David Fincher’s best movies are stunning, modern masterpieces. Fincher’s career began with music videos and in the last few years he’s been involved with Netflix, working on the series House Of Cards and Mindhunter. In the 25 years or so in between he directed 10 feature films. Not exactly prolific, but what he lacks in quantity he makes up for with quality. With his 11th movie, Mank, out soon, now seems the perfect time to rank his directorial career to date and count down David Fincher’s best movies.
10. Alien³ (1992)
Alien is one of the great horror movies. It’s sequel, Aliens, is one of the great action movies. How do you follow that? It’s tough. Continuing from Aliens, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finds herself in a space prison, hence having to shave her hair, and she’s bought an alien with her. Cue carnage. Ripley is lacking fun characters around her in this one, and the best of them, played by Charles Dance, is an early victim. It was a troubled shoot with Fincher disowning himself from any involvement with the film, telling The Guardian “no one hates it more than me”. Despite the trouble, the movie did earn an Oscar for best visual effects. Even so, the film is bottom of our list of David Fincher’s best movies.
9. The Game (1997)
Fincher’s third movie as a director sees Michael Douglas play a wealthy banker, Nicholas Van Orton, given an unusual birthday present by his brother (Sean Penn). The gift is a chance to participate in a game. The lines between real-life and the game soon blur as Nicholas becomes immersed in the game. It’s a decent enough thriller, with Douglas at the peak of his powers, but not one that stays with the viewer.
8. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
Fincher’s third collaboration with Brad Pitt spans 80 odd years, telling the life of Benjamin Button who lives life in reverse. If you went by awards, this would be David Fincher’s best movie. The Academy lapped it up, giving it 13 Oscar nominations and awarding it three, for art direction, make-up and visual effects. Pitt is good in the title role, and well supported by Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Taraji P. Henson, who earned a best-supporting actress nomination for her part. It feels a bit of a slog though. It’s long, with an old fashioned vibe. Even the narration is done in a slow drawl, emphasising the length of time the movie covers.
7. Fight Club (1999)
You don’t talk about Fight Club.
6. Gone Girl (2014)
This is an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as Nick and Amy, a young couple struggling with their marriage. When Amy disappears all hell breaks loose, with Nick becoming the prime suspect. The point of view switches between the two so you’re never quite sure who’s side to be on. There are plenty of fun supporting characters from quirky detectives to wacky relatives and eccentric media personalities, but this movie is all about Affleck and Pike.
5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Into the top 5 of David Fincher’s best movies. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was all the rage with the books and Swedish films becoming something of an early 21st-century phenomenon. Hollywood wanted some of that and Fincher directs the English-language remake. Daniel Craig is a journalist hired to investigate the case of a young girl from a wealthy family who disappeared decades previously. He’s aided by a troubled young hacker played by Rooney Mara. They uncover plenty of skeletons in the family closet. One of the best crime thrillers of the last decade. It’s long, at over 150 minutes, but fast-paced and earned an Oscar for best editing.
4. Panic Room (2002)
This film has a simple set up. Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) have just moved into a new house following Meg’s divorce. As they settle into their new home they are disturbed by three intruders. Terrified, Meg and Sarah retreat to the house’s panic room. However, it soon becomes clear that the panic room is the location of what the invaders really want. Fincher really lets the camera flourish in this one as it swoops around the house and between the walls. There’s a tightness and tension that comes with all the action taking place in one setting.
We now approach the top 3 in our look at David Fincher’s best movies. In my opinion, they are all 5-star classics and could be placed in any order.
3. Zodiac (2007)
The story of the Zodiac killer who terrorised California from the late 1960s and regularly wrote coded letters to local newspapers. Detective Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) leads the pursuit with journalist Paul Grady (Robert Downey Jr) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith taking an interest in the case whilst working for the San Francisco Chronicle. The movie takes place over years and years and shows the laborious and frustrating side of police work. The investigation is slow, there’s lots of paper shuffling and calls chasing dead-end clues. This is punctuated by ‘action’ including the tensest basement scene you’ve ever seen. The lack of progress wears on the trio and their lives suffer for it. The fact that the movie doesn’t have a clear ending is frustrating for some but it’s true to life, not every mystery is solved.
2. The Social Network (2010)
Fincher’s combines with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in a creative dream team for one of the best movies of the 2010s. It’s something of an outlier in the Fincher catalogue in that crime and violence are not central themes. The movie is about the formation of Facebook, with Jesse Eisenberg as creator Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Garfield as his business partner Edoardo Saverin. The perfect union doesn’t work as the relationship gradually comes apart, with Justin Timberlake stirring the pot as Napster founder Sean Parker. A film about the formation of a website doesn’t sound that exciting but the two stars sizzle to Sorkin’s cracking script. The movie won 3 Oscars – best-adapted screenplay, best editing and best original score.
1. Seven (1995)
Fincher’s first masterpiece and Fincher’s best movie. Young, hotshot detective Mills (Brad Pitt) joins up with veteran Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), who is on the verge of retirement. They are on the trail of a serial killer who’s murder pattern follows the seven deadly sins.
So much to love about this. There’s the sparring between new and old. Mills is brash and arrogant, Somerset is cool and methodical. There’s the mood created by the gloomy weather which hangs over the unnamed city where the story takes place. There’s the surprise appearance of a third big-name actor, uncredited and left out off all publicity. There’s the heart-pounding tension of the chase sequence when the detectives almost get their man. And there’s the intensity of the final showdown. No surprise that the movie won the Oscar for best editing. The movie provides two of the great cinematic quotes. Mills assessment of the killer – “Just cos the fucker has a library card doesn’t make him Yoda”. Then the finale – “What’s in the box?”
What do you think is David Fincher’s best movie? How would you rank his 10 movies to date? Mank is due for a limited theatrical release in November before hitting Netflix in December.
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Shaun is FinalBoss’ most prolific cinephile. If he hasn’t seen it, it ain’t worth watching. You’ll find him writing about everything from blowout blockbusters to small-screen splendours as he waits impatiently for Lord of the Rings to be released by Amazon. Catch up with Shaun and see what he’s been watching on www.letterboxd.com/shaun_1982.