Every David Cronenberg Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists David Cronenberg
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Every David Cronenberg Movie, Ranked

With a brain so big it’s a wonder he hasn’t literally exposed it in any of his movies, David Cronenberg has been solidifying himself as the Grad Student God-King of Horror for over 50 years. This guy’s got a PhD in pustules. A dedication to squishing his intense philosophical pursuits into the nastiest gore to ever haunt your future consumption of Jell-O makes Cronenberg’s beautiful marriage of high and lowbrow genre filmmaking one of the most singular examples to ever grace the big screen. Sure, horror often stands for something else, but Cronenberg’s mainstreaming of body horror—more dedicated to placing mutant physicality under the microscope than splatter pictures—set him apart as a maestro of metaphor.

From his early pseudo-industrial days to his legendarily gross mid-career run to his late dramatic period, Cronenberg’s interests have mostly stayed centered on ideas of transformation, no matter the genre. Now that he’s leaning back towards the fantastical with this year’s Crimes of the Future, there’s no better time to appreciate the full filmography of the Canadian “King of Venereal Horror” (ok, Wikipedia, calm down) than right now. Here’s to you, David Cronenberg—long live the new flesh.

Here are all of David Cronenberg’s films, ranked:

22. Crimes of the Future (1970)

Filled with foot-worshipping scientists and other oddball male survivors of a woman-eradicating, cosmetic-induced plague, Crimes of the Future resembles a less inspired color version of David Cronenberg’s experimental first feature, Stereo. The hour-long film is similarly in the guise of a silent educational docu-drama, dialogue-free aside from the running voiceover commentary from Ronald Mlodzik’s Adrian Tripod. Though some of its ideas (including a telltale white foamy warning sign that you’ve been infected and a series of extraneous organs) tease at where Cronenberg will eventually focus his work—alongside some of his broader ‘60s and ‘70s fixations on sexual taboos and humanist altered states—the film is dull and repetitive. As it inevitably descends down its dark path, some of its quirky humor and ambitiously over-written script can knock you out of the daze that Cronenberg’s semi-industrial direction and camerawork induces. But compared to Stereo, let alone Cronenberg’s more commercial work, Crimes of the Future is a proof of concept. Homoerotic and wholly unfocused, it’s a bit like reading someone’s psych homework stapled haphazardly into a sci-fi pulp mag—with plenty of dirty drawings added to try to keep your attention. But that might be talking the film up too much.—Jacob Oller

21. A Dangerous Method (2011)


A Dangerous Method opens in Zurich in 1904 as we follow a horse-drawn carriage containing a raving Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) up to a large sanitarium, where she begins treatment for her violent episodes in the care of Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Jung employs the new and “dangerous” method in question for her therapy, considered pretty radical for the time: Conversation. In an early interview with Jung, Spielrein sputters and stammers in a hit-or-miss Russian accent, jutting out her jaw like a Neanderthal, all the while confessing the abuse she suffered (and secretly enjoyed) at the hands of her father. It’s blatant Oscar-baiting, but this scene is sadly the most interesting in the film. Not coincidentally, it’s also where director David Cronenberg’s hand is most evident. But whether the discomfort comes from the risqué subject matter or Knightley’s less-than-grounded performance is up for debate. The rest of the film deals with Jung’s true-life relationship with Spielrein, as well as his collaboration with mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). The genesis of modern psychoanalysis as created by two brilliant men who wound up developing a permanent ideological rift certainly sounds entertaining on paper, especially when you throw in Jung’s torrid, sadomasochistic affair with Spielrein. In fact, the story was on paper twice before, as a book by John Kerr and a play by Christopher Hampton. But on the screen, it comes off dreary and pedantic, like a big-budget special for the History Channel. The screenplay, also by Hampton, is mostly to blame. It saps the life from relationships that are rife with emotion. If one were to sit A Dangerous Method on the couch and analyze it, it might be said to be using intellectualization to cover up something deeper and unexpressed. Caring more about the journey than the destination (neither of which are particularly interesting), A Dangerous Method is ultimately nothing more than a Freudian slip-up.—Dan Kaufman

