Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is a classic of the horror genre. We’ve got the story behind the scenes with 30 huge facts about The Shining.
The Shining was released in 1980 as Stanley Kubrick’s 11th feature film as director. Receiving less than a favourable response at the time, it has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Featuring an iconic leading performance from 3-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson, the production of the film was huge. We’re telling the sometimes shocking behind the scenes story below with 25 facts about The Shining.
1. The film was Kubrick’s first horror
Despite having already covered a broad range of genres in his previous 10 movies, The Shining marked Kubrick’s first foray into horror. Kubrick’s biographer, John Baxter, said that Kubrick felt that he was being outpaced in certain areas of film, specifically horror. And a film that exemplified this was The Exorcist. Released in 1973, The Exorcist was directed by William Friedkin and had met with enormous critical and commercial success. Strangely, Warner Bros had actually given Kubrick the chance to direct The Exorcist and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), but he turned them down.
Kubrick, Baxter said, wanted to do something so great that his peers would be blown away. He had grown an interest in ghostly, gothic stories and had told a friend that he wanted to make, “the world’s scariest movie, involving a series of episodes that would play upon the nightmare fears of the audience.”
Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining
2. Kubrick found the perfect story
Stephen King’s novel The Shining had been released in 1977 and quickly became a best-selling classic. Kubrick read it and loved it, calling the book, “one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read.”
There are several different versions of the story of Kubrick reading The Shining for the first time. One of the most commonly cited accounts comes from the book Stanley Kubrick and Me by Kubrick’s assistant, Emilio D’Alessandro.
According to D’Alessandro, Kubrick was initially skeptical about the idea of making a horror film, but he was intrigued by the premise of King’s novel. As he read, Kubrick became more and more engrossed in the story, staying up all night to finish it. D’Alessandro describes Kubrick’s reaction to the book as follows: “He loved it. He was just fascinated. And he said, ‘This is going to be my next film.'”
There is also a widely known story that D’Alessandro would know if Kubrick didn’t like a book as she would hear a thud when Kubrick discarded the book against the wall. During one reading session, he noticed there had been silence for a while. He entered Kubrick’s office and found him reading The Shining. How true this story is isn’t known, but it does demonstrate Kubrick’s love of the source material.
Emilio D’Alessandro and Stanley Kubrick
3. Kubrick decided to adapt the novel himself
The exact amount that Kubrick paid for the film rights to King’s novel has not been publicly disclosed, but it has been reported that the sum was somewhere between $500,000 and $1.5 million.
And King, keen to have some input into the movie, actually wrote a whole screenplay draft for the film. Kubrick completely ignored it, though. He is even quoted as calling King’s screenwriting, “weak”. Instead, Kubrick decided to adapt the book himself with novelist Diane Johnson.
Kubrick had read Johnson’s book The Shadow Knows and thought she’d be perfect as a writing partner. Kubrick and Johnson started their collaboration in 1977, although for the first month they didn’t write anything down. Instead they started out by asking questions to really understand the characters like “is Jack a nice man?” and “does Wendy love him?”
Diane Johnson, co-writer of The Shining
4. Kubrick didn’t like to travel
Despite being a native New Yorker, Kubrick had made England his home in 1961 after the release of Spartacus (1960). Kubrick also hated to fly so, with The Shining being set in Colorado, he wasn’t able to attend the location. Instead, he sent a 3-man team on a fact-finding mission to Colorado where they spent 3 months researching the history of the state.
Shortly afterwards, a 2nd unit camera team was sent over with very specific instructions from Kubrick. On this trip, they recorded aerial helicopter shots in the Glacial National Park in Montana and the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. These shots were used for the exterior shots of The Overlook Hotel and opening shots in the movie.
The opening helicopter shot of The Shining
5. Kubrick shot a lot of footage
Kubrick is known for his meticulous attention to detail in the preparation and shooting of his films. Part of this involves his penchant for shooting many takes of a scene before he’s satisfied with it. This trait was evident through the shoot for The Shining.
Kubrick had originally outlined a 4-month shooting schedule. This ended up growing to a huge 14 months. This delay was for various reasons (some of which we’ll talk about further in this article) and the amount of takes Kubrick insisted upon played a part. Some examples:
- The shot of Jack and groundskeeper, Grady in the bathroom is very well known. It took over 80 takes.
