Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) arrives at the Overlook Hotel to interview for the open position of winter caretaker. The hotel itself is built on the site of an Indian burial ground and becomes completely snowbound during the long winters. Manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) warns him that a previous caretaker got cabin fever and killed his family and himself. Jack’s son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), has ESP and has had a terrifying premonition about the hotel. Jack's wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), tells a visiting doctor about Danny's imaginary friend Tony and that Jack had given up drinking because he had physically abused Danny after a binge.
The family arrives at the hotel on closing day and is given a tour. The head chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) surprises Danny by speaking with him telepathically and offering him some ice cream. He explains to Danny that he and his grandmother shared the gift, which he calls "shining." Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, particularly Room 237. Hallorann tells Danny that the hotel itself has a "shine" to it along with many memories, not all of which are good. He strictly warns Danny to avoid room 237.
A month passes and Jack's writing project is going nowhere. Meanwhile, Danny and Wendy have fun and go in the hotel's hedge maze; Jack discovers a model of this maze, showing Wendy and Danny inside it, in one of the hotel lounges. Wendy is concerned about the phone lines being out due to the heavy snowfall and Danny has more frightening visions. As time passes, Jack slowly starts acting strange and frustrated, often prone to violent outbursts. Danny’s curiosity about Room 237 finally gets the better of him when he sees the room has been opened. Later, Danny shows up injured and visibly traumatized, causing Wendy to think that Jack has been abusing Danny.
Jack wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room where he meets the ghostly bartender Lloyd (Joe Turkel) who serves him bourbon on the rocks. Jack complains to the bartender about his relationship with Wendy. Afterward, Wendy shows up and apologizes for accusing Jack, explaining that Danny told her a "crazy woman in one of the rooms" was responsible for his injuries. Jack investigates Room 237 and encounters a ghost named Lorraine as a young naked woman in the bathroom, having a bath who comes out and kisses him. During that kiss, she then morphed into a rather old rotting woman who chases Jack out, cackling at his infidelity. Jack tells Wendy he saw nothing. Wendy and Jack argue about whether Danny should be removed from the hotel and Jack returns to the Gold Room, now filled with ghosts having a costume party. Here, he meets who he believes is the ghost of the previous caretaker, Grady (Philip Stone), who tells Jack that he has to "correct" his wife and child. Later, Jack sabotages the hotel's two-way radio and the Snowcat (by removing several relays and its magneto, respectively); cutting off communication and access to the outside world.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Hallorann gets a premonition that something is wrong at the hotel and takes a flight back to Colorado to investigate. Danny starts calling out the word "redrum" frantically and goes into a trance, now referring to himself as "Tony." Wendy discovers Jack's typewriter and that he has been typing endless pages of a repetitive manuscript "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" formatted in various styles. Horrified, she confronts Jack, but he attacks her before she knocks him unconscious with a baseball bat and locks him in a kitchen pantry. Jack converses through the door with Grady, who then unlocks the door, releasing him.
Danny has written "REDRUM" in lipstick on the door of Wendy’s bedroom, which is "MURDER" spelled backwards as seen from a mirror. At that moment, Jack, armed with a fire axe, begins to chop through the door leading to his family's living quarters. In a frantic maneuver, Wendy sends Danny out through the bathroom window but is unable fit through it herself. Jack then starts chopping down the bathroom door with the axe and leers through the hole he has made, yelling the iconic "Here's Johnny!" line, but retreats after Wendy slashes his hand with a butcher knife. Hearing the engine of a Snowcat that Halloran has borrowed to get up the mountain, Jack leaves the room and begins to wander about the hotel, ambushing and killing Hallorann with the axe in the lobby. Jack then pursues Danny into the hedge maze by following his footprints, but is misled when Danny manages to walk backwards in his own tracks and leaps behind a corner, covering his tracks with snow. Wendy and Danny escape in Hallorann's snowcat while Jack slowly freezes to death in the hedge maze.
In the final scene, the camera slowly zooms in on an old photograph taken at the hotel on July 4, 1921 as Midnight, the Stars, and You is played through the hallways. A smiling Jack Torrance is at the front of the crowd of revelers, in which it is revealed in a documentary that it is an old incarnation of Jack.
