The 5 Best David Lynch Movies, Ranked

The following story has been sponsored by Dust Nuggets, which is available right now on Amazon Prime.

There’s no doubt that David Lynch is considered one of the more interesting directors of the last five decades. Over the course of his career Lynch has directed a number of films that have been hailed for their non-linear storytelling, surreal imagery and insidious sound design. Not to mention the television hit Twin Peaks that aired its last episodes in 2017. So, in order to celebrate the director, we're partnering with the people behind Dust Nuggets, a wild new movie available on Amazon Prime that seeks to take its cue from experimental filmmakers like Lynch.

Although his creations may be polarizing at times there is little doubt that David Lynch is a true master of film craft. As such, he’s directed some of the most unique movies to ever hit the big screen. Unfortunately, the famous director has no plans to make another full length feature. This week I went back to take a look at his filmography, and yes I even rewatched Dune 1984, to rank the top five films by David Lynch. So, check out Dust Nuggets, which is available here, and then check out any of these David Lynch classics you may not have seen before.

5. Lost Highway (1997)

The first entrant to this list is pure Lynch. There’s the non-linear story telling, insane sound work and surreal visuals. Lost Highway is about Los Angeles musician Fred Madison, played by Bill Pullman, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend. What sounds like a relatively simple plot quickly devolves into Lynchian madness.

It’s the first film in his LA Trilogy, which also includes Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, and dials up the crazy to 100. The real star of Lost Highway is the incredible soundtrack. Lynch collaborated with Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, the latter of whom makes an appearance in the film, for the music. Forewarning though, this isn’t one of those movies you would watch with your parents. There’s no less than five graphic sex scenes and a generous amount of nudity.

4. The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man is a surprisingly tender film from David Lynch. His follow up to 1977’s Eraserhead is based on the true story of John Merrick, played by John Hurt, a man who suffers from severe deformities in Victorian England. After being discovered at a freak show he is rescued by Dr. Frederick Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins.

Recognized for the incredible prosthetics provided by Christopher Tucker, The Elephant Man was a critical smash hit. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and led to the creation of the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. It’s one of the few Lynch movies that can be watched with the whole family and has a genuinely heartfelt message. Lynch even managed to sneak his signature surrealism into The Elephant Man and it's one of the strongest scenes of the period drama.

3. Eraserhead (1977)

So now that we’ve discussed the wholesome Elephant Man, let’s do a complete 180 and talk about Lynch’s first feature film Eraserhead. It’s a black and white body horror flick (emphasis on the horror) about Henry Spencer, played by Jack Nance, and his struggle with fatherhood, isolation and the rampant industrialization that surrounds him.

It’s not the feel good story of The Elephant Man. However, it’s still a wonderfully fun horror romp. The set design and practicals are legendary. This outlandish film was initially met with little fanfare but grew into a cult icon through the midnight movie circuit. Eraserhead has stood the test of time as an influential visual and sonic experience.

2. Blue Velvet (1986)

Starring Twin Peaks icon and long-time Lynch collaborator Kyle Maclachlan, Blue Velvet takes a look at the seedy underbelly of picturesque suburbia. Jeffrey Beaumont, played by Maclachlan, stumbles upon a severed ear and then embroils himself in a city wide mystery. Blue Velvet also stars a completely unhinged Dennis Hopper.

His performance alone is one of the most insane on screen acts I’ve ever seen. It’s worth watching Blue Velvet for Hopper’s antics alone. Outside of his deranged shouting (If you don’t like Pabst Blue Ribbon you will after this) Lynch’s script and sets are sublime.

There’s groovy tunes and bizarre transitions that are signature Lynch. The nice thing about Blue Velvet is that it’s a pretty straight narrative compared to his other films, while still doubling down on the controversial subject matter Lynch loves to explore.

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive is without a doubt David Lynch’s feature masterpiece. Lynch originally planned for the film to be a TV series but after the pilot failed to be picked up he transitioned the project to a feature film.

Starring Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux and Laura Harring, Mullholland Drive is a blending of three different stories played by the aforementioned cast. Betty, played by Naomi Watts, arrives in LA seeking stardom only to find the amnesic Rita, played by Laura Harring. Together they try to solve the mystery of Rita’s identity while Adam Kesher, played by Justin Theroux, struggles to reign in his personal life and film at the behest of a mysterious mob organization

This film is 100% Grade A insanity. Lynch masterfully commands a perpetual sense of dread and paranoia while leaving breadcrumbs of clues throughout Mulholland Drive. The final reveal is a perfect fit that just highlights the excellent script and foreshadowing found throughout.

The beauty of it? The interpretation is up to you. Lynch is historically tight lipped about his own interpretations and wants the viewer to decipher the story how they see best. Plus, it features one of the best cameos in movie history.

While we are here I think it's worth mentioning that I think these are the five best Lynch films. However, he has a few more features that didn't make this list and one in particular deserves an honorable mention. The Dune remake is slated for December and it's absolutely worth your time to check out Lynch's Dune 1984. Even though he won't be seeing the new movie himself due to the nightmare production of his version there's still bits and pieces of Dune 1984 that are really great, including some epic sandworm riding.

Braden Roberts

Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.