David Cronenberg’s Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

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Newsweek

David Cronenberg, who turns 76 today, is a Canadian director best known for movies such as Dead Ringers, The Fly and Eastern Promises.

Born in Toronto on March 15, 1943, Cronenberg had a diverse set of interests while growing up—first studying science at the University of Toronto before switching to English language and literature in his final year.

His interest in movies was sparked when a classmate, David Sector, made a movie called Winter Kept Us Warm, starring some of Cronenberg’s friends. “It never occurred to me that you could make a movie. It was unlike someone growing up in L.A. where everybody’s parents were in the business. In Toronto, no one’s parents were in the movie business because there wasn’t a movie business,” he told The Guardian in 2014.

After making a few short films and art-house features with government funding, Cronenberg’s fourth movie Rabid was the first to get international distributors. It was illustrative of the “body horror” genre that Cronenberg would go on to pioneer, focusing on themes of sexual experimentation and physical and psychological violations of the human body—the main character in Rabid finds an orifice under her armpit.

Many of his movies—such as The Brood, Scanners and Videodrome—continued in this style, but his more recent films—such as A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method—have been more conventional dramas .

“People confuse you with your work in a very direct way,” he told The Guardian in 2013. “You make scary, horror films, so you must be a scary, horrible person.” He recalled how Martin Scorsese once confessed to being scared to meet him, to which Cronenberg replied: "You're the guy who made Taxi Driver and you're afraid to meet me?"

The Fly, released in 1986, is likely to be the movie he is most remembered for. Starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the movie centers around a mad scientist who morphs into a fly-like creature after an accident in the lab. It became his biggest box office hit—grossing $60 million on a budget of $9 million—and a critical success to boot.

Cronenberg’s most recent movies, 2012’s Cosmopolis—an adaptation Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name—and 2014’s Maps to the Stars—a Hollywood satire—both drew mixed critical reviews and limited attention. His next project is slated to be a television series, but there has been no confirmation as to what it will be about.

To celebrate David Cronenberg’s birthday, Newsweek has analyzed data from review aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb to rank his 15 best movies.

01 Crash
Fine Line Features

15. Crash (1996). Total score: 60.23%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Rosanna Arquette. 
Plot summary: After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.
What the critics said: "I'm not quite sure what David Cronenberg is trying to say in Crash, but whatever it is, he deserves a lot of credit for having the nerve to put it on screen and face the consequences." Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle

03 Scanners
Embassy Pictures

13. Scanners (1981). Total score: 64.98%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside. 
Plot summary: A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.
What the critics said: "We forgive low-budget films their limitations, assuming that their directors would reach farther with more money. But Scanners seems to indicate that what Cronenberg wants is enough money to make a better low-budget movie." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

04 Shivers
Trans American Films

12. Shivers (1975). Total score: 65.85%. 
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry. 
Plot summary: The residents of a suburban high-rise apartment building are being infected by a strain of parasites that turn them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends out to infect others by the slightest sexual contact.
What the critics said: "Shivers, written and directed by Cronenberg, is a paranoid, prurient sexual nightmare." Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

05 eXistenZ
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

11. eXistenZ (1999). Total score: 67.18%. 
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley. 
Plot summary: A game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.
What the critics said: "The Matrix is mainstream sci-fi, but eXistenZ, written by Cronenberg, is much stranger; it creates a world where organic and inorganic are not separate states, but kind of chummy." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

06 The Brood
New World Pictures

10. The Brood (1979). Total score: 67.95%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle. 
Plot summary: A man tries to uncover an unconventional psychologist's therapy techniques on his institutionalized wife, amidst a series of brutal murders.
What the critics said: "[Cronenberg's] rapid fire direction keeps you bouncing back and forth between laughter and shock with only minor stops for explanatory dialogue and his satirical sophistication never stoops to cheap parody." Michael Blowen, Boston Globe

07 A Dangerous Method
Sony Pictures Classics

9. A Dangerous Method (2011). Total score: 68.15%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Sarah Gadon. 
Plot summary: A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis.
What the critics said: "Cronenberg has reached the stage of his career where he doesn't feel it necessary to pander to expectations. Instead he seeks to engage us, and he succeeds." Peter Howell, Toronto Star. 

08 Naked Lunch
Twentieth Century Fox

8. Naked Lunch (1991). Total score: 69.88%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider. 
Plot summary: After developing an addiction to the substance he uses to kill bugs, an exterminator accidentally kills his wife, and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.
What the critics said: "Obviously this is not everybody's cup of weird tea: you must have a taste for the esthetics of disgust. For those up to the dare, it's one clammily compelling movie." David Ansen, Newsweek

09 Videodrome
Universal Pictures

7. Videodrome (1983). Total score: 70.08%. 
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Leslie Carlson. 
Plot summary: When he acquires a different kind of show for his station, a sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a terrifying new reality.
What the critics said: "Never coherent and frequently pretentious, the film remains an audacious attempt to place obsessive personal images before a popular audience—a kind of Kenneth Anger version of Star Wars." Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

10 The Dead Zone
Paramount Pictures

6. The Dead Zone (1983). Total score: 71.7%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Martin Sheen. 
Plot summary: A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability.
What the critics said: "The Dead Zone does what only a good supernatural thriller can do: It makes us forget it is supernatural." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

11 Spider
Sony Pictures Classics

5. Spider (2002). Total score: 75.53%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave. 
Plot summary: A mentally disturbed man takes residence in a halfway house. His mind gradually slips back into the realm created by his illness, where he replays a key part of his childhood.
What the critics said: "A dark, brilliant journey into memory and schizophrenia whose peeled-back layers reveal an unexpected heroism." Vic Vogler, Denver Post

12 Dead Ringers
Twentieth Century Fox

=3. Dead Ringers (1988). Total score: 75.68%.  
Directed by: David Cronenberg. Starring: Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske. 
Plot summary: Twin gynecologists take full advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart, until their relationship begins to deteriorate over a woman.
What the critics said: "Cronenberg, who has begun to emerge as a master of body-related horrific fantasy, clearly understands that a small amount of medical mischief can be more unnerving than conventional grisliness." Janet Maslin, New York Times