David Lynch is a fascinating filmmaker. Talented in more traditional ways, he chooses to mainly exist in a more abstract plane of narrative filmmaking than most. Two of his films (The Elephant Man and The Straight Story) are as normal as anything any other independent filmmaker could make, but his body of work is dominated by the abstract.
Formed in the 50s and 60s, he’s concerned heavily with nuclear power, industrialization, and Transcendential Meditation. He’s also a family man with worries at that level. Through his abstract approach to storytelling, he combines all of his obsessions into coherent stories that go against the grain of popular cinematic grammar, but they do maintain concrete ideas at their core. These are generally not films for mass consumption simply because of how different they are made, but for those willing to make the leap into a different kind of storytelling, there’s a lot to enjoy.
Below is the definitive ranking of his films, and do check out my other definitive rankings here.
“Lynch was the wrong director for a literal minded adaptation. De Laurentiis was the wrong producer for such a large undertaking since he wanted such a short end product. Adapting the entire book was the wrong decision for a two hour film. The film’s not worthless, but it’s so thoroughly broken on so many story levels that it’s closer to a train wreck than a piece of narrative filmmaking.”
10. Wild at Heart
“I’m much more mixed on this film than I want to be. I think that Lynch’s love of his characters and actors works against the film in this instance where he goes on tangents that don’t affect much for long stretches instead of focusing on the surprisingly strong central romance. Would this movie be better at about 20 minutes shorter simply cutting out Harry Dean Stanton (no one should ever have to consider cutting Harry Dead Stanton from a movie, ever)? Maybe.”
“It’s not the tightest or most focused work he’s done, but there’s no denying that it’s pure Lynch. I feel more admiration for it than actual affection, but that admiration is certainly there.”
“This is a cynical look at how society treats those who are unable to help their differences, how society at large simply cannot seem to find it within itself to treat someone based on their character rather than their looks. Some of the dramatics inserted distract from that central idea. There’s so much to admire, though, that the late turns in the story can only hold this movie back so much.”
7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
“So, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is not going to go down as Lynch’s masterpiece. Its uncomfortable spot in the middle of the larger Twin Peaks story kind of prevents that. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not very good. And it is very good. The heart of this story is very much in the right place, looking steely-eyed at Laura Palmer’s final days and showing us a broken girl with no where to go but down.”
“It’s a mystery box where the central idea is never in question, so it can engage two completely different sets of audiences who are looking for different things. The more literal minded can argue over the symbols and reality of each scene, but others can just appreciate the collapse of a woman’s dreams in a city that David Lynch loves.”
5. Blue Velvet
“Aside from the underwritten nature of Dorothy, this is Lynch reclaiming who he is as a filmmaker in grand fashion. He’s telling a distinctly American story born from his own experiences growing up, informed by his own distinct method of storytelling that borders on dream logic.”
“This is an incredibly clear-eyed vision, free from commercial concerns and allowed to gestate for years during its troubled production, coming out as a complete whole with incredibly strange sights and sounds that never feel disconnected from the core story. Abstractions and surrealism aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and they’re really hard to pull off while keeping the narrative relatable, but David Lynch managed it with aplomb in his first feature.”
“This feels like a capstone, perhaps the more traditional form of the word masterpiece. It is the work of a master that sums up his body of work at the same time that it stands alone. The culmination of Twin Peaks and Lynch’s film work, The Return is a gloriously entertaining extended adventure that looks at the idea of loss and comes away sad.”
2. Lost Highway
“This is an experience, a complete look into the mind of a man driven mad by his own actions, desperate for a way to absolve himself of his guilt. This is Lynch using all the tools of cinema to bring his unique vision to reality.”
“Anchored by Farnsworth’s marvelous central performance with wonderful smaller performances from a wide ranging cast, Lynch deftly directs this slice of Americana with simplicity and remarkable skill. Thematically, the movie fits with Lynch’s body of work, though it’s a rather dramatic stylistic removal. However, despite some of the very real highs that Lynch has found in going the non-traditional route, I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be my favorite film he ever made.”
23 thoughts on “David Lynch: The Definitive Ranking”
They’re all so different from each other, it’s fairly difficult to stack them in relation to each other. In other words, I disagree with a number of these!
My list is definitive!
It says so!
How can you argue with that?!
But seriously, how would you rank them?
I don’t know–as mentioned, they’re all so different from each other in many ways, while obviously being products of the same sensibility. It’s like, how do you rank a chocolate bar, an ice cream cone, a slice of pizza, a bit of cheese and a hot dog? They’re all edible and help when you’re hungry, but you want them at different times for different reasons.
Seeing them all listed here makes me realize how much I’m not a fan of Lynch. Guess I need things spelled out for me – in other words, no Lost Highway for me. Haven’t seen all of them, of the ones I’ve seen probably Elephant Man is my favorite, which I suppose makes sense since it is more conventional in terms of story telling.
Looked on IMDB, appears he has retired from feature films, so you do have the definitive and final word on David Lynch 🙂
My only contribution on Lynch is I remember reading sometime in the dim past that he ate at Bob’s Big Boy every day so he didn’t have to devote any energy to deciding what to eat, could just devote all his mental energies to making his movie.
He’s definitely not for everyone.
If anyone asked me for a recommendation, I’d probably start and end with The Elephant Man and The Straight Story. If I knew them to be open to this kind of filmmaking, I’d tell them to start cautiously with Blue Velvet and then gauge their reaction.
*sees Dune at the bottom of the list*
*Sees Inland Empire and Mullholland Drive, which aren’t even movies with a plot and story, ranked higher than Dune*
Our friendship is at an end.
Pistols at dawn, good sir.
Dune should be at the bottom of any definitive list. OH SNAP
Hey, I know you hate late comments, but here goes anyway. David Lynch is not really a film-maker but a visual artist that happens to use film as his canvas. I watched Elephant Man for the first time in years, and it struck me as the perfect narrative from Eraserhead to the “mainstream,” which for a while it was.
Anyway, Lynch doesn’t belong in the pantheon of Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks, whatever. He’s more like Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Magritte, Ernst, Warhol, etc.
I don’t mind late comments at all. Bring ’em on. Conversations can go on forever.
I like the comparison to the visual artists, but I think that may be more because the world has settled on one type of visual storytelling in motion pictures which happens to be very literal. It’s both cheaper and more accessible to the masses. There’s an alternate universe out there where weird, surrealistic film is the norm.