1 Through 11: Let's Rank the Feature Films of David Lynch

david_lynch_getty645

Because it went so well the last time we tried this: What's David Lynch's best feature-length film? His worst? And where do the rest fall in between? The answers are obvious:

11. Inland Empire
10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
9. Dune
8. Lost Highway
7. The Straight Story
6. Eraserhead
5. Wild at Heart
4. Twin Peaks (pilot)
3. Mulholland Drive
2. Blue Velvet
1. The Elephant Man

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Comments

  • KRYS FOX says:

    Really?!
    Inland Empire was brilliant. It deserves to be Way higher on the list. Dune is easily last place. Wild at Heart is second only to Blue Velvet.. Elephant man and Twin Peaks are just after EraserHead. Lost highway was a better mind fuck than Mullholland. Straight Story and Fire Walk with Me Are where they belong..
    So.. Adjusted list..
    11. Dune
    10. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk w/ Me
    9. Mullholland Drive
    8. Lost Highway
    7. Straight Story
    6. Inland Empire
    5. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    4. Elephant Man
    3. Eraserhead
    2. Wild at Heart
    1. Blue Velvet

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Fair enough! Thanks for playing!

    • AS says:

      Yeah, fuck that. Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart are definitely his best. Elephant Man & Eraserhead being his worst.

    • ehutch says:

      11.Twin Peaks: Fire
      10. Straight Story
      9. Inland Empire
      8. Twin Peaks (pilot)
      7. Lost Highway
      6. Mullholland Drive
      5. Eraserhead
      4. Dune
      3. Blue Velvet
      2. Elephant Man (the top three can flip 1, 2, or 3
      But no one making movies like Elephant Man
      unless you go back to first Frankenstein (period)
      1. Wild at Heart

  • [anonymous] says:

    It's difficult to take a list such as this seriously when it lacks context or explanation. In fact, it seems to only serve the purpose of snatching up web hits and stirring up controversy among Lynch-heads. Hopefully they don't take the bait.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      I heard this complaint last time, and I'll say it again: The "context or explanation" is basically my taste. I'm not going to spend all day trying to convince you what's magical about The Elephant Man or droning on about Inland Empire as a cure for insomnia. Just agree or disagree, and if you want to explain why, then great! It's called "starting a conversation."

      And God forfuckingbid we do anything around here to acquire Web hits or stir up controversy. That's only the business we're in.

      • [anonymous] says:

        God forfuckingbid you actually put a little insight into why you've not-so-subtly gone against the grain of the mostly accepted consensus of Lynch's work, as if doing so might actually require a bit of effort on you, the writer's, part -- you know, to make it seem like you aren't simply baiting contention? Otherwise, I just get the feeling you threw Lynch's filmography in a place holding randomizer and basically asked your readers to have at it. There really is no excuse for such shoddy journalism ... if you can actually call this journalism. You didn't actually go to school for this, did you?

        • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

          Of course it's not journalism or even criticism -- it's a subjective list of movies. The bigger problem here appears to be that I could write 1,000 words on each and you'd still troll me for challenging your precious "consensus."

          Anyway, do you have an actual opinion about the films? Because otherwise I don't even know why you're here.

          • [anonymous] says:

            No, I'm not trolling at all. I'm pointing out the inherent stupidity of a list rushed and tossed off without a single justifiable reason for its existence. I'm not irritated with the placement. As it happens, I love each of Lynch's films, so the placement is arbitrary. I personally believe though that the work of a great artist deserves far more than a reductive list of their "Best to Worst."

            If I were to offer my own feelings about your list, or more significantly, your top choice: as much as I love The Elephant Man, choosing that film as Lynch's best offers damning insight into your rudimentary understanding of the film medium, and probably a knee-jerk reaction on your part to anything constructed outside of basic and conventional filmmaking. Which is fine! -- but why the hell is Movieline giving you any authority here? Shame on them.

            But you see, this list falls right in line with your choices for the best films by Martin Scorsese, which at first glance appears to be a protest of the director's art as well as a thinly veiled attack on the director himself -- but upon further investigation is constructed in what appears to be complete randomness. Who would know though, without any explanation? It's as if Movieline commissioned you to take each entry on the director's imdb page and run it through a blender. It wouldn't surprise me if you haven't actually seen any of the movies listed here.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            But you accurately cited the reason for its existence in your first comment: To bring readers to the site and debate the status of the films listed here. The feature is not intended to be an authoritative stroll through a director's canon, and that much is inherently clear even to you. (I assume that most people also get the cheek behind a line like "The answers are obvious"; you really showed me, though.)

