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Ranking David Lynch’s Feature Films

Born in Missoula Montana, Eagle Scout. A simple sentence that has no true descriptors is all you need to know about David Lynch, in almost all interviews this is how he introduces himself. One of the most important filmmakers in the last few decades and a re-shape of modern day television, Lynch’s career span over many years and many controversies because of the way he tells stories. With many defining films throughout his career it may be difficult to decide which ones are worth watching and what are his best ones, to help you all out, here’s a list ranking David Lynch’s films.


Photo Credit: Aaron

10. Dune (1984)

Released in 1984 David Lynch’s ‘Dune’ was the directors first, and just an entry into the Hollywood system. A system known for gathering upcoming, independent directors and spitting them out: this actually happened to Lynch. With such a large property as Dune, monetarily and story wise, there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen trying to steer a director whose later career is built on creating strange stories, show that doing so is not how you get his best work. ‘Dune’ was in many ways a disaster, not a great film by any means and did not make a lot of money, but for Lynch it was a great learning experience, and over the years has gained a cult following. And while things didn’t go as planned, the duo of Lynch as director and actor Kyle Mac Lachlan was born which later gave us some of his greatest works.

Credit: Universal Pictures

9. The Straight Story (1999)

‘The Straight Story’ is shockingly Lynch’s most interesting film, not for its avant-garde or strange story telling path, but for its lack of all of those things. ‘The Straight Story’ is well a straight story. Telling the journey of Alvin Straight who learns that his brother is very ill and might not live much longer. So he sets out to travel cross country on his lawnmower, which is his only way of transportation. The sweet and lovely family tale is based on a true life story and is done brilliantly by Lynch. Having emotion and tender moments, the film is something very special and to have Lynch behind it shows how much range as a director he really can have if he chooses to use it, while in 9th on the list this film is not bad at all, and even earned Richard Farnsworth an Oscar nomination for Best Lead Actor.

Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

One of Lynch’s most divisive films is ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’, the prequel story of Twin Peaks, but if you plan on watching the film in preparation to finally dive into Twin Peaks the series, I suggest waiting because there are plenty of spoilers within the film that ruin the mystery. While some dislike this film (for some reason unknown to me) it actually is one of my favorites, though I give it a rank 8. The film brings together everything that is great within the Twin Peaks universe; a town and environment that seems almost untouched by modern 80’s culture, weird quirky characters and dialogue, all placed right into one his stranger avant-garde worlds. With wonderfully odd cameo’s and dialogues as well as a great score and landscape the film is truly one of his most colorful and fun films and deserves some recognition.

Credit: New Line Cinema

7. Wild at Heart (1990)

David Lynch and Nicolas cage together, what could go wrong? Apparently nothing! ‘Wild at Heart’ is one of Lynch’s most revered pictures by many all while being one of his campiest and violent. Light hearted in some spots while downright vulgar in others, the film tells the story of Sailor Ripley played by Cage, trying hard to get his life together and be with his love Lula Fortune, but with Lula’s mother being very against this, she hires a hit man to try and finally get rid of Ripley. Cage here is probably at his most ‘Cage’ as the wacky eccentric character people imagine him as is in his final form all throughout this film. The combination of Lynch’s strange film style and Cage’s off the wall acting create a film that is as mesmerizing as it is confusing, with all of this working together the film received mixed reviews in America upon release, but won Lynch the Palm d’Or at the 1990 Cannes film festival among other numerous awards around the world.

Credit: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

6. Inland Empire (2006)

By far Lynch’s least conventional, and cohesive film ‘Inland Empire’ is the culmination of Lynch’s work building up and exploding out into the real world. The story is simply about an actress who takes on a role in a film that is later said to be a remake of an earlier film where both lead actors were murdered. While this sounds simple, the film itself is really not, and difficult to follow at first. As the film goes on we enter different worlds, scenes of reality breaking and a person not understanding what is happening at all, the film really is a representation of a nightmare. Coming in at just over 3 hours, the film is a lot to take in and sit through. Shot on a consumer grade digital camera which at the time was not as nice as they are now, and having many scenes in low light, the film is very DIY.

