Nobody makes movies like David Cronenberg. Nobody. While Cronenberg's movies have influenced a ton of filmmakers, especially in regards to "body horror," which is a unique brand of horror that focuses on the effects of aging, decay, and disease, only Cronenberg can really make the perfect blend of horror that is both visceral and cerebral. With his upcoming horror movie, Crimes of the Future (not to be confused with his 1970 movie of the same name), he looks to be at it again.
Cronenberg has had a long and fascinating career. I've focused on Paul Thomas Anderson's best movies, as well as George Lucas' best directed films, but, unlike those two directors where I could recommend at least a few movies from their filmographies that I think anybody could enjoy, I have a much harder time doing that with David Cronenberg.
Honestly, it's a rare breed of film fan who I think would actually enjoy most of Cronenberg's work. I'm not saying that most people are dumb, but if you're going to watch David Cronenberg movies, then you're going to have to think. In other words, he doesn’t make flicks where you can just turn off your brain, like bad disaster movies. His movies always make you question. And wonder. Now, before I get into what I deem are his best films, I just wanted to shout out Scanners (which has my favorite final battle ever), The Brood, and Fast Company. All three came close to being on this list, but just narrowly missed it.
10. A Dangerous Method (2011)
In this historical drama starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Kiera Knightley (as the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, respectively), we get an in-depth look at Jung’s affair with Spielrein, and also the complex war of ideas between Jung and Freud. If you like history, then you should like this movie.
I certainly did, and I’m a big fan of Jung. A million years ago, I wrote an article titled “What if Inception Were Analyzed By Dream Experts,” where I focused on Jungian concepts, and it was really interesting seeing a movie like A Dangerous Method that dives deep into Jung. Cronenberg’s clinical approach is present here, and some may view the film as a little stiff. But, for anybody even remotely interested in Freud, Jung, and Spielrein, then you should really enjoy this film.
9. Naked Lunch (1991)
Peter Weller stars in this very Cronenbergian picture based on the novel of the same name. In this story, an exterminator (Weller) gets super high on bug powder, and starts to think he’s a secret agent. It’s…bizarre.
Beyond belief, actually. Naked Lunch is one of those books that I’ve started several times, but just couldn’t finish (so, I have no idea if the movie is better than the book). But, I can tell you that the film, as strange as it is, is at least digestible in a sort of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sort of way. Most of the film is a hallucinatory trip, and I view it as one of Cronenberg’s best, as he was able to make an interesting film from what was long considered “an unfilmable book.”
8. Crash (1996)
Based on the controversial 1973 novel of the same name, Crash is about a man who gets turned on by car crashes, and he soon dives into a cult-like group of like-minded people who can only get their rocks off in the backseat of cars, or by getting into crashes themselves. It stars James Spader, Holly Hunter, and Rosanna Arquette, and it's just as bizarre and disturbing as it sounds.
It's also quite slow, which is why Crash might just be the least accessible movie in Cronenberg's career. But, it's also deeply perplexing, making it both alluring and off-putting at the same time. Lots of the movie is just sex and scars, but it all feels so distant and impersonal.
In a sense, it's like we're watching a slow moving car wreck ourselves when we watch this film, and it begs the question: By watching other people have sex, as we do with pornography, does that also make us participants in the act? Also, how are any of the sexual fetishes that people have any less "normal" than somebody else's? Like I said, you have to think when you watch a Cronenberg film. He never lets you off the hook.
7. Dead Ringers (1988)
Dead Ringers stars Jeremy Irons…and Jeremy Irons as twin brother gynecologists. One is confident, and the other is meek. Well, the confident one sleeps with his patients, and then he hands them over to his meek brother when he’s bored with them, without the women knowing. That is, until the meek one falls in love, gets super drugged, and…honestly, I don’t know if I’m even describing this movie well, so I’ll just leave it at that.
I once did an article on the most Nicolas Cage movies Nicolas Cage has ever done, and Dead Ringers is probably the most David Cronenberg movie that David Cronenberg has ever done. It’s disturbing, but also has much to say on the double-sided nature of people, both literally (in this case), and figuratively. It’s horrific, but also fascinating. In other words, it’s a Cronenberg picture, and definitely one of his best.
6. Cosmopolis (2012)
Robert Pattinson stars as a bored billionaire who rides in his limousine on the way to getting a haircut, and then weird stuff happens to him, including an assassination attempt and protests. I know some people who actually hate this movie, citing that it’s boring and pretentious.
