A Brief Survey of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in Pop Culture

Forty years ago today, a terrifying dystopian science-fiction film/pitch-black comedy hit American cinemas and changed movies forever. The film was A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s ultra-controversial adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel. Though widely acknowledged today as one of the great films of the ‘70s, initial critical response to the picture was mixed; Roger Ebert called it “talky and boring,” as well as “an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning,” while Pauline Kael criticized its “leering, portentous style” and accused its director of “sucking up to the thugs in the audience.” But The New York TimesVincent Canby set the tone for most critical responses, writing that Orange “makes real and important the kind of fears simply exploited by other, much lesser films.”

Audiences seemed to agree — the film grossed something like ten times its original budget in the States, its transformation into cult classic here and in England given an extra boost by its lengthy exile from availability in the UK. (Kubrick withdrew the film from circulation himself in the wake of possible copycat crimes.) Moreover, the picture’s iconic imagery and distinctive visual style made it a frequent touchstone for other filmmakers, musicians, and pop culture figures looking to inject a little droog mojo into their projects. After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few of the more memorable Clockwork Orange shout-outs in popular culture.

Guns N’ Roses: “Welcome to the Jungle”

One of the most enduring images from Clockwork Orange is that of Alex’s aversion therapy treatment (the “Ludovico technique”), in which he is drugged, strapped down, and forced to watch violent movies. GN’R’s breakthrough video, “Welcome to the Jungle,” aped this famous scene by placing Axl Rose in a straightjacket and head restraint while several televisions played violent news footage in front of him.