- Scatman Crothers plays Dick Halloran in the film. There’s a great shot of him in his bedroom where the camera slowly zooms out. Kubrick insisted on 60 takes. Crothers became so exasperated that he broke down in tears.
- After Jack loses his mind completely, he confronts Wendy in the Colorado Lounge and she hits him with a baseball bat. This scene actually went into the Guinness Book of World Records as the scene that was shot over the most takes. There were 127 in total.
Kubrick with cast and crew on the set
6. The set burned down
The set was built at Elstree Studios in England. This included stages for the Overlook Hotel’s interior, such as the Colorado Lounge, the Gold Room, and the hedge maze. During filming, a fire broke out and destroyed several soundstages at Elstree, including the one where the set for The Shining was located. The cause of the fire was never officially determined, but it is believed to have been caused by an electrical fault.
Fortunately, the main parts of The Shining were already filmed at that point, and the exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel were filmed at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. The film crew was able to rebuild the damaged sections of the set, though the cost was around $2.5m.
Kubrick laughing it up on the ruins of the set
7. Unused footage appeared in another iconic film
As mentioned above, Kubrick sent a camera team over to Colorado to shoot the film’s opening helicopter shots. So much footage was shot that most of it ended up on the cutting room floor, though some of it was used in another iconic film.
In the original theatrical cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the film ends with a voiceover narration laid over swooping helicopter shots. This sequence re-used footage from the opening shots of The Shining. Kubrick was a fan of Scott’s previous film Alien (1979) and gave his blessing for the footage to be used, providing it wasn’t footage that had been used in The Shining. In fact, if you watch the negative of Blade Runner in 1.85:1 ratio you can see Jack’s yellow car at the bottom of the frame.
A shot from Blade Runner that was filmed for The Shining
8. The Overlook seems to change its layout
In order to create a very subtle sense of unease in the audience, Kubrick mapped out a layout for the Overlook Hotel that doesn’t actually make any sense if you pay close attention. The production design changes frequently. Some examples are:
- In one scene we see Jack at his typewriter with some furniture behind him. All of a sudden, the furniture isn’t there any more.
- The hexagonal Overlook carpet is a famous visual in The Shining. It’s maybe most memorable when we see Danny playing with toy cars and a ball slowly rolls towards him. If you watch carefully, that carpet changes direction. As the ball rolls into frame the hexagon is facing Danny and when he stands up, it’s pointing outwards.
- When Jack first arrives at the Overlook, he walks through the foyer and into the manager Ullman’s office. The office has windows facing outside which, based on what we’ve just seen, is impossible.
Jan Harlan, an Executive Producer on the film, said: “The set was very deliberately built to be offbeat and off the track, so that the huge ballroom would never actually fit inside. The audience is deliberately made not to know where they’re going. People say The Shining doesn’t make sense. Well spotted! It’s a ghost movie. It’s not supposed to make sense.”
The carpet pattern changes direction
9. The film brought some technical innovations
A relatively new invention in the world of filmmaking was the Steadicam camera which has been created in 1975. This is where a camera is mounted onto a gyroscopic arm which protects the camera from movement and allows the camera to move fluidly up and down through the scenes. Before The Shining, the Steadicam had been used in films like Bound For Glory (1976), Marathon Man (1976) and Rocky (1976). Kubrick used the device extensively on The Shining and the inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown, was invited on set to work his magic.
The Steadicam is used famously in the scene where we track Danny round the Overlook as he rides his Big Wheel tricycle. To film these moments, the Steadicam operator was sat on a wheelchair that tracked Danny’s movement. Kubrick also had a speedometer on the wheelchair rig so that he could duplicate the tempo of the shot so he could get identical takes. Almost all shots from Danny were taken “from the hip” to get shots from Danny’s eye level and show the surroundings from his point of view.
Garrett Brown with the Steadicam on The Shining
10. Lots of famous actors were up for the lead role
The biggest star in The Shining is Jack Nicholson, who plays its primary antagonist, Jack Torrance. Nowadays, the role is one of Nicholson’s definitive performances but several other names were considered to play the part.
Stephen King authored the original novel, and he wanted an everyman actor for the role. He suggested Jon Voight, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty. Kubrick, on the other hand, considered Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Harrison Ford for Jack. He dismissed De Niro after watching Taxi Driver (1976) because he didn’t think he was psychotic enough. And he dismissed Williams after watching comedy series Mork & Mindy because he thought he was too psychotic.
