Born in 1962 to Jack and Claire Mae Fincher, David Fincher is one of the most influential directors of his generation. Jack Fincher was a journalist and talented essayist. Son David’s encouragement pushed Jack Fincher to try screenwriting after his retirement. The idea dad and son duo developed in the 1990s was made into the Netflix movie Mank. Mom Claire Mae worked as a nurse. Growing up in San Anselmo, California, David Fincher’s neighbor was filmmaker George Lucas.
Fincher was still a teenager when he started working as an assistant cameraman at George Lucas’ special-effects firm, Industrial Light & Magic. After a three-year stint at ILM, Fincher pursued directing. He made commercials and music videos throughout the 1980s. He made ads for Nike, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, Heineken, etc. Fincher’s success as the adman led him to make music videos. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Fincher directed iconic music videos for Aerosmith and Madonna. He made his directorial debut with Alien 3 (1992). Alien 3 had a troubled production. Even at the pre-production stage several directors came in and went, before the studios zeroed-in on a young music video director. But directing a film from a successful franchise turned out to be a tough task for David Fincher. He was constantly engaged in battles with producers for creative control.
After Alien 3’s lukewarm reception, David Fincher quickly bounced back with the phenomenal serial-killer thriller Se7en (1995). Thereon, Fincher went after highly ambitious projects that became successful due to his notorious perfectionism. He’s made films across genres. Known for his morbid themes focusing on the deep, dark recesses of the human psyche, he’s constantly pushed the boundaries of filmmaking. Similar to the works of Nolan and Tarantino, every Fincher movie has become a major pop-culture event. He’s also had great success with TV series, winning an Emmy for directing the pilot episode of House of Cards and was also behind the fantastic Netflix serial-killer procedural Mindhunter. Here’s a look at all David Fincher feature films, ranked from the least interesting to the best.
David Fincher Movies, Ranked
11. Alien 3 (1992)
This one was a no-brainer really, especially considering all the disagreements and changes courtesy of the studio which gave Fincher the director’s job. Up till that point, Fincher was a highly successful music director, which spurned him to get his big break as a movie director.
Fincher was hired and given a $62 million budget by a studio who was trying (in vain) to recapture the lost glory of a franchise who achieved major success primarily due to its first movie. To be frank, the behind-the-scenes action was more interesting than the movie itself with the studio constantly interfering with several script changes and conflicting ideas between the producers and Fincher.
In the end, the film wasn’t a very good one, and David Fincher has more or less disowned the movie ever since. Aliens 3 was just a bloated up B-rated flick which people would forget about as soon as the movie ended. Not that good, to be honest.
Where to watch: Disney + Hotstar
10. Panic Room (2002)
Panic Room was Fincher’s fifth feature film. Now, because it’s ranked way down at #10 doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. It’s definitely one of his more entertaining flicks, with Jared Leto and Jodie Foster giving some great performances. David Koepp’s story and screenplay is simple: What happens when a woman who has bought her new home is subjected to a break-in and the burglars want to get into the safe?
The house belonged to a reclusive and paranoid rich guy, who had built a panic room for such home-invasion scenarios. The mother Meg and her diabetic daughter Sarah lock themselves into the panic room. Alas the rich guy’s safe is also inside the panic room.
Compared to the other movies in his career, Panic Room still doesn’t seem to go past the barrier of ‘popcorn entertainment’, and lacks depth. Nevertheless, it unfolds as an engrossing game of wits.
9. The Game (1997)
The Game remains as a perfect example of taking a B-movie script and ‘Finher-ing’ it enough to turn it into a top-class thriller. Michael Douglas plays the role of ruthless investment banker, Nicholas Van Orton. Nicholas receives a gift from his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn), which involves a session with a mysterious company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). This clandestine organization offers specialized, adrenaline-pumping experiences for its clients. Soon, Nicholas is ensnared into an elaborate game-like scenario, where the lines between reality and fiction blur.
