Best David Fincher Movies

David Fincher movies are the best. They’re dark, full of badass characters, and they incorporate various versions of the same hardcore, disillusioned worldview. There isn’t a safer bet for a truly satisfying experience in film.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

When Fincher swings, he doesn’t miss. He was an executive producer on (and directed the first two episodes of) Netflix’s first original series, House of Cards, and absolutely crushed it with Netflix’s Mindhunter as well (R.I.P.). But Fincher’s biggest hits have come by way of the big screen. When you want to watch an intelligently-made, investigative, oftentimes edgy and unpredictable film, be sure to track down one of these. Here are my top 10 David Fincher movies (no spoilers!):

10) Alien3 (1992)

Alien 3

Available with subscriptions on: HBO Go/Now, Hulu

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover

Rotten Tomatoes: 43%

Personally, I think Alien 3 was an awesome film in an awesome film franchise, but it didn’t do much to follow up Ridley Scott (Alien) and James Cameron (Aliens) in the series. With the film, Fincher made his directorial debut, brought on after plans for the originally proposed director, Vincent Ward, fell through. And things didn’t go well. Hell, Fincher eventually disowned the film in an interview with The Guardian stating, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”

It wasn’t really a Fincher film. And fortunately, the low ratings and general disappointment were not enough to ruin the Alien movie franchise (now at six films) or Fincher’s directing career, and we were graced with the next nine titles on this list.

9) Panic Room (2002)

Panic Room

Available with subscriptions on: Vudu, Crackle

Cast: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, Kristen Stewart

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%

Panic Room is a good movie. It’s also the only movie on this list that you can see once in your life and be just fine. You spend the entire time in a house with three desperate burglars (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, and Jared Leto) trying to break into a state-of-the-art panic room in Manhattan. Locked inside, Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart try to hold on for dear life until the offensive is quelled, if it ever is (no spoilers here).

Panic Room is unique in a couple of ways, as David Fincher films go. First of all, it’s the only feature that doesn’t hit you with a truly unique storyline or an unforgettable ending. I’m not saying the events in this movie aren’t thrilling, or that you’ve seen it play out like this before; but it definitely doesn’t leave you with the intellectual and emotional satisfaction you (will) have come to expect from David Fincher. It isn’t novel.

Secondly, it’s his only movie that isn’t an investigation of some sort at its core. This point needs to be stretched further for some films than others, but David Fincher takes you on a ride in all of his movies where you are constantly trying to discover something. In Panic Room, I just can’t stretch that theory to encompass trying to discover whether or not the burglars will get in or not.


Buy or Rent Panic Room on Amazon Prime Video


8) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Available with subscriptions on: Hulu, Sling TV, fuboTV

Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%

The Academy Awards had a lot to say about Benjamin Button (13 nominations, 3 awards), but I don’t. It fits the “truly unique storyline” aspect of Fincher films for sure, as we travel backwards through time in this one, sort of. We watch things play out how they might if we were born old and then grew younger as time moved along. It’s weird. And sad. But the film leaves out all the rest of Fincher’s usual tricks. It was probably after this one that he realized, for sure, that special effects just aren’t his thing.

But hey, he took a shot at a more conventional way to get into the Oscars conversation, and it worked. But Benjamin Button is not why we love David Fincher.

7) The Game (1997)

The Game

Available with subscriptions on: Hulu, Sling TV, Starz

Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

What’s the most ridiculous birthday present you’ve ever received? That you’ve ever heard of? It won’t amount to this one. I mentioned earlier that Fincher films are almost always an investigation of some sort at their core. What are we investigating here? We’re trying to figure out what the fuck is going on! It’s what Fincher does best. We’re in the dark, literally (as we often are in Fincher movies), trying to figure something out. The journey we go on with Michael Douglas, the process of trying to understand why his entire world is falling apart, is as enjoyable to watch as it is absurd.

The investigative nature of the film is not the only recurring characteristic of David Fincher movies that you get with The Game. The “game” in the movie is masterfully created and carried out to perfection. This “super-smart” aspect of the movie is a key Fincher feature. Even House of Cards and Mindhunter are centered around people so smart that almost no one around them understands them. And lastly, the ending in this one marks the first big twist of the list, the final Fincher ingredient.

Most Fincher films don’t get along too quickly. They don’t provide the instant gratification so many of us seek these days. And The Game is a perfect example of that. It’s a film that requires a brain with a basic (pre-millennial) attention span. Once it gets going, the going is good!


Buy or Rent The Game on Amazon Prime Video


6) Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl

Available with subscriptions on: N/A

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%

This list isn’t about David Fincher’s directorial prowess (which I could elaborate on at some length); it’s about his films as completed pieces of work, as experiences for us viewers. With that said, he did an incredible job with Gone Girl. The experience is perfect. Fincher’s direction was even better. That is an 87% from Rotten Tomatoes with Ben Affleck, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tyler Perry. In a crime mystery.

Gone Girl, adapted from the Gillian Flynn book, is a search for a missing person, a renowned writer in her own right (Rosamund Pike). Her husband (Ben Affleck) is the primary suspect, as is the case with most missing woman cases. But that’s the end of what’s normal about this investigation. If you’re like me and can’t watch enough insanely crazy crime stories, and if you want to see Ben Affleck deliver in a role, then you’re going to like Gone Girl. And you’ll love the next title too!

5) Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac

Available with subscriptions on: Crackle

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

Of all the genius characters and plans that exist in David Fincher movies, this might be the most brilliant of them all. When Fincher goes non-fiction, he goes beyond Mensa-level stuff. We’re talking about all-time great minds. I mean, the Zodiac Killer was never caught! And those ciphers?! The story is generational. And I think perhaps the coolest part about Zodiac is that it’s actually personal for Fincher. A real-life bogeyman of sorts, the Zodiac Killer threatened shooting at a school bus in Marin County while Fincher was growing up there, for which his bus received a police escort to and from school for a period of time. Decades later, with over 35 kills claimed, the killer is still unknown.

This movie is long and meticulous, perfect for a patient and curious mind. It’s yet another investigation, primarily journalistic in nature this time around, and the smarts are delivered by way of the serial killer and his communications to the media. Almost as maniacal as the killer himself, Jake Gyllenhaal’s impassioned efforts to catch him present yet another thread to the Fincher way — the complete devotion of a lead character to his work.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, shame on you.


Buy or Zodiac Room on Amazon Prime Video


4) The Social Network (2010)

Social Network

Available with subscriptions on: N/A

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

The second of two (loosely) true stories among his catalog, and this list, The Social Network is perhaps the pinnacle of Fincher’s film career. With a 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, and eight academy award nominations with three wins, it would seem this movie did it all. And it did. The only reason this movie isn’t better than four, number one even, is because, to me, it isn’t as Fincher-y as the next three. It’s fucking great though.

If the Zodiac Killer is smarter than Mark Zuckerberg, which there is absolutely no evidence to support, Mark Zuckerberg is at least 61.8 billion times more successful. Because I’m pretty sure the Zodiac Killer didn’t make a dime with those ciphers and anonymity. How did Mark do it? It turns out that he was full of a lot of the things Fincher likes to make movies about. Zuck is incredibly smart (movie starts at Harvard), to the extent that many around him couldn’t fully understand him, and he was beyond motivated to accomplish his goals.

The movie isn’t dark and doesn’t incorporate a huge twist like some of us expect from Fincher, but it’s executed to perfection, as we all knew it would be. And it’s filmed like an investigation, as so many of these titles are. The cast shines bright. The music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross slaps. And Justin Timberlake shows up like Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers. You know, at just the right time to take the story to the next level. You spend enough time on the damn app. Make sure you see the movie.


Buy or Rent The Social Network on Amazon Prime Video


3) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Available with subscriptions on: Hulu, Sling TV, Starz

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

This is the Fincher film for Fincher fans. The next best thing after the number one movie on this list, even though it’s ranked third (read on). It incorporates everything Fincher. And by now we all know what that means. It’s an investigation, from beginning to end, this time with more than one mastermind at work. It’s dark, visually and thematically. And the ending is impossible to predict. There’s murder, perhaps his most badass, hardcore character of all his movies, and from start to finish, you are locked in. Why, oh why, was the trilogy never completed?

Dragon Tattoo was nominated for five academy awards and won just one. While even one academy award is great, I personally think that Fincher films can be as misunderstood as many of his characters. I think this movie is one of the greatest ever made. It’s truly unique, like how Forrest Gump or Watchmen is. I wish there were more out there like it. I shocked even myself ranking this one at number three.

2) Se7en (1995)

Se7en

Available with subscriptions on: N/A

Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, John C. McGinley

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

Methodology is why this film is ranked above at least a few of the titles below it. Without the success of Se7en, it’s possible that we’d have never gotten to see any more David Fincher movies. It’s his real directorial debut, and it didn’t disappoint. This film is as good as any you’ll find. Again, we have an investigation, a series of murders this time; there’s a mastermind at work that probably inspired the Saw franchise himself; and we get one of the most famous and repeated quotes in Fincher film history at the super-twist, surprise ending.

Fincher trusted Kevin Spacey with his jump into television with Netflix’s original original series, House of Cards, and it may very well be because he did such a good job with his true film debut in Se7en. This is also the first of three films from Fincher that stars Brad Pitt, and does anyone ever go wrong with Morgan Freeman or Gwyneth Paltrow?

Se7en sets the tone for Fincher movies. The investigative structure, the smarts, the insane twist, and dark tone. I mean, the sun literally doesn’t come out until the final sequence. I think Dragon Tattoo takes all of those ingredients and does at least as good of a job. But I think that, like The Beatles, or in general property law concepts: first in time is first in right.


Buy or Rent Se7en on Amazon Prime Video


1) Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club

Available with subscriptions on: HBO Go/Now, Hulu

Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Jared Leto

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%

Yeah, yeah, I’m breaking the first rule of Fight Club:

This list was formulated with context weighing heavily on my mind. It’s the great sports debate right? Is LeBron better than Jordan? Look at what Fincher did with Fight Club—in 1999. I had never seen anything like it. Like Pulp Fiction or Scarface, it changes you forever. It has staying power. It never gets old. It’s Fincher’s best ending, among so many great endings, and it’s his most quoted film—it is special; a beautiful, unique snowflake. Truly.

When push comes to shove, or to punches, Fight Club is not only Fincher’s best, but one of the most amazing experiences in film of all-time. If you grew up back then, you’d remember Fight Club posters in every guy’s bedroom. Framing our “great depression” as our lives couldn’t have been more right. It gets more right everyday. And beyond being symbolic of the story itself, it helps define a generation of mental health awareness.

The story is brilliant. The delivery is dark. The message is generational. If you somehow missed it, go watch it. Twice. And then watch it again.


 

If you liked this list of David Fincher films, you might also want to check out any of these: best psychological thrillers for every streaming service, best post-apocalyptic films on Netflix, Hulu, and Prime, or best science fiction movies on Netflix, Hulu, Prime, and HBO Go.

 


 

References

Internet Movie Database

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