David Fincher is an acclaimed filmmaker whose movies have amassed an impressive 40 Academy Award nominations, including three Best Director nominations, and grossed over $2.1 billion worldwide.
He's directed 11 films, mainly psychological thrillers, and has another on the way – The Killer – in 2023. His projects have something in common: they tend to be very good. We'll rank all his films from best to worst in this piece.
1 – Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac is a neo-noir mystery thriller based on Robert Graysmith's 1986 and 2022 non-fiction books, Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked. It tells the real-life story of the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s and taunted law enforcement by sending encrypted messages and bloodstained clothing to newspapers.
Jake Gyllenhaal leads the incredible cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, and Dermot Mulroney. Zodiac is a brilliantly written dialogue-driven film expertly performed by its A-list stars. It's tense and suspenseful, making your stomach drop and your head spin. The meticulous attention to detail is phenomenal, and the terror created by the killer is palpable. It's a crime that this astonishing movie didn't receive any Academy Award nominations.
2 – The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network is a biographical drama movie based on the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. It tells the real-life story of how the popular social networking website Facebook came to be.
Jesse Eisenberg spearheads its fantastic young cast as Mark Zuckerberg, while Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, and Max Minghella also play significant roles. The Social Network is written to perfection and acted with equal expertise. It's ambitious, engaging, intense, intelligent, and confident in its authenticity. It received nominations for eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Eisenberg. It won three for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score.
3 – Gone Girl (2014)
Gone Girl is a psychological thriller based on Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel. It tells the story of a man who becomes the prime suspect in the case of the sudden disappearance of his wife in North Carthage, Missouri.
It stars Ben Affleck as Nicholas “Nick” Dunne, the professor whose wife goes missing, and Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliott Dunne, his missing wife. Co-stars include Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Missi Pyle, and Emily Ratajkowski. Gone Girl is a brilliant film with excellent performances from its leads, especially Pike, and the writing and editing are sublime. It's visually stunning, stylish, intelligent, and has a fantastic score. Its one Academy Award nomination was Pike's Best Actress nod, but it deserved more.
4 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery thriller based on Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's 2005 novel. It's about a journalist investigating what happened to a girl from a wealthy family who disappeared 40 years ago and her recruitment of a computer hacker to assist her.
Daniel Craig stars as journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara plays hacker Lisbeth Salander, both of whom are superb. Capable support comes from Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, and Joely Richardson. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a visually and tonally intriguing film that's stylish, captivating, brutal, and has a terrific score. It received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Mara, but only won one for Best Film Editing.
5 – Mank (2020)
Mank is a biographical drama movie about the acclaimed American screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, focusing on his development of the screenplay for the iconic 1941 film Citizen Kane, which Orson Welles directed and starred in.
Gary Oldman stars as Mankiewicz, and the brilliant supporting cast includes Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Tom Burke, and Charles Dance. Everyone performs fabulously, but Oldman and Seyfried, in particular, are spectacular. Mank is a superbly written, informative, complex, and great-looking film that's equal parts dark and funny. It received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Oldman, and Best Supporting Actress for Seyfried, but only won one for Best Cinematography.
6 – Se7en (1995)
Se7en is a crime thriller about a disillusioned detective on the verge of retirement and his newly transferred partner as they attempt to stop a serial killer in an unspecified crime-ridden city before he can commit murders based on the seven deadly sins.
It stars Morgan Freeman as disenchanted detective William Somerset, Brad Pitt as his new partner David Mills, and Kevin Spacey as serial killer John Doe. Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, and Richard Roundtree also have significant roles. Se7en is a brilliant film performed excellently by its outstanding cast, with Freeman and Spacey shining. It's atmospheric, visually stunning, thrilling, and suspenseful. It received one Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing.
7 – Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is a satirical psychological drama movie based on Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel. It's about an insomniac white-collar worker and a reckless soap maker who form an underground fight club that evolves into something far more extensive.
Edward Norton plays the office worker known only as the Narrator, and Brad Pitt plays Tyler Durden, the soap salesman, and they're both terrific. Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, and Jared Leto also appear in prominent roles. Fight Club is a highly contentious film that some see as morally irresponsible. Still, it's undoubtedly intelligent, sometimes funny, a treat for the senses, and deliciously brutal if you like that sort of thing. It received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.
8 – The Game (1997)
The Game is a thriller movie about a wealthy and selfish banker in San Francisco, California, who gets the opportunity to participate in a mysterious game that sends him into turmoil as he questions if it might be a concealed conspiracy to ruin his life.
Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton, the banker, and there's a supporting cast of Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. The Game has an excellent story and an intense atmosphere, and Douglas is brilliant in one of his finest performances. Its major weakness is that it gets less engaging as it progresses, and the ending, in particular, is disappointing and could use some extra work.
9 – Panic Room (2002)
Panic Room is a thriller movie inspired by news coverage in the year 2000 about the eponymous fortified rooms that some people have in private residences or businesses. In the film, a mother and daughter seek refuge in the panic room in their new home, a four-story brownstone in New York City's Upper West Side, when burglars invade it.
It stars Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as the mother and daughter, Meg and Sarah Altman, with Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, and Patrick Bauchau in supporting roles. Foster and Stewart have excellent chemistry, working wonderfully together as strong female heroines against an intriguing band of bad guys. Panic Room is very Hitchcock-esque, with a dark, stripped-down, and atmospheric nature, aided by excellent cinematography. It does, however, get a little dull at times.
10 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a romantic fantasy drama movie loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 short story. It chronicles the life of a man who ages in reverse, being born with the appearance and ailments of an elderly gentleman and regressing into infancy until he dies as a baby.
The outstanding cast includes Brad Pitt as Button, Cate Blanchett, Mahershala Ali, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas, and Tilda Swinton. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells an intriguing story and is well-performed by its impressive ensemble. It's ambitious, magical, moving, and technically brilliant. However, the film's relationships get devalued by its premise, the script isn't great, and it lacks substance. It received 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Pitt, and Best Actress for Henson. It won three for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects.
11 – Alien³ (1992)
Alien³ is a sci-fi horror movie, the sequel to 1986's Aliens, and the third installment in the Alien franchise. It takes place immediately after the events of Aliens, with Ellen Ripley and a Facehugger alien the only survivors after an escape pod from the Colonial Marine spaceship Sulaco crash-lands on a planet housing a penal colony populated by dangerous male criminals.
While it's not objectively a completely terrible film, it's also not great; it's the worst in the core Alien franchise and by far Fincher's poorest offering. Alien³ has an excellent cast, including Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, and Pete Postlethwaite. It looks good, Weaver is on form as Ripley, and there are some tense scenes, but it's thinly scripted, and the decision to kill off great characters from Aliens off-screen was awful. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but Fincher disowned the movie, which says a lot, given that it was the first film he directed and should mean a lot to him.
Upcoming and Unranked
The Killer (2023)
The Killer is a psychological thriller based on Alexis Nolent's 1998 novel. It chronicles the life of an assassin who, initially at least, goes unnamed. He experiences a fateful near-miss situation and embarks on an international search for his next victim, which sees him competing with his employers.
It stars Michael Fassbender as the eponymous character, with Charles Parnell, Arliss Howard, Sophie Charlotte, Tilda Swinton, and Sala Baker in supporting roles. The Killer's premiere will take place at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in September 2023, and it will undoubtedly be excellent given the people involved in its creation, so get excited about it.