Nolan vs. Kubrick: The Visual Auteurs

Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick are two of the most acclaimed and influential directors of all time. Both have made films that have challenged audiences and changed the way we think about cinema, are known for their technical mastery, have a penchant for visually immersive films and the exploration of complex themes and ideas. When it comes to favourite filmmakers, these two household names are bound to make the cut in many people’s top 10 directors of all-time.

While these brilliant dream-casters have a number of similarities, they do have their differences. For instance, a consummate professional who often wears suits… Nolan is more commercially-geared than Kubrick. This has been one of his biggest selling points, able to bridge the commercial appeal of big-budget blockbusters without losing credibility as an artful director. This mainstream clout makes Christopher Nolan’s film releases cinematic events and having already landed some of the best films within their subgenre, he’s easily one of the best filmmakers working today.

Stanley Kubrick was more of an auteur filmmaker whose challenging and even experimental films were not designed for mainstream audiences. ‘Auteur’ refers to filmmakers who are considered to be authors, often credited as writer-directors with an heavy influence on the final cut. While Christopher Nolan’s signature style demonstrates he also belongs within this grouping, his business-like approach makes his intricate films seem less singular than Kubrick’s visions.

While Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is no doubt one of the sci-fi genre’s darlings, he isn’t quite as entrenched within the genre as Nolan who has Inception, Tenet, Interstellar and The Dark Knight trilogy to his name. Nolan’s often non-linear and cerebral films lend themselves to the surreal and mind-bending quality of the sci-fi genre, which is why it’s become his go-to genre. Kubrick’s films have varied, moving from political satire in Dr Strangelove, war drama in Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, psychosexual drama in Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut only to find epic horror based on Stephen King’s masterpiece, The Shining.

Both directors haven’t won an Oscar for Best Director at the Academy Awards, an honour that also wasn’t bestowed upon master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Stanley Kubrick made some of the most iconic films across his celebrated film career as a director, surprisingly only winning an Oscar for best visual effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. While most of his films, except The Shining, were nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes – the director only made thirteen feature films over five decades. While digital filmmaking advances and tighter budgets have sped things up considerably, Kubrick took his time over projects, often taking four or more years between productions. Now onto a dozen feature films with the release of Oppenheimer in half that time, Christopher Nolan is about to eclipse Kubrick when it comes to the number of feature films he’s directed, and is still going strong.

Sharing a passion for making visually-enticing films that explore complex concepts and themes in an original way, Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick have had a considerable influence and made films that will be remembered and studied for years to come.