            So far, so good (mostly), and seeing as no one here came to read someone named Anonymous calling out my "rudimentary understanding of the film medium," I'll just be magnanimous and let you have the last word to do with what you will. There are 10 perfectly good films (and Inland Empire) you can rank/discuss as you like. Or not. I stand by my list. Thanks!

          • KevyB says:

            What an ass-faced goon! "a list RUSHED OFF and TOSSED OFF without a single justifiable reason for its existence"... because nobody in the entire world likes listing things from best to worst. NOBODY!! "I love each of Lynch's films", even Dune and TP:FWWM(!), and yet this person is questioning "your rudimentary understanding of the film medium". I can guarantee you I've seen more film mediums than this trolltard has and David Lynch is FAR from being a perfect director. In fact, according to the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (not the tomatometer but the actual ratings), film critics as a whole ranked Elephant Man #2, right after Blue Velvet. So their Top Two happens to include the SAME films as this writer's list. So stick that in your crack pipe and smoke it.

          • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

            xoxoxo

        • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

          Ranking the films is a way to sort through which David Lynch one likes, and it does seem like an interesting choice has to be made. Many of these post-war directors created their most creative works when they were younger, and when they were enabled by making them in creativity-favoring times, so it would seem most appropriate to prefer who they were and what they made then. But many of these talents -- likely for all their earlier go-for-broke explorations -- ended up becoming kinder people as they got older (I find so, anyway), and one senses this in their later films, making it quite sane to favor those as well.

  • James Kent says:

    1. Mulholland Drive
    2. Blue Velvet (Could we say tie for number one?)
    3. The Elephant Man
    4. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    5. The Straight Story
    6. Twin Peaks: Fire, walk with me (Totally under rated)
    7. Eraserhead
    8. Wild at Heart
    9. Lost Highway
    10. Inland Empire (not without moments of brilliance)
    11. Dune

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      No, we can't say tie for number one! It's the Sophie's Choice of movie-ranking! Ask me tomorrow and I'd probably switch them myself.

      The first three episodes of Twin Peaks -- pilot, then #2 and that extraordinary third episode also directed by Lynch -- remain the best series television I've ever seen. That's just too long and dark a shadow from Fire Walk With Me to thrive in for me, but I get the appeal, believe me.

    • Baco Noir says:

      James Kent, pretty in line with what you said here. I'd switch Blue Velvet with Mulholland D and move Twin Peaks ahead of Elephant man, but the rest? Yup. Actively disliked Wild at Heart (but shallow on top, I said to a friend after I saw it back in the day). Anyway, this is all just a subjective game as S.T. said.

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    I don't know about best, but the ones I keep with me are Wild at Heart, Fire Walk with Me, and Dune. I ADMIRE Blue Velvet, Elephant Man and Eraserhead, but I'm not going there again.

  • Jennifer says:

    1. Blue Velvet - For me, my favorite movie, period.
    2. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    3. Mulholland Drive
    4. Wild at Heart
    5. Lost Highway - I have a major soft spot for this mainly because of the Robert Blake party scene.
    6. Eraserhead
    7. The Elephant Man
    8. The Straight Story
    9. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
    10. Inland Empire
    11. Dune - Must confess that I've never seen this.

  • j'accuse! says:

    Stu...not gonna lie...The Straight Story makes me cry every single time. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

  • Mark says:

    1. Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me
    2. The Elephant Man
    3. Dune - the craziest, most poetic + baroque sci-fi ever made, i'd love Lynch to go back and make his own cut his way.
    4. Blue Velvet
    5. Wild At Heart
    6. Mulholland Drive
    7. Lost Highway
    8. The Straight Story
    9. Eraserhead
    10. Inland Empire

  • Joe the Wanderer says:

    Lynch works best when he restrained. So it's no surprise that his best work has been when he's been restricted by the subject matter (Elephant Man) or the medium (TV's Twin Peaks, the first two-thirds of Mulholland Drive.) If he has absolute freedom, you get the over-indulgence of Inland Empire or Wild at Heart.

