As one of the more acclaimed American directors of modern Hollywood, David Fincher has created some of the biggest projects since he made his debut in the early nineties. Of course, that was with Alien 3 (1992), a highly divisive film among fans and critics alike. But after that came Se7en (1995), and from there it was off to the races of superstardom for newcomer David Fincher.
The cult classic Fight Club (1999) came soon after, but there are so many other projects worth noting among Fincher’s career that first need to be mentioned, like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and The Social Network (2010). However, unlike most of Fincher’s other films — his thrillers, in particular — those two dramas featured a paucity of one special filmmaking tactic in particular: the plot twist.
They’re generally featured in two spots of a given story: the middle, or the end. There are a few instances of a character dying off at the beginning of a movie that could technically count as a plot twist, but for the most part, that sounds more like an inciting incident. But of course, with regard to actual examples throughout film, there’s no better director to look at than the master himself.
Some Examples From Fincher’s Filmography
After his directorial debut Alien 3 (1992) bombed with critics and audiences alike, David Fincher went on a streak for the ages throughout the 1990s. And first up was perhaps the greatest of all the twists Fincher has ever had to offer: the “What’s in the box?” scene from Se7en. This was executed to pure perfection by every actor involved — Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, and of course Brad Pitt.
But it was also so expertly woven into the plot that audiences never could have seen it coming. It’s one of the evilest plans ever executed in film, and the fact that Spacey’s psychopathic character pulled it off within the bounds of realism is something to applaud screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for — as the BAFTAs did that year with a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
The next project worth noting is The Game (1997), starring Michael Douglass. It’s easily among the director’s most underrated films, and of course, it features a game-changing plot twist that has resonated with cult fans for the past two decades straight. As one of the lesser-known films on the list, it’s best you check this out for yourself. But one project nearly everyone reading this should recognize is Fight Club (1999), another cult classic.
Of course, the twist thereof was that Edward Norton’s character (simply credited as The Narrator) was the same person all along as Brad Pitt’s character, the infamous Tyler Durden. You all probably remember this turn like the details on the back of your hand. So, it’s almost redundant to note the renown thereof. Besides — we probably shouldn’t talk about it.
To claim that Zodiac (2007) had a surprise ending would be stretching it to an extent, but for those audience members who were unfamiliar with the real-life case, the fact that the film’s detectives came up short in the end was undoubtedly a shock. And that’s especially true when considering how creepy a couple of the suspects were.
So, there were definitely elements of a plot twist at play in that particular crime thriller. The same can be said for The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (2011) as well, albeit to a less convincing extent. With regard to Gone Girl (2014), however, the answer is clear: it featured one of the greatest plot twists of the twenty-first century, up there with films like The Prestige (2006) and Shutter Island (2010).
The film follows Ben Affleck’s character Nick Dunn, whose wife escapes their tumultuous marriage by staging her own murder and framing Nick for the deed. For those who haven’t seen the film or read the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn — who also wrote the screenplay — spoilers will be avoided here as well. But it’s one of Fincher’s more famous twists, up there with both Se7en and Fight Club in terms of quality and popularity both.
Fincher has almost built a name for himself in Hollywood, shaped his entire career based off the plot twists of his many famous works. But of course, he was far from the first filmmaker to implement this tactic. Hundreds of directors utilized plot twists before Fincher was in the picture, and just as many have done so since. In fact, some of the biggest names in the industry have used it just as consistently.
Other Directors Famous for Using Plot Twists
There are several individual films throughout Hollywood history that are looked back on fondly for their twists. Planet of the Apes (1968) by Franklin J. Schaffner and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) by Irvin Kershner, for example. However, neither of those respective directors made any other projects worth noting with regard to this specific plot device.
Meanwhile, there are filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock — the master of suspense. Of course, the most prominent plot twist throughout his oeuvre would have to go to Psycho (1960). But the fact that Norman Bates was the killer in that project all along, dressed up as his deceased mother, was far from the only turn that Hitchcock took throughout his career.
Rear Window (1954) has a twist for the ages, along with films like Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Vertigo (1958). None of those are as famous as Psycho, though — and frankly, that’s the only one that holds a candle of popularity (or quality, for that matter) to the many masterful plot twists of David Fincher. The other director worth noting in this regard, though, is M. Night Shyamalan.
Although he is perhaps the most commercially known director of plot twists — so, the most popular from a general audience’s perspective, in other words — the films of M. Night Shyamalan aren’t exactly of the highest quality. His name value skyrocketed after the ending of The Sixth Sense (1999) shocked the cinematic world. And although he hasn’t topped that twist in terms of general fan appeal, there have been plenty more throughout his career such as Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and a couple of lower-quality others.
More prominent directors that spring to mind in this respect, thoguh, are Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese. But there are also some vastly underrated names like Dario Argento and Pedro Almodovar. In the end, though, only one director stands out as the legitimate master of plot twists.
Why David Fincher Stands Out
If you take those other two directors — Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan — and see how they could be viewed from a critical and commercial lens, respectively, then David Fincher fits perfectly in the middle. He may not be the most well-known, and some of his projects may be a tad divisive among critics, but for the most part, he’s the best of both worlds.
The plot twists round each project out to a tee, but Fincher never truly relied on the device to deliver a quality product. Each film is atmospheric to a truly unforgettable degree, and features great performances from the whole, respective cast. But he stands out because they so consistently defined his films in a positive manner, impacting audiences for decades down the line as they discuss each scenario whenever films come up in conversation.
Meanwhile, Alfred Hitchcock had dozens of other filmmaking tactics on his directorial toolbelt. Which isn’t to say that Fincher didn’t, of course. It’s just pointing out the fact that there’s an entire Wikipedia page titled “Hitchcockian” dedicated to the filmmaker and his many wonderful, world-famous techniques. The word “Hitchcockian” is even recognized by most dictionaries, for crying out loud.
To call him the master of plot twists among all of those other proficiencies — plot devices like MacGuffins, for example — it just seems, well, unfair, to be frank. Critics and scholars to this day discuss Hitchcock’s revolutionary methods with regard to continuity editing, on top of his penchant for directing award-winning performances, and even his keen eye for shot framing.
As for Fincher: the plot twists were the biggest takeaway from each film. Sure, you might remember Se7en for its early performances from Pitt, Paltrow, and Spacey. Or Fight Club may have been impactful due to its indelibly atmospheric storytelling with many memorable scenes to boot.
And while Gone Girl had that career-defining acting effort from Rosamund Pike, all three of those films were ultimately memorable for their iconic and masterful plot twists. There are a number of novelists and screenwriters to credit for each one, but when it comes to putting everything together, there’s no doubt about it. David Fincher is the master of plot twists.