This week marks the 18th anniversary of the first screening of Fight Club.
Fincher's work has been known for its cold, clinical approach to a story, but very few people give him credit for it. It's almost always seen as a negative, but there's something fascinating about approaching a story with that kind of focus. He's notorious for taking hundreds of takes and putting his actors through the ringer, but looking over his work, even his lesser films are still nothing to be embarrassed about.
Here's our own ranking of his work. As always, let us know what you think in the comments!
10. ALIEN 3 (1992)
The behind-the-scenes story of Alien 3 is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Fincher had, until this point, had an extremely successful career as a music video director and created some of the most well-known videos of the late '80s and early '90s. A string of well-known directors were attached to Alien 3 before him, including Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward. Eventually, the role fell to Fincher and what a production it was. There was constant studio interference with Fincher essentially disowning the film after it was released. Looking back on it now, it's easy to pick apart and see how it was doomed from the start. When you view the film in the context of what was going on behind it all, it's an interesting watch. There was definitely something there that could have been made and the 'Assembly Cut' - which Fincher presided over - gives you a better sense of what he originally intended.
9. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)
Seen by many as Fincher trying to make an emotional tearjerker, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems an unlikely choice for him. For one, there wasn't any of the moral ambiguity or regular themes that he addressed in his films. Instead, it was an honest-to-goodness love story about a man who aged backwards. The CGI work, revolutionary at the time, now looks quite dated - which is a shame. For Fincher's part, he took the story seriously and made it as cleanly and efficiently as he could. There's a rumour that Fincher only took on the role after the death of his father, as the project itself had been in development hell for over twenty years. For the most part, the film works and there is something affecting about it, but it's just a little too sugary sweet for our liking.
8. THE GAME (1997)
After the unmitigated clusterf*** that was Alien 3 and the roaring success that was Seven, Fincher's next film was another box office hit. In a way, it's perfect Fincher. Take a somewhat pulpy story and turn it into a slick thriller with some amazing cinematography and a cracking script. Michael Douglas might have been an unusual choice to play the lead, but he truly does nail that icy exterior to a tee. The story is, essentially, a retelling of A Christmas Carol - granted it's not as messed up as this. In a way, that's Fincher all over. Take a well-known story that most people are familiar with and make it all grey, cold and very, very slick. An underrated classic.
7. GONE GIRL (2014)
Like The Game and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fincher's ability to take a paperback masterpiece and turn it into a cinematic one is unparalleled. Handling Gone Girl was going to be a tricky one. For one, pretty much everyone read it and was going to have their own expectations on how the story worked. Secondly, the story was seen in some quarters as being somewhat anti-women and getting a male director to take a swing at it is going to be problematic. Nevertheless, Fincher made as straight an adaptation as he could and, working off Gillian Flynn's own script, created a work that is just as disturbing, violent and gloriously entertaining as the source novel.
6. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)
Gone Girl and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are basically two peas in a pod. Both source novels deal with sex, murder and violence against women and both were hugely popular bestsellers. The catch here was that there was already a decent-enough Swedish-language version made of the novel that helped launch the career of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist. Nevertheless, Fincher's take on the source novel was interesting. Rooney Mara's version of Lisbeth Salander was Oscar nominated and, in a way, called to mind Ellen Ripley from Alien 3 - all scarred psyche and toughness. As a standalone thriller, Dragon Tattoo works very well. The action beats are well-directed, of course, and there's a genuine sense of fear and dread coursing through.. It's just a shame that it was left open for a sequel which, sadly, hasn't come to pass thus far.
5. THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
Who thought a film about the birth of Facebook could be so engaging? Sure, nobody dies in The Social Network and there's no messed-up sexual predilections involved, but it's a fascinating story of betrayal, ambition and obsession in the modern age. Casting Jesse Eisenberg, then primarily known for quirky indies, was a masterstroke as was Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss Twins. Working off of an Aaron Sorkin script can be tricky; you either have to let the script out as much as possible or you can try blend around it. Fincher, it seemed, had a firm grasp on what he wanted from The Social Network and was able to fuse his heavily-visual style with Sorkin's wordy script and elevate the material. It worked and what we're left is the quintessential film about the birth of the modern age.
4. FIGHT CLUB (1999)
Everyone's seen Fight Club. Everyone knows Fight Club. But have you watched Fight Club recently? It hasn't aged all that well. There's something just a little bit 'First Year Philosophy Student' about it all that makes it a little hard to watch, but if you can appreciate the grimy glamour of it all, it's something to look at it. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, both at the height of their powers, are fantastic. Helena Bonham Carter as the gloriously pitch-black Marla, Meat Loaf as a cancer-victim with breasts, Jared Leto as the pretty-boy terrorist, Fincher rarely gets acknowledged for how good his eye for casting is. Not only that, there's the fantastic soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers and the incredible cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth.
3. PANIC ROOM (2002)
Panic Room doesn't get enough credit for just how clean and efficient a story it is. Setting a film entirely inside a house and still making it a thrilling, engaging story is difficult. Not only that, you've got to keep the audience focused and abreast of the geography. As a technical exercise in storytelling, Panic Room works. The film is equal parts home invasion horror and a cat-and-mouse thriller, with more than a few black comedy sequences. Jodie Foster is excellent as the resourceful mother trying to fight off Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam and Forrest Whitaker. Whitaker, in particular, gives one of his most human performances as the well-meaning robber who didn't want to hurt anyone. Trivia time! When Foster calls her husband, that's Nicole Kidman answering the phone. She was originally supposed to star, but a recurring knee injury forced her off the production.
2. ZODIAC (2007)
One of the recurring themes in David Fincher's work has been obsession. In The Social Network, it's about obsession of power and how it's taken. With Fight Club, it's obsession of the material world. Seven is about obsession over the perceived faults of the world and how far someone would go to right the wrongs. With Zodiac, it's about obsession itself. It's possible David Fincher might constantly address this because he is known for being a perfectionist. In Zodiac, Fincher's obsessive ways became so frustrating for Robert Downey Jr. that he reportedly left mason jars filled with piss around the set in protest. Jake Gyllenhaal's obsession with hunting the Zodiac is analogous of Fincher's own work ethic. He doesn't fully understand it, but it's just how he is. In fact, during pre-production, Fincher actually launched his own investigation that took over 18 months.
1. SEVEN (1995)
We might all know what it's in the box, but back then, nobody knew what they were getting themselves in for when they watched Seven for the first time. The sea-change between Alien 3 and Seven is so sudden that it's truly hard to believe they're the same director. Working with a smaller budget and a clearer mandate, Fincher turned in one of the best crime flicks of the past thirty years. As Fincher described it, he saw it as a "tiny genre picture, the kind of movie that William Friedkin might have made after The Exorcist." The interplay between Pitt and Freeman is fantastic, but it's the looming presence of Kevin Spacey - who refused a credit to keep the mystery surround his character - that really makes the film. The finale, likewise, is a brilliant piece of writing and directing, one that both David Fincher, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker and Brad Pitt had to viciously fight to keep.