20. Maps to the Stars (2015)


For David Cronenberg’s first film partly shot in Hollywood, Maps to the Stars effortlessly combines the trinity of greed, sex and violence, yet the Hollywood he captures in the process feels less like a real indictment of Tinseltown excess and more an extremist, even obvious glimpse seen through a TMZ lens. Maps to the Stars is Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s idea of Hollywood as a stratified world of inhabitants existing in various levels of celebrity. Havana Sergrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging actress living in the shadow of her dead mother (Sarah Gadon)—who also occasionally haunts her daughter, literally. Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) is the Bieberesque star of the Bad Babysitter franchise, fresh out of rehab and ready to offend everyone. Meanwhile, Benjie’s sister Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) is returning to the area for the first time in years, hoping to apologize for her past transgressions which still resonate within her family, leaving her scarred both emotionally and physically. The three attempt redemption in a land always looking for the next big thing, yet are defined by their selfish wants more than their sincere grasps at being better people. While Cronenberg and long-time cinematographer Peter Suschitzky are able to craft a somewhat consistent visual language—most notably isolating almost every character in his or her frame, rarely allowing one character to interact with another within that frame—Maps to the Stars is easily one of their least attractive films. And though Maps ostensibly acts like a biting satire of the entertainment industry and the dangers inherent, it inevitably reveals itself to be a film about children suffering the sins of their parents. Which, perhaps, according to Cronenberg, may be the most trenchant observation he has in taking a look at Hollywood: That its excess and privilege are due to dynastic malfunctions. While Maps to the Stars investigates these familial failings with an odd sort of insight that draws incisive lines between aligning stars, the film can’t seem to nail down a coherent tone. Part teen drama, part ghost story, and part joke set-up without a punchline, Maps never quite excels at any of its formal endeavors.—Ross Bonaime

19. Stereo (1969)


Barely an hour, David Cronenberg’s first feature—which saw festival runs alongside Crimes of the Future before the filmmaker broke out into the commercial world with Shivers—blends some of the auteur’s pet interests with what would become his stylish calling cards. Stereo is black-and-white and silent except for extended passages of voiceover that sound as if they’re reading chunks of a hard sci-fi novel. We watch as early Cronenberg staple Ronald Mlodzik—decked out in vampiric cape and cane—ambles around a mysterious institute aimed at analyzing subjects deemed promising in the realm of ESP. Parapsychology and omnisexuality? That’s Cronenberg to me, baby. Its heady, literary blitzkrieg is only matched by a dazzlingly rapid montage of images, jostling our eyes from its otherwise charmingly strange amalgamation of industrial film and the occult. Just as the institute itself (the Andrews building of Scarborough College at the University of Toronto, where a young Cronenberg and his actor friends attended school) is a combination of dry scientific architecture and magical-thinking design flourishes (like tarot cards on a boardroom table and underlit tables), the filmmaking takes the era’s Canadian docu-drama aesthetic and tweaks it with experimental, Expressionist angles and compositions. Some stunning direction doesn’t keep Stereo from being, on the whole, more than a little unwieldy, but it lays the groundwork for the similar Scanners and for a singular artist’s fascinating niche.—Jacob Oller

18. Cosmopolis (2012)


In David Cronenberg’s thematically murky and pretentious-to-the-point-of-parody apocalyptic takedown of unrepentant American capitalism, an almost word-by-word adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, Robert Pattinson is aggressively deadpan as a young billionaire asset manager whose sanity relies on a world ruled by cosmic order and predictability. That’s why, as his predictions for his new investments fail and his stock takes a nose dive during the course of a day spent trying to drive across New York so he can get a haircut, the cracks in his Patrick-Bateman-on-downers shtick begins to unravel, revealing a pathetically insecure child desperate to crawl back to some form of humanity. Even during points of great existential confusion, Pattinson rarely directly exposes the character’s true nature, since at least an appearance of self-control against any conflict is his modus operandi. The entire emotional arc of the piece rests on the shoulders of Pattinson’s impressive ability to communicate an ocean of repressed neuroses through subtle changes in body language, an asset that other auteurs clearly picked up on for his later projects. For those—including myself—who predicted that Pattinson’s involvement in a Cronenberg joint would ruin the film, it’s a tasty bit of arthouse irony that his performance turned out to be the saving grace instead.—Oktay Ege Kozak

