threatened a third at Elstree Studios. It was an eleven alarm fire call, it was huge.” The rebuild of one of these sound stages cost an estimated $2.5 million.
There’s a famous picture of Kubrick laughing in front of this wreckage. Perhaps he’s laughing because he knows the novel ends with the Overlook Hotel burning down.
20. The Shining required 900 tons of salt.
And that was just for the final scene! At the end of The Shining, Jack chases young Danny through a snow-covered hedge maze before finally dying. To create the elaborate, wintery maze, it took a lot of salt and crushed Styrofoam.
21. The Shining took five years to make.
Kubrick was notorious for his lengthy film productions. Sources differ on how long shooting itself lasted, but it probably went on for almost a year. Around the time he was making the film, Kubrick said, “There is a wonderful suggestive timeliness [that the structure] of making a movie imposes on your life. I’m doing exactly the same as I was doing when I was 18 and making my first movie. It frees you from any other sense of time.”
22. The original ending to The Shining is different from what you probably saw.
It’s not uncommon for a film’s ending to change in post-production, but Kubrick changed the ending of the film after it had been playing in theaters for a weekend. The film version is lost, but pages from the screenplay do exist. The scene takes place after Jack dies in the snow. Ullman visits Wendy in the hospital. He tells her, “About the things you saw at the hotel. [A lieutenant] told me they’ve really gone over the place with a fine tooth comb and they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary.” He also encourages Wendy and Danny to stay with him for a while. The film ends with text over black, “The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”
Roger Ebert deemed the cut a good decision. According to him, “Kubrick was wise to remove that epilogue ... it pulled one rug too many out from under the story.”
23. The Shining was the follow-up to Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick's worst-received film.
Things weren’t looking good for Kubrick after Barry Lyndon was released in 1975. Film reviewer Tim Robey noted, “It was not the commercial success Warner Bros. had been hoping for.” The film cost $11 million to make and earned $9.5 million in the United States, though it did have a good life in foreign box offices. According to Hughes, the film would have had to earn $30 million to be profitable.
The Shining did a lot better financially. The film cost $19 million to make and it went on to earn $47 million in the United States. It was one of the top 10 highest-grossing films of 1980.
24. The Shining has inspired many conspiracy theories.
So many film theorists have their own takes on The Shining that these conspiracies star in their own film: the documentary Room 237. One theory is that Kubrick helped to fake the moon landing and The Shining is his confession. Another claims that the film is truly about the genocide of Native Americans. Yet another theory reads the film as a story about the Holocaust and concentration camps.
Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant during filming, has since denied these theories. “I was falling about laughing most of the time," he said of the documentary in 2013. "There are ideas espoused in the movie that I know to be total balderdash.”
25. The Shining’s most famous fan site is run by the director of Toy Story 3.
Lee Unkrich runs The Overlook Hotel, which contains tons of pictures and behind-the-scenes information about the film. “I started the site purely for selfish reasons," Unkrich told Vulture in 2013. "I’ve been collecting stuff from The Shining over the years, and I just wanted to have one place where they could be organized.” Unkrich was also one of the people who helped fund the Room 237 documentary.
But, undeniably the most fun part about Unkrich's obsession with The Shining is finding the hidden references in various Pixar films, including Toy Story 3: Sid’s carpet is very similar to a carpet in the Overlook Hotel. A garbage truck’s license plate reads “RM237.” And Trixie chats online with a dinosaur toy down the street who happens to have the screen name “Velocistar237.”
A version of this story originally ran in 2018 and has been updated for 2022.