You’d be hard pressed to find a director with a more impressive oeuvre than David Fincher. In his near 30-year film directing career, he has 10 films to his name (not including Mank, which hits Netflix tomorrow), and they all range from the questionable to the decade defining. I would let you, our beloved reader, decide which films fall under which category, but we’ve done it for you!
Per Oxford dictionary (citation needed), to “mank” something is to rank films in preferential order in an ode to director David Fincher’s newest film, Mank. With this in mind, I tasked the team at JumpCut Online to mank Fincher’s filmography and their place in the manking gives them a point value (their top film earns 10 points, second earns 9 etc) to determine which film comes out on top in the official David Fincher Manking™.
Alien 3 (1992)
Much to the surprise of no one, the much-maligned Alien 3 brings up the rear on our list. Fincher himself even disowned the theatrical cut of the release, citing studio involvement and general production hell leading to a film that pales in comparison to the franchise’s previous instalments. A new version of the film, the Alien 3 Assembly Cut, does exist, but really, if you want to watch an Alien film, you have two much better alternatives.
Faring slightly better is Panic Room, a film far more in line with the rest of Fincher’s filmography as a tense, taut, technically terrific thriller with more than its fair share on the state of the world as it was back in 2002. One of our team, Elena, had Panic Room at the very top of her mankings, and explains why below:
Potentially a surprising pick for my favourite David Fincher film, but Panic Room ticks all the claustrophobic thriller boxes for me. It’s a simple premise, criminals break into a house, mother and daughter (a brilliant Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart) hide in the panic room, only for the criminals wanting to be locked in with them. Fincher makes great use of the limited amount of space, as while the titular panic room is the focus, the near-empty four floor townhouse provides an eerie yet fitting battle ground. I think the reason why I enjoy Panic Room so much more than Fincher’s other often more loved/acclaimed films, is that, while some of the characters are open to a deeper analysis, on the whole it’s just a really well put together and entertaining home invasion movie. It achieves what it sets out to do, it has twists and turns, perhaps one too many, but Panic Room is still a tense and exciting film. – Elena Morgan
Michael Douglas and that bloody clown doll are up next in The Game. After success with Se7en, The Game proved to be a worthy follow up for critics as another well-constructed thriller (it’s almost like David Fincher has a style) with a highly effective central performance from Douglas. For me, the ending goes too overboard on the silliness, but according to JumpCut Editor-in-Chief, Fiona, The Game is Fincher’s best:
I’m no fan of either Michael Douglas or Sean Penn, but I love films in which the protagonist’s sense of reality starts to unravel, leading them to question everything they thought they knew (see also: Total Recall). Douglas does give a great performance, as a privileged man whose life starts to spiral dangerously out-of-control, he becomes increasingly paranoid and the blurring of lines between reality and ‘the game’ become hazier and hazier. Like Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and The Devil’s Advocate (1997), there’s just something about these pre-Millenium thrillers centred around rich people losing their shit that is chef’s kiss. Capitalism and Y2K panic – a niche genre, but a strong one! – Fiona Underhill
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Also known as The Garbage Case of the Dogshit Button, per our own Chris Murphy, Benjamin Button sees off three films and comes in 7th. It’s one of the more divisive films in Fincher’s oeuvre; despite numerous accolades and nominations, many can’t see beyond its tedium, and at a gargantuan 166 placid minutes, it’s something of a slog to sit through. Regardless, Benjamin Button is a step out of Fincher’s comfort zone, showcasing Oscar-nominated performances from Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson, and some state-of-the-art aging technology long before it became a staple of modern cinema.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
English-language remakes are often derided in film circles, but in 2011, David Fincher came close to glory with his remake of the 2009 Swedish smash hit. Rooney Mara became the Hollywood A-list sensation she is today thanks to her performance as the iconic Lisbeth Salander and proved an excellent foil opposite the always terrific Daniel Craig. Dragon Tattoo pulls no punches, earning its 18-certificate with aplomb, doing justice to the original novel’s hard-hitting subject matter. Plus, I’d be remiss to talk about this film without mentioning the legendary opening credits sequence directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller with its gorgeously dark visuals and a Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.
