Celebrating his 55th birthday today is filmmaker David Fincher, a director who has accomplished in ten films a definitive style and tone that other filmmakers would struggle to achieve after making 100 films.
Fincher began his career working as a production head before moving into the realm of visual effects, earning himself credits on massive movies like Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. From there, Fincher began to branch out into directing music videos and commercials throughout the '80s, working regularly with Madonna and crafting commercials for Coca-Cola, Levi's, and Nike.
The director's feature debut, Alien 3, scored him an Oscar nomination for its visual effects, an element of filmmaking he would continue to embrace throughout his career in compelling and inventive ways. Never shying away from controversial and dark subject matter, Fincher's next project is slated to be the sequel to World War Z, which will star Brad Pitt.
Scroll down to see our rankings of Fincher's ten feature films!
10) Alien 3 (1993)
Earning an Academy Award nomination for a debut film might make that film a sympathetic personal favorite for a filmmaker, but Fincher's squabbles with the studio over the film have caused him to practically disown the project completely. The director reportedly clashed over budgetary and script concerns, resulting in the film being poorly received by audiences and critics.
Fincher had the cards stacked against him when taking on the high profile project, following the survival horror of Ridley Scott's Alien and the action-packed Aliens. The third in the franchise took Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to a colony of prisoners where she herself became an incubator for the monstrous villains of the franchise.
Both literally and figuratively a dark film, Alien 3 marked a significant change in Hollywood from practical effects to CGI, and along with the change, came a run-of-the-mill monster movie that didn't achieve the heights in terror or spectacle the two previous films accomplished.prevnext
9) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
With his "second worst" film sitting at 72% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, this serves as proof of Fincher's incredible talents.
Far more of a fairytale than his other films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button chronicles the life of a man who was born looking incredibly old and, as he ages, begins to look younger. Button (Brad Pitt) goes on a variety of adventures throughout his life while the film explores a seemingly normal man whose life can be altered drastically in direct connection to his appearance.
Through the astounding use of special effects and makeup, Benjamin Button is one of Fincher's more ambitious and accomplished pieces of film. Considering the director's penchant for mature subject matter, this film is much tamer, but its love story is still quite enjoyable while wrapped in Fincher's signature filmmaking style.prevnext
8) Panic Room (2002)
Following the success of films The Game and Fight Club, Panic Room was primed to be a huge success for Fincher, but rather than going bigger for his fourth film, the filmmaker contained an entire story to one location.
Shortly after moving into a New York brownstone, a mother (Jodie Foster) and daughter (Kristen Stewart) fall victim to a group of intruders who weren't aware anyone had moved into the home. The mother and daughter find refuge in the house's panic room, which is equipped with all the latest technology to keep them safe, but the thieves want in while the daughter begins having struggles with her diabetes.
Panic Room might have been an unexpected direction for the filmmaker to go in at this point in his career, which is what helped the film become a success. Anchored by engaging performances, Fincher had to get inventive to tell a story set almost entirely in one house. The film's narrative has far fewer surprises than some of Fincher's other films, but it's an entertaining and captivating thriller nonetheless.prevnext
7) The Game (1997)
After an emotionally confused businessman Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) is gifted an experience to participate in "The Game" by his younger brother (Sean Penn) for a milestone birthday, he embarks on a journey like no other. Blurring the lines between reality and roleplaying, Nicholas searches to find the answers to who is running this "game" and whether or not it is an experience designed for fun or horror.
Before reality television and alternate reality experiences became prominent in pop culture, The Game explored how an average person would react to extraordinary circumstances for no real reason other than to appreciate life itself. The film's labyrinthine narrative leads you down a deep rabbit hole that, after repeat viewings, still has you piecing together all of the film's subtle clues.prevnext
6) Gone Girl (2014)
In a similar fashion to The Game, Gone Girl takes viewers on an elaborate and complicated journey about a woman who goes missing in a case where the prime suspect is her husband.
Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) have had a strained marriage for years, facing both financial troubles and family health concerns. The two drift apart over the months until one morning Amy goes missing in what appears to be either a murder or a violent kidnapping. Nick searches for answers in the case while maintaining his innocence as the audience witnesses the complex and complicated destruction of a marriage.
While The Game focuses on a victim of circumstance, Gone Girl instead focuses on the individual pulling the strings in a massive manipulation of someone's life, deservedly earning Pike a slew of nominations and wins for her performance. Adapted from the novel of the same name, Fincher himself acts similarly to the story's Amy, perfectly pulling the audience in a variety of directions to bring them to the conclusions he wants them to develop at the exact moments he desires.prevnext
5) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
With a film already being adapted from the series of novels, Fincher faced even more challenges than usual when bringing his vision of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to life, putting even harsher judgment on the final product. Luckily, the filmmaker's mastery of tone and cinematography created a dark and twisted tale of violence and retribution.
