American-born Kubrick, 70, who settled in England in the 1960s, died at his Hertfordshire home, Childwickbury Manor, outside St Albans.
Kubrick made a series of critically received films during his 40-year career, including Spartacus, Lolita, Dr Strangelove, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket, about the Vietnam war, released in 1987.
He was best-known for his space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, banned in this country for more than 20 years, at his insistence. He was shocked by the copycat violence spawned by his adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel.
Tributes were led last night by Michael Winner, his friend and fellow director, who described Kubrick as "one of the greatest geniuses since cinema evolved ... He was unique."
The film critic Barry Norman said: "He was incredibly meticulous in all his films. He was very prickly about criticism, but appreciative of people who liked his movies." Mark Batey, a spokesman for the British Film Institute, said: "This is a huge loss. He was one of the landmark directors of the century, who helped to define cinema."
Kubrick's long-awaited film, Eyes Wide Shut, is due for release this summer after more than two years in the making. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the stars of the film, said: "He was like family to us and we are in shock and devastated."
The last autocrat,
David Thomson, page 3