Every David Fincher Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists David Fincher
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Every David Fincher Movie, Ranked

After breaking through with commercials and an extensive, innovative library of music videos, filmmaker David Fincher has become one of the most lauded and recognizable American directors of the last 30 years. From sci-fi franchise entries to his bread-and-butter—psychological thrills that are by turns bleak, brutal and cheeky—Fincher’s deft camera moves and strict, take-heavy hand with his actors convey a meticulousness throughout his wide-ranging filmography. While much of his work spans TV and video, notably the excellent show Mindhunter, Fincher’s movies have been at the forefront of pop culture for decades. The only question now—besides what’s in that box—is how they stack up against each other.

Here are all of David Fincher’s films, ranked:


11. Alien 3

alien-3-poster.jpg Year: 1992
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

Alien 3 is such a perplexing film, a case where you can clearly see the outlines of a great movie buried under tons of reworking and studio meddling. The worst sin it commits is immediately killing off Newt, Hicks and Bishop, invalidating how hard those beloved characters fought to survive the events of Aliens. It’s a mistake, no doubt about it. Visually, though, the film is often beautiful and unique to look at. The conception of the penal colony fits right in among the rusty, septic feeling of most spaceships in the Alien series, and immersing Ripley in this setting leads to some interesting themes of human predation as much as danger from aliens. The “Special Edition” released in the 2003 Alien Quadrilogy is especially revelatory, featuring a version of the film that is nearly 30 minutes longer, with a significantly different plot. The alien isn’t even born from a dog in that version! It’s a cow! How weird is that? It’s a thoroughly different Alien 3 from whatever you’ve seen before.—Jim Vorel


10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

the-curious-case-of-benjamin-button-poster.jpg Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Mahershala Ali, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas, Tilda Swinton
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 166 minutes

Though far from David Fincher’s best work, his typically painstaking attention to detail and shrewd decision to transplant the original F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from Baltimore to New Orleans help make the case for the movie. Fincher was motivated to move the production thanks to Louisiana’s generous tax incentives for filmmakers—the state isn’t called “Hollywood South” just for its versatile locations. But by setting Brad Pitt’s aging-in-reverse timeline from November 1918 through the sirens blaring of the storm’s August 2005 landfall, he and screenwriter Eric Roth (in full Forrest Gump mode again) mine a fantastical metaphor of a city that’s as old as it is ageless. “The circumstances of my birth were… unusual,” Pitt’s Benjamin Button begins—the same fate could be said of New Orleans, and everything of both since. (Pitt has become something of an ambassador for the still-recovering town through his philanthropic foundation’s efforts to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.) The sprawling odyssey—Pitt called it a “love letter”—elegizes a city then barely three years removed from near destruction, its often sepia-cast vignettes showcasing the Garden District, Mid-City, the French Quarter and beyond.—Amanda Schurr


9. Mank

mank-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance
Rating: R
Runtime: 131 minutes

To talk about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz is to talk about Citizen Kane, which is to say it’s to talk about power, money, fulfillment, and success. And if you’re director David Fincher, to make a movie about Mankiewicz is to make a movie like Citizen Kane. A would-be insider epic held up by reference-heavy repartee and painted with all the aesthetics of the revolutionary movie, really this is a movie for Fincher to flex his film history—an earlier, more serious Hail, Caesar! with Orson Welles in the laurels and Mankiewicz on the cross. Netflix’s Mank might not nearly live up to its subject’s crowning achievement, but it’s still a dense and enjoyable cinematic rant that would make its central lout proud. At first, much of the film seems to rest on Gary Oldman’s performance as Mank, the rapscallion whose wit, writing, and refusal to stay sober ingratiated him with and infuriated so many. Possessing the standard writer’s one-two combo of alcoholism and self-loathing, Mank heads towards social and physical self-destruction. Thankfully—since Oldman’s creaky groan and wobble don’t belie much warmth, and his one-liners needed another draft before drawing the kind of (even mean-spirited) adoration the movie tells us they do—the movie quickly becomes the story of the shifting industry and political climate around ‘30s Hollywood during Mank’s time conceptualizing, then writing Citizen Kane. At times self-effacing and others completely self-involved, with an idealistic core and cynical view on Hollywood, Mank is a lot like its sloppy hero—likable enough, but capable of so much more.—Jacob Oller


