Ranking the Film’s of David Fincher: From ‘Alien 3’ to ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Ranking the Film's of David Fincher

I hadn’t seen David Fincher‘s Gone Girl before creating this list. I felt I’d let his latest film simmer for a bit before attempting to figure out where exactly it fit within a filmography that now spans 22 years.

I must also confess to being a David Fincher fanboy. It was Fincher’s films before any other that got me to start looking at the way movies were made and who was making them rather than simply consuming one after the other. His leaning toward dark and brooding material is as much about his taste in the movies he makes and his approach to movie making. Even with films such as The Social Network, looking at the fellas behind the creation of Facebook, Fincher delivers a dark, moody and atmospheric piece of cinema. But let’s not spoil the conversation of each film before getting to the list.

What follows is my ranking of Fincher’s first nine films, from Alien 3, to Se7en and Fight Club, to Zodiac and finally 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s somewhat amazing Fincher has been working for 22 years and Gone Girl will only be his tenth feature, but that’s why each of his films is so hotly anticipated. That said, let’s see how good those first nine turned out…


Alien 3


Alien 3
Photo: 20th Century Fox

“I had to work on it for two years, got fired off it three times and I had to fight for every single thing. No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.” ~ David Fincher via The Guardian

I’d hesitate to say Fincher has ever made a bad film, but at the same time I don’t think I can call Alien 3 a good film. In a recent interview with Playboy, when asked about his first feature film he said, “I was a 27-year-old rube trying to navigate an impervious bureaucracy. It was an absurd and obscene daily battle to do anything interesting with what we were allowed to do.”

Fincher came to Alien 3, following in the footsteps of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, after working on videos for Madonna‘s “Express Yourself”, “Oh Father” and “Vogue” and in a set visit report at Empire, Sigourney Weaver even mentions her trepidation in working with a first time, music video director, “I was a bit apprehensive about having a guy who directed Madonna videos direct this movie,” she said. “So I asked him, at one of our production meetings at 20th Century Fox, in Los Angeles: ‘How do you see the character of Ripley?’ He said, ‘I see her bald…’ I immediately liked the idea. I guess I was relieved that he had any image of her at all. That told me more about how he saw this film than anything else. He saw Ripley as very vulnerable — her against everything and everyone. And I liked that. All I said was, ‘Well, if I shave my head, then my price goes up.’ Everyone laughed nervously. I didn’t get another dime!”

In that same set piece everyone seems to acknowledge the troubled production and Fincher hints at how the studios lorded over him during production saying, “After every day’s filming, there are questions to be answered from LA. I get a report after they have seen the dailies from the previous night’s filming. It is a matter of keeping the show on the road, however many issues I have to deal with… I am not allowed to forget that this is a very big opportunity for me… In fact, I am reminded of how big it is on a daily basis.

Fincher wouldn’t make another feature film for three years, but boy what a leap in quality it would end up being… more on that shortly…


The Game


The Game
Photo: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

Fincher recently said his wife told him, “Don’t make The Game” and looking back he now seems to think she was right. “We didn’t figure out the third act, and it was my fault, because I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny,” he said. I know what I like, and one thing I definitely like is not knowing where a movie is going.”

Maybe this is why I have so many issues with the film that finds Michael Douglas being tormented buy a new, real world “game” that seems a little too real. Here’s what I wrote in my review of the Criterion Blu-ray:

I can’t accept the way this film ends and Nicholas’ acceptance of what he’s just been through. Yes, we see moments of change in Nicholas late in the game, but they come across as contrived story elements rather than a natural progression.

I also refuse to believe a man, that was only a moment ago willing to kill himself, would so quickly be “okay”. Perhaps you’d argue he’s not okay and will now need years of therapy to even achieve some semblance of “okay”, which is fine, but the way the film wraps up I simply don’t get that impression.

Listening to the audio commentary, screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris mention how once Nicholas falls onto the air bag the film, in essence, is over and the rest is just a matter of wrapping it up. If the story ends there, why not end it?

All that said, here’s is an audio commentary snippet featuring Fincher discussing his cinematographic choices.

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