How Stanley Kubrick Made a Huge Impact to Pop Culture

Mention the name Stanley Kubrick, and people will get a favorite movie, character, scene, or line of dialogue in mind. His appeal as a filmmaker is felt by film nerds, artists, casual movie watchers, designers, photographers, students, and more. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest filmmakers in cinematic history. His reach and influence is felt across a broad range of disciplines, cultures, and social groups.

Kubrick is most noted for his film adaptations of novels and short stories that cover a wide range of genres. His works usually contain elements of realism, dark humor, extensive set designs, unique cinematography, and evocative use of music. But of all his work, 2001: Space Odyssey brought the largest impact to cinema and pop culture. 

Here are the reasons why Stanley Kubrick is a huge influence to pop culture:

He influenced the most influential directors of all time.

Stanley Kubrick is regarded by film critics and historians as one of the most influential directors of all time. His works inspired leading directors including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, George Lucas, James Cameron, Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, the Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, and George A. Romero.

He continues to be essential to the artistic careers of later directors like David Fincher, Michael Mann, Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noe, and Guillermo del Toro. Many filmmakers imitate Kubrick’s unique use of camera movement and framing. For instance, a lot of Jonathan Glazer’s music videos contain some visual references to Kubrick. The Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991) contains a hotel hallway shot as a homage to The Shining (1980). The storytelling style of the Coen Brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy (1994) was influenced by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964). 

Directors Quentin Tarantino, Joel Schumacher, Richard Linklater, Sam Mendes, Taylor Hackford, and Darren Aronofsky all mentioned Kubrick as having one of their favorite films. 

2001: A Space Odyssey laid the groundwork for every sci-fi film released ever since. 

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. This movie was worth the nostalgia and revisionist history claims about its wide-ranging cultural impact. It’s one of the few films that has permeated and influenced all aspects of pop culture to a large degree. With its epic story that spans millions of years and multiple dimension aided by jaw-dropping practical effects ahead of its time, it’s no wonder that his film will be highly influential for years to come.

2001 paved the way for other philosophical, action-free, bureaucratic stories about space-time and first contact with extraterrestrial life. Kubrick proved that just because you’re dealing with the vastness of space doesn’t mean you can’t tell a small, contained story. 

Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is packed with nods to 2001. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) builds upon the well-lit aesthetic of Kubrick’s version of the future and spins it out into its inevitable dystopian conclusion, and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) was nothing short of a love letter to Kubrick’s 2001 – it even went so far as to send its main character into the same time and space-bending wormhole. 

However, there’s no other director who has set his feet more firmly planted on Kubrick’s shoulders than George Lucas. The Star Wars creator famously said that 2001 is the “ultimate science fiction movie.” 

His production design and visual effects added a sense of realism to sci-fi films. 

The effects team of Kubrick’s 2001, led by Douglas Trumbull, was notable for its use of in-camera techniques and pioneering front projection for extensive backgrounds. The intricate models of spacecraft were carefully photographed for a realistic depth of field, while interior shots of ships were created using enormous sets like the rotating centrifuge. These majestic effects were used to create a sense of realism that was typically absent from sci-fi films of the era. Little did Kubrick and his production team know that NASA would land a man on the moon the very next year. 

Star Wars borrowed a myriad of cinematographic benchmarks set by 2001. They replicated the space cockpit shots in 2001, which was filmed at a low angle to convey the cramped feelings of the pilots. They also made use of the now-ubiquitous planetary orbit shot that introduced man’s first steps into the cosmos as different spacecrafts orbit a futuristic earth. This shot can be seen in pretty much all other sci-fi content to come thereafter. 

The scale and craft in 2001 became a model for future production design and visual effects teams to create their own sci-fi worlds. Kubrick’s expansive vision has influenced many people working in new technological fields. 

Even the sound effects and graphic design in Kubrick’s iconic film is baked into the DNA of most sci-fi movies to come after. The Millennium Falcon’s jump to light speed is a less colorful version of Dave entering the star-gate wormhole by Jupiter. This same effect would later inspire the bullet-time sequence in The Matrix (1999).  

