The Shining: why we can’t stop watching Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece

We investigate the enduring appeal of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece...

Note: Minor spoilers for The Shining and Ready Player One lie ahead…

Think about The Shining. What springs to mind? Is it the river of blood flowing through the Overlook Hotel? The sinister Grady Twins tormenting poor Danny Torrance? Maybe it’s Jack Nicholson crashing an axe through the bathroom door and shouting “here’s Johnny!”?

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror strikes a chord with different viewers in different ways, mainly because it’s just so jam-packed with unforgettable screen moments. That’s a big reason why The Shining has become a legit masterpiece – we keep coming back to it again and again, revisiting these iconic sequences and finding new things to love each time.

The making of The Shining? Well that’s another remarkable story. Sure, putting together any film is a monumental challenge, but Kubrick’s perfectionism meant that The Shining took over a year to film, with the gargantuan Overlook Hotel sets taking over the entirety of the UK’s Elstree Studios.

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At the heart of it all was Jack Nicholson as Overlook caretaker Jack Torrance, slowly losing his grip on sanity as winter takes hold. Kubrick did his bit to push his stars to the edge, resorting to wind-up merchant tactics like feeding Nicholson only cheese sandwiches on set for two weeks (which he hated!) and, according to Shelley Duvall, spending three days (and 60 doors!) getting the “here’s Johnny” scene just right.

Incidentally that line – the catchphrase of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon – was improvised by Nicholson. Kubrick had been living in the UK since 1962 and had no idea what the reference meant – but he kept it in the final cut and a legendary movie line was born.

Here, then, are a few extra geeky facts you might not know about The Shining in video form…

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Oh, and those endless pages reading “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? According to editor Gordon Stainforth, they were all painstakingly typed up by the production secretary and several assistants (who sadly didn’t have the benefit of CTRL V and CTRL C at the time!).

The attention to detail didn’t end there. For foreign language versions of the film Kubrick refused to just translate that phrase with subtitles, instead coming up with different sentences to put on the reams of paper. So if you saw The Shining in Italy, you’d have been confronted with “Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca”. Translation? “The morning has gold in its mouth.”

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The Shining was first shown to the world on May 23, 1980 and became a box office hit, making back more than double its production budget. It’s lived on far beyond that summer, though – 38 years later and it still casts a spell. Kubrick’s film, to paraphrase the Gradys, invites to you to come play forever and ever and ever…

It helps that the film has celebrity fans who continue to champion it. Martin Scorsese named it as one of his scariest movies of all time, Pixar Oscar winner Lee Unkrich runs a brilliant fansite dedicated to it, and Steven Spielberg counts his viewings in double figures. He even gave The Shining a loving tribute in Ready Player One, taking us on a dazzling virtual reality tour of the Overlook that brought Kubrick’s masterpiece to a new generation.

The final word? Let’s give that to Mr Spielberg. “I have seen The Shining 25 times, it’s one of my favourite pictures,” he says. “Kubrick films tend to grow on you, you have to see them more than once. I defy you to name one Kubrick film that you can turn off once you start it… it’s impossible.”