Ranked: David Fincher Films from Worst to Best

Is Fight Club better than Seven? Does Alien3 have any redeeming qualities? On the eve of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, we find out.

by Rick Paulas

David Fincher does not seem like a pleasant person to work with. His works exude such technical craftsmanship that his collaborators must be nervous wrecks throughout. But unlike most perfectionist filmmakers, Fincher's actually been working at a steady clip. And his track record — eight films in sixteen years, six of them great, four modern classics — is unparalleled among contemporary filmmakers. With his ninth feature, the Americanized remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, out this week, it's time to take a look at his brilliant career thus far.

9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Upon its release, plenty of snarky Internet commenters compared Benjamin Button to Forrest Gump, and they had a point. Both films concerned the decades-long journeys of outcast white guys witnessing historical moments of the twentieth century as they try to get back to the love of their lives. The big difference was that Gump was actually decent. The only redeeming quality of this saccharine mess — in fact, possibly the only reason Fincher made the movie at all — is the neat CGI the director later used for The Social Network.

8. Alien3 (1992)

This disaster avoids the last position only because its failure isn't entirely Fincher's fault. Heavy rewrites, constant studio interference, shooting without a script; Fincher has said that his first feature was the most frustrating filmmaking experience he ever had. "The Assembly Cut," on the special-edition DVD, may be closer to Fincher's original vision, but while it's certainly better than the theatrical version, it's still far from the "hidden masterpiece" some fans claim it to be.

7. Panic Room (2002)

Panic Room is a puzzle movie where the puzzle is less about the plot than about the logistics of how Fincher got his dazzling shots. You can hear the wheels turning in Fincher's head as he figures out how to frame his tightly-woven claustrophobic thriller in the confined spaces of a New York City brownstone. For the most part, it works. But I've got to dock it a couple points for Jared Leto's stupid cornrows.

6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Despite the unevenness of the source material, it makes sense for Fincher to tackle this adaptation: you have serial killings (Seven, Zodiac), puzzle-solving (The Game), and a whole bunch of tech (The Social Network, Panic Room). But the end result is merely adequate; it’s Zodiac, but without the existential uneasiness. It’s well done and worth seeing — if only for the droning Reznor/Ross score alone — but the original novels set a ceiling that Fincher can’t transcend.

Commentarium (27 Comments)

Dec 22 11 - 1:41am

I'm sorta pleased to find that you think sochighly of Zodiac: I always thought it to be one of the most nearly perfect films I've ever seen.

Dec 22 11 - 12:33pm

Agreed. It's a great combination of thriller, psychodrama, and period piece.

Dec 22 11 - 1:46am

I'd flip Fight Club and Seven (maybe I just have a higher tolerance for horror and gore as a fan of the genre, but I didn't find it nearly as shocking as many), but this is a solid list, otherwise. Just commenting to write that "Internet hacker collective Anonymous is basically a digital version of Project Mayhem" made me groan; it's hard to believe how much the internet in general and Anonymous itself have bought into its bullshit. "The first rule of /b/ is don't talk about /b/" was supposed to be a joke, goddammit.

Dec 23 11 - 9:04am

They're probably the closest group to a real life Project Mayhem, even if it's starting to become a bunch of self-righteous script kiddies seeking petty revenge on rival websites. Sigh.

Dec 22 11 - 3:23am
Very Funny

HA! HA! Love it. I'm finally onto you guys! They intentionally write these lists to piss off the reader. Very smart! Create controversy. Why not? Of coarse, these lists are all inside jokes. Very funny.

Dec 25 11 - 11:50pm

I agree. This is a good way to piss off fan boys and rational people alike.

No one ever drove traffic to their site by appealing to the status quo.

Dec 22 11 - 3:28am

I think "Fight Club" and "Seven" are epochal, and "The Game" is a really rewarding experience. My dissent here is with "Zodiac" at #1. I know I'm in the minority, based on the critical raves, but it just kind of sat there flatly for me, and didn't end up anywhere.