    That said, here's the REAL list:

    1) Twin Peaks (TV Pilot)
    2) Mulholland Drive
    3) Blue Velvet
    4) The Elephant Man
    5) Twin Peaks: FWWM
    6) Eraserhead
    7) The Straight Story
    8) Lost Highway
    9) Wild at Heart
    10) Inland Empire
    11) Dune

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      I think you nailed something there about restraint vs. overindulgence. I'd really love to see him back on TV, in fact, which doesn't seem such a long shot considering both the conceptual golden age we're in and the volume of outlets for him to choose from.

  • sosgemini says:

    (I hate you for this---Poltergeist)

    11.Dune
    10.Eraserhead
    9. Wild at Heart
    8. Blue Velvet
    7. Inland Empire
    6. The Straight Story
    5. The Elephant Man
    4. Lost Highway
    3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
    2. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    1. Mulholland Drive

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      (I hate you for this---Poltergeist)

      Now that is a great use of an underappreciated line. Thank you for reminding me!

      Also, Inland Empire > Blue Velvet: HERESY

      • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

        For me, not liking Blue Velvet is like not liking the purpley Vulva, right up close. Melancholia felt a bit like a Blue Velvet cool-down.

      • sosgemini says:

        I know...I know...Sure Blue Velvet is easier to digest but gosh darn it---after all these years, I still can't figure out Inland Empire. So, since it has occupied more mental space, I give it a notch more respect. With that being said, I've always felt Blue Velvet was too precise for my taste. If that makes any sense.

  • TheContext says:

    Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire are a flawless trilogy of whatthefuckery, Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man bored me to tears, beyond that I can't be fucked to rank them. Although I did once marathon everything he ever directed.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      I did once marathon everything he ever directed.

      I don't believe you, if only because that seems like of thing that would literally blow one's mind all over the living room. You seem pretty healthy to me! (Except for that part about Blue Velvet boring you, I guess.)

      • TheContext says:

        "Marathon" is a strong word. I watched everything he directed, more-or-less in order of release, over the course of a few days. It's what I used to do sometimes when I wanted to become literate in an "important" director (I stopped the madness midway through a Tarkovsky binge).

  • SunnydaZe says:

    A great moment was reading the script for "Lost Highway" before it was even filmed then seeing the movie match it verbatim and thinking, "He actually writes this whatthefuckery down?! And then sticks to it??!!" I always thought he just made it up as he went along. (which I think he did do with "Inland Empire")

  • Roger Mayer says:

    Buy on Amazon:
    Video

    David Lynch's new movie is many things, among them a sinister waltz through a So-Cal underbelly known as Inland Empire, a murder mystery, a film-within-a-hallucination-within-a-film-within-so-on, and the story of love affairs that span the boundaries of time, space, and reason. It is happening again, you may think (or dread—Lynch, after all, has his haters): a redux of Mulholland Drive, which is only half true. Perform a post-mortem on this three-hour beast of a film and you will find only half a heart beating inside its chest, but you will also discover innards that coil in more grandiose directions. Mulholland Drive, possibly the greatest work of American film art since Altman's Nashville, is an impossible act for Lynch to have to follow, but the bug-eyed director—pupils dilated and imagination tripping in almost inconceivable directions—has made the Atlas Shrugged of narrative avant-garde films, compulsively watchable and insanely self-devouring.

    Seeing Inland Empire bright and early on a Sunday morning for the first time—a second, very necessary viewing already awaits—was not unlike slipping into a nightmarish reverie not long after my equally prolonged adventures in REM sleep the night before, which, incidentally, accommodated a screening of a Lynch movie that was not at all similar to this extraordinary freak-out. There is a very clean divide in Mulholland Drive between a woman's dreams and waking life, but the walls between the two are completely dissolved in the more fragmentary Inland Empire, Lynch's most self-reflexive creation to date. The director has vowed never to work on film again, and for this, his first feature shot on digital video, he lobs a cherry bomb at his entire canon, recording the jagged remnants that resonate from the blast as they slide and dissipate into the swirl of his mind's projector beam. Some may call it a toilet, but I like to think of it as a splendiferous whirlpool of wonders.

    Where to begin? At the end, perhaps, with the word sweet, Inland Empire's answer to Mulholland Drive's silencio, though sweetness is not a feeling Inland Empire exactly radiates. Much earlier, a nosy neighbor played by Grace Zabriskie (possibly on the same crazy pills Fiona Shaw took for The Black Dahlia) walks into the home of an actress, Nikki (Laura Dern), in order to rant and rave about the younger woman having "it": the part of Sue in a remake of "a Polish gypsy story" titled 4/7 that was never finished because two of its actresses were gruesomely murdered (the American version, directed by Jeremy Irons's Kinglsey, goes by the Sirkian title On High in Blue Tomorrows). Zabriskie's nosy interloper, like Lee Grant's Louise Bonner from Mulholland Drive, ostensibly sees into the future, offering an implicit warning—to Nikki but also to Lynch's audience—that time is about to collapse on itself, leaving identities crushed and blurred almost beyond recognition.

