I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
Who Is David Fincher?
Director David Fincher got his start directing music videos before debuting in 1992 with Alien 3, which was a critically-panned box-office bomb. Since that time he’s only made 11 features as he’s known to be a taskmaster perfectionist. The results speak for themselves.
If you’re familiar with Fincher’s filmography, then you probably can’t remember if you’ve ever cracked a smile or laughed during one of his movies. He’s a technical master, but the movies themselves are about as funny as…Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box.
The Prince of Darkness
After Alien 3, Fincher's films only got darker, and this became his calling card. Fincher movies are dark in terms of subject matter and are literally dark in pretty much every frame. But never has gloomy and damp felt so alive.
One area where Fincher isn't dark is in casting. His most recent film, 2020's Mank, has a white protagonist (Gary Oldman) and a predominantly white cast. And with the exception of Morgan Freeman in Se7en—way back in 1995—there hasn’t been a minority with a significant part in a Fincher movie. I’m not complaining, just noticing.
Anyway, here are David Fincher’s 11 movies ranked from best to worst. And be sure to vote below for your favorite Fincher movie.
David Fincher: Best to Worst
- The Social Network (2010)
- Zodiac (2007)
- Se7en (1995)
- Fight Club (1999)
- Gone Girl (2014)
- The Game (1997)
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
- Mank (2020)
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Panic Room (2002)
- Alien 3 (1992)
1) The Social Network (2010)
Fincher’s masterpiece The Social Network is 2010’s best film and one of the best movies of the 21st century. It was nominated for Best Picture but got robbed by the cinematic trifle The King’s Speech (one of the worst Best Picture Winners ever), a film barely anyone can remember while The Social Network remains relevant. It features Jesse Eisenberg’s best onscreen performance and Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar winning screenplay. Even if/when Facebook loses its cultural standing, The Social Network captures a time and place to near perfection. After 10 years, you will still like this.
2) Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac opened in theaters in March of 2007 after being moved from its 2006 fall spot. You get the feeling it would have gotten more attention for awards if it had been released during a prime Oscar window. It’s almost three hours of characters trying to navigate one of history’s most famous unidentified serial killers.
Fincher keeps you in suspense even though you know the outcome. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances despite seeming too young at first glance. The scenes of the real-life murders are appropriately intense without feeling manipulative. Only a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. flounders in an underwritten part.
Like Social Network, Zodiac captures the time period perfectly as you’re immersed in the paranoia and how the dearth of rapid communication possibly led to more victims.
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3) Se7en (1995)
This film is the epitome of 90s bleakness. If Alien 3’s box-office failure affected Fincher in any outward way, his next feature sure didn’t show it. If you saw this in theaters in September 1995, you walked out during the credits hunched over because you got kicked in the gut. The scene with the air fresheners is one of the best earned jump scares in cinematic history.
It’s only later that we realize it’s Morgan Freeman’s Somerset that’s the main character despite Brad Pitt’s star wattage. In terms of screen time, Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t really have a lot of scenes in the movie. Her character looms larger in your memory because of that ending. We’ll try not to focus on the fact that real-life Kevin Spacey isn’t that many degrees from John Doe, minus the murders of course.
Fincher sweeps you along Se7en’s wave of desolation so expertly that you never care that the John Doe-library card plot contrivance borders on laughable implausibility.
4) Fight Club (1999)
This and Se7en waffled in the third and fourth spot right until I began writing. This film shows masculinity at its most toxic and at times at its most freeing, embodied by Brad Pitt as the explosion of Id called Tyler Durden. Featuring some of Edward Norton’s best work and a cast-against-type Helena Bonham Carter.
One of the most divisive movies of its time has Fincher playing the audience like a fiddle in an exercise that’s ultimately style over substance despite the cult following. It's '90s nihilism at its Reznor-y best. Whether you loved it or hated Fight Club back in 1999, you didn’t soon forget it.
