Following a start in visual effects, David Fincher scored a gig with Industrial Light & Magic in 1983, working as an assistant camera operator on iconic movies Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He quietly co-founded Propaganda Films in 1986, then turned up the volume by directing music videos for Madonna, The Rolling Stones, and Justin Timberlake. In 1992, he made his feature film debut with Alien 3, an education in big-budget franchises, resulting in a preference for making smaller-scale, more pared-down movies. In addition to his impressive film catalog, he is credited with serving as executive producer and director of the award-winning Netflix series House of Cards and Mindhunters.
Fincher didn’t attend film school and didn’t need to; his collective movies have grossed over 2 billion dollars worldwide, earning 40 Academy Award nominations in the process. Collaborators and crew members have compared his meticulous methods and approach to making movies to the intricacies of a Swiss watch. Fincher is famous for requiring upwards of 90 takes for a single scene, exhausting some actors but making loyal devotees of others like Brad Pitt and Rooney Mara. A proven master of the psychological thriller, his thorough diligence, and respect for the craft have resulted in some of the greatest and highest-grossing movies of the 21st Century.
10 ‘Zodiac’ (2007)
Box Office: $84.7 million
Armed with a budget of $65 million, Fincher’s atmospheric thriller is based on the most infamous unsolved case in American history: the Zodiac killer. Cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) joins forces with reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) to find and solve the elusive murderer who taunted and terrorized California throughout the 60s and 70s. Based on actual events, newspaper correspondence, and books written by Graysmith’s accounts as a rogue investigator, the film co-starred Mark Ruffalo as by-the-book lead detectives David Toschi and Anthony Edwards as William Armstrong, and Chloe Sevigny as Graysmith’s wife, respectively.
Viewers expressed dissatisfaction with Fincher’s ending of the 2-hour, 40-minute tense cat-and-mouse chase, while critics applauded the film. His stylistic camera choices and pacing of the movie and its players mimicked the arduous (and unsuccessful) task of searching for The Zodiac at the time. Rather than profile the slippery serial killer, Fincher took audiences through the maddening, often impossible labyrinth created, deftly capturing the mood and frustration of the citizens, law enforcement, and journalists fruitlessly navigating a ship through dense, unrelenting fog. For Fincher, the Zodiac had occupied space in his brain since childhood, as a young boy living in San Anselmo, California, unsure if he or his classmates would become the killer’s next victim. In a creepy move, Paramount’s marketing team fed fears by hanging original artist’s renderings of the killer under streetlights in select cities, simply reading, “In theaters March 2nd.” Though its box office numbers weren’t astounding, the movie permeated, continually mentioned in the top 10 all-time most significant films lists of critics across the globe.
- Release Date
- March 2, 2007
- 157 minutes
9 ‘Fight Club’ (1999)
Box Office: $101.2 million
Bar soap had a banner year with the release and reception of Fincher’s movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk‘s novel. Many directors passed on the opportunity to adapt, including David O. Russell and Danny Boyle, and studio executives unsteadily increased the film’s initial budget from $23 million to $65 million, impressed after seeing advanced copies of dailies spanning three weeks. Palahniuk praised Fincher’s translation of his book, a story about an insomniac (an unnamed Edward Norton) dissatisfied with his life, supplementing therapy by infiltrating various recovery group meetings and eventually morphing into a different person altogether. Underground fighting, chaos, a shredded Brad Pitt as alter ego Tyler Durden, and Helena Bonham Carter aided in the success of the violent yet beautiful film.
After a screening before its release, executives were alarmed by the violence and premise of the movie, resulting in an additional $20 million advertising campaign in the hopes of recruiting a more diverse audience. During the theatrical run of Fight Club, it grossed an underwhelming $37 million in the U.S., prompting Fincher to oversee the promotion and packaging of the DVD release. In 2000, his vision was fully realized in a two-disk special edition DVD that became one of the largest-selling media items in 20th Century Fox’s history,. As one of the most controversial and, subsequently, most talked about movies of the 90s, Fincher tucked another feather in his illustrious, boundary-extending director’s hat.