Kubrick had always considered Nicholson to be, “one of the best actors in Hollywood, perhaps on a par with the greatest stars of the past like Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Cagney.” Because of that, he met with Nicholson and cast him as Jack Torrance.
Jack Nicholson with Kubrick on the set of The Shining
11. Nicholson threw himself into the role
Jack Nicholson isn’t necessarily known as an actor who likes to go too method, but he was very specific in his preparation for his role in The Shining:
- To get the required manic persona of the character, Nicholson only ate cheese sandwiches for 2 weeks straight before production started. He said he, “f***ing hates cheese sandwiches,” so thought this would help him slip into an intense and angry state of mind more easily.
- In the scene where Jack snaps at Wendy for interrupting him working, he says to her, “you’re distracting me, and it takes me time to get back to where I was.” On this moment, Nicholson said, “That’s what I was like when I got my divorce, I was under the pressure of being a family man with a daughter and one day I accepted a job to act in a movie in the daytime and I was writing a movie at night and I’m back in my little corner and my beloved wife Sandra walked in on what was, unbeknownst to her, this maniac. I told Stanley about it and we wrote it into the scene.”
12. Shelley Duvall went through a lot during production
Jack’s put upon wife, Wendy, is played in the film by Shelley Duvall. Kubrick cast Duvall because he thought she had an, “eccentric quality,” and would be able to play the type of character that would put up with Jack’s tantrums.
More well known, though, is Kubrick’s behind the scenes treatment of Shelley Duvall; which has become the stuff of Hollywood folklore. Kubrick shot the film in sequence, and used this as a way of slowly breaking Duvall down so that her frustration and distress is right there on screen. Kubrick had problems with Duvall’s line delivery, her reactions, pretty much all aspects of her performance.
There is a behind the scenes documentary called Making The Shining (1980) that was shot by Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian. In Vivian’s footage we see some of the treatment Duvall endured. At one point, having just come round after fainting, Duvall complaining that her hair is coming out in clumps. Kubrick says to his crew, “don’t sympathise with Shelley.”
Shelley Duvall later said, “From May until October I was in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.”
Shelley Duvall and Stanley Kubrick on the set
13. Danny Lloyd was protected during production
Danny Torrance was played by child actor Danny Lloyd, who was just 6 years-old at the time of filming. Kubrick protected Lloyd from some of the horrors of the movie by making Lloyd believe that he was in a drama film. Also, there’s a scene where Wendy shouts at Jack in the Colorado Lounge, “you did this to him”, having discovered bruises on Danny. It isn’t Lloyd but a life size dummy of him that Shelley Duvall holds.
14. The soundtrack came from various sources
Music by Wendy Carlos & Rachael Elkind – they scored the entire picture but Kubrick only used a few cues. The majority of the music was by Polish composer Krzystof Penderecki
The eerie, atmospheric soundtrack plays a significant role in creating the tense and unsettling mood of The Shining. The music for the was composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. Carlos had worked with Kubrick previously on A Clockwork Ornge (1971), and Rachel Elkind had since became her collaborator. They scored the entire picture, but Kubrick only used certain musical cues they had written. He also used music by other composers, such as classical pieces by composers like Béla Bartók and György Ligeti. Kubrick also used the works of a Polish composer called Krzysztof Penderecki. Kubrick was a fan of Penderecki and used several of his pieces in the film, including Polymorphia, Utrenja, and De Natura Sonoris No. 1.
Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind wrote the original music for The Shining
15. Kubrick was involved in the moon landing (according to some)
Since the release of The Shining, many theories have been put forward about what the real meaning of the film is and what Kubrick was trying to say. Dark topics such as Native American genocide and the Nazi Holocaust have came up but the one that is most talked about concerns the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969. Some people believe that Kubrick directed the famous, “one small step…” footage and gave us some clues in The Shining:
- Danny wears a sweater displaying Apollo 11 – the rocket that went to the moon.
- Tang, a drink closely linked to space travel (NASA used it on their Mercury space flight in 1962), can be seen in the hotel pantry.
