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CULTURE: David Fincher (Part 2)

The legendary director of Seven and Fight Club has worked exclusively with Netflix since the great Mindhunter. After Mank, The Killer is the second feature film he’s made for the platform, and will be available from 10 November.

David Fincher introduced his stylistic traits to audiences in the 1990s, but his most successful films date back to the 2000s. The first of these was Panic Room (2002), which was perhaps one of the most difficult projects Fincher ever directed, although he had originally intended to make a simple, low-budget film after the questionable box office returns of Fight Club. Not only because they had to start and stop production twice due to Nicole Kidman’s injury and withdrawal (she was the first lead) and Jodie Foster’s pregnancy during the second shoot, but also because the entire film takes place in the cramped interior of a Manhattan house. Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her teenage daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart’s first serious role) have just moved into a new house with a panic room when three men enter the house to steal something. A reimagining of the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, Panic Room is a brutally suspenseful cat-and-mouse game and one of Fincher’s most intriguing films.

Fincher did not make a film for the next five years. He had been offered the chance to direct Mission: Impossible III, Spider-Man, and Catch Me If You Can, among others, but he wanted to adapt Robert Graysmith’s book about the mysterious serial killer Zodiac of the 1960s and 1970s. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2007 and showed a completely new face of the director. In Zodiac, the gloomy noir atmosphere was replaced by a slower, more gritty visuality that emphasised historical fidelity. Fincher has created a more classic thriller, with twists and turns that are slowly metered, not slapped in the face as before. The film is about the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who sends cryptic messages to newspapers, taunting the police because he feels he’s so much smarter than them, and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who becomes obsessed with the messages and wants to find the culprit even if it means turning his life upside down.

Fincher’s most successful films

1. Gone Girl 369.3 million (2014)
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 335.8 million (2008)
3. Seven: 327.3 million (1995)
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: 232.2 million (2011)
5. The Social Network: 224.9 million (2010)
6. Panic Room: 197 million (2002)
7. The Final Solution: Death: 159.8 million (1992)
8. The Game: 109.4 million (1997)
9. Fight Club: 101.2 million (1999)
10. Zodiac: 84.7 million (2007)

Fincher’s next film, The Curious Life of Benjamin Button (2008), is based on a 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film tells the story of a man, born in his 80s and growing younger, or living backwards, who is dumped in a nursing home by his button-maker father after his birth. Here Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt’s third performance in Fincher’s directorial canon) spends part of his life travelling halfway around the world on a fishing boat and taking part in the Second World War. He loses his virginity in a brothel, has an affair with the married Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) and meets his father. All he can think of is his love Daisy (Cate Blanchett), whom he loses and gains in his life, only to end up as a child in her arms. The film earned Fincher his first Oscar nomination for director, and went on to receive 12 more nominations, eventually taking the gold statuette in three technical categories.


Social Network (2010) has a very different feel to Fincher’s previous films. It’s a fast-paced but classic career story that is almost humorous in places. The film has a unique atmosphere, with a pulsating soundtrack by Trent Reznor (frontman of Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross, which won an Oscar. As well as Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires. With a budget of just $40 million, it became one of Fincher’s biggest hits at the box office, alongside one of the most influential films of the early 2010s. It told the true story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the man who created Facebook, his best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), and the twins who helped the company become a media giant, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and the twins who sued them (Armie Hammer plays both roles).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is based on Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel of the same name and was adapted for film just a few years after the Swedish trilogy, which was a worldwide hit. Forty years ago, Harriet, a member of the powerful Vanger clan, disappeared during a family celebration. The elderly billionaire is convinced his niece has been murdered, so he hires an out-of-work journalist to investigate. The journalist (Daniel Craig) starts investigating and finds help from a talented hacker (Rooney Mara). Their joint investigation compromises too many interests and threatens to expose a long-buried secret, and uncovers another murder. The adaptation has been well received by critics, who praised its gritty and dark tone and the performances of the two leads. The American Film Critics Association named it one of the ten best films of 2011. It was nominated for an Oscar in five categories, winning Best Editing.

Based on the best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, Gone GIrl (2014) is Fincher’s highest-grossing film to date, with a punchy twist at the end. As Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) prepare to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears on the morning of the day. Nick turns to the police, who immediately begin an investigation into the case, which leads to more and more clues that the seemingly happy couple’s life is hiding a number of dark secrets. As the investigation progresses, almost everyone begins to suspect that Nick is not as innocent as he claims to be. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike also give great performances as they destroy each other first with words and then with all their might, proving that sometimes it really is better to be alone.

Mindhunter (2017) is not only one of Fincher’s best, but one of the most powerful crime series Netflix has ever produced. We’ve seen a lot of series and films with a serial killer theme, but Mindhunter somehow stands out. Set in the 1970s, it takes us back to an era of the FBI when profiling and criminal psychology were in their infancy. The series stars Agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench as they struggle to carve out a behavioural science division within the agency. Their goal is to use interviews with serial killers to develop a classification system to prevent brutal murders or to help solve crimes. The actors portray real serial killers, including Ed Kemper, Jerry Brudos, David Berkowitz, and the infamous Charles Manson.


Mank, which premiered in 2020, is a biographical drama about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for the 1941 film Citizen Kane. Based on a screenplay by Fincher’s late father Jack Fincher, the film was embraced by the industry, which always loves to see its own history made into a film, and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, two of which it won.