In honor of David Fincher’s 55th birthday, we’re ranking his films from worst to best.
Fincher directed his first film in 1992 and has been a prominent filmmaker ever since, making a name for himself by directing films that capture, intrigue, and thrill audiences. He’s been nominated for Best Achievement in Directing at the Academy Awards twice and his films have won a total seven Oscars in categories ranging from film editing to writing to art direction.
Here’s our rank of the director’s films from worst to best.
10. ‘Alien 3’
Fincher’s first feature length directorial effort is also his worst. Coming in at a whopping two hours and twenty-five minutes, Alien 3 is simply too long for its own good and misses so much of what made the previous two installments in the franchise so exciting to watch.
Although in the time since the film’s release, it has earned a much more negative reputation than it deserves, it’s undoubtedly Fincher’s weakest film. If you look hard enough, Fincher’s vision for the film is there, but the execution is rather sloppy and the film lacks the sharpness that so many of his other films have.
9. ‘Fight Club’
Fight Club no doubt found its audience when it was released in 1999. As an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about an underground fight club for men bored with their lives, it became an instant classic for many film buffs. The film current sits at #10 on IMDb’s list of top rated films, ahead of films like Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Hitchcock’s Psycho.
But unlike Fincher’s other movies, Fight Club depends far too much on the film’s third act plot twist to hold up over time. It’s full of strong moments that are not able to add up to something particularly significant.
8. ‘The Game’
The Game is perhaps Fincher’s most underrated film. It’s certainly the one that gets paid the least amount of lip service. The film tells a very confusing, if not entirely convoluted story of a wealthy banker who is given the opportunity to play a mysterious game that ends up blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not.
It’s an ambitious undertaking and demonstrates Fincher’s nascent ability for directing stories that are difficult to explain and understand. While The Game is not entirely successful – the film’s final act in particular suffers from taking some rather inexplicable jumps – it’s indicative of Fincher’s talent for stories
7. ‘Panic Room’
Starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, Panic Room is a tightly wound thriller that demonstrates Fincher’s ability for crafting tension and character. Unlike his other films that are often wide in scope, Panic Room is a far more intimate film that isolates the events of the film to a single house.
Some of the CGI in the film has not held up well, and the film features some rather flat writing. Fincher’s precise and stylized direction elevates what might have been a forgettable film into an entertaining and taut thriller.
6. ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an outlier for Fincher. While most of his films are depictions of various forms and degrees of violence, this film is foremost a love story. The film tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who ages backwards. Brad Pitt plays Benjamin, a role that often required him to spend five hours each day in hair and make-up.
The film suffers from being a bit too slowly paced and it uses a framing device that weighs down the central narrative, but overall The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deserves more credit as one of Fincher’s finer achievements. It’s contains a strong emotional narrative, stellar performances, and some classic Fincher montages that make for a truly impassioned film.
Also starring Brad Pitt, this time alongside Morgan Freeman, Se7en is a story of two homicide detectives searching for a serial killer who bases his crimes on the seven deadly sins. This concept gives Fincher plenty of room to play. His talent for crafting tension serves the material extremely well.
The film builds and builds until the iconic and almost unbearably tense climax. Se7en also contains some of Fincher’s best and most striking visuals. Each of the murders that the detectives uncover are staged in impressive ways that contribute to the film’s visual dialogue, crafting a commentary about the exchanges of power that occur throughout the film.
4. ‘Gone Girl’
Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is a rather divisive entry into his filmography, but it remains a reflection of his talents. Like several of his other films, there is a moment approximately half way through Gone Girl where everything shifts and the movie becomes an entirely different story than it was during the first half.
Gone Girl exhibits Fincher’s most efficacious handling of this kind of narrative transition, effortlessly turning a prototypical mystery into a nightmarish satire that is both critical of marriage and the ways we change ourselves for others. Fincher directs Rosamund Pike to perfection, teasing out her best performance and cementing her character as one of the most iconic villains of the century.
3. ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’
There is no better distillation of Fincher’s talent for taking seemingly unadaptable stories and turning them into gold than his 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He takes a novel that contains more than 100 pages of history about one family and their business exploits and finds a way to turn it into a nail-biting thriller that intersects complex issues like freedom of the press, violence against women, and the impact of corporate interests on society.
Fincher’s adaptation reflects his increased awareness of and interest in the way technology impacts our lives. The film uses its two protagonists as a way of establishing a compelling ideological divide between new and old; Lisbeth is a technology savant that embraces and encourages the way technology breaks down barriers while Mikael struggles to operate in this new world. This conflict between new and old is a prevalent theme throughout the film that extends to the film’s narrative about how society handles violence against women.
2. ‘The Social Network’
The Social Network tells the somewhat true, mostly fictionalized story of how Facebook came to be. It’s impressive how Fincher takes a story about the origins of social media and turns it into a complex story of friendship and betrayal. The Social Network is a shining example of what life is like in the 21st century for so many people. It tackles complex issues of how we see ourselves and how others see us in a way that is critical and complex. While so much of mainstream film today retreads stories from the past, telling stories about world wars and bygone eras, The Social Network found a way to look forward.
Rather than depict the Internet as a friend or an enemy, Fincher characterizes it as a neutral force that can be used to our benefit or weaponized for our detriment. Fincher’s direction brings a desperately needed layer of nuance to the story and the characters while simultaneously elevating them to near-mythical proportions. The Social Network Best Picture loss at the Oscars still stings, but the film’s impact on film, movie lovers, and pop culture is still felt today.
Released in 2007, Zodiac remains David Fincher’s best film and finest achievement. It’s a high-wire act of storytelling that Fincher pulls off with sheer grace. The film exists at the intersection of so much of what Fincher does well: handling complicated stories, crafting sustained tension, depicting the affect of violence on society, and characterizing the struggle to reconcile the distance between what is real and what’s not, what is true versus what is false.
The technical elements on display in the film, particularly the editing and composition, are impeccable. The opening sequence of the film alone features more masterful editing than most movies. Zodiac is the kind of film tasked with communicating an incredible amount of information to the audience and Fincher finds a way to do that in a way that allows the film to remain artful. Ultimately, Zodiac exemplifies the best of what David Fincher has to offer. He is not just a director with a talent for crafting thrillers – he’s one of our most gifted modern storytellers.