- Many of the strange goings on in The Overlook take place in Room 237 – Earth is 237,000 miles to the moon. Although, to counter this, the room in question in the novel was Room 217 but this was changed to Room 237 at the behest of the Timberline Lodge, Oregon which acted as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel. They though that the film would put future guests off staying in that room and suggested a room number that they didn’t have at the hotel.
- The key fob for Room 237 has the letters ‘ROOM NO’ – it’s been argued that the only words these letters can make are Moon and Room. (Though these theorists have failed to identify that the word MONO can be spelled from these letters and also the word MORON).
- Jack has a dialogue with Wendy where he explains to her about his responsibilities to his employers. It’s been theorised that this dialogue is actually Kubrick talking about his responsibilities to the US Government.
Danny’s sweater gave the game away
16. One of the most iconic images from the film was meticulously planned
One of the most enduring images from The Shining is the Elevator of Blood moment: the shot of the blood crashing out of the elevator and flooding the corridor. Unlike many of the other scenes, the shot was done in only 3 takes. In order to get it right, though, Kubrick had painstakingly planned it across an entire year.
The original trailer for The Shining was simply this shot of the blood elevator but The MPAA weren’t happy about the amount of blood being shown. Kubrick managed to persuade them that the liquid wasn’t blood, it was rusty water, and the trailer was passed.
The Elevator of Blood scene in the film
17. Kubrick played a lot of chess
Known as an avid chess fan, Kubrick would often play the board game on his movie sets. Working on Dr. Strangelove (1964), he got round many tricky issues with actor George C. Scott by beating him at chess. The same was true of The Shining. Actor Tony Burton (who is in the U.S. cut), arrived on set with a chess board that he planned to play between takes. Kubrick took one look at it and halted production so he could squeeze a quick game in.
Kubrick was a chess master
18. The film has one visual effects shot
The film has one visual effects shot in the film – as in one shot that wasn’t captured in-camera. That is the ‘God shot’ we see of the model maze. It is essentially Jack’s POV. We focus on the maze and transition to the real maze as Wendy and Danny are walking through it.
Kubrick did this by building a life-size replica of the middle section of the real maze and placing it next to a tall apartment building. The crew hung off the top of the building to get the directly overhead shot and then this was superimposed over the top of a shot of a scale model of the maze.
The maze transition shot
19. Stephen King didn’t like the movie
Stephen King’s vocal dislike for Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel is one of the most famous stories in Hollywood saying. King has been quoted as saying The Shining was the only adaptation of his novels that he hated. He didn’t like it for a number of reasons:
- Stephen King didn’t like the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. Because of the success of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), King felt that people would immediately identify Jack, “as a looney.” King wanted to see Jack gradually descend into madness. He said, “If the guy is nuts to begin with, then the entire tragedy of his downfall is wasted.”
- King also didn’t like the characterisation of Wendy, calling her, “One of the most misogynistic characters ever.” He explained further, saying: “She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that’s not the woman I wrote about it.”
- He felt Kubrick’s film lacked the passion and emotion of his own novel and that Kubrick had preferred style over substance. He called it, “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.”
There’s a scene late on in the film when Halloran is on his way to the Overlook and passes a car wreck on the highway. The car is a red VW Beetle – the kind of car King drove in real life and which Jack drove in his novel. (The novel is semi-autobiographical because King had also struggled with alcoholism and family issues). As Jack drives a yellow Beetle in the film, a lot of people have taken this as a swipe at King.
Stephen King in 1980
20. Kubrick and King had an unusual working relationship
King says that throughout production, he would receive calls from Stanley Kubrick, often in the middle of the night. One time, Kubrick called King at 3am to ask, “Do you believe in God?” When King replied yes, Kubrick slammed the phone down yelling, “I KNEW IT!”
Kubrick would also ask King, “I think stories of the supernatural are fundamentally optimistic, don’t you? If there are ghosts then that means we survive death.” When King replied with the question of how Hell fits into that picture, Kubrick responded, “I don’t believe in hell”.
Stephen King has a cameo in the movie, too. He plays a conductor in the Gold Room.
21. The title came from a music legend
In both the book and the film, the title ‘The Shining’ refers to the mysterious telepathic abilities Danny displays, shared by Halloran. King took the title from the John Lennon song Instant Karma. In that song, Lennon repeats the lyric, “We all shine on.”
