Despite the film's controversial nature, A Clockwork Orange was a hit with American audiences, grossing more than $26 million on a conservative budget of $2.2 million, was critically acclaimed, and was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture (losing to The French Connection). It also boosted sales of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As of 2015, A Clockwork Orange holds a 90% "Certified Fresh" rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie was the most popular film of 1972 in France with admissions of 7,611,745.
The film is ranked highly in many polls. It is ranked 46th in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies and 70th in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition). In Sight & Sound's 2012 poll, A Clockwork Orange was ranked 75th greatest film of all time in the directors poll and 235th in the critics poll.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised the film saying "McDowell is splendid as tomorrow's child, but it is always Mr. Kubrick's picture, which is even technically more interesting than "2001." Among other devices, Mr. Kubrick constantly uses what I assume to be a wide-angle lens to distort space relationships within scenes, so that the disconnection between lives, and between people and environment, becomes an actual, literal fact." The following year, after the film won the New York Film Critics Award he called it "a brilliant and dangerous work, but it is dangerous in a way that brilliant things sometimes are."
Despite general praise from critics, the film had notable detractors. Film critic Stanley Kauffmann commented, "Inexplicably, the script leaves out Burgess' reference to the title". Roger Ebert gave A Clockwork Orange two stars out of four, calling it an "ideological mess." In the New Yorker review titled "Stanley Strangelove", Pauline Kael called it pornographic because of how it dehumanized Alex's victims while highlighting the sufferings of the protagonist. Kael derided Kubrick as a "bad pornographer", noting the Billyboy's gang extended stripping of the very buxom woman they intended to rape, claiming it was offered for titillation.
John Simon noted that the novel's most ambitious effects were based on language and the alienating effect of the narrator's Nadsat slang, making it a poor choice for a film. Concurring with some of Kael's criticisms about the depiction of Alex's victims, Simon noted that the writer character (young and likeable in the novel) was played by Patrick Magee, "a very quirky and middle-aged actor who specialises in being repellent". Simon comments further that "Kubrick over-directs the basically excessive Magee until his eyes erupt like missiles from their silos and his face turns every shade of a Technicolor sunset."
The film was re-released in North America in 1973 and earned $1.5 million in rentals.
Responses and controversy
Along with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), Dirty Harry (1971), and Straw Dogs (1971), the film is considered a landmark in the relaxation of control on violence in the cinema. In the United Kingdom, A Clockwork Orange was very controversial and withdrawn from release by Kubrick himself. It is 21st in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills and number 46 in the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies, although in the second listing, it is ranked 70th of 100. "Alex DeLarge" is listed 12th in the villains section of the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2008, the AFI's 10 Top 10 rated A Clockwork Orange as the 4th greatest science-fiction movie to date. In 2010, TIME placed it 9th on their list of the Top 10 Ridiculously Violent Movies. In 2008, Empire ranked it 37th on their list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.", and in 2013, Empire ranked it 11th on their list of "The 100 Best British Films Ever". Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel was highly praising of the film. He once said: "A Clockwork Orange is my current favourite. I was predisposed against the film. After seeing it, I realised it is only a movie about what the modern world really means".
- American Film Institute recognition
- 1998: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #46
- 2001: AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #21
- 2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- Alex De Large – #12 Villain
- 2007: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #70
- 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10 – #4 Science Fiction Film
In the United States, A Clockwork Orange was rated X in its original release. Later, Kubrick voluntarily replaced approximately 30 seconds of sexually explicit footage from two scenes with less explicit action for an R rating re-release in 1973. Current DVDs present the original edit (reclassified with an "R" rating), and only some of the early 1980s VHS editions are the edited version.
Because of the explicit sex and violence, The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures rated it C ("Condemned"), a rating which forbade Roman Catholics seeing the film. In 1982, the Office abolished the "Condemned" rating. Subsequently, films deemed to have unacceptable levels of sex and violence by the Conference of Bishops are rated O, "Morally Offensive".
Although it was passed uncut for UK cinemas in December 1971, British authorities considered the sexual violence in the film to be extreme. In March 1972, during the trial of a fourteen-year-old male accused of the manslaughter of a classmate, the prosecutor referred to A Clockwork Orange, suggesting that the film had a macabre relevance to the case. The film was also linked to the murder of an elderly vagrant by a 16-year-old boy in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, who pleaded guilty after telling police that friends had told him of the film "and the beating up of an old boy like this one." Roger Gray QC, for the defence, told the court that "the link between this crime and sensational literature, particularly A Clockwork Orange, is established beyond reasonable doubt". The press also blamed the film for a rape in which the attackers sang "Singin' in the Rain" as "Singin' in the Rape". Christiane Kubrick, the director's wife, has said that the family received threats and had protesters outside their home. Subsequently, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from British distribution. In response to allegations that the film was responsible for copycat violence Kubrick stated: "To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures." The Scala Cinema Club went into receivership in 1993 after losing a legal battle following an unauthorized screening of the film.
Whatever the reason for the withdrawal, it was difficult to see A Clockwork Orange in the United Kingdom for 27 years. It was only after Kubrick's death in 1999 that the film reappeared in cinemas and was released on VHS and DVD. On July 4, 2001, the uncut version premiered on Sky TV's Sky Box Office, where it ran until mid-September.
Withdrawal controversy documentary
In 1993, Channel 4 broadcast Forbidden Fruit, a 27-minute documentary about the controversial withdrawal of the film in Britain. It contains much footage from A Clockwork Orange, marking the only time portions of the film were shown to British audiences during the 27-year ban.
- Hugo Awards 1972
- Best Dramatic Presentation
- 1971 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
- Best Director – Stanley Kubrick
- Best Film
- 33rd Venice International Film Festival
- Pasinetti Award
- Silver Ribbon (Nastro d'Argento) 1973 for Best Foreign Director - Stanley Kubrick (awarded by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists)
- 44th Academy Awards
- Best Director – Stanley Kubrick
- Best Film Editing – Bill Butler
- Best Picture – Stanley Kubrick (Producer)
- Best Adapted Screenplay – Stanley Kubrick
- 26th BAFTA Awards
- Best Art Direction – John Barry
- Best Cinematography – John Alcott
- Best Direction – Stanley Kubrick
- Best Film
- Best Film Editing – Bill Butler
- Best Screenplay – Stanley Kubrick
- Best Sound Track – Brian Blamey, John Jordan, Bill Rowe
- 24th Directors Guild of America Awards
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures – Stanley Kubrick
- 29th Golden Globe Awards
- Best Director: Motion Picture – Stanley Kubrick
- Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Best Motion Picture Actor: Drama – Malcolm McDowell
- Writers Guild of America Awards 1972
- Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium – Stanley Kubrick