    Inland Empire is totally fucked up, picking up reception from metaphysical wavelengths past and present and places here and there, sometimes from Lynch's own short work: The story's hilarious white-trash scenes are essentially live-action variations of the director's Dumbland series, and Rabbits, an anthology of shorts starring Laura Harring, Naomi Watts, and Scott Coffey as sitcom rabbits possibly waiting for Godot, is fascinatingly folded into this film's metaverse. (This time when their phone rings there's someone on the other end, and when their door opens someone walks through.) From her own den of frustration, a woman—Nikki/Sue's 4/7 proxy or, perhaps, a spectator of Inland Empire—watches Rabbits, whose canned laughter undermines her fit of busy tears. These shorts act as one of many exciting portals in the film through which characters cross between worlds, and what is Inland Empire in the end but a hall with walls equipped with barbed rabbit holes, each one daring us to peek through, possibly even to take a plunge into the sea of Lynch's id?

    You may ask what the film's stream of non sequiturs, anecdotes, clues, doublings, folktales, and psychotic episodes mean. We could say nothing and declare that Inland Empire doesn't so much fall into the abyss as it resides in it, telegraphing dizzying sounds and visions from its drowned world toward the outside, which should suffice as an explanation if you've learned to respect the fact that Lynch carves his films much closer to where our subconscious impulses resonate from than anyone has ever dared. Lynch, more honestly than Godard, embraces the dark and dingy contours of the DV format, which reflect Nikki's in-too-deep thesping. She goes after her married co-star Devon (Justin Theroux), thinking he's really Billy, the character he plays in On High in Blue Tomorrows, screaming for him not unlike Irene Miracle does when she flashes Brad Davis her breasts in Midnight Express, only to finally confuse her own self. Nikki is Sue and Sue is Nikki and never shall the two part—and realizing how they inhabit and torture each other may just save the world.

    Lynch indulges familiar fixations, risking the self-importance of Ghost World's Mirror, Father, Mirror video, but he's serious about burrowing into Sue's psyche and tapping its resources. Dern works fiercely with the director to send us blistering imprints of how Nikki's consciousness filters itself into her unconsciousness and then back again, and together they weave a meditation on the ecstasy and healing power of watching movies. Dern's is the performance of her career, a spectacle of freakish facial expressions, primal screams, and howling monologues; like Watts in Mulholland Drive, she isn't afraid to get ugly for her art—which also happens to be Sue's own daring in the film. She's a mess of hurt trying to find herself, but what she ultimately stumbles upon, like Watts and Harring do inside the club Silencio, is a form of rapture that permits others to transcend loss. More viewings will, no doubt, suss out new riches, possibly even clear up or muddle what has already been revealed. After all, where films like Little Children spoon-feed their audience, Inland Empire rewards our scrutiny.

    • SunnydaZe says:

      Yeah, what he said... (I always love a comment longer than the original article)

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      Our subconscious was born through the purpley Vulva into the drowned world of the uterus and the maternal emotions pumped into us through our first known object, the placenta. I don't know how many artists REALLY can go back there much after the crazy risks that seem somehow undertakable in the 60s and 70s, and so just pretend the same risk but head into the psyche -- really, a non risk. I've named the ones I keep with me, but if I were to the name The Best it's gotta, then, be Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, which feel like they were gestated within this primal place and born from out of female genitalia. Wild at Heart brings us close to the actual eminator of these determining and sometimes catastrophically affecting emotions -- Mother -- not just its conduit, so maybe for this I'll consider counting it third best. Laura Dern is awesome. Loved reading your piece.

  • cory says:

    11. Dune
    10. Inland Empire
    9. Elephant Man
    8. Eraserhead
    7. Lost Highway
    6. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk w/ Me - I think this one is underrated as well, it added so much to the experience of the series for me.