Facing the potential of going to jail, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is contacted for an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl 40 years earlier. Blomkvist teams up with the tech-savvy Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) for the investigation, which uncovers decades of violence, corruption, and cover ups.
Despite the conceptual challenges Fincher had to overcome with a live-action adaptation of the story being made two years earlier, the filmmaker was firing on all cylinders when capturing the isolated and desolate landscape of a Swedish winter, which was also reflected in the emotional shallowness of many of the story's major players.
The film might not have connected with audiences in ways Fincher and the studio had hoped, but Girl with the Dragon Tattoo still served as a breakout performance from Rooney Mara, having embraced the dark subject matter with ferocity and fearlessness.prevnext
4) Seven (1995)
Following the disappointment of the sci-fi thriller Alien 3, Fincher got much more grounded for his neo-noir story of the hunt for a serial killer with Seven.
Young detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) teams up with veteran detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) to investigate a mysterious murder that points towards the existence of a serial killer. As the tension mounts between the partners, they discover they are being led down a path by a killer sacrificing victims as tributes to each of the seven deadly sins. The further their investigation goes, the more the pair realize they might have become players in the religious murderer's deadly game.
Acting as a palette cleanser for the somewhat emotionally empty Alien 3, this detective tale struck a nerve with audiences thanks not only to the horrific subject matter, but also for the chemistry between its two leads. Primarily known for his good looks, Pitt got to show off his acting chops in a way not yet seen in his career, pairing perfectly with the wise Freeman, while Kevin Spacey was unnerving as the murderous mastermind.prevnext
3) Fight Club (1999)
Partnering once again with Brad Pitt, Fincher shared a cynical view of consumerism as society approached the millennium, birthing a generation of fans who felt compelled to create chaos at every chance they got in hopes of tearing down the system one brick at a time with Fight Club.
Frustrated with his office life and his IKEA furniture-filled home life, "Jack" (Edward Norton) stumbles into an unlikely friendship with Tyler Durden (Pitt), an agent of chaos who recycles liposuctioned fat to create bars of soap that he sells at designer boutiques. After a night of drinking, the two decide to reduce themselves to their violent primal instincts as an act of therapy, eventually sparking a series of support groups that pit men against one another in underground fight clubs. Their message escalates out of the basement and into the streets, with Durden and his messages of the fragility of society sparking a full-blown revolution against corporate America.
Based on Chuck Palahniuk's novel of the same name, Fight Club is both a rebellious act of filmmaking and the standard Hollywood culture while also being a technical marvel, using visual effects in ways not often seen on the big screen. Earlier in the year, The Phantom Menace wowed audiences with its scale and sense of spectacle, while Fincher used the same tools to zoom out from the bottom of a trash can to see Starbucks cups the size of automobiles.prevnext
2) The Social Network (2010)
Thanks to films like Seven, Fight Club, and The Game, Fincher earned a reputation for embracing violent and dark subject matter, but one of his biggest successes came from chronicling the creation of Facebook with The Social Network.
Tasked with creating a website for Harvard students to connect with one another, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) realized the inherent potential of the platform and used the concept to develop his own site, called "The Facebook." In the process of the network's development, socially awkward Zuckerberg managed to alienate his friends and those who hired him to pull off the platform, creating a variety of personal and legal struggles that he battled while also giving birth to a defining social platform of the 21st century.
Whether Fincher is dealing with serial killers or computer programmers, the filmmaker examines the demons we all face in our lives. The Social Network might not feature any blood or gore, but it shines a light on a darkness that comes along with human existence, giving audiences a fascinating and disturbing cautionary tale of how your ambitions can alienate everyone around you.prevnext
1) Zodiac (2007)
Taking everything he learned about compelling characters, special effects, and chilling tales of serial killers, Fincher brought all of these elements together to craft the real-life mystery of the California murderer who taunted the police force with Zodiac.
After the attack on a young couple on the 4th of July, the San Francisco Chronicle receives a cryptic letter from someone taking credit for the attack. The letter is somewhat dismissed, but cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) uncovers a code in the letter that lends credence to its claims. Over the course of the next few years, more bodies pile up and more letters are sent to the newspaper, leading detectives down a variety of paths to find this man who refers to himself as the "Zodiac killer."
We've seen Fincher's technical mastery in films like Fight Club and his casting decisions result in fascinating relationships between law enforcement with Seven, but Zodiac takes both of these elements to the next level. Gyllenhaal and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. make for incredible foils to one another while the film's story sheds a light on the bureaucratic complications behind murder investigations spanning an entire state.
Both intriguing and terrifying, Zodiac allows Fincher to play to his strengths, showcasing his vast skill set while also maintaining a subtlety and restraint to honor the real-life victims to tell their story.prev