17. M. Butterfly (1993)


Reuniting David Cronenberg with Jeremy Irons after Dead Ringers, the director and David Henry Hwang adapt Hwang’s play into a film that sacrifices plenty of its political and narrative power for the sake of straightforward clarity. A romance between Irons’ French diplomat and John Lone’s female-presenting opera singer/spy, M. Butterfly shows flashes of Cronenberg’s sensuality—and embraces his complex, sometimes pessimistic outlook on personal transformation in a final cosmetic-laden soliloquy—but is otherwise too wrapped up in a single facet of its own transgressiveness to truly sear. The true story of Bernard Boursicot and Shi Pei Pu is fascinating, but adapted here with too little artistry. While the questions of sexuality, gender and performance are raised, stagey dialogue clashes with the realist photography while potent political elements (such as Orientalism levied as macho overcompensation, or espionage as a metaphor for poststructuralist takes on gender) are only shallowly explored. It’s a rare case where a movie could stand to have been a good deal longer; at barely 100 minutes, Cronenberg’s chronologically structured film needed more time for its complexities (and its admittedly potent performance from Lone) to gestate before leaving the chrysalis.—Jacob Oller

16. Rabid (1977)


Another instance where the term “vampire” is debatable, this early work from Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg nevertheless offers a valuable and engrossing (not to mention distinctively gross) interpretation of the typical vampire tale. Rather than emerging as some sort of mystical evil force, the vampires of Rabid are the result of a biological mutation caused when a young woman crashes her motorcycle and develops a phallic stinger under her armpit. The obtrusion subsequently develops a craving for blood, spreading a vampiric disease that turns those infected into rabid animals. Like the best horror filmmakers, Cronenberg filters this admittedly absurd premise through a personal lens, highlighting a society gone to paranoia and frenzy after the supposed “liberation” of the 1960s. And while the film is burdened by a sporadically undercooked script and the stilted acting of noted porn star Marilyn Chambers, it remains a valuable insight into the mind of a future master.—Mark Rozeman

15. Shivers (1975)


Shivers is quintessential David Cronenberg, the first in a long series of films that had audience members asking “What the hell is wrong with this guy, anyway?” Everything that freaks him out has just been ripped from the director’s subconscious and placed on screen—powerlessness, apathy, invasion of the body by outside forces. This nihilistic horror story revolves around a parasite that drives its hosts wild, causing first uncontrollable sexual desire and then extreme violence. The film is quite literally an orgy of violence, shot in a dark, grainy, unclean visual aesthetic that Cronenberg made into a signature. It’s as icky as it is captivating. As the narrator says in the closing moments of Shivers’ original trailer, “If this picture doesn’t make you scream and squirm, you’d better see a psychiatrist.”—Jim Vorel

14. Fast Company (1979)


While David Cronenberg typically focuses on the blurring lines between bodies and technology, it’s in his relatively atypical Fast Company that he first allows himself to get into the gut-like innards of machinery. The filmmaker’s personal interests don’t quite make the solid drag racing B-movie into a highfalutin fetish object like so many of his works, but they do color a completely competent actioner while introducing Cronenberg to his frequent cinematographer Mark Irwin, editor Ronald Sanders and art director/production designer Carol Spier. A slimy turn by John Saxon as a racing team’s slick business boss focuses an otherwise loose and hippy-like cast whose characters love having sex and going fast. The well-intentioned team and their peers must stand up to corruption for the love of the sport and for the love of each other. And race. A lot. It’s a primal film, exciting and muscular in construction, and indicative of its maker’s passions—or at least the passions that are most palatable to a general audience. This is about as normcore as Cronenberg gets, but it proves that a skilled enough director can slot himself in as a journeyman despite his auteurish leanings.—Jacob Oller