Once again, a highly entertaining movie from Fincher which will keep you thoroughly engaged, boasting a little more contextual depth than the two previous films on this list. Moreover, The Game has a fantastic ending. The film also works as a critique on the rich people’s endless pursuit of wealth and power, a point he made more potently in later films like The Social Network.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
8. Mank (2020)
The legacy of Orson Welles undoubtedly starts with Citizen Kane (1941). However, the general consensus offers complete credit to Welles for making the masterpiece that we forget about the collaborative effort. The daunting industrialization of Hollywood filmmaking played a huge role in the film’s making. Apart from it, Welles had two important collaborators: one was his cinematographer Gregg Toland and the other co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz.
David Fincher’s Mank narrates the experiences of Herman Mankiewicz while working on Citizen Kane script. For Fincher, this is a very personal project, since his late father Jack Fincher has written Mank’s script (punched up by screenwriter Eric Roth who also served as producer for Mank). Shot in glorious black-and-white, Fincher beautifully realizes the land of motion pictures. Like all of the director’s works, Mank is technically ambitious and meticulously crafted. Here, Fincher once again deals with his recurrent and pet theme of obsession. Still, Mank may not work for all. It’s a film about a bygone era of Hollywood land; definitely self-indulgent, but never boring.
Where to watch: Netflix
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2005)
Fincher is known for his stunning twists and unexpected revelations that leave fans shocked and speechless. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett was not of the like. Not that it’s a bad thing. Loosely inspired by a F Scott Fitzgerald short story, this epic tale of a man who ages backwards was certainly Fincher’s most relaxed and spiritual film.
It was also Fincher’s most expensive production, due to the use of subtle VFX features to make Brad Pitt look older. The film received 13 Oscar nominations, and was a solidly structured film, but wasn’t without flaws.
Thought provoking as it is, David Fincher didn’t make the impact he wanted to. His intention was to make an emotional tearjerker, but it feels a little too cheesy for my liking, and I’m known to be a bit of a romantic. Still, a great movie in the end. Don’t let the film’s position in the rankings dissuade you.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
It was a matter of time before Steig Larsson’s extremely popular ‘Millenium’ trilogy would be adapted for Hollywood. And who’s talented enough to do it if not the king of modern suspense thrillers? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is definitely one of Fincher’s most interesting projects. For starters, there was already a Swedish remake, which was quite brilliant and spearheaded by Noomi Rapace’s brooding performance in the central role, Lisbeth Salander. So Fincher remaking that movie was a bit risky.
Thankfully, the movie was, once again, classic Fincher. Great script, dark tone, great cinematography, token in all Fincher flicks. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, Daniel Craig as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger helped move things along quite smoothly, which made for an intelligent, well structured, and as always, entertaining thriller.
It’s better if you think of the movie as a standalone rather than part of the franchise. Hollywood made another Lisbeth Salander mystery titled The Girl on the Spider’s Web, which was a critical and commercial flop.
Where to watch: Apple TV+
5. Gone Girl (2014)
If anyone could take a novel about (*deep breath*) a superficially well-working marriage where the wife goes *cuckoo* and frames her husband for abusing her, and the husband slowly becomes the police’s chief suspect while the wife continues her killing spree without a care in the world (*exhales*), into a modern masterpiece and one of the best thrillers of recent times, it’s David Fincher.
This is David Fincher cinematography at its best. With the slow pan shots and the color palate which perfectly encapsulates the tone of the movie, it is a visual treat. Gone Girl has a LOT of twists, which is what Fincher gets off on. The soundtrack is beautiful with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ doing their best work since The Social Network.
Props to Rosamund Pike for her disturbing performance as “Amazing” Amy, the psycho wife. Gone Girl seems to transcend the source material, written by Gillian Flynn, and reaches for something more.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
4. Zodiac (2007)
This one was right up Fincher’s alley. The famed director is known for his incredible attention to detail and his perfectionism. The Zodiac killings are one of the most meticulously researched serial killings of all time, and they remain unsolved to this day. This needed Fincher’s touch to become a masterpiece.
Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, the film is an interesting character sketch of the protagonists and their different ways of dealing with the exhausting and unsuccessful hunt for the Zodiac Killer. The audience knew the ending, unlike most of David Fincher’s films. But the pace, the visuals, the script and the acting were all enough to keep audiences hooked for two and a half hours.
The Zodiac killer craved attention. That’s why he left his mark on countless bodies and then watched the police fail over and over again to decipher his coded messages. Fincher manages to get all that in the movie and still leave us unsure about the motives and the identity of the real Zodiac killer. It warrants more than one watch.
Where to Watch: Netflix
3. Se7en (1995)
We’ve spoken quite a bit about Fincher’s aesthetic style and his ability to weave the narrative in such a way that would shock audiences, leaving them at the edge of their seats. Se7en is the benchmark of what should be a David Fincher film. It is the result of all the cinematic layers of a movie working so smoothly and perfectly to create a perfect narrative. Layered with intelligently constructed symbolisms, top class acting and Fincher cinematography, it leaves you almost on the floor, waiting nervously for the end. And if you’re watching it for the first time, the ending will definitely leave you on the floor.
Se7en is most particularly famous for that shock ending as well as the dialogue which so many of us use so hilariously for inappropriate events:
WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOOOX?
More than a decade later, Se7en still hasn’t lost its edge. One of the finest thrillers of all time, it’s also among the best Brad Pitt movies. Give it a watch if you haven’t already. And brace yourself!
Where to Watch: YouTube
2. The Social Network (2010)
At first glance, this doesn’t look like your usual David Fincher-directed movie. This was a movie about the Facebook guys. What was so special about that? What does Fincher bring to the table? The Social Network, directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin turned out to be an unbridled masterpiece.
This biopic may very well be called a techno-thriller, because it was so thrilling. With fantastic editing, beautiful cinematography, and adding in a few newbies like Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield giving fantastic performances, Fincher brings out the psychological elements underlying during the creation of Facebook. With themes like friendship and ambition thrown into the fray, Fincher also brings out Mark Zuckerberg’s want, his psychological need to be accepted in circles he deemed ‘cool’.
The Social Network also brings out the classic college vibe without overselling it. With superb soundtracks from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to boot, you’ve got one of the best movies of the 2000s.
Where to Watch: Netflix
1. Fight Club (1999)
Probably the most iconic David Fincher movie, and definitely the most popular movie on this list, Fight Club is the cult movie of cult movies. It is the most rebellious, audacious and just plain cool movie of the last two decades. Its iconic dialogue has been overused time and time again by rebellious teenagers looking to fight the system.
The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.
We are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.
Brad Pitt, at the absolute peak of his powers, portrays Tyler Durden, the physical embodiment of consumer masculinity, who spews philosophical truisms which appeal to the rebel in us. We love Tyler Durden, but we hate ourselves for it. It’s fitting that the movie was made just before the turn of the century, because it encapsulated what the 20th century was, and what the 21st century would become.
It’s my favorite movie on this list, and one of the craziest movies ever made.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
After Mank, David Fincher directed an episode titled Bad Travelling for Netflix’s twisted sci-fi anthology Love Death + Robots. Another exciting recent David Fincher project is a Netflix show on film appreciation, titled Voir. Fincher served as an executive producer, whereas the video essayist and filmmaker Tony Zhou was the program creator. The director has also partnered with Netflix for his next feature, The Killer. Starring Michael Fassbender, Killer is an adaptation of a French graphic novel. Fincher also revealed that he is trying to put together a limited series, which will be a prequel to Chinatown (1974). Which of his upcoming projects have you excited about? And don’t forget to tell us your favorite Fincher films in the comments below.
(Additional writing by Arun Kumar)
I'm an engineering graduate trying to make the most out of what life throws at me. Currently working as a Brand Strategist at Mitsogo Inc, Chennai. Outside work, you can find me on a football pitch, a basketball court, or in front of a tea stall - still trying to make the most out of what I get.