- Release Date
- October 15, 1999
- Main Genre
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8 ‘The Game’ (1997)
Box Office: $109.4 million
Fincher’s next offering, The Game, on the heels of the success of Se7en, is a movie marketed as a “mystery-thriller,” but at times veers towards horror. It stars Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker with an emotional deficit, Nicholas Van Orton, given a peculiar gift by his estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn) on his 48th birthday. The gift, a voucher for a cerebral, life-altering game, sends Orton and viewers into a surreal descent, equally terrifying (clowns again) and exploratory. True to his aesthetic, Fincher sticks to dark and cavernous, often filming at night, providing an atmosphere that mirrored Orton’s life: cold and vacant.
The director was allotted $50 million to shoot the film, grossing over $14 million in its opening weekend. Fincher was praised for his visually stunning final product and the casting of Douglas, who proved effective as an Ebeneezer Scrooge-type. He was thrown into a parallel reality and forced to reevaluate his life and the people he excluded from it. Critics enjoyed the movie, and fans of Fincher’s rally around the sometimes overlooked film, referring to it as his most underrated piece. Ultimately, it grossed over $109.4 million worldwide and remains undisputed in its ability to keep audiences guessing, each shadowy clue revealing more questions.
- Release Date
- September 12, 1997
- 129 minutes
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7 ‘Alien 3’ (1992)
Box Office: $159.8 million
Picking up where James Cameron‘s sequel, Aliens, left off, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has crash-landed on Florina 161, a wasteland populated by inmates of a maximum security prison…and the alien. Unarmed and unequipped to fight, Ripley attempts to save the inmates (some of whom try to kill her) without success, learning in the process that she is carrying an alien fetus. The movie was troubled before it was recorded on film, with Fincher inheriting a contrived mess; too many rewrites, ideas, and a skeletal script resulting in a beautifully rendered collage instead of the follow-up to Aliens fans were waiting for. 20th Century Fox unsuccessfully scrambled to recapture what began with Ridley Scott and Cameron at the helm. Instead, creative choices were made in direct conflict with the original trajectory of the story, forever altering character possibilities for Alien Resurrection.
Having spent $7 million on rewrites and directors before production began, the budget for the third franchise installment was $50 million. The movie didn’t perform well in North America; however, the worldwide box office totals surpassed the previous Alien installment, earning $159.8 million. While this was a financial win for the studio, it was a creative failure for Fincher, who has said of the final product, “No one hated it more than me,” blaming the producers for not trusting his vision. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave Alien 3 two thumbs down, bored with the alien’s repetitive chase sequences and absolute power. Though fans and critics were initially hard on Fincher’s iteration, the appraisal of the movie has shifted to an appreciation for the director’s gifts as a filmmaker. Ultimately, Alien 3 was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, seven Saturn awards, and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation; nominations reserved for excellence and achievement, not failure.
- Release Date
- May 22, 1992
- 114 minutes
6 ‘Panic Room’ (2002)
Box Office: $206.9 million
Jodie Foster was the face of Fincher’s fifth film, the action-packed home invasion blockbuster co-starring a young Kristen Stewart as Foster’s daughter and Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam as the hopeful burglars. Recently divorced Meg Altman (Foster) and daughter Sarah (Stewart) move into an expansive New York City brownstone containing a panic room installed by the previous owner, a reclusive millionaire. The wealthy man left behind valuable bearer bonds located in a floor safe of the domicile, and his grandson, Junior (Leto), aims to repossess the documents by any means necessary. Junior enlists fellow brothers-in-theft, Burnham (Whitaker) and Raoul (Yoakam), and breaks into the brownstone on Meg and Sarah’s first night.
Vigilance is the movie’s theme, explored via home surveillance and through daughter Sarah’s diabetic glucometer, fueling audience tension and apprehension as the robbers infiltrate the home. Vigilance might also be Fincher’s middle name (it isn’t; it’s Leo), as the director micromanaged every inch of production on the $6 million soundstage (something director Steven Soderbergh cautioned him from doing), setting up over 2,000 different camera shots in his notorious meticulous creative process. The result was an impressively taut thriller, though production and filming setbacks were aplenty. With a budget of $48 million, the movie would become the largest debut over the Easter holiday weekend and bring in a massive $206.9 million worldwide, leaving little room to doubt Fincher’s credibility as a moneymaker for studios.
