There aren’t many filmmakers alive who have built as impressive of a filmography as David Fincher. After making a name for himself with his music video work, Fincher slowly but surely emerged over the course of the 1990s as one of the most promising directors of his generation. In the decades that have followed, he’s only continued to garner more respect and fans, helming some of the most acclaimed films of the past 30 years. Now, 3 years after his last film, Fincher is returning this fall with The Killer.
The movie, an assassin thriller starring Michael Fassbender, marks Fincher’s return to the same world of darkly perverse crime stories that he’s spent many years of his career operating in. With that in mind, now seems like as good a time as any to look back at all of the movies that the filmmaker has made throughout his career — and rank them from worst to best.
11. Alien 3 (1992)
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Better than its reputation suggests but nowhere near its director’s best, Alien 3 is a haunting follow-up to its iconic sci-fi franchise’s first two installments that, sadly, never reaches its full potential.
Marred by constant script rewrites and behind-the-scenes intervention from the studio executives overseeing its production, Alien 3 is the only film that David Fincher has made that doesn’t feel like the complete product of his own, notoriously meticulous vision. Fincher himself has publicly disowned the movie on numerous occasions, but despite its flaws, there’s still quite a lot to like about Alien 3which says more about the talent of its director than it does the film itself.
10. Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher’s first film of the 21st century is strangely one of his least memorable. A single-location thriller about a mother and daughter (played by Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart) who are forced to hide after their home is invaded by burglars, Panic Room is more of an exercise in form than it is anything else.
On the one hand, that means it features more than its fair share of exciting visual moments and is, to its credit, an exceptionally entertaining and well-crafted thriller. On the other hand, that also makes it impossible for Panic Room to stand a chance against any of the remaining films on this list — many of which are rightly regarded as some of the best big-screen titles of their decades. Panic Room is a good movie, but it isn’t that good.
9. Lack (2020)
2020’s Lack is partly David Fincher’s homage to the Golden Age era of 1930s Hollywood and partly a love letter to his father, Jack, who wrote its script. A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Citizen Kanethe film is as mean-spirited as any other that Fincher has made, but it’s also among his most messily introspective and contemplative.
Not everything about it works — its attempts to digitally recreate the look of a 1930s black-and-white film are among its most irksome problems — but Lack also isn’t as bad as some of Fincher’s die-hard fans would have you believe. As a movie about a middle-aged man learning to take accountability, it’s actually pretty effective and affecting, if also deeply flawed.
8. The Game (1997)
For years, The Game was widely regarded as David Fincher’s most underrated film. Nowadays, it may, as a direct consequence of its reputation, no longer be underrated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a sneakily good psychological thriller. A drama about a man (played by Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania‘s Michael Douglas) whose participation in a strange game forces him to question how much of his life is real and how much of it is part of a larger conspiracy, The Game is Fincher at his most methodical and deviously playful.
The film doesn’t quite have the same staying power as some of the other titles on this list, but as is the case with every one of Fincher’s feature efforts, it offers plenty to admire and even more to be entertained by.
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, without a doubt, the most sentimental and sickly sweet film that David Fincher has ever made. Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages backward, the film is overlong and, at times, tonally confused. But beyond all of its many narrative and tonal flaws, there’s more pure visual, gothic beauty on display throughout The Curious Case of Benjamin Button than there is in perhaps any of Fincher’s other films.
Shot by Top Gun: Maverick cinematographer Claudio Miranda, the film is a visually hypnotizing romance — an experiment in fantasy from a director who has spent most of his career mining both beauty and horror out of the sheer grittiness and mundanity of life. It’s an outlier, to be sure, but a welcome one.
6. Fight Club (1999)
As anarchic and unapologetic as a movie can get, Fight Club made waves when it was released in 1999 and its reputation has only grown in the years since then. Behind the camera, David Fincher throws all the rules out the window — playing with time, frame rate, and visual blemishes to create a film that is as much a hallucinatory experience as it is a treatise on the merits of breaking things (power structures most of all).
The film’s effects have dulled a little over time, thanks to its messaging being co-opted by certain toxic communities and its transgressive nature being made to seem tamer by several of the movies and TV shows that have followed it. As a pure visual and narrative experience, though, Fight Club is still a down-and-dirty blast.
5. Gone Girl (2014)
No mainstream American studio film of recent memory is quite as joyfully nihilistic and uncooperative as Gone Girl. Adapted from the popular Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, the David Fincher-directed film is simultaneously a Hitchcockian crime thriller, cultural satire, and suburban melodrama, and its power comes from just how seamlessly it blends all of those elements together.
It’s a far more fun time than it has any right to be, and it’s elevated above its purposefully trashy premise by both Fincher’s elegant, cool direction and Rosamund Pike’s cold-as-ice lead performance as Amy Dunne. At no point throughout his career has Fincher paid such blatant homage to past masters like Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, and never has he felt like a worthier successor to them.
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
David Fincher’s English-language take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo received a notably muted response when it was released. However, while it’s not quite as strong as the film that Fincher made before it, this 2011 thriller is an icy, perverse neo-noir that only seems to get better the more time passes. Slickly composed, edited, and constructed, the film is as propulsive as any that Fincher has ever made, and it features some of the director’s all-time greatest stylistic flourishes.
There are more memorable, striking moments scattered throughout Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than most mainstream crime thrillers of the past 10 years, but none highlight his brilliance quite as hilariously or hauntingly as the film’s perfectly timed use of Enya’s Orinoco Flow. If you know, you know, and if you don’t, well, you should find out.
3. Seven (1995)
Many could argue that David Fincher has only gotten better as he’s gotten older and, by and large, they’d be right to say so. With the exception of the top two entries on this list, though, none of Fincher’s late-career efforts have matched the sheer intensity, artistry, and compelling madness of Seven.
His sophomore feature and follow-up to Alien 3 is a serial killer thriller that vibrates with the kind of confidence and chip-on-the-shoulder angst of an artist who is desperate and intent, as Fincher was, to prove to everyone what he can actually do. The result is a pitch-black crime thriller that only seems to grow richer and more entrancing every time you watch it. Fincher has made a lot of great movies throughout his career, but few have ever topped the power of Seven.
2. The Social Network (2010)
No movie of the past 15 years has proven to be quite as prophetic or reflective of our current, tech-bro-dominated world as The Social Network. As close to a modern riff on Citizen Kane as any film has come, Fincher’s 2010 corporate drama dares to ask, “What if the world’s most powerful billionaires are just college boys who lashed out on the internet and were rewarded for it?”
The film is chilling and acidic in all the right ways, and Fincher’s patient, methodical style elevates its story of the founding of Facebook to mythological heights. From Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ perfectly subdued score and Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp screenplay to Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg’s compellingly antithetical lead performances, everything just works in The Social Networkand it’s Fincher’s assured, masterful direction that ties it all together.
1. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher is a filmmaker known for his obsessiveness, so it makes a certain kind of sense that his best film is one about a relentless, madness-inducing pursuit of truth and justice. An enrapturing serial killer drama that doubles as an investigative thriller, Zodiac is the film that Fincher was born to make. 16 years after it was made, the movie hasn’t lost an ounce of its appeal.
It contains a hypnotic, darkly alluring power, one that reels you into the film’s depths no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Zodiac is, like so many other Hollywood auteurs’ best movies, as confidently constructed and thought-provoking as it is entertaining. It isn’t just the best thing that Fincher has ever made — it’s also one of this century’s greatest films.