If the internet has taught us one thing, it’s that cats are cute. If it’s taught us two, it’s that everything can be reduced to a numerical value. In the spirit of that, we’ve devised an algorithm for ranking David Fincher movies. This means the purpose for the online world has been realized. You’re welcome. We put scores from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and Letterboxd into our magic thinking Google machine and it spat out all the David Fincher movies, ranked. Which means you are now prepared for his newest, we assume, masterpiece The Killer. Enjoy. Or, don’t. That’s out of our hands.
About David Fincher
David “We Call Him ‘The Finch’” Fincher literally grew up around movies. He was the neighbor of George Lucas, but luckily learned almost nothing he knows from the director of the Star Wars films we’d rather forget. Fincher went on to be a cameraman at Industrial Light & Magic before he started directing commercials in the ‘80s. That led to music videos, where he honed his skills doing very stylized camerawork and creating temperamental atmospheres. He broke into film with Alien 3, and the rest is dark, moody history. Now, to the rankings, Batman!
Alien 3 (1992)
Alien 3 starts with a gut punch to let you know that this ain’t some fluffy Jimmy Cameron story. Newt, the adorable little girl who was the core of Aliens, dies in the first few minutes and an autopsy must be performed on her to see if she’s infected. Speaking of being infected, Ripley has been knocked up by mama queen xenomorph, who didn’t even call her the next morning. Ripley must now rely on help from a junkie doctor and a preacher inmate to survive with an alien loose on an all-male prison planet. Yet, somehow this got the lowest ranking. Algorithms shmalgorithms.
Panic Room (2002)
Sometimes David Fincher channels another oddball David, Mr. Lynch. Here, we’ve got Dwight Yoakam perpetually wearing a ski mask and surgical gloves, presumably to hide his identity, even though Forest Whittaker is strolling around perpetrating a series of major felonies while wearing a shirt that has his name on it. Jodi Foster plays a divorcée who clearly had a great attorney because she’s moving into a huge brownstone with her daughter, Kristen Stewart. Jared Leto manages to somehow be the least strange character. Only David Fincher could pull that off.
The Game (1997)
Poor Michael Douglas has too much money and is bored. That tragic level of white man’s burden is only exacerbated by the fact his equally rich and bored father committed suicide. Now, his rich and bored ne’er do well brother has embroiled Douglas in a game with a mysterious corporation. Douglas is robbed, left for dead, and courted by a woman who may not be what she seems. That’s dandy, because neither is anything else. What’s real is a constantly moving target in this narrative that’s told with true artistry. Better still, the reveals are so satisfying you’ll sort of want to wake up in a shallow grave in Mexico.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
If you somehow don’t know about this movie, a guy ages backwards. That’s not actually an interesting yarn to spin, until you see what it means. People panic when an elderly man is playing normal games with a young girl, and then try to entice an old man with advanced dementia to behave like a kid because he’s in a child’s body. The lesson is that who we actually are has very little to do with how we appear. That the greatest wisdom can come from the mouths of babes. Also, Brad Pitt as an elderly gnome is still a solid 6.
Despite its glittering appearance, the film industry is a savagely dark one. Mank manages to explore much of that murkiness, but it is also a cheerfully constructed film that is reminiscent of the Tim Burton vehicle Ed Wood, right down to the velvety black and white appearance. In Mank, no one is really happy making movies, with every person partly convinced of their own genius, and angry at the forces that meddle with it. It’s a character study of the minds and egos that collude and clash behind the cameras of Tinseltown, and it shows that the real story under a magnum opus like Citizen Kane isn’t on the screen.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Remaking an already exceptional film to reach American audiences often leads to either disaster, or pale emulation. In this case, it’s neither. There’s certainly a lot in this version of the movie that echoes the Swedish ones, but it still feels decidedly different. It’s worth watching even by those who adored the books and/or the Swedish pictures. This story has mystery and evil aplenty, but the allure lies in the painfully damaged, emotionally distant, but ferally intelligent Lisbeth Salander of dragon tattoo fame. It’s not a love story, but rather a story of someone so scarred as to be amputated from their emotions being able to finally reach another person, however delicately, for a bond that is innocuous to most, yet life-giving to the truly disenfranchised.
If you haven’t seen Seven, then here’s the real selling point: Gwenyth Paltrow’s head in a box. It’s too bad that everyone has now run off to watch it, because they won’t get to hear about how this movie asks whether murder is really the worst thing we can do, or if the living sins people commit are far more egregious. Seven challenges morality throughout, casting a killer in a role as a self-styled deity who is cleaning up the horrors of humanity in just the way humanity seems to want. In addition, in case you weren’t here for the first sentence: Gwenyth Paltrow’s head in a box.
Fight Club (1999)
Some films occur at a nexus of events and talents that are above reproach. Driving music by The Dust Brothers, words and concepts from the gleeful nihilism that is Chuck Palahniuk, Ed Norton, Helena Bonham Carter somehow needing a comb even more than usual, and Fincher behind the lens. Mix in some sadomasochistic homoeroticism, some antiestablishmentarian philosophy, a crisis of individual vs. the system that slowly eats us alive, a penguin as a power animal, and you’ve got what the old timers refer to as a bit of hot sauce cinema.
The cast list here is not only without fault, but every single person is turning in work that smacks you right in the gob. It’s a character actor buffet where every scene makes you go, “Whoa, what’s this person’s deal?” This is the true story of the Zodiac killer seen in a way that highlights the intense personalities behind the hunt, while downplaying the actual murderer. By the end, you’ll care less about the psychopathy of the Zodiac, and more about what happened to each of the heartbreaking people whose obsession with him left their lives in tatters.
Gone Girl (2014)
Anyone who read the truly unique book by Gillian Flynn knows how important construction is when trying to depict this plot. Fincher manages to walk this tightrope by telling the story of a man whose beloved wife suddenly goes missing under mysterious, bloody circumstances. Then, the tale begins to turn. Everyone’s motives become suspect, and their goals take on increasingly insidious tones as they manipulate one another, the audience, and sometimes even themselves into, and out of, all kinds of treachery. But it’s okay. It’s all done in the name of whatever deformed parody of “love” they’ve adopted.
The Social Network (2010)
Let’s say it: this doesn’t deserve this ranking. The numbers might not lie, but sometimes they’re wrong. True, it’s Aaron Sorkin’s writing, but it’s not peak Sorkin like The Newsroom or the defamed Studio 60. Yes, it’s the grim story of an amoral person’s rise to prestige as he sociopathically tramples everyone in front of him while leveraging technology to serve his own perverse whims. Sure, it’s Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield, and dual Armie Hammers all over that screen. But the sum is less than its parts, except insofar as it shows us the kind of minds that drive our society into reaching new heights, and lows.
Editor’s Note: TSN is on my desert island top five list. But I can see how it might not land with everyone–including our own (usually correct, always brilliant) M.W.
The Killer (2022)
Fincher’s newest Netflix endeavour promises to be outstanding. It pairs Dave back with Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, along with players like Michael Fastbender and Tilda Swinton. Last, but perhaps best, the story is taken from the graphic novel series by Alexis Nolent about a hired killer who undergoes a psychological crisis. If there’s one thing that can be said about Fincher’s directing, it stays true to beloved source material. He and Netflix have likewise proven that they work great together, as his Mindhunter series is basically a Zodiac-esque serial that any dramatized true crime devotee can’t stop raving about. If this doesn’t hit all the right notes, then we know Fincher has lost his knack and deserves to be burnt in effigy.