The Shining had a slow start at the box office, but gained momentum, eventually doing well commercially during the summer of 1980 and making Warner Bros. a profit. It opened at first to mixed reviews. 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." A common initial criticism was the slow pacing, which was highly atypical of horror films of the time. Roger Ebert did not review the film on his television show when first released, and in print complained that it was hard to connect with any of the characters. 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 was nominated for a pair of Razzie Awards, including Worst Director and Worst Actress (Duvall), in the first year that award was given.
Tim Cahill of Rolling Stone noted in an interview with Kubrick that 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. Viewers subsequently decided the slow pacing actually contributes to the film's hypnotic quality. Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 87% "Certified Fresh".
In 2006, Roger Ebert, who was initially critical of the work, inducted The Shining into his Great Movies series, saying, "Stanley 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."
Horror film critic Peter Bracke reviewing the Blu-ray release in Hi-Def Digest writes:
Just as the ghostly apparitions of the film's fictional Overlook Hotel would play tricks on the mind of poor Jack Torrance, so too has the passage of time changed the perception of The Shining itself. Many of the same reviewers who lambasted the film for "not being scary" enough back in 1980 now rank it among the most effective horror films ever made, while audiences who hated the film back then now vividly recall being "terrified" by the experience. The Shining has somehow risen from the ashes of its own bad press to redefine itself not only as a seminal work of the genre, but perhaps the most stately, artful horror ever made.
The Shining is widely acclaimed by today's critics, and has become a staple of pop culture. In 2001, the film was ranked 29th on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list and Jack Torrance was named the 25th greatest villain on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list in 2003. In 2005, the quote "Here's Johnny!" was ranked 68 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list. It was named the all-time scariest film by Channel 4, Total Film labeled it the 5th greatest horror film, and Bravo TV named one of the film's scenes 6th on their list of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In addition, film critics Kim Newman and Jonathan Romney both placed it in their top ten lists for the 2002 Sight & Sound poll. Director Martin Scorsese placed The Shining on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time. Mathematicians at London's King's College 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. It was voted the 62nd greatest American film ever made in a 2015 poll conducted by BBC.
Analysis of change in perception
In 1999, Jonathan Romney discussed Kubrick's perfectionism and dispelled others' initial arguments that the film lacked complexity: "The final scene alone demonstrates what a rich source of perplexity The Shining offers [...] look beyond the simplicity and the Overlook reveals itself as a palace of paradox". Romney further explains:
The dominating presence of the Overlook Hotel – designed by Roy Walker as a composite of American hotels visited in the course of research – is an extraordinary vindication of the value of mise en scène. It's a real, complex space that we don't just see but come to virtually inhabit. The confinement is palpable: horror cinema is an art of claustrophobia, making us loath to stay in the cinema but unable to leave. Yet it's combined with a sort of agoraphobia – we are as frightened of the hotel's cavernous vastness as of its corridors' enclosure. ... The film sets up a complex dynamic between simple domesticity and magnificent grandeur, between the supernatural and the mundane in which the viewer is disoriented by the combination of spaciousness and confinement, and an uncertainty as to just what is real or not.
Response by Stephen King
Speaking about the theme of the film, Kubrick stated that "there's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious; we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly". Stephen King has been quoted as saying that although Kubrick made a film with memorable imagery, it was poor as an adaptation and that it is the only adaptation of his novels that he could "remember hating". However, in King's 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, he listed Kubrick's film among those he considered to have "contributed something of value to the [horror] genre" and mentioned it as one of his "personal favorites". Before the 1980 movie King often said he gave little attention to the film adaptations of his work.
King himself was suffering from alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel, therefore giving a strong autobiographical element to the story. He has expressed disappointment that his novel's important themes, such as the disintegration of family and the dangers of alcoholism, are less prevalent in the film. King also viewed the casting of Nicholson as a mistake, arguing it would result in a rapid realization among audiences that Jack would ultimately go mad, due to Nicholson's famous identification with the character of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). King had suggested that a more “everyman”-like actor such as Jon Voight, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty play the role, so that Jack's subsequent descent into madness would be more unnerving.
In an interview with the BBC, King also criticized Shelley Duvall's performance in the film, stating "(S)he's basically just there to scream and be stupid, and that's not the woman that I wrote about."
Over the years, contradictions have arisen in the discussion of King's criticisms. The author once suggested that he disliked the film's downplaying of the supernatural; King had envisioned Jack as a victim of the genuinely external forces haunting the hotel, whereas King felt Kubrick had viewed the haunting and its resulting malignancy as coming from within Jack himself. In October 2013, however, journalist Laura Miller wrote that the discrepancy between the two was almost the complete opposite: the Jack Torrance of the novel was corrupted by his own choices – particularly alcoholism – whereas in Kubrick's adaptation the causes are actually more surreal and ambiguous:
King is, essentially, a novelist of morality. The decisions his characters make — whether it’s to confront a pack of vampires or to break 10 years of sobriety — are what matter to him. But in Kubrick’s The Shining, the characters are largely in the grip of forces beyond their control. It’s a film in which domestic violence occurs, while King’s novel is about domestic violence as a choice certain men make when they refuse to abandon a delusional, defensive entitlement. As King sees it, Kubrick treats his characters like “insects” because the director doesn’t really consider them capable of shaping their own fates. Everything they do is subordinate to an overweening, irresistible force, which is Kubrick’s highly developed aesthetic; they are its slaves. In King’s “The Shining”, the monster is Jack. In Kubrick’s, the monster is Kubrick.
King's oft-cited remark about Kubrick being a man who “thinks too much and feels too little” is often misconstrued as a remark on Kubrick's obsessive and detached approach to directing actors, but it is actually a less disparaging reference to Kubrick's skepticism regarding the verisimilitude of the supernatural, which emerged in pre-production conversations between King and Kubrick. The full context of King's well-known quote is:
Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat. Not that religion has to be involved in horror, but a visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn't grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn't believe, he couldn't make the film believable to others. What's basically wrong with Kubrick's version of The Shining is that it's a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that's why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should.
Mark Browning, a critic of King's work, observed that King's novels frequently contain a narrative closure that completes the story, which Kubrick's film lacks. Browning has in fact argued that King has exactly the opposite problem of which he accused Kubrick. King, he believes, "feels too much and thinks too little".
King was also disappointed by Kubrick's decision not to film at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which inspired the story (a decision Kubrick made since the hotel lacked sufficient snow and electricity). However, King finally supervised the 1997 television adaptation also titled The Shining, filmed at The Stanley Hotel.
The animosity of King toward Kubrick's adaptation has dulled over time. During an interview segment on the Bravo channel, King stated that the first time he watched Kubrick's adaptation, he found it to be "dreadfully unsettling".
Nonetheless, writing in the afterword of Doctor Sleep, King professed continued dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film. He said of it "...of course there was Stanley Kubrick's movie which many seem to remember — for reasons I have never quite understood — as one of the scariest films they have ever seen. If you have seen the movie but not read the novel, you should note that Doctor Sleep follows the latter which is, in my opinion, the True History of the Torrance Family."
Awards and nominations
|Razzie Award||Worst Actress||Shelley Duvall||Nominated|
|Worst Director||Stanley Kubrick|
|Saturn Award||Best Director|
|Best Supporting Actor||Scatman Crothers||Won|
|Best Horror Film||Nominated|
|Best Music||Wendy Carlos|