- Release Date
- March 29, 2002
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5 ‘The Social Network’ (2010)
Box Office: $224.9 million
Based on the 2009 book by Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network tells the origin story of Facebook. Founder Mark Zuckerberg was introduced through Jesse Eisenberg via an Aaron Sorkin dialogue-heavy script (which Eisenberg facilitated quickly with his auctioneer-adjacent verbal capability). Embellishments were made, and feelings were hurt after the movie’s release, but what Fincher got right was creating an atmosphere thick with misogyny yet bubbling with the unmistakable excitement of discovery. Sorkin’s Academy Award-winning screenplay and gifted actors performing it, coupled with Fincher’s intimate and tonal direction, would’ve been enough to produce a noteworthy film, but there’s more! Atticus Ross and Nine-Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor came aboard to compose an Academy Award-winning, synergetic score, uniting the film’s parts like skin and bone.
The movie went on to earn eight Academy Award nominations, dominate the 68th Golden Globes, and was heavily favored by critics worldwide. It earned $22.4 million in its opening weekend, claiming the number one spot and remaining there the following weekend. Unable to shoot the film on-site at Harvard, the crew set up shop on two campuses in Massachusetts, Phillips, and Milton Academy, using the campus at Johns Hopkins University to simulate the Harvard feel. Fincher was given a budget of $40 million and parlayed that into a final theatrical gross of $224.9 million, with home video performance numbers reaching $34 million. The numbers achieved by the movie were a culmination of artists operating at the top of their game in a thrilling feat of cinematic exploration and mastery. Zuckerberg might be a billionaire, but audiences were enriched by the experience Fincher provided.
4 ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011)
Box Office: $232.8 million
A thriller based on the novel by Swedish writer Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), hired to solve the 40-year-old disappearance and likely murder of a wealthy industrialist’s (Christopher Plummer) niece, in exchange for evidence Blomkvist needs to clear his name in a libel suit. Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a talented, monosyllabic hacker, joins Blomkvist in his search for the missing woman. Fincher has admitted to a preference for stories that unfold in the gruesome underbelly of society, perpetrated by the most polluted souls, so Larsson’s rape-revenge caper packaged in ink-black shadows and a cold landscape was a prophecy fulfilled. Claustrophobic settings are Fincher staples, and the director deploys the stark Swedish setting to incite the familiar feeling of confinement as the characters find themselves sequestered on an island; audiences aren’t going anywhere anyway.
Casting Mara was a coup; she is spellbinding as Salander, leaning into a character lesser actors would struggle to embody. Through Fincher’s storytelling and Mara’s artistry, Larsson’s message of cyclical violence against women is conveyed with a mix of brute force and nuance and is never dull. In Fincher fashion, the running time extends to 2 hours and 38 minutes, but viewers don’t feel it thanks to skillful pacing, Mara, and ingenious editing. Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor, and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs introduced the movie with a cold-as-ice opening sequence, and it just got better from there with Fincher steering the Swedish vehicle the only way he knows how: precision. The film had a staggering $90 million budget and debuted as a Christmas day release, earning $12 million over the holiday weekend in North America. It continued to underperform, labeling it a box office failure. Various theories about why the movie didn’t bring audiences to the yard included poor marketing, the R rating, and lack of star power. Either way, Fincher didn’t disappoint.
3 ‘Se7en’ (1995)
Box Office: $327.3 million
In the first of many collaborations with Fincher, the movie stars Brad Pitt as a newly transferred detective, David Mills, who is partnered with seasoned detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they work on a serial murder case with religious overtones. Somerset scrambles to outpace the killer by diving for answers hidden in historical texts, to no avail. Eventually, the detectives realize they’re pieces in the murderer’s vignette, effectively preached to as the killer presents each victim guilty of sinning, displayed in the manner in which they’ve sinned. Stylistically, it is a marvel; Fincher created a prolifically dismal world replete with copious amounts of visible and imagined horror, intensifying as the detectives discover body after violated body, culminating in an ending that had everyone talking.