Dec 22 11 - 10:08am

I'm with you on the Zodiac.

Dec 22 11 - 1:44pm
Very Funny

Mediocre at best.

Dec 25 11 - 6:39am

I felt the same way the first time I saw "Zodiac." I wasn't impressed with it. I thought it was slow and I was expecting "Se7en"-style kills and gore. But I watched it a second time, and it was better than I remembered. It clicked on my third viewing. If you go into "Zodiac" expecting "Se7en 2," you'll be disappointed. (I'm not assuming this was why you were unimpressed, this is just my experience.) I "got" "Zodiac" once I stopped seeing it with a "Se7en" mindset, if that makes sense.

Dec 22 11 - 5:15am

The first page is perfect, the second page needs some rearranging, but Zodiac definitely belongs at #1 and is undoubtedly the best movie Fincher ever made, and possibly the best he ever will make. It dares to nakedly strive for greatness and very nearly achieves it. So it's actually kind of a shame that Fincher's only done prestige pieces and genre pieces before and since, because Zodiac is a strange and ungainly meld of the two that, incredibly, ends up bigger than the sum of its parts. Still, he manages to make better-than-average genre and prestige pieces, so it's not like his career's a total waste. It just seems that he's playing a bit beneath his game most of the time, best exemplified by this middling Girl with the Dragon Tattoo thing coming out soon.

Dec 22 11 - 10:20am

For all its flaws, when Benjamin Button is your "worst" movie, you're doing something right.

Dec 22 11 - 12:34pm

However, the porno version, "The Bi-Curous Case of Benjamin's Bottom" was outstanding.

Dec 26 11 - 3:35pm


Dec 22 11 - 12:45pm

I knew this article would be complete shit when Benjamin Button is said to be worse than Alien 3...

Dec 22 11 - 9:33pm

For all its flaws, I can still watch and enjoy Alien 3. I saw Benjamin Button in theaters and haven't felt the need to rewatch it since. Maybe one day I will if only for the (admittedly incredible) special effects work, but to me, the film epitomizes what people (usually misguidedly) call 'style over substance'. I love style and I love substance, and I think that style more often than not IS substance, but somehow Benjamin Button ends up being a masterful effects showcase without connecting the dots between its stunning technical accomplishments and the script they're meant to embellish. It's a spectacularly alienating experience. And to be fair I blame Eric Roth's script for that more than Fincher himself, but whomever you blame, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button just plain doesn't work.

Dec 22 11 - 4:08pm

This is 100% accurate. Co-signed!

Dec 22 11 - 4:36pm

Agreed! Never have I been so supportive of a Ranked article

Dec 26 11 - 3:37pm

Ooops! I'm on Nerve, not Ranked! Well, it's still a pretty good article! Sorry for being the airhead!

Dec 22 11 - 4:44pm

Seven is so consistently overrated, as are twist endings and Morgan Freeman's acting. But Zodiac at number one is a wonderful thing to see.

Dec 22 11 - 9:27pm

This is a beautiful and correct post.

Dec 26 11 - 1:02pm

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Rob - er, I mean, Myke (513)775-7979

Dec 22 11 - 11:16pm

I thought at the end of Fight Club he shoots out a piece of his brain.

Dec 23 11 - 12:47am

This list makes me realise that Fincher is probably overrated.

Dec 23 11 - 10:47am

They were twins?! Shit. I have to pay more attention to the credits.

Dec 23 11 - 3:24pm

They weren't twins. From IMDb: "Because director David Fincher was unable to find any suitable identical twin actors to play real-life identical twins Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, two unrelated actors were hired to play each brother - Armie Hammer as Cameron and Josh Pence as Tyler. Fincher thought that Hammer looked the most like the real brothers, so for some scenes, the visual effects team photographed Hammer speaking Tyler's lines and created a computer-generated model of his face to paste over Pence's. Traditional split-screen work, with Hammer's separate performances as each brother stitched together in the same frame, was also used."

Jun 30 12 - 12:09pm

Flip social network and seven and fight club with the game and you got yourself a perfect list