ByTravis Ryan, writer at
Classic film and chocolate milk enthusiast.
Travis Ryan

David Fincher is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of our generation. He is the visionary director behind landmark movies such as Se7en, Fight Club and The Social Network. It's clear that his legacy will last well into the future of cinema, but it begs the question: From where does Fincher draw his influence?

The following list, shared in 2013 by No Film School, has recently resurfaced on Reddit, renewing interest in what great directors consider to be the greatest films. The original handwritten list can be seen here:

[Credit: No Film School]
[Credit: No Film School]

In a more legible format with the directors and years included, the movies are:

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Hill, 1969)
  • Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)
  • The Godfather Part 2 (Coppola, 1974)
  • Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
  • Being There (Ashby, 1979)
  • All That Jazz (Fosse, 1979)
  • Alien (Scott, 1979)
  • Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
  • Zelig (Allen, 1983)
  • Cabaret (Fosse, 1972)
  • Paper Moon (Bogdanovich, 1973)
  • Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)
  • All the President's Men (Pakula, 1976)
  • (Fellini, 1963)
  • Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • Days of Heaven (Malick, 1978)
  • Animal House (Landis, 1978)
  • Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (Miller, 1981)
  • The Year of Living Dangerously (Weir, 1982)
  • American Graffiti (Lucas, 1973)
  • The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam & Jones, 1975)
  • The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)
  • The Graduate (Nichols, 1967)

An Affinity For 'New Hollywood'

'Jaws' is often credited as the first modern "blockbuster." [Credit: Universal Studios]
'Jaws' is often credited as the first modern "blockbuster." [Credit: Universal Studios]

The 1970s are the standout decade among the list, and they are perhaps the most crucial time in American cinema when understanding how we got where we are today. The 70s are often called the "New American Wave" or the "New Hollywood" movement that gave birth to a new type of filmmaker. You saw a greater sense of sensationalism and a diversity in subject matter that changed how Americans viewed the cinematic experience. You saw the rise of Spielberg and the modern blockbuster, along with Scorsese and Coppola and the construction of the modern crime film.

Seeing as Fincher is 54 years old, the 1970s being his primary inspiration makes perfect sense. He would have grown up watching these movies: a ripe 13 years old when Jaws was first released. While audiences (and budding filmmakers) today may be underwhelmed by the accomplishment and the innovation that many of these films actually were, none of the magic was lost on Fincher. He was brought up on change and excitement, a new type of movie that challenged what a movie even was, and you see tons of these films represented in his picks for this reason.

A Diversity Of Taste

'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' makes Fincher's list, though his body of work is far from comedic. [Credit: EMI Films]
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' makes Fincher's list, though his body of work is far from comedic. [Credit: EMI Films]

So how did these movies directly influence Fincher's filmmaking? Well, the answer isn't immediately clear. There are some obvious inclusions such as Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, a neo-noir masterpiece with dark crime elements that Fincher has explored in his movies. However, there are some strange outliers as well. You'd be hard-pressed to find a lot in common between a Fincher film and Animal House, for example.

I actually think the diverse collection makes a lot of sense. It's clear that Fincher's favorite movies cast a wide net in terms of subject matter, and this also reflects Fincher's well-rounded approach to directing. We're not dealing with a stylized genre-junkie like Tarantino or a cerebral, visual storyteller like Aronofsky. Fincher is one of the best because he knows how to tell a powerful story, any story, and his list reflects this "jack of all trades" characteristic.

Be it in The Social Network or Alien 3, Fincher's movies feature elements straight from his list of favorites. Playing with camera movement (Citizen Kane), deeply psychological drama (Rear Window), and just about every other "Fincher-ism" can be loosely or heavily connected somewhere on this list.

'Se7en' (starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) was Fincher's breakout success in 1995. [Credit: New Line Cinema]
'Se7en' (starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) was Fincher's breakout success in 1995. [Credit: New Line Cinema]

While it's fun to look at a director's favorite films and piece together their style, it's even more important to note that above all, Fincher is an innovator. He helped pave the way for the careful, subtle drama that critics and audiences adore today, and his work will undoubtedly fill some "greatest movies" lists of the future.

What are your thoughts on David Fincher? Leave a comment below!

(Sources: No Film School)


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