8. The Game

the-game-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

One of my more fortunate movie-going experiences was seeing The Game for the first time and not knowing a damn thing about it. I can’t even remember why I saw it; I really didn’t like Seven, felt indifferent to Michael Douglas, thought David Fincher was a cold-hearted megalomaniacal automaton (I still cling to that when it suits). In hindsight, I was in the perfect frame of mind to see it. My low expectations yielded wondrous surprise. And I got the perverse joy of watching mega-yuppie Michael Douglas get the mother of all come-uppances. All this presented in an icy noir-ish Fincher sheen that achieved the rather impressive feat of satirizing conspiracy theories on a purely visual level alone. But what puts this over-the-top for me is the sheer rewatchability of the thing. Sure, it’s a contraption movie, so you always want to see what you might have missed the first time round; but it goes beyond that. I’m convinced now that I want to play The Game. I wish I had a loony left-wing Sean Penn brother who wanted to mess with me. I want that love! I want to feel the ultimate middle-aged epiphany! (And I want to be able to afford it!) Well I want lots of things I can’t have, so I guess I’ll just watch The Game again. Hell, even that ridiculous ending doesn’t seem so bad now.—Harold Brodie


7. Panic Room

panic-room-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart
Rating: R
Runtime: 113 minutes

A nasty thriller that puts David Fincher’s visual flourishes to tension-raising use, Panic Room is a show-offy yet modest piece of pulp that knows exactly what it is and sees everyone giving their all to the (at times silly) home invasion film. Fincher’s CG-aided long takes and meticulous shot design are there to wow us, but they’re also there to orient us in space and within the magnificent home welcoming our wealthy divorcee (Jodie Foster) and her diabetic daughter (Kristen Stewart). The perfectly cast pair (not only do they play desperate, angsty and tough excellently, but they also have great parental chemistry) struggle against scummy Jared Leto and his burglar buddies (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam) in ways that are sometimes contrived due to the blustery “it’s a movie, c’mon!” plotting of David Koepp’s script, but never bland or unengaging. The set-up is clear, the motivations are simple, and the joy lies in the execution. Panic Room might be Fincher having a dirty little lark, but it’s as careful and nasty a lark as you’d expect from a meticulous craftsman like him. Plus, Jodie Foster gets a sledgehammer.—Jacob Oller


6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-poster.jpg Year: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson
Rating: R
Runtime: 158 minutes

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remains David Fincher’s most underappreciated movie due to its brutal nature and heavy subject matter. Adapted from the first installment of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Swedish Millennium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo centers on Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig between James Bond duties), a recently disgraced journalist dealing with the fallout of a libel suit that destroyed his reputation and the publication he runs with longtime lover/business partner Erika (Robin Wright). When approached by wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger (the late, great Christopher Plummer) to investigate the decades-old disappearance and presumed murder of his then-16-year-old grandniece Harriet in exchange for a healthy sum of money and, more importantly, information pertaining to the billionaire who destroyed Mikael’s career, he jumps at the chance in the hopes that it’ll be a win-win situation. While we meet the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), within the first few minutes, it takes almost an hour for her narrative to join Mikael’s. Fincher never wastes a moment, creating a rich and fleshed-out adaptation that surprisingly never overstays its welcome. Using an unconventional five-act structure, no part of the story feels rushed. Steven Zaillian’s script allows us to get to know the core pair before the action begins, giving Fincher the room to explore every detail despite packing in so much. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall’s editing helps transform Dragon Tattoo, which could’ve easily ended up being dense, into something fully absorbing: Seemingly mundane and unnecessary moments (like Lisbeth riding the subway or eating at McDonalds) become fully worth our attention. Balancing these with the stark setting, they build tension while also insisting that no detail is too small. While crafted to near-perfection, from stunning visuals that beautifully capture the dark and snowy Swedish backdrop to the editing and score that perfectly match the tone, it’s still certainly not Fincher’s most accessible film—either in the crime-thriller genre or his filmography in general.—Jihane Bousfiha


