Shining, The (1980): Kubrick’s Horror Movie–Critical Reception, Then and Now

Issues to Remember:

A broad, loud, unsubtle movie.

A parody of the horror genre, rather than a scary film intended to give its audience a fright.

An examination of the family.

A probe into the patriarchal environment and a prophecy of its collapse.

Critical Reception: Initial Reviews of Kubrick’s Horror Movie

The Shining initially opened to decidedly mixed reviews.

My Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

The Shining
The Shining (1980) U.K. release poster - The tide of terror that swept America IS HERE.jpg

UK theatrical release poster

Janet Maslin of The New York Times lauded Nicholson’s performance and praised the Overlook Hotel as an effective setting for horror, but wrote that “the supernatural story knows frustratingly little rhyme or reason … Even the film’s most startling horrific images seem overbearing and perhaps even irrelevant.”

Variety was critical, saying, “With everything to work with, … Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King’s bestseller.”

One of the common initial complaints concerned the slow pacing, which was highly atypical of horror films of the time.

Neither Gene Siskel nor Roger Ebert reviewed the film on their TV show Sneak Previews when it was first released, but in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert complained that it was hard to connect with any of the characters.

In his Chicago Tribune review, Siskel gave the film two stars out of four and called it “a crashing disappointment. The biggest surprise is that it contains virtually no thrills. Given Kubrick’s world-class reputation, one’s immediate reaction is that maybe he was after something other than thrills in the film. If so, it’s hard to figure out what.”

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker stated, “Again and again, the movie leads us to expect something – almost promises it – and then disappoints us.”

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, “Stanley Kubrick’s production of ‘The Shining’, a ponderous, lackluster distillation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel, looms as the Big Letdown of the new film season. I can’t recall a more elaborately ineffective scare movie.”

It was the only one of Kubrick’s last nine films to receive no nominations at all from either the Oscars or Golden Globes.

But it was nominated for Razzie Awards, including Worst Director and Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall), in the first year that award was given.

Vincent Misiano’s review in Ares Magazine concluded with, “The Shining lays open to view all the devices of horror and suspense – endless eerie music, odd camera angles, a soundtrack of interminably pounding heart, hatchets and hunts. The result is shallow, self-conscious and dull. Read the book.”

The Shining opened the same weekend as The Empire Strikes Back but was only released on 10 screens and grossed $622,337 for the 4-day weekend.

It was the third highest-grossing opening weekend from fewer than 50 screens of all time, behind Star Wars (1977) and The Rose (1979).

It had a per-screen average gross of $62,234 compared to $50,919 for The Empire Strikes Back from 126 screens.

After expanding, the film gained momentum, eventually doing well commercially during the summer of 1980 and making Warner Bros. a profit.

Later Response:

By 1987 there was already a critical reevaluation of The Shining in process. As with most Kubrick films, more recent analyses have treated the film more favorably.

Over the years, various critics, scholars, and artists have discussed the film’s enormous influence on popular culture.

In 2001, the film was ranked 29th on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list

Jack Torrance was named the 25th greatest villain on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains list in 2003.[84]

In 2005, the quote “Here’s Johnny!” was ranked 68 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes list.

It had Channel 4’s all-time scariest moment,

Total Film labeled it the 5th greatest horror film, and Bravo TV named one of the film’s scenes sixth on their list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Film critics Kim Newman and Jonathan Romney both placed it in their top ten lists for the 2002 Sight & Sound poll.

Martin Scorsese placed it on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.

Mathematicians at King’s College London (KCL) used statistical modeling in a study commissioned by Sky Movies to conclude that The Shining was the “perfect scary movie” due to a proper balance of various ingredients including shock value, suspense, gore and size of the cast.

The Shining was voted the 62nd greatest American film ever made in a 2015 poll conducted by BBC.

In 2006, Roger Ebert, who was initially critical, inducted the film into his Great Movies series, saying, “Kubrick’s cold and frightening The Shining challenges us to decide: Who is the reliable observer? Whose idea of events can we trust? … It is this elusive open-endedness that makes Kubrick’s film so strangely disturbing.”

Though it deviates from Stephen King’s novel, Kubrick’s The Shining is a chillingly baroque journey into madness, exemplified by an unforgettable turn from Jack Nicholson.

Made on a budget of $19 million, ultimately, the movie was a commercial hit, scoring $46 million at the box-office.


Directed, produced by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Kubrick and Diane Johnson, based on The Shining by Stephen King
Music by Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind

Cinematography John Alcott
Edited by Ray Lovejoy

Production companies: The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions
Hawk Films

Distributed by Warner Bros. (US)
Release date: May 23, 1980 (US); October 2, 1980 (UK)

Running time: 146 minutes (premiere),  144 minutes (US), 119 minutes (Europe)

Budget $19 million
Box office $47 million