Harsh yellow lighting, if any, lights the way in Fincher’s most bleak picture, bringing the audience deeper into the abyss alongside the detectives. Additionally, near-constant rain adds to the unrelenting weight of burden assigned to Somerset and Mills; conversely, it could also be interpreted biblically as a cleansing of sin. Viewers with sensitive stomachs aside, the movie was a huge success, attaining cult status and becoming a fan favorite both then and now. Fincher was allowed a budget of $33 million to film Se7en, which brought in a ridiculous $327.2 million and remained in the number one box office spot for four weeks. Critics embraced the movie, and it was (not surprisingly) nominated for an Academy Award for film editing. Se7en was a teachable moment in cinema, urging filmmakers and future showrunners to delve deeper into what’s possible or palatable, forever altering the landscape of human behavioral exploration.
- Release Date
- September 22, 1995
- Brad Pitt , Morgan Freeman , gwyneth paltrow , R. Lee Ermey , Daniel Zacapa
- 127 minutes
2 ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (2008)
Box Office: $335.8 million
Credited as a romantic fantasy drama, the sometimes devastating tale follows Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a baby born in reverse, housed in an elderly body. The year is 1918, and Benjamin is born to a woman perplexed by her child’s medical anomaly, so she leaves him on the porch of a nursing home in New Orleans. He is discovered and raised by the caretaker of the nursing home, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), where he inexplicably grows younger year after year. Benjamin meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), a dancer, and falls in love. However, Benjamin’s carapace doesn’t align with his age, so the pair engage in a mismatched dance, wishing for a day when their outward ages are in line. Loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and adapted into a screenplay by Eric Roth, the expansive epic unfurls, festooned with enchantment aided by the other-worldly backdrop of New Orleans.
Echoing the scale of Benjamin Button’s journey, Fincher had $150 million to ensure that Benjamin’s story was brought to life through his distinct vision. The director wrapped the movie in under 3 hours, presenting it to audiences for a massive Christmas Day opening in 2008. Totals that opening weekend reached $26.8 million, a successful start that would conclude with $335.8 million in box office sales. Audiences weren’t the only ones who loved the film; during the awards season, Fincher’s work garnered a gargantuan total of 160 nominations. The Academy Awards bestowed 13 nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, and the movie took home Oscars for Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction, respectively. The mass appeal of the charming tale endures in a way that only magical movies can. If fans find themselves in New Orleans, a walking tour of where Fincher’s creation took flight will almost certainly guarantee a glimpse of that lingering magic.
1 ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)
Box Office: $369.3 million
Gone Girl is an innovative psychological thriller written by Gillian Flynn, author of the 2012 best-selling novel of the same name. The movie stars Rosamund Pike as the slippery Amy Dunne, wife of Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, and features Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, Margo. Audiences are introduced to Amy in the story’s first half through journal entry flashbacks because Amy is missing and Nick is the prime suspect. Pike is excellent, morphing into Amy effortlessly. Missi Pyle nailed it as a “Nancy Grace type” TV host, and Kim Dickens is also notable as the lead detective in the dizzying case, discrediting red herrings like whack-a-mole. Misdirection and elaborate ciphers keep viewers on their toes, and the brilliance of Fincher lies in his ability to capture and deliver that feeling despite the movie’s plot being available to audience members for two years.
Flynn wrote a compelling and unpredictable thriller Hitchcock would envy, with a mix of comedy and horror of Shakespearean proportions. Fincher utilized his razor-sharp eagle eye and impeccable style to execute Flynn’s story with a sinister flourish, making Gone Girl the highest-grossing film of his career. The writing and directing collaboration was a match made in darkness: Flynn and Fincher are most comfortable exploring the macabre, circling the scabby, picked-on carrion of society, thus making beautiful, disturbing art. Packed movie houses raked in a staggering $369.3 million, earning six times the original budget of $61 million, further elevating Fincher’s status in Hollywood. While the director might not be fiscally focused, these extraordinary box office returns provide space for the artist to entertain fans who’ve proven they’ll show up. Just keep resetting those takes, David.
- Release Date
- October 3, 2014
- 149 minutes
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Next:All David Fincher Movies, Ranked by Intensity
SOURCE : collider.com