He gave audiences their first taste of an AI with human characteristics. 

Modern science fiction had a ubiquity of examples of artificial intelligence (AI) that either threaten humanity or open it up to new experiences. HAL 9000, the sentient computer at the heart of 2001, is the most memorable character on the film, ironically for its human characteristics. After turning on the Discovery One astronaut crew and killing its commander due to an internal malfunction, HAL represented a common fear of artificial intelligence, in that man-made technology will eventually turn on its creators after gaining too much knowledge. 

This same AI trope is explored in Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and in James Cameron’s Terminator (1984). 

Though modern sci-fi films typically feature AI with distinctly human features, and it’s different than the one Kubrick has created, the influence is still visible – it still revolves around the idea about how technology can assist, love, or destroy humans with just a change in circuitry. 

His use of soundtracks and music in films is revolutionary.

Initially, Kubrick planned to have an original score developed for 2001, but at the last minute, he decided to keep the now-iconic classical music he used as placeholders in the final cut of the movie. Today, you can’t hear “Thus Spake Zarathustra” of “The Blue Danube” without conjuring images of space stations, obelisks, and the universe. The musical allusion has been used in everything from Zoolander to The Simpsons

His soundtrack was instantly iconic in a manner that cannot be reproduced. Kubrick’s decision to use pre-existing music in his films bucked the trend of using original music on space films. As filmmakers saw and felt the emotional impact a familiar sound can achieve, they also used familiar songs in unexpected scenes. It changed the entire element of cinema forever. Both Wes Anderson’s twee mixtapes and Scorsese’s dad rock playlists are inspired by Kubrick’s disruption of film sound norms. The use of classical music in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) follows Kubrick’s example. 2001’s sound and music helped pave the way for the use of unconventional music cues in science fiction. 

2001: A Space Odyssey rendered the use original music for sci-fi films a passé, until John Williams, a composer, made it cool again in the first Star Wars

He pioneered the use of Steadicam in filmmaking. 

Kubrick, being inspired by David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), used sound and evocative camera moves the communicate the mood he wanted to achieve. In Kubrick’s The Shining, the director of photography John Alcott creates an illusion of a vast and seamless virtual world bathed in bright, white light. Aiding in this disquieting sense of size and space was Kubrick’s pioneering use of the Steadicam.

The Shining is one of the first films to use this photography technique. The floating, disembodied camerawork was originally intended to make up a small portion of the film, but its use considerably grew during the production. Kubrick worked closely with Steadicam inventor Garret Brown, and they invented a new “low mode” bracket for the camera together. This allowed Kubrick to shoot much closer to the floor than had previously been possible. 

2001 spawned an entire catalogue of pop culture tropes and stylistic elements. 

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 was so influential that it immediately spawned an entire catalogue of pop culture tropes and stylistic elements that cannot be categorized. Through decades of imitation, evolution, and parody, his original tropes are now seen as cliché, but to consider it anything less than iconic is to undervalue its genius. 

Here are some ways Kubrick’s most valuable brainchild, 2001: The Space Odyssey, has changed everything: 

2001 was the first sci-fi film to correctly convey the lack of sound in space.

The concept of a robot or program’s “voice” dropping in pitch and slowing down as it was powered down comes directly from HAL’s demise. 

Naming a killer robot or a supercomputer in a [Name/Initials]-[Number] format is a nod to HAL 9000. For instance, the same format was used in the various terminator models such as T-600, T-1000, and more. 

Dave’s heavy breathing during a spacewalk to fix his ship’s antenna has been replicated in sci-fi films to convey the tension, danger, and isolation of a trip outside the ship. This even inspired Darth Vader’s respirator sound. 

2001 invented the trope of having a big monolith looming over shocked onlookers.

The copywriter who came up with the name of Apple’s iPod credits 2001’s “open the pod bay doors, HAL” line as his inspiration.