Ranking the Greats: The Films of David Fincher

With his latest film arriving October 3rd, it's time to put David Fincher and his efforts alongside the other cinematic greats to see where he stacks up, aesthetically speaking.

He was born in Denver, Colorado. Inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), he started making 8mm movies. He worked for George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, serving time on such celebrated movies as Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), before moving to Propaganda Films to make commercials and music videos.

During his stint as an MTV favorite, he collaborated with Rick Springfield, the Motels, Loverboy, Sting, Paula Abdul, Madonna, Aerosmith, Nine Inch Nails, and the Rolling Stones. He won two Grammys in the process, becoming a noted name in the fledgling artform. When Hollywood came calling, it was with the third installment of an incredibly successful sci-fi horror series. When David Fincher was done with it, the Alien property would never be the same.

Now, with his tenth film in 22 years (he's as bad as David Lynch and Terry Gilliam when it comes to output), Gone Girl (2014) coming to theaters, we thought it was time to install the director among his auteur brethren and rank his efforts, from worst (not that there is really a bad David Fincher film) to first (an easy choice, at least in our book).

Using a de-saturated palette and an attention to detail that reminds one of past greats like Kubrick and Hitchcock, Fincher has created some of the most amazing post-modern movies of all time. He's also left a trail of tantalizingly unrealized projects (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Torso, Rendezvous with Rama) that would make the average cinephile weep over "What if?" After looking over this list, it's clear that anything he touches usually winds up wonderful.

10. Alien3
We will, perhaps, never see what drew Fincher to make this his first feature film. The troubled third entry in franchise was fraught with script problems from the beginning. Then the studio stepped in, unhappy with what it was seeing from its novice director. Even with home video trying, unsuccessfull, to resurrect at least some of Fincher's vision, this is one of only a couple of films in his creative canon that the auteur more or less disowns. Which is too bad since, all problems aside, the entire prison planet concept provides an interesting setting for the story.

9. The Game
Fincher has recently come out against this film as well, except this time, his displeasure has more to do with his wife's reaction to the final product than its ultimate success or failure as a thriller. The story of a rich man caught up in a live action "experiment", it was his next effort after the amazing response to Se7en, and while many fans of the filmmaker adore it (Criterion even deemed it worthy of a splashy release), the man behind the lens sees several flaws. "I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny," he said. Apparently not.

8. Panic Room
Alfred Hitchcock was known as the Master of Suspense. He was also a meticulous filmmaker who spent untold hours in preproduction to make sure what ended up on the screen accurately reflected the version of the project he had in his head. So it makes sense that Fincher's own nod to one of the greatest directors of all time would have many of his obvious aesthetic earmarks. A brilliantly executed thriller with Jodie Foster protecting daughter Kristen Stewart from a gang of home invading robbers, it's one of the best examples of the post-modern nailbiters ever made. Hitch would be proud.

7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
For many, this weird adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is one of Fincher's most puzzling. Usually a maestro of the dark and disturbing, there 's a lot of heart and a sense of home here. Brad Pitt is the title character, a man born old and ages into youth. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it does allow its maker to experiment with time, place, and mood. While not 100 percent successful in the end, it's hard to argue with what Fincher does. It's one of his best, most confident directing jobs overall.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
After Noomi Rapace and Niels Arden Oplev burst onto the international movie scene with their adaptation of the late Stieg Larson's celebrated novel, film fans had only one reaction: no one in Hollywood could handle this material (for the inevitable remake) better than Fincher. Well, he got the job, got the actress he wanted, and delivered his usual dark and foreboding brilliance. Sadly, even though it arrived two years after the original, there seemed to be little interest in his otherwise amazing take on the material. The opening credits alone showcase that no one understands the subtexts here better than Fincher.

Next Page






Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.