“Incomprehensible!”: A ranking of David Lynch’s most hated movies
Possibly one of the most divisive American filmmakers of all time, the work of David Lynch commonly draws only one of two things: incorrigible amounts of ire – or passionate levels of adoration.
Over his career, many of Lynch’s movies have been met with harsh criticism upon release only to be retrospectively embraced by critics who finally understand the value or meaning of the movie long after its initial release.
In an interview with Deadline, Lynch looked back on two movies which drew unbelievable amounts of disdain upon release – Dune and Fire Walk With Me – and had some interesting things to say.
First, Lynch admitted Dune was a misstep he’s not exactly proud of, explaining he “died two times” with it because he was both refused final cut and it was a commercial failure.
Of Fire Walk With Me, however, he enthused, “I love the film. With Fire Walk With Me, it didn’t go over well at the time, but I loved it so I only died once, for the commercial failure and the reviews and things. But, over time, it’s changed. So now, people have revisited that film, and they feel differently about it.”
Lynch suggested “the collective consciousness” of the world is ultimately what “dictates” how people will feel about a film. “The collective consciousness changes and people come around. Look at Van Gogh: the guy could not sell one painting and now nobody can afford them.”
“The collective consciousness” has likely changed how a lot of Lynch’s films have been received over the years, many of which were hated upon release but are now loved. Some are still despised, and a handful were acclaimed from the start. Here are ten of Lynch’s best movies ranked from “fairly well loved from the get-go” to “immediately despised and possibly still so”.
Every now and then some real edgy “independent thinker” has the audacity to call Eraserhead “overrated” or “a bit shit”. Usually right before paying $10 for a Pabst Blue Ribbon that isn’t even cold. Our point is, you’d have to be an insufferable moron to hate Lynch’s astonishing debut. Sadly, the world happens to be full of them.
9. Wild at Heart
Starring Nicolas Cage (Kick Ass) and Laura Dern (Big Little Lies) as a pair of ultra violent beautiful young lovers Wild at Heart is Lynch’s most romantic movie – and also his most vicious. Flamboyant and furious the film features Willem Dafoe (John Wick) and Crispin Glover (American Gods) doing two of the best and weirdest performances of their already weird careers.
It’s possible Wild at Heart is too romantic for those who love its violence, and too violent for those who love its romance, but if you’re kind of into both then Wild at Heart is the sweet spot between the two.
8. Blue Velvet
The film provoked a shitstorm of pearl clutching from critics upon release including Roger Ebert who seemed to agree with the consensus that it’s “sick and depraved” and definitely not a masterpiece.
Starring Dennis Hopper (Apocalypse Now), Isabella Rossellini (Enemy), and Kyle MacLachlan (How I Met Your Mother) the film offers a subversive take on the horrors hiding behind the sunshine facade of suburbia. It’s definitely sick and certainly depraved, but it’s absolutely still a total masterpiece.
When it was first released, the film was surprisingly panned by critics who branded it as being “annoyingly incomprehensible”, “infuriating,” and “like the flabby greatest hits medley from an over-the-hill pop star’s oldies circuit tour.”
Now, of course, Mulholland Drive is rightly regarded as one of the best films of the past twenty years – and not just masturbation fodder for people enjoying Naomi Watts (Movie 43) and Laura Harring (The Punisher) getting super hot with each other.
For starters, it’s a Disney film. For whatever reason, that doesn’t sit well with us. Secondly, it’s literally Lynch’s most “straight story” – offering a linear, heartwarming tale about a man (Richard Farnsworth, whose performance is actually phenomenal as he had bone cancer during filming) journeying across the country on a lawnmower to visit his ailing brother (Harry Dean Stanton).
The Straight Story is a great film and critics love it, but it’s also the least Lynchian film he’s ever made, which means it barely registers with fans.
5. The Elephant Man
Basically the movie that every person who doesn’t necessarily like Lynch will cite as their favorite by the director, The Elephant Man sees John Hurt (Alien) depicting John Merrick – a man facing severe loneliness and stigmatization due to some extreme physical deformities. The movie is a populist biopic which shouldn’t necessarily be on Lynch’s beat but he makes it his own and maintains his own signature perspective.
4. Lost Highway
Another film that completely baffled audiences and critics alike. To the point that Ebert continued his rage against Lynch in his review for the film, proclaiming,”It’s a shaggy ghost story, an exercise in style, a film made with a certain breezy contempt for audiences. I’ve seen it twice, hoping to make sense of it. There is no sense to be made of it.”
People who’ve since watched it more than twice and unfurled the film’s many mysteries will tell you that there’s actually a lot of sense to made of it. Plus some weirdly funny and scary performances from Bill Pullman (Independence Day) and Patricia Arquette (True Romance). What’s not to love?
3. Inland Empire
Like most people, we’re still trying to dig beneath all the rabbit people, disorienting dreamscapes, and strange ethereal darkness that echoes through every seemingly random scene of Lynch’s most disquieting movie.
We’re not sure what we expect to find once we reach the bottom of it all, but we’re sure that in ten years time people we be proclaiming the genius of Inland Empire to the world just as they did Fire Walk With Me, Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway. We’ll probably still be confused about it.
2. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Oh boy. Viewers hated Fire Walk With Me when it first came out almost as much as they hated Twin Peaks: The Return when it delivered a straightforward 90s nostalgia trip.
Not only does it fail to tie up some of the loose ends from the TV show – tying up “loose ends” is clearly not Lynch’s M.O. – but the filmmaker also had the audacity to recast Donna (from Lara Flynn Boyle to Moira Kelly)! The nerve of this man! Even so, Fire Walk With Me is jaw droppingly good even if some folk are still too square to understand it.
Frank Herbert’s beloved book is notoriously difficult to adapt, and Lynch’s challenging adaptation is just as notoriously messy. But it’s also absolutely glorious despite the resulting chaos the film leaves on screen.
Dune is visually audacious even if the story is a little wack. To finish Ebert’s scathing trilogy of reviews of Lynch output is a doozy of a hot take from him about Dune, which he called “a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.”