But for as confusing as it is, it is a fun wild ride that should definitely be watched, and many times at that. With each watch, the story line becomes clearer and allows you to really just be in awe of how amazing it really is. As the film is great it also gave us one of the best David Lynch viral photos of him sitting on the side of the highway with a cow next to a giant sign asking for an Oscar nomination for Laura Dern, which she probably should have gotten as her performance is spectacular.

Credit: 518 Media

5. Lost Highway (1997)

After a few years of Lynch’s light hearted Twin Peaks, it’s only right that he creates a new horrifying nightmare with ‘Lost Highway’, a film that seems to be his warm-up to creating “Inland Empire” almost 10 years later. This film takes two stories and links them together, one about jazz musician played by Bill Pullman whose wife is having affairs and suddenly winds up murdered and the other is a mechanic played Balthazar Getty who is mixed up with a gangsters wife. The nightmare and dreamlike effect that Lynch brings to this, shows why he really is the premier of American avant-garde, with loud and blaring music and scenes then with super quiet scenes following one another, a mysterious man with a white painted face, and an ending that is intense, compelling and leaving one questioning what just happened. This film is one of Lynch’s boldest and best.

Credit: October Films

4. The Elephant Man (1980)

In 1980 David Lynch was somewhat a rising star. ‘Eraserhead’, though not a financial success was already a cult classic, and showed promise from a young director. Lynch would go from the world he created in ‘Eraserhead’ to directing the Oscar nominated film, ‘The Elephant Man’. Surrounded by a great cast like John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins the film centers around Joseph Merrick, played by Hurt, who uses his congenital disorder to make a living as a sideshow, who once found by Hopkins becomes the toast of London. The film uses much of what Lynch had created in ‘Eraserhead’ like atmosphere, interesting characters and a script that works perfectly. Giving Lynch his first Oscar nomination for Best Director as well as bringing in 7 other nominations in total. ‘The Elephant Man’ remains one of Lynch’s most acclaimed films and coming as only his second feature length films, ranks as one of his best.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

3. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Lynch originally wanted ‘Mulholland Drive’ to be a television series, but once nothing happened with the pilot he re-shot and wrote certain spots to create one of his highest ranked films. Many people view ‘Mulholland Drive’ as Lynch’s perfect balance of avant-garde and meaningful plot. The film centers on a dark haired woman who after a car crash wanders through the streets and into a strangers house where she is found by Betty, played by Naomi Watts. Trying to help the dark haired woman remember who she is and what she is supposed to be doing, we’re introduced to the underbelly of LA, and slowly descends into a strange, mysterious world. This film was a return to the Academy Awards for David Lynch as it gained him another nomination for best director.

Credit: Universal Pictures

2. Blue Velvet (1986)

Released in 1986 ‘Blue Velvet’ is David Lynch’s fourth feature film. It follows college student Jeffrey Beaumont as he returns to his hometown after his father has a stroke. While home, he discovers a severed ear in a field near his house. When he gets nowhere with the investigation in spite of the police’s support, he himself takes matters into his own hands and gets involved with a nightclub singer whose family has been kidnapped by a underground thug. The pictorial and classic suburban life contrasted with the seedy and violent underground, gives this film a perfect sense of unease and intensity. With great characters and a plot that allows the performances to shine, this by far is one of Lynch’s best films featuring some of his most memorable lines and characters.

Credit: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

1. Eraserhead (1977)

Considered a classic in its own right, David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ is still the quintessential film in his entire career. With an amazing atmospheric soundscape and creative set designs, we get a truly amazing low budget film that almost attacks the viewer’s senses as so little, yet so much in context occurs throughout the film. Taking place in gloomy industrial world the main character Henry finds out that one his old girlfriends was pregnant with his child, but was born very prematurely. Being responsible, he marries and moves in with the mother and child, but as the kid gets ill and tensions rise, the film take a turn into to a complete avant-garde masterpiece. The film that really showcased his talent and landed him the directing job for ‘The Elephant man’ deserves to be seen as his best film, as it combines all things that we’ve come to know as Lynchian.

Credit: Libra Films International

Andrew Giroux

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