Unlike almost everyone else on our list, our number one is probably the least influential, at least in terms of direct imitators, but maybe that's what makes him the best. There really is no one else quite like Kubrick.
Certainly no one else has flown in the face of convention so successfully, which is probably why none imitates him even if they admire him. In a medium that most rewards emotional connections (and those that know how to manipulate them the best) Kubrick perfected intellectualized ironic-detachment, and made it stick.
Except for the odd science-fiction think piece deliberately trying to walk in "2001: A Space Oddessy's" footsteps, almost no one ever makes movies like that. Scratch that. Almost no one makes movies like that, successfully. It contravenes everything we understand about film vocabulary and how to deliver a point to an audience.
But Kubrick did and he made it work.
Much hay has been made about his putting the audience in God's point of view, rather than his characters; setting up his camera so that we observe a tidal wave of blood flowing out of an elevator as if from a lawn chair with a martini and a book and saying 'look at that, isn't it awful?' the same way we might talk about the weather.
WATCH TOP KUBRICK MOVIE SCENES
10.LOLITA - Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) and 8000 French soldiers fight the Germans in the battlefield of The Ant Hill, during World War I.
9.LOLITA - Humbert meets Lolita. Sequence extracted from Lolita
The amazing thing is, in Kubrick's hands that tack didn't alienate anyone, it draws us further in. We want to observe what's happening to these people so much we don't even notice we're not self-identifying with them.
A photographer for Look magazine before he came to film, Kubrick knew how to shoot a good looking picture, shooting everything low with wide angles for a particularly unsettling feel (and maybe unsettling is the best way to describe his films). Which is why he didn't bother with his visuals as much as with his performances and scripts.
Every director on this list was a noted perfectionist of course, you have to be reach these creative heights, but none took that to such ridiculous extremes as Kubrick. A noted obsessive-compulsive, it was not unusual for Kubrick to shoot someone walking across a hallway 100 times. His final film, "Eyes Wide Shut" shot for almost as long as it took to film the entire "Lord of the Rings" saga. Except for Peter Sellers, no actor ever worked with Stanley Kubrick twice, and many actively detested him for the torment he put them through. But there's no denying the results.
And he could do it for anything. Black comedy about nuclear war? Check. Period drama? Check. War film? Double check. Gangster film? Yep, that too. But through all of those genres, from comedy to science fiction to horror, everything he made was obviously, unquestionably a Stanley Kubrick film from top to bottom.
And that's the real definer of the greatest. His films are undeniably singular, his peculiar ability so good, so unique, no one else was able to imitate it or driven to do so. Director's regularly try their hand at their Hitchcok film, their Ford-like western, and everything is inspired by Welles. But no one, even in the sci-fi films that actively try, can imitate Kubrick. He was unique.