13. The Dead Zone (1983)


As expected from a Stephen King adaptation, we’re dealing with a protagonist who has telekinetic powers that he doesn’t want, and it depends on the course of the story and the choices that the character makes to find out if that gift becomes a curse, or if the curse becomes a gift. For the first half of The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg’s tightly wound and twist-filled thriller, the first outcome seems to be the case, as Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) uses his newfound powers of touching people and being able to see into their secrets and pasts to help those in need. Then the latter outcome presents itself, as Johnny is forced to dispose of a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen) who will certainly bring about nuclear holocaust. Sound familiar? Also, minor spoiler, does anyone really think Trump wouldn’t use a baby as a human shield to save his own life? Perhaps The Dead Zone itself has powers of premonition. This is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, with a fairly straightforward mystery-horror structure, but this doesn’t stop him from building a mood full of dread and confusion, right from the terrifically enigmatic opening titles. Walken had the ability to come across as a likable everyman, a conduit for the audience, before his oft-imitated mannerisms turned him into a caricature. He displays that side of his work really efficiently here.—Oktay Ege Kozak

12. Spider (2002)


An intense exercise in intimacy and dissociation, Spider’s flashback-ridden drama filters down through the schizophrenic mind of Dennis “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Fiennes). Residing in a halfway house, dressed in four shirts at a minimum, Spider mutters and scribbles, his mind stuck between past and present. He relives a pivotal moment in his childhood, with director David Cronenberg framing him as a ghostly observer who infrequently possesses omniscience and/or embodies his own father. Miranda Richardson successfully pulls a literalized Madonna-Mistress Complex in triple performances while Gabriel Byrne’s drunk bastard dad irradiates his surroundings with quiet, lasting animosity. Cronenberg’s close-ups and detached framings evince Spider’s potential to work as a silent film of unreliable narration. But Patrick McGrath’s adaptation of his novel adds in enough flavor (and ambiguity) to make its mental illness plotting and familiar familial tale spark with a sulfuric flame. That’s saying nothing of Fiennes, whose convincing commitment to constant tics and glimmers of momentary warmth makes Spider’s spiraled and paranoid isolation all the more haunting. A labyrinthine horror more interested in the warping of a mind than of a body, it’s Cronenberg using his usual tricks and craft to flay a man’s memories.—Jacob Oller

11. Scanners (1981)

Everything to love about David Cronenberg rests squishy and bulging in Scanners—but this is before The Fly, before Videodrome, before Dead Ringers and long before Naked Lunch—and so everything we love about Cronenberg is in Scanners, squishy and bulging and also with the slight gleam of nascent dew. To be sure, the body horror is egregious, and its tension visceral, but the bonus of Scanners is that, still so early in his career, Cronenberg had an obviously dubious time trying to figure out what kind of films he wanted to make. Sci-fi thriller, old-timey cyberpunk, grody procedural—Cronenberg litters his typical themes of transformation and transmutation throughout a story that, at practically any moment, feels like it could turn completely on its head. A head which would then, in a firework of brains and bone, explode—a gratuitous sign of genius things to come.—Dom Sinacola

10. Naked Lunch (1991)


Sometimes I have anxiety dreams set in a place that looks like a labyrinthine, surreal North African city. I have no idea where my subconscious got this landscape, but once I saw Naked Lunch it was clear David Cronenberg was having the same dream. (I’m not sure how to feel about this.) The great trainwreck writer William Lee (a stand in for Burroughs, played by Peter Weller) is the subject of this wonderfully depressing and creepy film (and his wife is played by, yes, Judy Davis!). He’s addled, addicted to cockroach-exterminating chemicals and shoots his wife in the head while playing “William Tell” at a party (true story). From there, he descends into a nightmare-scape of paranoid fantasy in which he hallucinates that his wife is still alive, and that he’s being pursued by shadowy forces. The film is visually stellar, superlatively weird and will make you want a hot shower very badly. Especially after watching him with that typewriter. A transgressive, deeply disturbing vision of a writer’s sometimes unhygienic relationship with his own mind.—Amy Glynn

