15 Facts About Your Favorite Stanley Kubrick Movies

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that Stanley Kubrick, the personification of the auteur theory, left us more than 20 years ago at the ripe, young (by today’s standards) age of 70. Kubrick's career began with a self-described amateurish feature, 1953’s Fear and Desire—a war film which, in 2012, The Village Voice critic Tim Grierson described as a “pretentious, muddled mess”—and culminated with his final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Over the course of a movie career than spanned nearly 50 years, Kubrick directed just 13 features, which was a testament to the filmmaker's reputation as a consummate perfectionist and stickler for even the smallest of details. In honor of the legendary director's birthday (Kubrick was born in New York City on July 26, 1928), here are 15 facts that you might not have known about some of your favorite Stanley Kubrick films.

1. It took about 10,500 people and 167 days of filming to make Spartacus.

Spartacus (1960) was epic in every way: its $12 million production budget made it the most expensive movie in Hollywood history at the time. Its budget ended up exceeding the total worth of Universal Studios, which was sold to MCA for $11,250,000 during filming. Overall about 50,000 extras were involved.

2. Dr. Strangelove was supposed to be a drama.

The international climate of the early 1960s piqued Kubrick’s interest in writing and directing a nuclear war thriller. Kubrick began consuming piles of literature on the topic until he came across former Royal Air Force officer Peter George’s dramatic novel Red Alert. Columbia Pictures optioned the book, and Kubrick began translating the bulk of the novel into a script.

During the writing process, however, the director found himself struggling to escape a persistent comedic overtone because he found the vast majority of the political calamities described in the story to be inherently funny. Eventually, Kubrick abandoned the idea of fighting the adaptation’s dark sense of humor and embraced it wholeheartedly. Tone aside, the plot of Dr. Strangelove is strikingly similar to that of George’s novel. There’s one notable exception: Dr. Strangelove doesn’t appear in the novel—Kubrick and writer Terry Southern created the character.

3. Kubrick had some help from Carl Sagan on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kubrick began principal production on 2001: A Space Odyssey without knowing how to convey many of the film’s key scenes—most notably the ending, where Dr. Dave Bowman makes contact with extraterrestrial life. One of the biggest problems Kubrick had while developing the movie was how to depict these extraterrestrial life forms in a way that suited his abstract ideas, but could also be covered by the film’s budget. So he asked noted astrophysicist/author Carl Sagan for help.

In his book The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, Sagan explained, “I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of Man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve again anywhere in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it, and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly to display, the extraterrestrials.”

Though Kubrick would experiment with literal ways to show aliens in 2001, like hiring a ballet dancer in a special polka-dotted suit filmed against a black background, he settled on Sagan’s insinuation of extraterrestrials.

4. Kubrick wasn't initially sold on directing A Clockwork Orange.

The director first encountered Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange when his Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book, and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie. Kubrick allegedly didn't like the book upon first reading because of the Nadsat language Burgess created for the novel. The language, literally translated as the Russian word for "teen" and comprised of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, was confusing to Kubrick until he revisited the source material after his efforts to make a biopic about Napoleon fell through. Kubrick reportedly began to change his mind when he considered Alex as a Richard III-type character.

5. Stephen King didn't like Kubrick's version of The Shining.

“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result," Stephen King told Playboy in 1983. "Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat.”

He didn’t like the casting of Jack Nicholson either, claiming, “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part. 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.”

6. Kubrick got special lenses so he could film Barry Lyndon by candlelight.

All period dramas feature rooms that appear to be lit by candles and oil lamps, but in reality there are usually big lighting rigs just off camera. That wasn’t the case with Barry Lyndon. Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott wanted to use as little electric light in the production as possible, and went so far as to get special lenses that had been designed for NASA, which he had specially mounted on cameras that could then be used only with those lenses. The super-fast lenses captured rooms lit only by candlelight perfectly, creating a look unlike any other film.

7. Vincent D'Onofrio gained 70 pounds to play Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket.

In addition to the weight gain, Vincent D'Onofrio also shaved his head for his role in Full Metal Jacket, and was surprised by how much it affected him. ''It changed my life,'' D'Onofrio told The New York Times in 1987. ''Women didn't look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid.'' To this day, it's the most weight any actor has ever gained for a movie role.

8. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick explained. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

9. Kubrick lied to George C. Scott in order to get funnier takes in Dr. Strangelove.

George C. Scott—who plays bombastic General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove—was hesitant about playing his character too “big.” Kubrick coaxed Scott to deliver broad, animated performances as Buck, promising him that they were merely an exercise and would not be used in the final cut. Of course, the takes that went to print were among the actor’s wackiest. Scott felt terribly betrayed, and vowed never to work with Kubrick again. Although Dr. Strangelove remained their sole collaboration, Scott did eventually come to appreciate the film and his performance.

10. Kubrick pulled A Clockwork Orange from theaters in England because of death threats.

The press blamed the violence in A Clockwork Orange for a series of alleged copycat break-ins and killings in the UK in the early 1970s, prompting calls for it to be banned. The film remained in theaters and available for distribution until an incident caused Kubrick to request that Warner Bros. pull the movie from UK cinemas.

While on the Ireland set of his next film, Barry Lyndon, Kubrick received death threats against him and his family. The perpetrators promised to break into their secluded house outside of London to carry out attacks just like Alex and his droogs do in the film. Distraught, Kubrick kept the studio from publicly showing the movie in the British Isles and Ireland until after his death in 1999.

11. There is an original, different ending to The Shining.

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. Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) visits Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) 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.”

12. Jack Nicholson improvised his "Here's Johnny" line in The Shining.

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 axe, 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, which can be seen here, shows Nicholson’s method acting before filming the iconic scene.

13. Dr. Strangelove inspired actual changes in international policy.

While certain critics, politicians, and military personnel alike dismissed Dr. Strangelove as farce and fallacy, the terrifying plausibility of the events at play in the movie struck a nerve with Washington D.C. Government agencies including the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles examined the film and Peter George’s Red Alert as a means to qualify the likelihood and prevent a Strangelove-like scenario in the real world. As early as the mid-1960s, procedure was shifted so that no one government individual would have access to the complete code needed to unlock a nuclear weapon. By the 1970s, the Air Force began employing coded switches that would disallow the unauthorized instigation of nuclear arms, as represented by the actions of General Ripper in the film.

14. Anthony Michael Hall was offered the part of Joker in Full Metal Jacket.

Kubrick originally offered the part of Joker to Anthony Michael Hall, but an eight-month long argument about monetary compensation eventually ended the collaboration. "It was a difficult decision," said Hall of his departure from the project. "Because in that eight-month period, I read everything I could about the guy, and I was really fascinated by him. I wanted to be a part of that film, but it didn't work out. But all sorts of stories circulated, like I got on set and I was fired, or I was pissed at him for shooting too long. It's all not true."

15. Kubrick passed away less than a week after showing the studio his cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R, rather than an NC-17, rating (although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too). According to Kidman, "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years. He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough."

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

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