The first rule of watching Fight Club is that you can’t help but talk about Fight Club as evidenced by the countless zeitgeist essays published soon after the movie was released. Do those critiques mean much now? Probably not, but it only speaks to the movie’s influence.
5) Gone Girl (2014)
After reading Gillian Flynn’s novel, I never thought it would make a good movie since it’s just two characters’ diary entries and that didn’t seem very visual.
Flynn’s screenplay and Fincher’s visual flair for the mundane proved me wrong. Gone Girl is more exciting than it should be considering a good portion of the dialogue is voice-over and the two leads are pretty unlikable. But you remain entranced. You’re not sure if you want Amy or Nick to “win,” but when the end comes, you’re not sure if anybody really won.
Spoiler alert: I always thought the ultimate loser is Amy and Nick’s child, because they should not be together…with anyone.
6) The Game (1997)
While you’re watching The Game, you identify with Michael Douglas’ character even if you don’t like him at first. After what Nicholas Van Orton goes through during the movie, he more than earns his redemption with the audience. Fincher hooks you in so well you don’t even mind that the game’s ultimate twist seems farfetched at best, ludicrous at worst. (All those people planted right where they need to be? We don’t buy it, but we want to.) It’s a game you don’t mind playing again and again, clown notwithstanding.
7) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Fincher’s remake of the 2009 Swedish thriller (itself based on the late Stieg Larsson bestsellers) is much slicker and Hollywood high gloss than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective (poor kitty).
Oscar Winner Steven Zaillian’s streamlined screenplay gives Rooney Mara an equally distinctive Lisbeth Salander even as it reduces Daniel Craig’s character in terms of importance. Fincher makes two and a half hours breeze by in a thriller that borders on exploitative while never crossing the line.
I like both versions equally for different reasons, but Fincher’s goes down a lot easier even though they have about the same running time.
8) Mank (2020)
A character study about the writer of Citizen Kane has its moments and the acting is impeccable, despite a nearly sixty-year old Gary Oldman trying to pass off as forty-three. Fincher shows his technical mastery of the craft even if the film is scene by almost interminable scene of dialogue.
If Citizen Kane is your favorite movie of all time, then you’ve probably already seen this twice. If you’re merely a casual fan, you really feel the running time.
9) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
I like this movie as a soapy melodrama. It’s well acted, and the almost three-hour runtime goes by with minimal lag. The special effects are seamless; there are times when the frame looks like a moving painting.
So why is this ranking so (relatively) low? I never bought the premise as nothing more than a hook for state of the art digital effects. I was rarely moved by Benjamin’s journey as I knew Brad Pitt’s solid Oscar-nominated performance was enhanced by digital wizards on a computer screen. Tilda Swinton’s cameo moved me more than pretty much anything else in the movie. Points off for having Taraji P. Henson play a maternal Magical Negro. Curious, but never affecting
10) Panic Room (2002)
A solid if unspectacular five-finger exercise from Fincher. Jodie Foster’s (taking over for Nicole Kidman after she broke her foot) workmanlike performance epitomizes the entire production; you’re never bored as you can tell no one is phoning it in, but it’s something that disappears from your memory as soon as the credits roll. Only Dwight Yoakam makes a mild impression as one of the robbers. He’s unsettling in a way that the rest of the movie isn’t. It’s good, but don’t panic if you miss it.
She looks like she's panicking...in this room.
11) Alien 3 (1992)
This is not as horrible as you remember, but it’s also not particularly good. David Fincher’s debut feature sinks by style choices that backfire more often than not. There’s nothing wrong with looking grim, but there’s a yellow/black motif throughout the prison that feels and looks repetitive to the point of dullness. And having the camera move up or down right before an alien attacks gets old after the first 20 times you see it. This is the worst of the Ripley Alien movies, but at least Fincher got it off his chest and cleared room for some great films afterward.
Before you make time in your viewing schedule for Mank, make sure to revisit some of director David Fincher’s previous work. He’s an expert of his craft, as even his failures are at the very least interesting.
Buy Se7en and Fight Club Here!
© 2020 Noel Penaflor