9. Dead Ringers (1988)


In Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg reins in the extremities of his earlier genre works into something resembling a chamber drama—except there’s always a catch with Cronenberg. This time he almost cruelly toys with the identities of identical twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle (very loosely based on Stewart and Cyril Marcus), played by a Jeremy Irons who is doubled on himself through black movie magic. Cronenberg also plays with the audience’s perception of the duo, taking steps to establish Beverly as the “good” twin (more sensitive) and Elliot as the “bad” one (more bullish) before eventually degrading those categorizations and blurring the lines between the two, in more ways than one. A troubled relationship with actress-patient Claire Niveau (a fierce Genevieve Bujold) creates fissures in the relational dynamic of the twins, which in turn creates fissures in their minds; things get to a point where freakish gynecological tools are created due to an imagined spreading mutation. Later scenes become haunting as Elliot and Beverly become untethered from each other and, thus, their reality. They do manage to find each other again, but this is a David Cronenberg joint; don’t expect a happy ending. Dead Ringers is a brooding rumination on the external realities we use to define ourselves, what happens when our duality is divided and the subconscious ways in which we plant the seeds of our own destruction. More, it’s about doubling our Jeremy Irons intake in one sitting, which is always a worthy cause.—Chad Betz

8. Crimes of the Future (2022)

Sharing a title with Cronenberg’s second film, the latest from the body horror auteur is a return to (de)form after two decades of more dialed-back drama. Digging into the art world’s juicy guts and suturing it up as a compelling, ambitious sci-fi noir, Crimes of the Future thrills, even if it leaves a few stray narrative implements sewn into its scarred cavities. The dreamy and experimental Crimes of the Future (1970) sees creative cancers develop in a womanless world ravaged by viruses. New organs are created (and sometimes worshiped) in a broken society now run by fetishists and hurtling towards a dire, damnable biological response. While Cronenberg’s 2022 do-over on the subject of organic novelty in a collapsing society isn’t a remake by any stretch of the new flesh, it addresses the same pet interests that’ve filled his films since the beginning. Thankfully, it does so with new subtextual success and a far more straightforward and accessible text (despite the full-frontal nudity and graphic autopsies). Unlike Cronenberg’s early work, this movie has color, diegetic sound and movie stars. It embraces traditional dramatic pacing and supplements its perversion with cutting-edge effects. And at least now the characters speak to each other—in that detached, psychology-textbook-meets-FM-2030-essay style—while the camera dives deep into the guts that fascinate us. Specifically, the guts of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). He and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists whose medium is the generation and removal of neo-organs. Saul builds them up, Caprice slices them out. Our destruction of the world, filling its oceans with plastic and its air with pollution, allowed this to happen. Humanity is now literally numb. People slice each other with knives at clubs, or in the street. Recreational surgery is commonplace. Many can only feel real pain while asleep. This unconscious suffering is just one of many sharpened sides of Crimes’ metaphor. Art is evolving to meet this nerve-deadened world on its terms. Humans are too, literally. That’s why Saul’s able to squeeze out nasty new lumps of viscera and why National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), as well as radical transhumanist Lang (Scott Speedman), find him fascinating. The trio help narratively blend the dystopian bureaucracy and thriving, subversive multimedia generated by Cronenberg’s nihilistic predictions. When we eventually ruin things, there will just as surely be new cogs in old machines as there will be new rebels in old resistances. Erudite and exploitative, gory yet gentle, Crimes of the Future shows the new kids on the chopping block that an old master can still dissect with the best. But Crimes of the Future’s more meaningful impact is in its representation of a trailblazer finally seeing the horizon. Cronenberg’s view of the future understands that the true death of an artist and the death of society at large result from the same tragic failure to evolve—even if that innovation is simply renovation.—Jacob Oller