- Jack Torrance — The disturbed winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel
- Wendy Torrance — His wife
- Danny Torrance — Their son
- Tony — Danny's imaginary friend who warns him not to go to the Overlook
- Dick Hallorann — A cook at the Overlook hotel who has the shining.
- Delbert Grady — A previous caretaker who killed his family and himself, and whose ghost urges Jack to do the same.
- Stuart Ullman — The manager of the Overlook Hotel. Unlike the book, he is more friendlier and not snobby or rude.
- Lorraine Massey — One of the most violent and frightening ghosts of the hotel. She lures Danny to Room 237 and strangles him.
- Bill Watson — The season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. His character is completely changed from the book. He's thin, has manners and is more friendly but is also very quiet.
- Lloyd the Bartender — The ghostly bartender of The Gold Ballroom. He serves Jack a drink at the party.
- Suzie — Stuart Ullman's secretary. Her role in the movie is very minor. She brings Danny back to his parents when he was looking for them.
- Doctor — The nurse who comes to Danny's house to examine him at his house after he passes out.
- Danny's middle name is Anthony; his imaginary friend's name is Tony.
- In the movie based on this book, Delbert Grady is incorrectly called "Charles Grady".
- Dick Hallorann appears in a flashback scene in Stephen King's novel It.
- Stephen King himself despised Kubrick's version of his novel, and made a miniseries with his original concepts.
- The clips of the movie were seen at the drive-in cinema in the 1996 film, Twister before getting destroyed by the F4 tornado.
- The film's setting appears as the second level in the 2018 film, Ready Player One.
- The MAD Magazine parody of the film had the cursed room as "Room 238", and conflated two scenes from the movie. In the parody, Jack tries to get Danny to overcome his fear of the room by opening it up and showing that there is nothing there. Inside, they see skeletons sitting on the furniture. This was mistaken for the proper film's penultimate scene where Wendy discovers her own shining ability, and runs in horror at seeing ghosts, including the part where skeletal remains of well-dressed people are found sitting on lobby furniture.
- During the first 3 days of the films New York and L.A. premiere, there was an extra 2 minute scene that took place immediately right after jack Torrence froze to death. It faded to the next day in a hospital exterior. Stuart Ullman asks a nurse if he can check on Wendy Torrence. After being allowed to, he reports to Wendy that jacks body has not surfaced and that they found nothing suspicious in the overlook hotel. Stuart still believed what Wendy said must have been true so he then offers Wendy and Danny torrence to stay at his expensive home, to which she kindly declines. He then exits the room and before leaving the hospital, gives Danny a yellow ball alluding to an earlier scene in the film. On the third day, Kubrick realizes that the film wasn’t doing well, so having changed his mind, decided to tell projectionists in the area to excise the scene and mail the film strips to Warner bros studios. The footage has never resurfaced and while it could still exist, it is likely badly damaged. The removal of this scene ended up shortening the runtime from 146 minutes to 144 minutes.
For its release in Europe, Kubrick cut about 25 minutes from the film. The excised scenes included a longer meeting between Jack and Watson at the hotel, Danny being attended by a doctor (Anne Jackson) including references to Tony and how Danny was once injured by Jack in a drunken rage, more footage of Hallorann's attempts to get to the hotel during the snowstorm including a sequence with a garage attendant (Tony Burton), extended dialogue scenes at the hotel, and a scene where Wendy discovers a group of skeletons in the hotel lobby during the climax. Jackson and Burton are credited in the European print, despite their scenes being excised from the movie. According to Harlan, Kubrick decided to cut some sequences because the film was "not very well received", and after Warner Bros. complained about its ambiguity and length.
The scene where Jack writes obsessively on the typewriter "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" was shot changing the language of the typescript in Italian, French, Spanish, and German, because the film would be dubbed in these languages in their respective countries:
Italian: Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca ("The morning has gold in (its) mouth", the equivalent of the English proverb "The early bird catches the worm")
Spanish: No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano ("Waking up earlier won't make the dawn come sooner.")
German: Was Du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf Morgen ("Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today")
French: Un «Tiens» vaut mieux que deux «Tu l'auras» ("One 'Yours' is better than two 'You will have it' ")
In the Italian version, Nicholson was dubbed by Giancarlo Giannini; Kubrick sent him a congratulations letter for his excellent work as voice actor.
Two alternative takes were used in a British television commercial.
- List of deaths in The Shining (film)
- List of references to The Shining
- List of differences between the book and film