David Fincher

David Fincher is one of the best directors of his generation. He’s known for being a perfectionist, obsessively having his cast do multiple takes of the same scene over and over again. Some might find this annoying, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

Fincher got his start directing music videos, becoming one of the more influential directors in this genre. He’s continued to direct music shorts over the years. He got his big break in feature film with “Alien 3” in 1992, which almost derailed his movie directing career before it had a chance to get started. He had big shoes to fill following Ridley Scott and James Cameron in this iconic action/horror franchise, but he didn’t have a chance with all problems that came up during the production. Fincher has since disavowed the film.

He may never have returned to movies but reading the script for “Se7en” changed his mind. This 1995 crime thriller turned out to be the perfect vehicle to showcase Fincher’s talents, and he delivered with a dark and powerful film that left audiences reeling with the now-iconic surprise ending.

Fincher’s brilliant handling of “Se7en” put him on the map as an elite director, and he didn’t let that opportunity go to waste, delivering a string of powerful hits in the 90s and beyond.

As for Fincher’s distinctive style, we like this intro from his review of a recent Wes Anderson film: “There are a lot of directors working today who have a recognizable style. David Fincher always washes his films in cold, sterile blue hues (when he’s not shooting in black and white, of course); Zack Snyder has never seen a slow-motion effect he hasn’t liked; and J.J. Abrams loves a lens flare as much as Michael Bay loves an explosion. But perhaps more so than any other known director working today, Wes Anderson has a signature style.”

Movies and TV

Here are some of Fincher’s notable projects as a director:

Se7en (1995)
This film “helps to kick-start David Fincher’s career as one of the most skilled and accomplished directors of our time.” The film stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman and is “horrifying, but it’s not a horror film. It will leave you stunned and numb at the end.” It also includes one of the best performances of Kevin Spacey‘s career.


“Fight Club” (1999)
Many consider this masterpiece to be one of Fincher’s best films. In his essay analyzing the film, Rob Dean explains how the film “is an examination of masculinity in that time period, how misplaced aggression can lead to the charms of anarchic fascism in the face of a world taken over by Starbucks and IKEA.”

Zodiac (2007)
This film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr. is solid, though some fans rave about it. David Medsker nails it in his review:

If you’re expecting “Zodiac” to look like “Fight Club” or “Panic Room,” with the effects-laden pan shots and crazy room-to-room tracking shots, forget it. With the exception of one sequence that prints the Zodiac’s letters on the walls of the Chronicle – and, in a particularly impressive stunt, creates a false wall out of his words – the movie is surprisingly Fincher-less. Granted, there are still the telltale signs of his sensibilities (love the old school logos he used for Paramount and Warner Brothers in the beginning), but the proceedings are still very lo-fi by Fincher’s standards. The performances are quite good across the board, if a tad downplayed. Downey is the lone scene-stealer as the lovable drunk Avery.

Fincher’s direction, however, is not the problem here: the length is. James Vanderbilt’s script is exhaustively thorough, and that is where problems arise.


The Social Network (2010)
This is one of Fincher’s best films, as he teams up with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to tell the story of Mark Zuckerberg. He’s portrayed as a real weasel here, which seems pretty accurate given what we’ve seen from him over the past 15 years.

The Social Network

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The Swedish film adapted from the novel of the same name by author Stieg Larsson was excellent. Fincher’s version of this psychological thriller was even better. He made the brilliant and inspired choice of casting Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the performance of a lifetime. Daniel Craig also delivers a fine performance as Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist. The film made our lists for the best films of 2011 which you can read here and here.

Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011

Gone Girl” (2014)
In his review, David Medsker makes the case for Fincher’s handling of the source material:

It’s tough to take a ‘holy shit’ book and make a ‘holy shit’ movie out of it, especially one with an unconventional narrative structure like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (two points of view, two timelines). Challenge accepted, says David Fincher (yes, that casting in-joke was intentional), and thank God for that, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else capturing the essence of “Gone Girl” quite like he does.

Jason Zingale recognized the film in his list of the best films of 2014, noting it’s “not Fincher’s best work, but it’s an engrossing and clever thriller that will make you want to rush out and read Flynn’s novel the minute it’s over.”

Gone Girl movie

Mank (2020)
Steve Katz tees up his review of this film starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Lily Collins with the following:

No one would accuse David Fincher of lacking attention to detail in his projects. Long known as one of the most demanding directors in Hollywood, he’s become famous for going to almost masochistic lengths to get the takes he wants, even if it takes dozens upon dozens of tries. The results of this perfectionist streak are hard to deny, having directed two of the best movies of the last two decades in “Zodiac” and “The Social Network.” It’s been six years since Fincher’s last feature, “Gone Girl,” and he has spent much of the interim working as an executive producer (and occasional director) on the Netflix shows “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter.” Considering this, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that he’s continued to work with Netflix on his new feature, “Mank.” Given an unfettered budget and creative control, Fincher’s exhaustively exacting eye turns to the past and the creation of the screenplay to arguably the greatest movie of all time.

Katz notes the excellent television projects that has kept Fincher busy over the years.


Related Content

In this feature, we covered directors who got their start doing music videos:

David Fincher

You know it’s a David Fincher video when: It’s so gorgeous you want to have sex with it.
Breakout video: Not surprisingly, Fincher came screaming out of the gate when his debut clip was one of the first videos that MTV promoted as a world premiere, showing it every hour on the hour for a good week. The video? Yes, well, that’s the funny part. It was “Bop ‘Til You Drop,” by Rick Springfield.
Big screen debut: The man has made some of the greatest movies of the past 15 years, but his feature film debut was the proverbial nightmare. Ladies and gentlemen, “Alien 3.” (Man, what is it with music video directors and threequels?) And if you’re smart, you won’t ask him about the experience. Unless, of course, you actually want to have your balls kicked up into your stomach.
Best Fincher video you never saw: Our first choice for this was Madonna’s “Oh Father,” arguably Fincher’s best video (the shadow work at the end is chilling, plus Madonna has never looked better), but the damn thing can’t be embedded. (You can see the clip here.) So instead, we’re plugging one of our favorite no-hit wonders from the ’80s, the Stabilizers’ “One Simple Thing.” Shoulda been a hit, this one.