David Lynch is a true one in a million. Much like Quentin Tarantino, he has invented his own cult cinematic universe. His films cannot be classified as anything rather than ‘Lynchian’. Ranging from transcendental dreamlike experiences, mind melting strangeness, surrealistic horror, sleazy tales, humanistic character studies, etc. Lynch creates cinema that distinctly spawns from his imagination. He makes films that take you to strange worlds and bizarre characters of all kinds. He utilizes his passion for transcendental meditation during his filmmaking process to craft an experience that’s personable and unforgettable. So let’s take a look at all of his films as I rank them from least favorite to favorite! I will also be including Twin Peaks in this as well.
Written By Blake Hall
12. Dune (1984)
The one major dud in Lynch’s filmography. It’s too hilarious to fully hate, yet way too confusing and bloated to enjoy. You know you’re in trouble when not even Kyle MacLachlan can’t save it. At least Sting (the frontman of The Police) keeps things entertainingly campy. Overall, it is just a real chore to sit through. Lynch wasn’t in his element making this kind of sci-fi at all. In fact, he was considered to direct Return Of The Jedi one year prior to this. Thank goodness he didn’t, I imagine it would’ve looked something like this. Here’s hoping Denis Villeneuve will do the reboot justice (and as amazing as Blade Runner 2049 came out, I think it’s safe to say we’re in good hands).
11. Inland Empire (2006)
The last official film from Lynch (not including Twin Peaks: The Return). While I do ultimately think this is a great film, it is definitely a last priority in the scheme of Lynch’s overall filmography. I primarily say that because the film is just so extreme in its bizarreness. It makes Eraserhead seem tame by comparison. That may sound like a great thing coming from Lynch, but the narrative is so scattered that it’s nearly impossible to coherently follow anything. However, it’s also so unique and irresistible in its world building that it more than makes up for it. It’s like being transported straight into the mindset of a crazed person and trying to make sense of anything that’s going on. This film holds a unique place for me in the way I feel it’s a great film experience, yet it’s near the bottom of my favorite Lynch films just because the experience is so exhausting and inaccessible in ways his other films don’t leave me feeling.
10. Wild At Heart (1990)
Lynch in full on sleazy dark comedy mode. It’s like a 50s soap opera by way of Quentin Tarantino mixed with cocaine. It’s a world of odd characters getting into wild and over the top situations. Plus, this is one of Nicolas Cage’s finest performances. In fact, it just may the best Cage film where he’s in full on “Cage” mode. I’m always surprised people never talk about this one when referring to odd Cage roles. He has moments where he dances to metal with martial arts moves, rambles about how much enjoys personal freedom and beats some guy up to death in a way that’s gloriously over the top. It’s not a Lynch film I often want to revisit because it’s more of a film of great moments rather than consistency and substance. But it’s a great time. Also worth watching for William Dafoe’s Bobby Peru, one of Lynch’s most horrifying characters.
9. The Elephant Man (1980)
One of two times where Lynch makes a straightforward humanistic drama free of surrealism. It still feels very Lynchian in storytelling, it just replaces surrealism for a true tearjerker of a story. Based on a true story in the late 1800’s, it’s a terribly sad story of an outrageously deformed man who is prevented from living any kind of normal life due to his condition. Truly one of the saddest and human films I’ve ever seen.
8. Lost Highway (1997)
A true mind bender of a film. Lynch crafts one of the darkest films of his career. I’d say it’s the closest he’s come to making a full on horror film. It serves as a blueprint to Mulholland Dr, which perfected what this started with a more personable and emotionally driven vision. Still, this is highly intriguing from start to finish and is a masterful vision of Lynch taking his love of fusing dreams and reality to the next level. You don’t know what’s going on throughout and it feels like an unsolvable puzzle piece. However, you just have to kick back and enjoy letting the film take you wherever it wants to go.
7. The Straight Story (1999)
The other normal humanistic film in Lynch’s filmography. In fact, it’s a Disney film! It’s so normal and straightforward that it may seem a little suspicious at first. I mean, how did David Lynch get to make a Disney film in the first place? Having said that, it really doesn’t feel out of place in the grand scheme of Lynch’s filmography. Throughout his films, Lynch has always enjoyed celebrating small town heroes (primarily seen in Twin Peaks). This film has no mystery, no dread and no weirdness. It’s just a simple story of an old man who wants to see his dying brother again. And it’s beautiful.