7. Eastern Promises (2007)

Eastern Promises is a suspense-driven drama set in London’s once-obscure Russian underworld, where the trafficking of human beings is just another income stream. Though it offers a more conventional narrative than most in David Cronenberg’s transgressive body of work, the film is a natural follow-up to 2005’s A History of Violence, and not simply because it again features Viggo Mortensen as a tightly coiled killing machine with a shadowy identity. There was never a chance anyone else would be cast as Nikolai, the enigmatic driver for a kindly patriarch (Armin Mueller-Stahl) whose Trans-Siberian restaurant is the front for a thriving crime network. The story turns on delicately attenuated shadings of character and deeply internalized psychologies that sustain a nervous edge throughout the film. As Nikolai, an aspiring mobster who contends, “I’m just a driver,” he has to navigate not only the homicidal subterfuge of his bosses, but his watchful affection for an interloping midwife (Naomi Watts). Eastern Promises also boasts a show-stopping fight sequence set in a Russian steam bath with Mortensen going full monty.—Steve Dollar

6. The Brood (1979)


Even by the standards of David Cronenberg, The Brood is a particularly nasty piece of work. This is a meanspirited and misanthropic yarn that blends body horror and science fiction into a new-aged parable of revenge and repressed rage, erupting forth whether we want it to or not. The titular “brood” are a deformed band of what look like dwarf-like children, created not by mad science but new-age psychobabble: A woman turns her latent anger, fear and mental illness into a physical product, which becomes a series of small, psychically linked killer dwarves who are sent out to destroy those who caused her grief. Totally absurd? Oh, 100% accurate, but also just as deeply off-putting as you’d expect the work of Cronenberg to be in so many cases. It’s a messed-up metaphor on the destructive power of pent-up bitterness, inspired by Cronenberg’s own rancorous divorce. —Jim Vorel

5. The Fly (1986)


Between The Blob, The Thing and The Fly, the ’80s were a magical decade for remaking already iconic ’50s horror/sci-fi movies. The original Kurt Neumann/Vincent Price version of The Fly is sometimes waved away as nothing more than a “camp classic,” but it’s a substantial film that is often more mystery than it is horror—a tightly focused narrative hinging around the question of why a woman has confessed to messily crushing her husband to death in a hydraulic press. Vincent Price is as entertaining as the fly-crossed scientist as you would no doubt expect him to be. The Cronenberg version, like the remake of The Blob, takes that basic premise and dresses it in both gallows humor and body horror, Jeff Goldblum’s researcher literally watching pieces of his body gelatinize and melt away in front of him. As “Brundle” he’s full of manic energy, ingenuity and eventually insectoid-enhanced physicality. Along with The Thing, the film is one of the last great hurrahs of the practical effects-driven horror era, featuring some of the more disgusting makeup and gore effects of all time. After seeing a man-sized Brundlefly vomiting acid, it’s difficult to ever look at a common housefly in the same way again. —Jim Vorel

4. A History of Violence (2005)


An uncompromising, emotionally compelling tale, Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is an intense anatomy of violence as it tears apart a typical American family. With the structure of a classic Western and the narrative of a morality play about human nature’s duality, the film—from Josh Olson’s spare screenplay, loosely adapted from John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel—is tautly directed and meticulously crafted. It’s Cronenberg’s most accessible film in years. Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) lives a quiet life with his lawyer wife Edie (Maria Bello) and their two children in Millbrook, Indiana. But their idyllic existence is shattered when Tom foils an attempted robbery in his diner. Sensing danger, he kills two criminals in self-defense, an act of courage that stuns his family and co-workers. Tom is heralded as a hero by the national media, and his life changes overnight. Uncomfortable with his newfound celebrity, he tries to return to normalcy only to be confronted by a mysterious man (Ed Harris), who accuses Tom of wronging him in the past. As Tom and his family fight this case of mistaken identity, they’re forced to confront their new identities and changing relationships. History of Violence pays homage to three great masters: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and Sam Peckinpah. Combining the handsome looks and charismatic presence of a leading man with the style of a character actor, Mortensen is perfectly cast as a classic American hero, a man of action but few words. While graphically depicting violence, Cronenberg refrains from lingering on or glamorizing it. And he’s also a master at creating suspense, and depicting shocking, abrupt physical action. He taps into primal emotions, his film suggesting that—under certain circumstances—all humans have the capacity for violence.—Emanuel Levy

3. Crash (1996)


Perhaps David Cronenberg’s most directly confrontational film is also a rarity for him: An adaptation of something even more subversive and unsettling than anything he’s cooked up himself. The J. G. Ballard novel gave Crash its singular subject—people who become aroused when in or around car accidents—but Cronenberg’s steady auteurism and his slinky, sultry cast gave it its staying power. The fluid sexual dynamics between James Spader, Deborah Kara Unger, Elias Koteas and Holly Hunter are brewed with equal parts engine grease, tattoo ink and blood. The cold and detached deliveries of its characters embody Cronenberg’s intellectualism, but he shoots their bodies with a hotter-than-pornographic sensuality that earned him the trust of exploitation bigwigs back when he was just making experimental films. There is a raw and desperate lust pervasive in Crash that, whether it’s seen in post-accident coitus or simply in the sex games of Spader and Unger’s open relationship, emits a soft and lonesome sadness. The search for meaning is distilled to primal instincts of violence and pleasure—of literal death and life—but anything too overtly philosophical is tightly packaged in Cronenberg’s distilled credo: “It’s something we are all intimately involved in: The reshaping of the human body by modern technology.” There is a reshaping here, but of far more than bodies. Crash reshapes norms, good taste, the acceptable methods through which we can find fulfillment—all in a tight, sexy thriller with a subject so disruptive that we’ll never stop talking about it.—Jacob Oller

2. eXistenZ (1999)


From its first moments—during which a hotshot digital designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) introduces her newest virtual reality “game” to a congregation of fans that eerily resemble an AA meeting gone bust, not moments before an ersatz assassin shoots her in the shoulder with a monstrous gun that uses human teeth as bullets—until its last, where you’d be hard-pressed to find a discernible line between reality and the virtual, eXistenZ never lets up. This is the closest David Cronenberg will ever get to making a first-person shooter or survival horror videogame, and for that, it’s more than we could have ever hoped. Gross, absorbing and breathlessly paced, eXistenZ exists in the trenches between action movie clichés and weird B-movie trash, between cyberpunk and political thriller, between sense and absolute nonsense—lecturing its audience on the real consequences of violence in “games” without losing sight of just how much fun that violence can be. —Dom Sinacola

1. Videodrome (1985)

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Videodrome wears many skins: It’s a near-future thriller about the lines between man and machine blurring, a sadomasochistic fantasy, a chronicle of one man’s tragic descent into madness and even a screed against society’s abusive relationship with theatrical violence. Yet, more than any dermis it claims as its own, Videodrome is horror down to its bones, a shard of phantasmagorical mania wielded by the genre’s most cerebral master. The mind is where Cronenberg creeps, taking his imagination’s darkest wanderings—steeped in symbolism and subconscious detritus—to visceral extremes. The same could be said for smut peddler Max Renn (the always sweaty James Woods), manager of a cable TV channel devoted to finding new boundary-breaking entertainment, who stumbles upon a pirated broadcast signal carrying “Videodrome,” a seemingly unsimulated series filled with graphic torture and death. As Cronenberg’s dark dreams tend to do, “Videodrome” begins to warp Renn’s reality—our mind’s eye, as one episode explains to him, is the television screen—and the malevolent forces behind “Videodrome” convince him to go on a killing spree, armed with his newly grown mutant cyborg hand, which might be a hallucination but probably isn’t. Throughout, Cronenberg literalizes Renn’s grossest thoughts, opening up a vaginal orifice in his stomach (into which he salaciously sticks his handgun) or transforming his television set into a pulsating, veined organ, manifesting each apocalyptic vision with immediate, tactile reality. In Videodrome, maybe more saliently than in any of his other films, Cronenberg squeezes the ordeals of the slumbering mind like toothpaste from the tube into the disgusting light of day, unable to push them back in. Long live the new flesh—because the old can no longer hold us together.—Dom Sinacola