The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, at first glance, a unique entry in director David Fincher’s filmography. It’s an epic romance of sorts; a sweeping love story told through the ages, one which would appear to be at odds with what many view as a cold and cynical worldview that permeates Fincher’s other films like Se7en, Fight Club, or Zodiac. But upon further inspection, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fits right in with the rest of Fincher’s darker films, as it’s really the story of a man whose entire life is surrounded by the reminder of death.
Benjamin Button hit theaters on December 25, 2008—almost exactly a decade ago—and was the biggest hit of Fincher’s career until Gone Girl, grossing over $330 million worldwide. It received mostly positive reviews and was nominated for 13 Oscars, winning three for Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects. It almost certainly paved the way for Fincher to next make The Social Network, another successful Oscar-winning film, but actually creating The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was arduous, and the road to getting the film off the ground in the first place was a decades-long journey.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button itself is based on a short story in an F. Scott Fitzgerald book published in 1922, and the central premise caught Hollywood’s attention in the late 1980s: the story of a man born old who ages backwards and dies young.
The first director attached to the project was Frank Oz, with Martin Short attached to star. But after working on the script for a few months for Universal Pictures, Oz left the project. He couldn’t quite crack how to turn this short story into a compelling drama, as the central premise lacked significant conflict.
So Universal’s president of production at the time, Casey Silver, next turned to screenwriter Robin Swicord, asking her to attempt an adaptation. She turned in a first draft in January 1990 and her contribution was so substantial that on the finished iteration of the film directed by Fincher, Swicord received a “Story by” co-credit.