Though he has worked on a wide range of films, David Fincher has established himself as uniquely talented when it comes to directing thrillers. Keeping audiences hooked until the very end, Fincher is a master at carefully crafting suspense. Over the course of the past three decades he has become known for his dark and twisted works that range from his breakout with the film Seven, to his more recent success with the blockbuster Gone Girl.
While his thrillers– not to mention his work on gripping series like House of Cards and Mindhunter– consistently impress, some standout above the rest. The list below counts down to David Fincher’s very best thrillers.
Alien 3 (1992)
In his debut as a director, Fincher took on the third installment of the Alien franchise. A sci-fi thriller, Alien 3 follows Ripley as she faces off against an Alien life form, after crash landing in a maximum security prison.
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While the Alien franchise has been a popular success, spawning all sorts of sequels, prequels, and spinoffs, Alien 3 faltered. With a revolving door of writers and conflicts with the studio, its production suffered. Fully aware of the film's shortcomings, Fincher has been highly critical of his own work, remarking that “to this day, no one hates it more than me.”
The Game (1997)
In a mind-bending movie full of twists and turns, The Game blurs the lines of reality. Making use of a gift from his younger brother, a high-powered investment banker joins an immersive game. But he immediately struggles to understand what is part of the game and what is real life, as he hurdles toward disaster. Upon its release, the fast-paced thrill ride was praised for its overwhelming sense of paranoia and its truly unforeseen ending.
Panic Room (2002)
Fincher’s Panic Room follows a pulse-pounding home invasion. A mother and her daughter attempt to survive a violent and tumultuous break-in at the hands of three armed men. Coming after the release of Fincher’s Fight Club, Panic Room steered back toward the mainstream. It was a much more straightforward crime thriller, packed with action, tension, and suspense. Showcasing the talent of stars like Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, and Jared Leto, the film kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
Fight Club (1999)
Based on the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club has taken on a life of its own over the years. Initially met with mixed reviews, Fight Club has become a cult classic. Centered on an insomniac leading a bland and unfulfilling life, Fight Club comments on a generation trapped in a system and society that fail to give them meaning. Making use of narration, the film shares a sense of sarcasm and cynicism, as it delves into internal conflict and eventually explodes in anarchy.
Gone Girl (2014)
A mysterious thriller, Gone Girl brought Gillian Flynn’s book of the same name to screens in a striking fashion. When his wife Amy goes missing, Nick Dunne becomes the main suspect in her disappearance. Struggling under the scrutiny and increasingly damning evidence, his guilt seems beyond question. However, a shocking turn of events and surprise plot twist change everything– and reveal an even more sinister reality. Fincher’s direction and Rosamund Pike’s performance as Amy Dunne, drew high praise from all sorts of critics.
Rebounding after the failure of Alien 3, Fincher directed the psychological thriller Seven. With a dark and gritty neo-noir style, Seven follows the disturbing hunt for a serial killer who murders his victims according to the seven deadly sins. Recognizing his pattern, two detectives unravel the graphic string of murders, culminating in a shocking ending. Featuring stars like Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Seven was praised for its performances as well as its harrowing story.
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Set in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the 1960s and 70s, Zodiac tells the riveting true story of one man’s hunt to identify the area’s most mysterious serial killer. Garnering widespread attention for his indiscriminate killing and cryptic messages, the Zodiac became the center of a decades long police investigation– one that remains unsolved to this day.
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Tracing the work of the detectives assigned to the case, a local crime reporter, and an obsessed cartoonist who put forward the case’s most compelling theory, Zodiac was propelled by its characters, just as much as its unnerving story. Jake Gyllenhaal played the part of cartoonist Robert Graysmith, whose personal investigation and book of the same name inspired the film. His performance, along with the film’s foreboding and moody atmosphere, were highly praised by critics.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
An adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follows the dark story of a financial journalist and a computer hacker, who unravel the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl nearly a half century prior. The thriller winds through a prominent family’s horrible secrets and twisted history. With its oppressive and chilling tone, Fincher’s film was widely lauded as a worthy rendering of Larsson’s hugely successful nordic noir novel.
Featured still from "Gone Girl" via Twentieth Century Fox.