5. Fight Club

fight-club-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

Based on the mind-bending novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the film version of Fight Club improves on its source. Thank you, David Fincher. Both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton can chalk their performances up as “best role” material. It’s a gritty thriller that features violence as a tool to cope with life’s mundanity, and the dangers that accompany that line of thinking. Most people who didn’t read the book were probably just as surprised about the ending as they were when Meat Loaf popped up in the film. Fight Club is one of the best movies of the ‘90s. Period. If you have a problem with that, then maybe we should step outside. —Shawn Christ


4. Se7en

se7en-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley
Rating: R
Runtime: 127 minutes

It’s hard to think of a movie that did more short-term damage to the length of your fingernails in the ’90s than David Fincher’s Se7en. Sticking close to detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and almost-retired William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) on the trail of John Doe, a murderer who plans his kills around the seven deadly sins, the film allows us to watch Somerset teach a still-naïve Mills valuable life lessons around the case, which has morally charged outcomes aimed at victims that include a gluttonous man and a greedy attorney. For all the disturbing crime scenes considered, Se7en’s never as unpredictable or emotionally draining as in its infamous finale, in which Mills and Somerset discover “what’s in the box” after capturing their man. —Tyler Kane


3. Gone Girl

gone-girl.jpg Year: 2014
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon
Rating: R
Runtime: 149 minutes

The dissolution of Amy (Rosamund Pike) and Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) marriage was less caused by one particular thing than by a nasty little confluence of circumstance and disillusionment in the tradition itself. No marriage is perfect and all relationships comprise each person’s hard work to chisel themselves into the thing the other will desire. This division of labor is fundamentally unequal, and Amy knows that. It’s with this inequity that she reasserts her power in the relationship in a series of games, part scavenger hunt, part sadistic hide and seek. A video of a three-year-old Anne Hathaway interview on The Late Late Show with James Corden circulated on Twitter recently, and the clip featured the actress talking about her favorite romantic comedies. She first named Notting Hill to the audience’s approving applause, agreeing the film was a classic of the genre. And then she said Gone Girl. The silence, even in the short video, was deafening. But she’s not wrong. It’s certainly, as she asserts, David Fincher’s kooky idea of a rom-com, but the tropes are there—meet cute, courtship, power struggle—their tone bent, reoriented in the context of a gleefully trashy thriller. The trajectory of Gone Girl is really little different than a screwball comedy or a comedy of remarriage, only if Katherine Hepburn were the leopard in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, disenchanted with the man (and maybe the society) onto whom she once projected her fantasies of domestic bliss. Immaculately executed, with a sense of humor as jaundiced as its eye, and featuring one of the performances of the decade care of Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is a testament to demented fantasies we create in our relationships, drawn at the expense of our partners’ humanity and even our senses of self. —Kyle Turner


2. The Social Network

the-social-network.jpg Year: 2010
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella
Rating: R
Runtime: 128 minutes

The Social Network follows the evolution of one of the most financially successful and problematic institutions of the 21st century. The film opens with a break-up scene between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man completely devoid of social skills, and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). Zuckerberg confuses Erica with his literal, machine-like translations of her every word while occasionally throwing in a sarcastic witticism. Throughout the film this sort of wordplay ebbs and flows with comedy and tragedy. After Erica walks out on him, an inebriated Mark goes back to his Harvard dorm room and disses Erica with aspersions to her character and bra size on the school’s social page for everyone to see while also creating a new social website which, with help from a few friends, eventually becomes Facebook. Most of the film takes place as a series of flashbacks based on testimony in two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg. The first is from a trio of Harvard upperclassmen who claim to have contracted Zuckerberg to create the network, and who also belong to an elite club that Mark wishes to be a part of. The other suit comes from his best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) whose story in the film is as central as that of Zuckerberg’s. The disintegration of their relationship begins when the creator of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes a bandwagon seat on the rising company while creating a wedge between the co-founders. Garfield is wonderful as the unsure Saverin who wants to carefully guide Facebook into its future while Zuckerberg and Parker are full steam ahead. Like Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, greed is still king and the wolves are at the door. —Tim Basham


1. Zodiac

zodiac.jpg Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan