10 Best Performances In Stanley Kubrick's Films

Stanley Kubrick always got the best out of his actors. Even at the cost of their sanity.

Full Metal Jacket Hartman
Warner Bros.

While widely considered one of the greatest filmmakers in history, Stanley Kubrick’s skill with actors is severely underrated. Film scholars and nerds frequently praise the auteur for his mastery of cinematography and production design, but Kubrick’s insane attention to detail also extended to his cast. He demanded hundreds of takes for the smallest movements and seemingly inconsequential lines, forcing his actors to get creative.

This approach may sound maddening for an actor, but Kubrick propelled newcomers into stardom and gave A-list celebrities a chance to stretch their chops. He never told his cast precisely what he wanted on the first take, giving them free rein to make bold choices and molding their work into the best possible performance.

Kubrick’s movies are purposefully cold and bleak, and without the right cast, they could make for miserable viewing experiences. Luckily, his actors give such lively, mesmerizing performances that make his films so rewatchable. Without Jack Nicholson’s deranged facial expressions in The Shining or Malcolm McDowell’s mischievous exuberance in A Clockwork Orange, those films wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining.

Great performances are inseparable from the Stanley Kubrick experience, and whether it’s an iconic character in cinema history or an underappreciated supporting role, they all deserve the same spotlight.

10. Matthew Modine As Private Joker - Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket Hartman
Warner Bros.

Kubrick assigned Matthew Modine a monumental task as the carefree Pvt. Joker. He is the glue that connects Full Metal Jacket’s two wildly different segments and the audience’s window into the destruction war wreaks on young men.

In boot camp, Joker must both blend in with the rest of his fellow recruits as they’re stripped of their individuality and stand out enough to make an impression on the audience. Once he makes it to Vietnam, he slowly loses his innocence while retaining his personality as a light-hearted jokester. Most actors would stumble over these fine lines, but Modine rides them effortlessly.

Even ideologically, Joker is a dual character. While he's an idealist who believes in peace on earth, his stated goal throughout the film is to get a confirmed kill. These traits seem like a contradiction on paper, but Modine blends them and creates a likable, three-dimensional protagonist.

While most of Full Metal Jacket's supporting roles are big and loud, Modine plays everything under the surface. He wears Joker’s gradual descent on his bright, bespectacled eyes, and nowhere is that clearer than the film’s climactic scene where he puts a young female sniper out of her misery. The camera focuses solely on Modine, and he makes his final transition from the cheerful wiseass we’ve grown to love to a hardened killer with a thousand-yard stare.


Ryan Gallerani hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.