There are maybe a handful of directors whose names can draw attention to a project. Of those working today, few can rival David Fincher. After starting with music videos and commercials in the 80s, Fincher followed in the path of Ridley Scott and James Cameron when he took on Alien³. Since then, he’s developed a reputation as an exacting director, getting dozens of takes during shooting to get the best possible result. Over the course of ten films – including Gone Girl, out this Friday – his precision has created some of the most notable films of the last two decades. So how do the films of David Fincher hold up compared to each other? Here’s one (subjective, of course) look at David Fincher’s filmography to date.
Easily the worst of Fincher’s output, and even Fincher will say that. Fincher’s first theatrical release was subjected to intense studio influence and, even worse, an unfinished script when shooting began. Fincher left the film during post-production. Still, its reputation has improved with modern audiences, thanks in large part to a 2003 cut of the film that sticks closer to what Fincher had in mind (presumably, at least – Fincher was the only director in the series not to come back for a director’s cut). While it’s his worst film, there are signs of what would quickly become Fincher’s trademarks.
(1992 • 20th Century Fox • R)
9. The Game
This is a tricky entry in Fincher’s filmography. It’s actually rather interesting for the majority of its runtime. The question of what’s reality and what’s merely a part of the game grows trickier as the film progresses. However, the ending of the film just…happens, and it not only runs counter to what’s shown leading into it, but it actually messes the whole film for future viewings. It’s worth watching, but only once.
(1997 • Polygram • R)
8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Even though Benjamin Button was Fincher’s breakthrough as far as the Oscars were concerned, it’s an odd fit in his filmography. While in some ways dark, the way Fincher’s films are, it’s far more sentimental than his other films. Chalk it up to the screenplay by Eric Roth, who also wrote the similar Forrest Gump. Thankfully, Fincher manages to wring genuine emotion from the script, turning Benjamin Button into an elegant tearjerker.
(2008 • Paramount/Warner Bros. • PG-13)
7. Panic Room
Conceptually, Panic Room is probably the most “standard” film Fincher’s ever made. Still, Fincher sells the hell out of the material, using the relatively confined space of the house and Jodie Foster’s ferocious mother to tremendous effect. Panic Room, notably, went through a lengthy production process – Nicole Kidman was originally set to star, and the character of Meg Altman was significantly softer. When Foster was brought in at the last minute, they rewrote the character to make her tougher, which works much better for the film.
(2002 • Columbia • R)
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had already been made into a film in Sweden, Fincher was able to bring a more stylish edge to his adaptation. Thanks in part to smartly casting Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, Tattoo is an uneasy, at times gut-wrenching take on what was already dark material. While the chances of continuing the story have diminished in the years since the film’s release, Fincher’s take is strong enough to stand on its own.
(2011 • Columbia • R)
After a lengthy break between feature films, where Fincher worked on commercials and music videos while increasing his knowledge on digital formats, the director returned with a stunner of a film. The story of the Zodiac killer has been told so many times since the 70s, but Fincher’s primary focus on character development makes the murders all the more chilling.
(2007 • Paramount/Warner Bros. • R)
4. Fight Club
The first rule about Fight Club? You probably know it. Fight Club may be Fincher’s biggest contribution to pop culture, and it offers what, in my opinion, are Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter’s best performances. Best in show, though, is Brad Pitt, who’s positively electrifying as Tyler Durden. Fight Club also established Fincher as a brilliant visual adapter of literary works, as evidenced by his future films.
(1999 • 20th Century Fox/Regency • R)
3. Gone Girl
With his latest film, Fincher takes the horror that defined his older films and marries it to the tone he’s established in more recent years. What starts out as a mystery turns into something far darker. Working with Gillian Flynn, adapting her own novel, Gone Girl is a biting psychological thriller that also works as a sharp critique of today’s 24-hour news cycle, and of the institution of marriage.
(2014 • 20th Century Fox/Regency • R)
2. The Social Network
Leave it to the power team of Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to make a story about the creation of Facebook into something that encapsulates an entire generation. It’s a story that’s both timeless in its nature and utterly modern in the way it’s told – a story about the need for human connection.
(2010 • Columbia • PG-13)
Talk about taking a creative upswing. Following the mess that was Alien³, Fincher made sure he had absolute control with his next film. The result, Se7en, remains a thrilling masterwork nearly two decades after its release. It’s a damning look at the dark side of human nature, with all of the ways it can absorb and take over what’s good.
(1995 • New Line • R)