6. Eraserhead (1977)
Lynch’s debut film is like a vivid nightmare that you never really forget. It’s one of the most nightmare fueled films I’ve ever seen. It’s essentially a collection of unsettling imagery and scenarios that really don’t make much sense. You feel like the main character who is tossed into all of these situations that he cannot understand. This is such a masterful achievement of world building. Every scene evokes an unsettling mood. Although Lynch would go on to craft films with fleshed out characters and more grounded world building, there isn’t another film out there quite like this one. Stanley Kubrick actually cites this as his all time favorite film and went on to consider it a primary influence to The Shining!
5. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
This was considered a total dud upon release. As a prequel to the beloved show, this really doesn’t bother answering any questions fans were looking for. Rather it just brought up more questions and made everyone angry and confused. However, the release of Twin Peaks: The Return has led people to reevaluate this as a great film that was entirely ahead of its time. Although it’s required to watch the first 2 seasons of Twin Peaks to get the full impact out of this, I always suggest not viewing it as a follow up to the show but rather as a vision of Twin Peaks through a different lens. One that’s much darker, horrifying and sleazy. This is a foreshadow to the more serious and bleak tone of season 3. And above all, this is one phenomenal psychological horror slow burner which studies the most tragic character in Lynch’s filmography.
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
This is the one Lynch film to reach beyond his cult audience and grab a wide audience. Even though I’d say it’s Lynch’s most accessible film within his surrealistic horror works, it sure is one bizarre film. I don’t think there is a scarier character out there than Frank Booth, played masterfully by Dennis Hopper. He is essentially all that is terrifying embodied into a person. And Kyle MacLachlan is just perfect as Jeffery Beaumont, a naive college kid both horrified and intrigued by all of the seediness and darkness he gets himself into. This film is many things, ranging from an exploration on good vs. evil, a young man’s sexual awakening, a Hardy Boys mystery on acid, etc. For anyone new to the world of David Lynch, this is the film I highly recommend starting off with. It’s like a Hitchcock film taken to the next level. It’s also the film that comes closest to capturing the spirit of the first two seasons of Twin Peaks.
3. Twin Peaks (1990, 1991)
The beginning of the most unbelievably wonderful TV show I’ve ever seen. Although I consider all of this to be build up to the third season, this is still some top notch television. Season 1 consists of 9 episodes that are pure Lynchian perfection. The tone is such a phenomenal blend of mystery, horror, comedy and drama. The small town vibes, soundtrack and visual style gives this such a distinctive one of a kind vibe. Season 2 is just as great as season 1 until episode 8. After that, Lynch was booted off the show as it was deemed too weird and ratings were starting to decrease (I mean, honestly, what did they expect??). From there, it’s a batch of 10 or so episodes where other directors attempt to capture the Lynch magic. Unfortunately it’s necessary to watch them because they build up to the brilliant final 4 episodes, which brings Lynch back onboard with episodes as amazing as ever before.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
The most complete, fleshed out and personal of all David Lynch films. A masterful experience which takes the ‘dream meets reality’ formula of Lost Highway and takes on much more personable themes of love, dreams and self delusion. This is above all a sensory experience which takes us on a journey through the dark side of Hollywood underneath its outer glamour. It’s one of those films that will always hold an enigmatic air no matter how many times you see it. The film is primarily driven by a dreamlike hypnotic spell it puts the viewer under. There is a scene in particular (the Silencio scene) which I feel expresses everything Lynch wants to communicate through his films in a nutshell. This is a downright transcendental experience that is all about mood, feeling and mystique.
1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
A sheer masterpiece of mood, tone and storytelling. Mark Frost and David Lynch collaborated on this transcendent exploration of the endless mysteries and wonders of life. This is honestly the most adventurous, fascinating and groundbreaking thing I’ve ever seen in any medium. The only thing that can compare for me is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lynch spent his entire career being restrained by the studios who filtered his unique vision. For the first time, we get David Lynch 100% unhinged. It’s as if every Lynch film has been building up to this. It’s honestly a miracle that this thing even exists. This is a summation of every David Lynch film and more. It often echoes every film within his filmography. Lynch goes against all expectations, breaks all rules of conventional storytelling and gives us some of the most exciting, fresh and unique cinema imaginable. It seems like this 18 hour experience covers everything one could possibly ask for in a story. Surely the most exciting cinematic experience I’ve ever had. Lynch gets deep into both the horrifying and glorious mysteries of the universe with such richness in a way that’ll you’ll never forget.