The first five films of this manking have their own merits, but the next five had different positions in nearly all of the mankings Top 5, and all of which were, at one point in the process, top of the leader board.
Fincher’s most recent directorial effort cracks into the Top 5 and appears to have gained more and more fans since its release in 2014. Ben Affleck gives one of his best performances and proves to be an eerily perfect choice for the slimy Nick Dunne, David Fincher directs the film in the way only David Fincher can with an eye for visuals and jet black humour at points to sell a mystery that captivated the world, but Gone Girl wouldn’t have been the success it was without the completely enthralling Rosamund Pike. Bringing Amy Dunne to life on screen can’t have been an easy task given the original book became a global phenomenon, but Pike imbues Amy with an intelligence and an evil that will go down in cinematic history. To this day, I maintain that Pike was robbed of Best Actress in 2014. For Gone Girl to be 5th in the manking only speaks to the quality of the remaining four films.
Fight Club (1999)
I knew how Fight Club ended years before I finally watched it. It’s one of Hollywood’s most famous endings and it proved impossible to avoid in a similar vein to The Sixth Sense and The Empire Strikes Back. And yet, watching Fight Club for the first time was an enthralling, surprising, incredible experience even knowing the ending. I second-guessed myself thinking I’d misheard how it ended, so even when it all gets revealed, I was shocked twice over when it came true.
Fight Club wasn’t the great success you’d have expected upon release in 1999, another film in Fincher’s history with studio involvement in a bid to “salvage” it, but the film that came out became a venerable cult classic and has only grown in popularity over the years and currently stands at number 11 in IMDb’s Top 250, the highest position of any David Fincher film. With outstanding central performances from Edward Norton and Brad Pitt as the infamous Tyler Durden, it’s easy to see why. Still, it only manages 4th place for Team JumpCut.
There appears to be a trend with Fincher’s films where they only grow in people’s estimations the further removed from them we are. The same is true of The Social Network, which was a critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning effort back in 2010, and it has evolved since into a potentially decade-defining piece of work. It has that rare rewatchable quality that isn’t often found in such a dialogue heavy film, but the atmosphere conjured by Fincher throughout is so alluring, the performances of Jesse Eisenberg and particularly Andrew Garfield are spellbinding, and Fincher’s meticulousness matches with Aaron Sorkin’s pitch-perfect screenplay to create a film that is a real tour de force for so many of those who worked on it.
How do you tell an unfinished story? This was the challenge presented in front of Fincher when he was given the reins to Zodiac, one of the finest detective stories ever put to film. Despite its hefty runtime and arguably unsatisfactory conclusion (ergo, it doesn’t have one because real life doesn’t have one), Zodiac cruises along on the strength of its cast, led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., and tells one of contemporary American history’s most infamous mysteries. There are some all-time memorable scenes in Zodiac, perhaps none more so than the basement scene, but the film is so expertly crafted from top to bottom you have to sit back and admire the handiwork that went into it. Zodiac earns its place near the top of our manking.
A mere four points (4!) separated the top three and the lead changed multiple times as more votes came in, but Se7en came out on top; I find it impossible to argue against it. Se7en is an absolute masterwork from Fincher, working on only his second feature film, creating a horrible atmosphere from the opening credits (beaten only by Dragon Tattoo for the best opening credits in Fincher’s filmography) that doesn’t let up until the film cuts to black for the final time. Our protagonists, Mills and Somerset, are portrayed expertly by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman respectively, as their combative buddy cop relationship develops and eventually flourishes as they attempt to solve the case of the Seven Deadly Sins murders.
Further, back when the film was released, the marketing kept one of the other key A-list stars entirely under wraps for a spectacular mid-film reveal, and this moment is one of several iconic moments peppered through Se7en. Its ending, too, stands tall as one of the most memorable and dark endings ever put on screen, spawning a quote that’s often used in jest but in the context of the film is completely devastating. Se7en rounds off our list in sumptuous style, rightfully coming out on top in Fincher’s terrific body of work.
All that’s left to ponder is where is Mank going to mank in our David Fincher manking? We don’t have much longer to find out.