Kubrick's films are characterized by a formal visual style and meticulous attention to detail. His later films often have elements of surrealism and expressionism that eschew structured linear narrative. His films are repeatedly described as slow and methodical, and are often perceived as a reflection of his obsessive and perfectionist nature. A recurring theme in his films is man's inhumanity to man. While often viewed as expressing an ironic pessimism, some critics feel his films contain a cautious optimism when viewed more carefully.
The film that first brought him attention from many critics was Paths of Glory, the first of three films of his about the dehumanizing effects of war. Many of his films at first got a lukewarm reception, only to be acclaimed years later as masterpieces that had a seminal influence on many later generations of film-makers. Considered especially groundbreaking was 2001: A Space Odyssey, noted for being one of the most scientifically realistic and visually innovative science-fiction films ever made while also maintaining an enigmatic non-linear storyline. He voluntarily withdrew his film A Clockwork Orange from Great Britain, after it was accused of inspiring copycat crimes which in turn resulted in threats against Kubrick's family. Both living authors Anthony Burgess (eventually) and Stephen King (immediately) were unhappy with Kubrick's adaptations of their novels A Clockwork Orange and The Shining respectively; both authors becoming involved with subsequent stage or TV adaptations. His films were largely successful at the box-office, although Barry Lyndon performed poorly in the United States. All of Kubrick's films from the mid-1950s onward, except The Shining, were nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTAs. Although he was nominated for an Academy Award as a screenwriter and director on several occasions, his only personal win was for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Even though all his films, apart from the first two, were adapted from novels or short stories, his works have been described by Jason Ankeny and others as "original and visionary". Although some critics, notably Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, frequently disparaged Kubrick's work, Ankeny describes Kubrick as one of the most "universally acclaimed and influential directors of the postwar era" with a "standing unique among the filmmakers of his day."