When it comes to odd films, nobody–and I mean nobody–can top David Lynch. That’s why I’ve put together this list of the top 10 David Lynch movies. As it turns out, Lynch has only made ten features as of this writing, so at least nobody can complain about one being omitted.
Lynch loves dreams and dreamlike imagery, and his works are also filled with allusions to industry, deformity, crime, and split personalities. In addition to writer Franz Kafka and artist Francis Bacon, Lynch has admitted to an admiration for filmmakers Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa. Unfortunately, he’s never been the most prolific of filmmakers, so you’re unlikely to find his work among the movies now playing at the local hangout for teenagers and text whores.
If you’re a fan of David Lynch movies, I would also suggest that you give the TV series Twin Peaks a look. Thirty episodes aired from 1990 to 1991, and Lynch’s trademark weirdness (The Log Lady, for example) managed to draw in high ratings during the first season and become a pop culture phenomenon.
10 – Dune (1984) – David Lynch was initially passionate about this big-screen adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, but interference from the studio resulted in the director washing his hands of the project (even going so far as to have his name replaced with Alan Smithee in the credits). The plot is a complicated one, but it ultimately revolves around a “chosen one” (Kyle MacLachlan) who travels to a spice planet and helps free the population from the tyrannical ruling class. To this day, Lynch prefers not to discuss the film in interviews, and it only makes this list of top 10 David Lynch movies by default.
9 – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – Combining elements of both a prequel and sequel, this bizarre outing from David Lynch (is there any other?) wraps up the Twin Peaks saga originally started on network television. Kyle MacLachlan is back as FBI Agent Dale Cooper, and he’s joined by Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) for an investigation into the murder of a young girl in a sleepy Washington town. Dealing with the consequences of incest for both the victim and the victimizer, the film was not at all well-received by critics. In fact, it was booed during a screening at Cannes. Still, hardcore fans of the series will want to check it out.
8 – Lost Highway (1997) – Siskel and Ebert gave Lost Highway “two thumbs down,” and the filmmakers actually ended up using this as part of their promotion for the movie. Bill Pullman stars as a saxophonist living in L.A. with his possibly unfaithful wife (Patricia Arquette). When she turns up dead, he’s promptly convicted and placed on death row. But that’s where the patented weirdness of Lynch raises its head, as the character suddenly disappears from his prison cell and is replaced by a perplexed auto mechanic (Balthazar Getty). It only gets stranger from there, and Robert Blake is all kinds of creepy as the bizarre Mystery Man in Black.
7 – Inland Empire (2006) – Laura Dern stars as Nikki Grace, an actress who’s about to land a major part in a movie. But that’s not necessarily good news, as it’s based on an uncompleted German film where the two leads died horribly. The line between fantasy and reality begins to blur sharply for Nikki, and she must face a crazed women with a screwdriver and a guy with a red lightbulb in his mouth. It was critically acclaimed, but even the actors appearing in the production weren’t able to figure out what in the hell the film was about.
6 – Wild at Heart (1990) – With repeated references to The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley, Lynch once again set new standards for on-screen freakiness. This time the plot centers around Lula (Lara Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage), a pair of young lovers on the run from Lula’s domineering mother (Diane Ladd). This pursuit sets off a chain of events leading to murder, a botched robbery, and Willem Dafoe showing off the nastiest-looking set of teeth ever seen (as criminal Bobby Peru). Also starring Harry Dean Stanton, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini, and J.E. Freeman.
5 – Eraserhead (1977) – It doesn’t get any stranger than this, folks. Lynch outdoes himself with the film that kickstarted his career. Jack Nance plays Henry Spencer, a printer who’s trying to enjoy a quiet vacation. Good luck with that, pal. His girlfriend Mary X shows up with her new (and horribly deformed) baby, and Henry winds up caring for the little beast once Mary leaves him. The rest of the film is filled with bizarre dream sequences, sexual encounters with the babe across the hall, and conversations with the grotesque lady who lives in the radiator. Lynch called it “a dream of dark and troubling things.” I don’t know what to call it.
4 – Mulholland Drive (2001) – David Lynch received an Oscar nomination and the Best Director award at Cannes for his neo-noir tale of an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) who moves to Los Angeles and encounters a dark-haired amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) hiding out in her aunt’s apartment. Other events occur, and a few are even related to the film’s overall narrative. It’s often remembered for the passionate make-out sessions shared by the two lead actresses, which is worth the price of admission alone. Even David Lynch can’t detract from the appeal of an all-female tonguefest.
3 – The Elephant Man (1980) – Nominated for eight Academy Awards, this sophomore effort from David Lynch stars John Hurt as John Merrick, a real-life individual suffering from extreme deformities and health problems in Victorian England. Rescued from a freak show by surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), Merrick slowly comes out of his shell and learns the joys of friendship. A beautiful black-and-white film that speaks volumes on the human condition.
2 – The Straight Story (1999) – A G-rated movie from David Lynch? That’s right, The Straight Story is the inspiring true tale of an elderly man (Richard Farnsworth) who drives across Iowa and Wisconsin on his lawnmower to visit his estranged and ailing brother (Harry Dean Stanton). Farnsworth was suffering from terminal bone cancer during filming (his difficulty walking wasn’t an act), and he would commit suicide a year later.
1 – Blue Velvet (1986) – David Lynch blows the lid off of small-town America in this dark and disturbing tale of lust and crime. Kyle MacLachlan plays a clean-cut young man who finds an ear in a field. Determined to solve this mystery, he teams up with a plucky high school student (Lara Dern), but they soon run afoul of an abused torch singer (Isabella Rossellini) and the psychotic Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper in perhaps his most memorable role), a man who loves to curse, beat women, and inhale gas. Voyeurism and noirish elements fuse together to create a memorable Lynchian concoction.
That concludes our look at the top 10 David Lynch movies, at least until he gets off his ass and makes another one. When that happens, you can bet that we’ll be talking about it here at Odd Films. In the meantime, be sure to check out some of our other articles: