The 10 most memorable songs in Stanley Kubrick films

To this day, Stanley Kubrick remains undeniably one of cinema’s most important and influential figure. The American Director, master of adaptations,  not only introduced an innovative approach to storytelling contributing to the New Hollywood cinema, his work also greatly advanced film techniques. But we’re not here to discuss his technological prowess, today we look -or listen- instead at the music of his films.

While not always necessarily present, the soundtrack of a film is as important as the film itself. It reveals characters’ feelings, tells the audience what to expect, as well as what to feel. And there’s no doubt about it, Kubrick mastered it like no other.


“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” -Stanley Kubrick

If you focus of the soundtrack of the 13 feature films he gave us, you become aware of two things: Kubrick makes you feel through music; and that’s mainly because we feel the admiration he has for the music he chooses. He wants us to acknowledge it, to pay attention to it. His music isn’t in the background to fill the silence: it’s loud, brutal, but also beautiful.

It’s no secret Kubrick was a difficult man to work with. Aware of his genius he would be condescending and tough with his actors and set team, but you can tell he respected the classical composers he featured in his films. He wanted to celebrate them, and share his passion for music with the audience. Blending strong images with even stronger symphonies and orchestra compositions, Kubrick’s music left a mark on every viewer.

Today we countdown the 10 most memorable use of music in his films. Most memorable doesn’t necessarily imply most famous or iconic, but the music that stays with the viewer after seeing these films; the songs that haunt you. Songs that you immediately hear in the back of your head when thinking about Stanley Kubrick’s amazing work.

[Spoilers ahead!]

#10. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” – Union Army bandmaster Louis Lambert

in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Nothing says ‘Murica like a good old American Civil War marching song. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”helps Dr. Strangelove‘s reach this odd yet perfect balance between horror and absurdity making the film an amazing satire of the Cold War’s nuclear conflict.

#9. “Surfin’ Bird” – The Trashmen

in Full Metal Jacket (1987)

“A-well-a ev’rybody’s heard about the bird bird bird bird. B-bird’s the word oh well-a bird bird bird.” This song literally haunts you. Hats off to Kubrick for his amazing use of The Trashmen’s annoyingly great song in the middle of a Vietnam War assault. He could have opted for an epic classical composition but instead uses the surf song to truly captures the American soldiers experience in Nam.

#8. “We Will Meet Again” – Vera Lynn

in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Imagine seeing this in 1964 in the middle of the Cold War conflict. We reach the critical moment the Doomsday device will go off, but Dr. Strangelove has a plan to save humanity and is so thrilled about it he can walk again but suddenly, *BOOM!*, the world is no more, ravaged by the Doomsday device activation of every Russian nuclear head. The bombs explode over Vera Lynn’s soothing and reassuring voice. Try sleeping after this.

#7. “Masked Ball” – Jocelyn Pook

in Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut isn’t Kubrick’s most popular work but focuses yet again on the concepts of power and authority in society. The scene of Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) entering the secret sex cult during an almost religious ritual, all to Jocelyn Pook’s unsettling prayer, is terrifying.We, like Bill, understand we’ve stepped in somewhere we shouldn’t be and aren’t welcomed.

#6. “The Thieving Magpie” – Gioachino Rossini

in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

The entire A Clockwork Orange soundtrack could feature on this list but we’re going for a bit of diversity instead. The use of classical music in the film always gives Alex and his gang a sort of choreography, almost orchestrating their ultra-violence. In this case, Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” makes Alex’s demand for authority almost joyful, playful.

#5. “Trio op 100” – Schubert

in Barry Lyndon (1975)

Only Schubert’s trio could fit Barry Lyndon’s adventures, slowly making his way through the ranks of the 18th century English nobility. The theme recurs throughout the three hour film, highlighting Lyndon life’s key moments, both good and bad ones.

#4. “Lux Aeterna” – György Ligeti

in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Prehistoric men being given the gift or conscience and intelligence should be a beautiful moment right? So why is it immortalized with the terrifying sound of a thousand souls dying simultaneously? It’s the dawn of man and Kubrick already announces a dark and lugubrious setting.

#3. “Sunrise” from Thus Spoke Zarathustra Op. 30 – Richard Strauss

in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

One of Kubrick’s iconic theme, the music everyone knows thanks to ads, The Simpsons and other many film references; it defines 2001: A Space Odyssey. It opens the film with the beautiful shot of the sun revealing the earth but is also present when man invents his first tool and announces his quest for the sky. Humanity at its finest.

#2. “Singing in the rain” – Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown

in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

How did they not see that coming? When Kubrick approached MGM Studios offering $10,000 for the rights to Hollywood’s favourite song “Singing in the Rain” they must’ve been thrilled, but at what cost. How could they expect A Clockwork Orange to forever change this innocent joyful song. Alex’s casual rendition of the song confuses, he seems so likable yet insane.

#1. “Symphony No. 9, second movement” – Ludwig Von Beethoven

in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 “Ludwig. Van. Beethoven” No scene shows Kubrick’s adoration for classical music this well. We see a human side to Alex we didn’t before. Alex’s little presentation of the German composer reminds us of when we try to introduce a friend to an artist we really love. So sit back, and let him share his passion with you as you enjoy watching Jesus statues dancing to Beethoven’s powerful 9th symphony. A scene with a soundtrack that captures Kubrick at his finest.


Words by Aurelien Huet for Stereoscopik.


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