Seeing that Gone Girl screens here in Seattle tonight, I’ve taken it upon myself to go through and rank the films of auteur filmmaker David Fincher. Fincher is simply one of our generation’s greatest filmmakers, offering dark, twisted and thrilling dramas riddled with psychological horror and saddled with a tone so black, it’d make a crow look pale. He’s got a visionary’s eye, a penchant for working with great actors (including a close working relationship with Brad Pitt) and a knack for technical perfection, contributing some truly amazing films to the last two centuries of film cannon. Counting down his works in anticipation of the public release of Gone Girl, these are Fincher’s films ranked for your convenience.
9. Alien 3 (1992)
With low-budg written all it, this threequel disasterpiece was disowned by Fincher himself. Alien 3 sets the acid-spitting extraterrestrial in a maximum security space prison for him to pick off criminals one at an acid-spittle time. Due to Brandywine Production studio’s demand for crucial changes to the final cut, Fincher’s actually quit Hollywood after this disasterous first experience…that is until he stumbled upon the script for Se7en and the rest is history. Alien 3 is easily Fincher’s worst, a clear display of a kidnapped vision ruined by hookey dialogue, franchise exhaustion and a surprisingly boring script. However uninspiring this film may be, it’s an important catalyst that helped transformed Fincher into the director he is today.
8. Panic Room (2002)
Ranking amongst Fincher’s lesser works, Panic Room suffers from being relatively indistinguishable amongst a horror-thriller lineup. While Se7en and Fight Club have Fincher written all over it, Panic Room appears that Fincher has largely forgotten the signature he established with his earlier works. It has distinctive splices of the auteur’s touch – and a great environmental tracking shot somewhere in the middle of the film – but feels a little too reined in and ultimately uneven to be considered amongst his essential work.
7. The Game (1997)
Suit Michael Douglas has it all before he gets wrapped up in a twisted mind game that threatens to upend his life. In his struggle to regain control, he’s throttled into unpredictable and dangerous situations. The Game is one of a kind, a high stakes psychological competition that fails to let up. With smart acting from Douglas and Sean Penn, it’s a signal of the looming darkness and sharp eye that will come to define Fincher’s distinctive hand. Though recently disowned by Fincher who claimed that he didn’t have an ending going into it and let the freewheeling nature of the directorial experience get the better of him, The Game feels like a man lost down a rabbit hole and works all the better for it.
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Bringing the bleak Swedish bestseller to American audiences (who largely refused to watch the equally compelling Swedish-language version), Fincher used The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to experiment with ideas of the banality of evil. Stellan Skarsgård‘s speech on how common courtesy gets us killed is unforgettable as is Rooney Mara‘s wonderfully committed Oscar-nominated performance. Though it’s nothing new for a man who’s devoted himself to exploring the darker side of human nature, it’s a smart adaptation, even if it doesn’t push the envelope quite far enough. Though not entirely remarkable, Fincher’s take on this cultural flash in the pan revels in the nasty corners of humankind that we’d just rather sweep under the rug.
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2005)
Adapted from a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a life-spanning epic whose sincere tone and technical brilliance injects a magical sense into the proceedings. Born as an old man and doomed to live life in reverse, Benjamin is a pure-hearted fellow with a gilded taste for the good and a keen sense of adventure. Brad Pitt returns for his third take with Fincher and once again hits it out of the park, this time offering a much more nuanced, heartfelt performance that, like the film, is sweeping in scope. Working against it is the lackluster bookends that drop in on an aged Cate Blanchett caught in a hurricane.
4. Zodiac (2007)
A jigsaw puzzle of a film, Zodiac is not only a look into the collapse of the naivety of the golden American era but a cross generational look at the deterioration of three men whose obsession with the Zodiac case becomes their lives. Zodiac is riveting filmmaking that dares to ask too many questions; a smart, destructive experience one truly must endure. When almost everyone is a suspect, nowhere is safe. A brutal study of man’s paranoia and as uncompromisingly investigative as the film’s heroes, Zodiac is tense, unnerving and mesmerizing, a pinnacle of a director on top of his game.
3. Se7en (1995)
An unconditionally dark film that orbits a savage series of murders that each coincide with one of the seven deadly sins, Se7en is uncompromising in its brutality, offering a look at the most twisted of minds. A young Pitt and the always faithful Morgan Freeman spark compelling chemistry and appropriately seal their own disturbing fate. With cinematography that’s definitively gloomy and some truly disturbing imagery, Fincher’s sophomore film has seared itself as one of the most distressing and best detective procedurals of all time. It’s haunting conclusion wraps Se7en up in a neat little sadistic package, leaving us all a little more troubled than we were before it.
2. The Social Network (2010)
A brilliantly scripted, acted and directed film that was robbed of the golden Oscar, The Social Network somehow turned the creation of pop-icon Facebook into a fully engaging, edge of your seat power drama. The Social Network tells the tale of a war fought with words and code, the arrival of a new generation and the seizure of power by the youthful Zuckerberg, a man who has seemingly evolved into a new breed of human. It’s ripe with betrayal and inspiration with Aaron Sorkin‘s crisp, cutting dialogue launching The Social Network into a realm of its own where it stands gripping, taut and powerful. A masterclass in filmmaking, this fictionalized biopic proves that Fincher can make the most banal venture into something absolutely breathtaking.
1. Fight Club (1999)
Fincher created an icon with Fight Club, a movie about postmodern masculinity, questions of identity, unscrupulous fantasies, the facade of consumerism and, of course, chaos. A faithful adaptation of Chuck Palanuik‘s original novel, Fight Club introduced the world to its greatest, greasiest antihero: Tyler Durden. The epitome of cool, Tyler will sell your own fat to you in soap form, pee in your clam chowder and splice a porno with a family film, all the while redefining the meaning of badass. As the stakes get higher, Fight Club could mean doom or salvation, demanding we as an audience take a closer look at ourselves. It’s a film that not only immortalized The Pixie’s ‘Where is My Mind?’ – making it an unwilling tribute to collapsing buildings everywhere – but beneath its parody is poignancy. And once the screen goes black we’re left to ask ourselves: Do we have anything to live for? Do we have anything worth dying for?
Although this list has already been certified as 100% infallible by the Academy of Smart Film, there’s always someone out there who tries to disagree. So have at it.
Some questions to leave you with: What are the best and the worst of Fincher in your mind? Where do you think Gone Girl will fall in his filmography? And are the best days of Fincher already behind him or does he still have it in him to top himself?