    5. Mullholland Drive
    4. Blue Velvet
    3. Straight Story - it feels odd to rank this one so highly as it falls so far outside his traditional style, but it's really a magnificent film

    2. Wild at Heart - this might be benefiting from a recent reviewing at the tiff lightbox's nic cage retrospective

    1. Twin Peaks (pilot) - the best episode of television I have ever seen

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Wild at Heart is absolutely worth rewatching. It is a very strong, concentrated, self-indulgent dose of Lynch to take in the first viewing, but going back and exploring that universe of scoundrels, malcontents, maladroits, scumbags, loners, psychos and dreamers in the orbit of Sailor and Lula's singularly pure romance yields many rewards.

  • Paul Sadowski says:

    With an oeuvre so multifaceted, comparing these works is a bit apples and oranges. So I will just go with my preferences.
    1. Mulholland Drive
    2. Blue Velvet
    3. Eraserhead
    4. Straight Story
    5. Lost Highway
    6. Wild at Heart
    7. Inland Empire
    8. Elephant Man
    Haven't seen the rest.

  • Meh... says:

    1. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    2. Lost Highway
    3. Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me
    4. Blue Velvet
    5. Wild at Heart
    6. Mulholland Drive
    7. Elephant Man, Straight Story, Eraserhead, and Inland Empire (haven't seen these more than once so I can't really say which is better or worse...

    Agent Cooper for life!!! :)

  • FreakPower says:

    VanAirsdale - I love that you got this going. Seeing all the emotion that the mere mention of Lynch films brings out in people serves to remind us what a creative force David Lynch is.

    My personal preferences are the Twin Peaks [especially FWWM], Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr. movies that don't follow linear logic and require the viewer to sort through the story, bringing their own baggage with them, and find the truth in there that speaks to them. To me that is what real art is all about. This is even true in Lynch's photos, artwork, music, and furniture that he creates.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Thank you! And I couldn't agree more about the biggest Lynch payoff being from "bringing their own baggage" and finding that truth. I think that's why I so love Elephant Man: Its grotesqueries seemed terrifying, even insurmountable to me at a remove. But getting to know it -- as London society does with John Merrick -- was probably as cathartic a viewing experience as I've ever had.

      Things like Mullholland Dr., BV and the Twin Peaks pilot are just exhilarating, though.

  • freakpower says:

    Also - sorry to hear about your aversion to Eraserhead. I get something new from each viewing. But that is how art is - it is so subjective that there is no way that everyone will see it the same way.

    Reminds me of seeing Mulholland Drive in the theater. During the 'Silencio' scene, I'm sitting there transfixed, almost moved to tears when Naomi Watts begins to shake - my wife sitting next to me beings to giggle, thinking 'Is this for real? Are they trying to be funny?'.

    Some get it and some don't.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      For the record, FWIW, etc., I don't necessarily have a critical aversion to Eraserhead; it just affected me and my nightmares in ways I would be just as well never experiencing again. In that sense, perhaps, it is a masterpiece? I'd be fine with that, too!

  • FreakPower says:

    I agree with your feelings about Elephant Man. I recall discussing that film with coworkers and people only saw the deformity - not the humanity that the film brings out.

    That film had so many wonderful cut-away shots and created such a deep environment for the characters - I was reminded of it years later when I saw Jane Campion's awesome film 'Sweetie'. The mood and environment [see the dream sequence] so reminded me of Lynch's style that the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

  • Greg says:

    Thanks for the article and ranking! I've only seen Elephant Man once, and that was when it was released, so I'm going to have to take another look. I didn't like Dune at all during it's initial release, but every time I see it, I like it better, especially after reading and being disappointed by the over-rated book, in my humble opinion.

  • Will Woolf says:

    The correct order:
    1. Mulholland Drive
    2. Blue Velvet
    3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
    4. Eraserhead
    5. Twin Peaks (pilot)
    6. Inland Empire
    7. Lost Highway
    8. Wild at Heart
    9. The Elephant Man
    10. The Straight Story
    11. Dune

  • Jack Morris says:

    I've always ranked them this way, Inland empire definitely the worst, sucked so hard

  • jordanhumble says:

    I really like the variety of people on here rating these, but that's the beauty of it. different films of his speak to different people for different reasons. My all time favorite film of all time is Inland Empire, Eraserhead being a close second. I don't understand why people don't appreciate the genius of Inland Empire, but then again. Different people connect to different things. So their is no need to argue about it. I don't have the same brain chemistry as you, if I did I'd dislike the film as well, but I live with my brain which happens to really fucking love that movie :p

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