The Movies of David Lynch, Ranked from Best to Worst

Universal artist David Lynch is regarded as one of the best film directors of the late 20th century and early 21st century. For example, the renowned British newspaper The Guardian named him the best director of all time. It’s high time to introduce Lynch’s 10 feature films and to establish a daring ranking from best to “worst”. But can one even speak of “worst” when talking about David Lynch’s films? See for yourself…

1/ Mulholland Drive

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Mulholland Drive is in a class of its own. Following a poll of 177 film critics from 36 countries in 2016 by BBC Culture, Lynch’s masterpiece from 2001 was named the top film of the 21st century.

The film takes place in Los Angeles and tells a mysterious story of love, jealousy and murder. Lynch deliberately breaks with familiar narrative structures. Because of maney plot changes, in which characters, moods, scenes and previously constructed leitmotifs suddenly change their meaning, the film creates space for manifold interpretations.

Mulholland Drive is a perfect craftsmanship. The movie is full of brilliant ideas and the staging impressive. Everything is executed almost to perfection. It’s a movie in which the viewer gets lost. But in a positive sense: Lynch pulls him into an incredible hypnotic maelstrom that lasts throughout the film. Never before has a director managed to fascinate a viewer so much. The spectator is afraid, feels uncomfortable, then laughs or is sad. Mulholland Drive reflects the palette of human emotions.

2/ Lost Highway

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Lost Highway (1997) works a little bite like Mulholland Drive. The film is just as fascinating and disturbing. Lynch has designed one of his most blatant characters here, the Mystery Man (Robert Blake). This modern Mephistopheles has a long lasting effect on the viewer.

The film follows musician Fred Madison who begins receiving mysterious VHS tapes of him and his wife in their home. He is suddenly convicted of murder, after which he inexplicably disappears and is replaced by Pete Dayton, a young mechanic, leading a different life…

Lost Highway is a disturbing and extremely complex journey into the uncanny, Lynch playes a lot with elements of horror films. It is again a cinematic masterpiece that is better experienced than analyzed.

3/ Blue Velvet

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This Lynch film has today cult status. Blue Velvet is often described as one of the greatest American films of all time. It tells the story of the college student Jeffrey Beaumont, who is led under the surface of an idyllic American small town and confronted with violence, corruption and sadomasochistic sexual practices.

Blue Velvet already gives an idea of Lynch’s later cult TV series Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Only without humor and soap opera. This 1986 film is surreal, shocking and visionary. No director has ever looked so closely behind the dark scenes of a small town. The acting performance of Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper is grandiose and unique. Another must-see!

4/ Eraserhead

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Eraserhead film poster

Eraserhead (1977) is Lynch’s first feature film and maybe also his most emblematic. The film tells the story of Henry Spencer’s fatherhood, which strains him physically and psychologically. When the baby dies, Henry’s problems dissolve, but so does he himself.

It is maybe Lynch’s most difficult film to watch – even for Lynch fans. The story is so personal and abstract that only Lynch himself knows the secrets and interpretations: Eraserhead is a self-contained film reality. It is a film that is “directed inwards”, i.e. that is directed more towards itself than towards the viewer.  A world is created that functions with its own laws and logic. The viewer sits directly in Henry Spencer’s head and thus gets to know the inner life of this character.  This is a completely alienated, bizarre and absurd world that originates from the protagonist’s own logic.The film finds its inspiration among others in the Theater of the Absurd, but also in Jacques Tati, Harry Langdon, Nikolai Gogol or even Franz Kafka.

Eraserhead is today seen as the other cult film from David Lynch. Stanley Kubrick once said that it is his favorite film. But make up your own mind…

5/ Inland Empire

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Inland Empire (2006) is after Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway Lynch’s third film which takes place in Los Angeles. It could be seen as Lynch’s Los Angeles trilogy.

The film deals with the fragmented and nightmarish events surrounding a Hollywood actress (played by Lynch favorite Laura Dern) who begins to take on the personality of a character she plays in a film.

Inland Empire – Lynch’s last feature film so far – is a single force. It’s monstrous, pathetic, funny, brutal, surreal. Laura Dern plays the role of her life. She should have gotten an Oscar nomination for it. Unfortunately, David Lynch’s cow action could not contribute to this either

6/ The Elephant Man

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Joseph Merrick who inspired Lynch’s film

The Elephant Man (1980) is one of David Lynch’s most emotional films. It retains Eraserhead‘s nightmarish black-and-white aesthetics, but is told in a more straightforward and mass-compatible way.

The film is based on the real story of Joseph Merrick. The man named John Merrick in the film is shown as an attraction at fairs because of his bizarre physical deformity. Frederick Treves frees him from this situation, recognizes a sensitive and eloquent man behind a deterrent exterior and tries to integrate him into society.

The film works way better than a documentary on Joseph Merrick, because of its ruthless sentimentality which hits the viewer harder and more cruel.

7/ Twin Peaks: Fire Walks With Me

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Twin Peaks: Wire Walks With Me (1992) is maybe David Lynch’s most underestimated film. Indeed, the critics were not very enthusiastic at first. But today some speak of another masterpiece.

The film describes the last week in the life of seventeen-year-old Laura Palmer. Similar to Blue Velvet, the film reveals a labyrinth of sex, violence and drugs hidden behind the façade of an idyllic small town. Lynch stages the last days of this poor, abused girl as a feverish, wonderfully sentimental tour de force.

Lynch received numerous letters from abuse victims after the release of the film, who were astonished or affected. Despite the fact that incest and infanticide occur in the ‘abstract’ form of Killer Bob, the victims felt the depiction to be in accordance with the subjective experience. Lynch has an almost ‘uncanny’ empathy for the experiences of others, one might say…

8/ Wild at Heart

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Wild at Heart (1990) is Lynch’s very own variant of a road movie.

The film is a mixture of ‘amour fou’, gangster story and road movie, staged like an opera with enormous visual, sound and musical expenditure, which illuminates the terrible and disgusting sides of life from an ironic fairy tale perspective. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are wonderfully cast as the young lovers Sailor and Lula. William Dafoe as Bobby Peru is especially creepy!

But Wild at Heart never gets to the real Lynchian power and aesthetic of Blue Velvet or Eraserhead and is not his strongest film.

9/ The Straight Story

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Scene from The Straight Story (1999), © moviemezzanine

The Straight Story (1999) tells the true story of the 73-year-old pensioner Alvin Straight, who after a very long time wants to visit his brother Lyle, who has suffered a stroke. The two have been at odds for ten years, and Alvin now wants to put an end to this dispute. Alvin doesn’t have a driving license and doesn’t want to be driven. That’s why he’s driving the 390-kilometer route from Laurens (Iowa) to Mount Zion, Wisconsin on his ride-on lawn-mower. His encounters and experiences on the six-week journey make up the main part of the film.

The Straight Story is the most linear and simple film by David Lynch. It is a good, very emotional movie, but without the typical surrealistic, bizarre touch of Lynch’s art. A movie that you can enjoy, but don’t expect another Eraserhead

10/ Dune

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Dune (1984) is Lynch’s only science fiction film. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert. Before Lynch, Ridley Scott and Alejandro Jodorowsky had tried in vain to film Dune. Not a good omen for Lynch…

Dune is a film that impresses by it’s original, powerful and bizarre imagery, but fails with its confused dramaturgy. It has to be said that it’s Lynch’s only movie where he didn’t have the final cut. That may be an explanation for the confused result.

Let’s see if Denis Villeneuve’s Dune variant will be better. It is announced for November 2020

Until then watch David Lynch movies over and over again!

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