But, I love it! It’s based on a novel of the same name, which I’ve never read, but this almost feels like a David Lynch movie, story-wise, at least. That said, it’s pure Cronenberg. That detached sense that he loves to employ in his films is on full display here, leading to a story of a man who is both isolated from the outside world, but also immediately connected to it. Body horror by way of detachment from the human race? Only Cronenberg could pull that off. And he does! I think so, at least.
5. Eastern Promises (2007)
In another movie starring Viggo Mortensen, as well as Naomi Watts, Eastern Promises is about a midwife (played by Watts) who finds a diary on a young, dead prostitute's body after the girl delivers a baby, and it all ties back to the Russian mafia. Violence and intrigue ensues.
Eastern Promises feels like a film that truly explored the Russian Mafia, but not for exploitation's sake. In fact, the emphasis on loyalty gives it an almost The Godfather vibe, but from a very different perspective. Yes, most people probably remember this film for Viggo Mortensen’s naked fight scene, but that naked honesty (no pun intended) to the material is just what makes this film so riveting in the first place.
4. The Dead Zone (1983)
A teacher (played by Christopher Walken) gets into a car crash, falls into a coma, and awakens with the ability to foretell the future when he touches somebody. He eventually shakes the hand of a potential Presidential candidate (Martin Sheen), and sees that the man will wreak havoc on the world if he gets elected. So, the former teacher decides to kill him. Sounds legit.
The Dead Zone, which was adapted from a very good Stephen King story, is definitely one of the better Stephen King adaptations (If not one of the best). It plays it remarkably straight, making for a perfectly competent adaptation, and Walken and Sheen are great in their roles. Overall, it’s an excellent film.
3. A History of Violence (2005)
In this film, starring Viggo Mortensen (again!), Ed Harris, and Maria Bello, a man named Tom Stall (or so we think) runs a diner and ends up killing two robbers who were out to kill him. But, things aren't what they seem with our hero, and we learn that he and his family might be in even more danger than they ever imagined.
You know how Martin Scorsese has controversial comments about Marvel movies? Well, I doubt he has any complaints about A History of Violence, which, while not based on a Marvel property, is, in fact, based on a graphic novel of the same name. And, that's because A History of Violence is taut, intelligent, and always engaging. It also doesn't glorify violence, but instead, like Eastern Promises, displays it in all of its ugliness. If there is one Cronenberg movie that I would recommend to the general public, it's probably this one. It never disappoints.
2. Videodrome (1983)
James Woods stars in this super prescient film from 1983 that kind of predicted the world that would eventually become the internet. In this film, Woods plays a president of a low budget TV channel and happens to receive a pirate broadcast of a violent show called Videodrome. But, when the girl he’s hooking up with (played by Blondie’s Deborah Harry) goes to be on the show and never returns, he learns that maybe Videodrome isn’t just a TV show at all. Madness ensues.
Videodrome is a trip, boy. Have you ever seen the Nic Cage movie, Mandy? Well, Mandy has very little plot, and it’s more of a hallucinogenic trip, and Videodrome is much the same. But, this film actually has a message about society’s desensitization from consuming entertainment, and how distant we’re all getting from reality, which, again, kind of foretold how we'd be on the internet.
When Woods’s character, whose hand fuses into a gun by the end of the movie, proclaims, “Long live the new flesh!” it raises countless questions about where we were, and where we’re ultimately heading, and that’s why it sits so close to the top of this list. Audiences are still digesting it, even today.
1. The Fly (1986)
In what is undoubtedly one of the best '80s movies ever made, The Fly (which is a remake) stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who creates a teleportation device that ends up splicing his DNA with a fly's, and it's high art. Geena Davis also stars as his concerned (and horrified) girlfriend.
It's strange to think that a remake is David Cronenberg's best film, but it is. In fact, one could say that it's a remake that’s arguably superior to the original film that it's based off of. I think it's because the film is so accessible, but also mysterious. Gory and disgusting, but also intelligent, it may even be an allegory for the AIDS epidemic. The Fly is not a crowd-pleaser by any means, but it's a movie that anybody can at least get something out of, and for that reason, I think it's Cronenberg's very best film. It's a masterpiece.
So, those are what I would deem David Cronenberg's best movies. Only time will tell if his upcoming Crimes of the Future will end up on this list as well, but I'm banking on it. Cronenberg can do no wrong!
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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