22. One of the most famous lines in the film wasn’t in the novel
One of the key indicators the film gives us that all is not well with Jack is when enters his writing space. Jack isn’t there and she takes a look at what he’s been working on. All she finds is page after page with the same line written again and again: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Naturally, it was somebody’s job to type out all of those pages in full. That somebody was Kubrick’s assistant – Emilio D’Alessandro – who spent months at her typewriter. Kubrick had her type enough pages for Shelley Duvall to tear up 80-100 times.
23. The phrase was translated for different versions
That phrase, “All work and no play…” has transcended the film in a sense, and is known beyond the confines of The Shining. Because it is such a big line in the film, all foreign language versions of the film (Spanish, Italian, and German) included these pages were written in that language. They translate slightly differently:
- The Spanish translation was, “Although one will rise early, it won’t dawn sooner.”
- In Italian: “He who wakes up early meets a golden day.””=
- German: “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
The German version of Jack’s work
24. The film’s most famous scene took a whole month to film
In a film full of famous moments, perhaps the most famous in The Shining is the scene where, with a terrified Wendy having locked herself in the bathroom, Jack breaks the door down with an axe.
Kubrick originally shot the scene with a fake door but Nicholson (who, prior to acting, had previously worked as a fire marshal) broke it down with ease. So Kubrick used a real door for the following takes. The scene took 30 days to film and in that time, Nicholson got through 60 doors, a rate of 2 per day.
Filming the famous door-smashing scene
25. The famous line from that scene was an ad-lib
It’s not just the imagery from that scene which is memorable, the dialogue is too. At the point Jack smashes through the door, he pokes his head through the wrecked frame and sneers, “Here’s Johnny!” at Wendy. Nicholson improvised the line and took it from late night talk show host Johnny Carson. This same line was used to introduce Carson on The Tonight Show. Because Kubrick was living in England at the time, he wasn’t aware of The Tonight Show and didn’t understand what Nicholson was doing. As such, he almost removed it from the final cut before deciding to leave it in.
26. Kubrick came up with another key part of the film
Another image synonymous with The Shining is that of the outdoor hedge maze, where Jack meets his end. In Stephen King’s novel, there isn’t a maze as such, rather topiary (bushes clipped into the shape of animals) that comes to life and attacks. This was impractical from an effects point of view so Kubrick came up with the maze himself and used that as the setting for his climax.
27. The snow wasn’t real
By the time we reach the climax of the movie and enter the maze, the Overlook and its surroundings are under six inches of snow. The snow wasn’t real and actually made of 900 tons of salt and expanded polystyrene. The maze itself was built around two-thirds of the actual size at an airfield nearby.
A nice bonus fact is that Kubrick himself thought the maze would be easy to solve. He went into it himself and wound up getting lost.
Behind the scenes and fake snow
28. The film was critically panned on its release
Despite being celebrated as a Hollywood classic today, The Shining opened to much derision in the U.S. in 1980. Some reviews from the time:
- Variety magazine said: “With everything to work with… Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King’s bestseller.”
- Gene Siskel called the film, “a crashing disappointment.”
- And Pauline Kael said, “Again and again, the movie leads us to expect something – almost promises it – and then disappoints us.”
29. There were two separate cuts of the film
Because of the negative reaction, Kubrick re-edited the film. He removed around 24 minutes of footage – released as the International Version 5 months later. The omitted scenes took away a lot of the action that happens away from the hotel including:
- A scene where we see a doctor visit Danny near the start of the film
- A longer interaction between Jack and Ullman during Jack’s interview
- More footage of Halloran’s efforts to get back to The Overlook, including a scene with a garage attendant
- A segment where Wendy is running around the hotel at the end, she stumbles into a room full of skeletons
30. The Shining didn’t fare too well at the awards ceremonies either
The Shining received no Oscars recognition at the time. At the Razzies, though, Kubrick was nominated for Worst Director Razzie and Shelley Duvall received the honour of a Worst Actress nomination. (Duvall’s nomination was rescinded in 2022. The Razzies’ official statement said, “We have since discovered that Duvall’s performance was impacted by Stanley Kubrick’s treatment of her throughout the production.”)
Scatman Crothers did win a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor and, despite being released on the same day as The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining did make a profit. On a budget of $19 million it returned $46.2 million.
And you’ve reached the end – 30 mammoth facts about The Shining – one of the masterpieces of horror. Please share on your social media channels, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.
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