We’re in the midst of another period of David Lynch appreciation. Earlier this spring, the Criterion Collection released a new edition of Inland Empire. Last year, Lost Highway celebrated its 25th anniversary with some well-attended theatrical screenings and a Lynch-approved, super-packed Blu-ray release. His appearance in Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans helped remind some more mainstream viewers that the guy who made Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks is still alive and well. And beginning on May 24, the Texas Theatre is hosting a 12-day David Lynch retrospective, curated by Daniel Knox.
We tapped Knox to rank every film Lynch directed — including some bonus picks for webseries, commercial and short film — in order of his personal favorites. Please keep in mind that rankings like this are fluid, even more so with an auteur like Lynch. Like all great art, you might like something OK one day and subsequently find it to be a monumentally great, important, heartbreaking piece when you see it again 25 years later.
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12. Duran Duran: Unstaged
“I have watched it from start to finish. It says ‘Directed by David Lynch,’ so it belongs on this list. I think most of what he did for it was just being in the control room, kind of controlling what was being projected behind the band. It’s the film of his I spend the least amount of time with.”
11. Industrial Symphony No. 1
“It’s only this low because it barely registers to most as a feature film — but to me, it does. I find it really beautiful. If you’re not really familiar with the Julee Cruise album Floating into the Night, it might feel like kind of a slog, but I’m really fascinated with it. Sometimes I’ll just put it on in the background. It’s hard to find. It’s only on DVD on some obscure European release and on the Lime Green Set, which is a fantastic DVD box set but is now very difficult to find.”
“It’s not his best work, and it’s the work that he feels is a failure, but I think it’s really fun. I still think it’s a great movie. I’m someone who doesn’t care about the books or the new movies [directed by Denis Villeneuve] — I just like seeing Lynch make a very brown, very gross, very slow sci-fi movie. I do also enjoy the Spicediver fan cut, but that’s not a superior film; it’s just an interesting way to watch that movie.”
9. Inland Empire
“It’s a really special movie to me because it’s the film that led me to meeting Lynch. Inland Empire fulfills the promise of Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive. It marries the language of those two very distinct chapters of Lynch’s work and creates something else. I also think it’s a film that is going to be more appreciated as time marches on.”
8. The Straight Story
“Because it’s a Disney film that’s rated G, a lot of people have a hard time associating it Lynch, but in my eyes, it’s far more Lynchian than people give it credit for. It’s Midwestern mythology — a fairy tale, beautiful and dark in its own way.”
7. The Elephant Man
“It’s a toss up whether this or Blue Velvet is his most accessible. I think a lot of people say they’re surprised Lynch directed [The Elephant Man] because it’s just a classically perfect movie that Lynch adds his own spin to very well.”
6. Wild at Heart
“Wild at Heart is David Lynch taking [novelist] Barry Gifford’s language and running with it. One of the interesting things about Wild at Heart is that there’s like over an hour of deleted scenes, and they’re all pretty fascinating. You get an idea of why most of them were cut, but there’s like 10 or 15 minutes of just Crispin Glover’s part, and I really wish that they had made something with that because Crispin Glover’s scenes that weren’t in the film are all amazing and that character is amazing. Shortly after Wild at Heart, Glover was in an episode of Lynch and Gifford’s TV show, Hotel Room.”
5. Lost Highway
“Lost Highway feels like his first step out of a certain style of filmmaking. He was trying to be a little more modern — he was doing something different, but he was still taking really big risks. The film just turns so completely in the middle and is so confident in not explaining itself.”
“I could swap this with Mulholland Drive. Eraserhead is so groundbreaking and so good. I’m trying to think of what to say about Eraserhead that hasn’t already been said a million times. It is maybe one of the best first films ever. A lot of people do regard it as his best film. I think he might even regard it as his best film. There’s that famous clip where someone asks Lynch why he says it’s his most spiritual film, and they asked him to explain that and he says no.”
3. Mulholland Drive
“Mulholland Drive is so fascinating, especially if you’ve also seen the version of it that was meant to be a TV pilot. And it’s so interesting to watch Mulholland Drive thinking about the show that might have been. And I also love [Lynch’s longtime composer Angelo] Badalamenti’s acting.”
2. Blue Velvet
“A lot of people would put it as number one, but we’re talking about my personal feelings here. Blue Velvet is so close that I want to call it 1.5. It’s one of his most accessible movies. But it’s so unique for how it changed the language of noir films and really kind of set the tone for what the rest of his work would be. If you watch Elephant Man, Eraserhead and Dune, these are films that have nothing to do with each other. From Blue Velvet forward, you see parts of it in almost everything else.”
1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is one part of a sequence of things. If you’ve already seen Twin Peaks, and if you’ve already seen Fire Walk With Me, the best way to enjoy it is to watch Fire Walk With Me twice. Watch it right into the pilot, which changes the way you understand the pilot and changes Fire Walk With Me. It’s kind of an indictment of everyone in the town, who all failed this one girl. Another way to watch Fire Walk With Me that I think is really, really great is to watch it as part of a quartet of things. First read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, then watch Fire Walk With Me, then Missing Pieces, then the pilot. It’s a different way to watch it, but for me, the best way to enjoy it.
“This is one of my favorite things that he’s ever done: the eight-episode webseries DumbLand. It needs to be just mentioned whenever I do a list and whenever anybody talks to me about David Lynch. I think it is a genius piece of work — kind of a funny, absurd take on Americana in a different way than Twin Peaks. I want everyone who loves David Lynch to see DumbLand from start to finish.”
Commercial: David Lynch Signature Cup
“The commercial he did for his own brand of coffee, David Lynch Signature Cup, is good. He was issued a takedown notice by Mattel, but you can still find it online. The whole clip is him pinching a Barbie head and doing a discussion with himself and the Barbie head. It’s like four minutes long and one of the best things he ever did — and it’s an advertisement. It’s great.”
Short Film: Fire (Pozar)
“The short I think about most these days is a film that I saw the first time at his exhibition in the Netherlands called ‘Pozar’ — Polish for ‘fire.’ It’s an animation, but it’s so beautiful and immersive.”
David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective, curated by Daniel Knox, is May 24 through June 4 at the Texas Theatre. The Daniel Knox album Half Heart: Songs From Twin Peaks is available for digital purchase on Bandcamp and on cassette and CD on danielknox.com.
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