Fight Club (film)

Fight Club (film)

Fight Club is a 1999 film directed by David Fincher. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk published in 1996. The narrator is a man who, finding little satisfaction in his professional activity and his life in general, creates with the enigmatic Tyler Durden, a nonconformist character, a clandestine fight club allowing its members to evacuate their malaise by violence. The film stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter.

General Information
Name Fight Club
Based on the novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Director David Fincher
Producers Art Linson
Ceán Chaffin
Ross Grayson Bell
Screenwriter Jim Uhls
Main actors Brad Pitt
Edward Norton
Helena Bonham Carter
Meat Loaf
Jared Leto
Production Companies Fox 2000 Pictures
Regency Enterprises
Linson Films
Music by The Dust Brothers
Country of production United States
Genre Psychological thriller
Duration 139 min
Release date 1999
Budget US$63–65 million
Box office US$101.2 million

The rights to Chuck Palahniuk’s novel were purchased by 20th Century Fox and David Fincher was hired as director due to his enthusiasm for the project. He worked closely with screenwriter Jim Uhls to write the screenplay and saw the film as a metaphor for the conflict between some of the adults of “Generation X” and the values conveyed by the consumer society. It delivers a deliberately ambiguous message, leaving it to the viewer to interpret it. It also includes elements present in the novel to provoke a sense of unease in the viewer and divert their attention from the final reversal that the film enjoys.

Upon its release, Fight Club was a commercial failure in the United States but achieved better international revenues. It received mixed reviews from the press, which was torn about it because of the multiple interpretations that could be made, and remains one of the most controversial films of the 1990s. However, commercial success came with the film’s DVD release. It has since been considered a cult film.

Fight Club synopsis

The film begins with a jump forward showing the main character being thrust a gun into his mouth and whose voice can be heard in an inner monologue who remembers how he got there.

The narrator is a factory recall technician of defective cars for a major brand. In his thirties single, disillusioned with life and anhedonic, he suffers from chronic insomnia and seeks a way to escape from his monotonous existence. Refusing to assist him with medication, his doctor suggests that he participate in discussion groups focused on various disorders and diseases, in order to relativize his state of suffering. The narrator joins a group of testicular cancer victims, and realizes that posing as a victim allows him to feel alive and treat his insomnia. He took a liking to it and decided to join other self-help groups but soon noticed that a woman, Marla Singer, participated like him in all the groups. Inconvenienced by the presence of another imposter, he negotiates with her so that they divide the different weekly sessions.

It was then that he met Tyler Durden on his way back from a business trip. It is a charismatic soap salesman who leaves him his business card. Back home, the narrator discovers that his apartment has been destroyed by an explosion. He decides to call Tyler and the two men meet in Lou’s Tavern bar. Their discussion of consumerism leads the narrator to be invited to Tyler’s house to spend the night. Leaving the bar, the latter offers to hit him.

At first hesitant, the narrator decides to punch him. A fight ensues between them, which he finds particularly invigorating. Then Tyler takes him to the dilapidated house where he lives and where the narrator quickly takes up residence. In the following days, the two men get into the habit of fighting behind the bar, which eventually attracts the attention of a few customers who ask to participate. Tyler and the narrator then decide to form the Fight Club, an all-male circle centered around ultra-violent fights taking place in the basement of the bar.

Little by little, the narrator discovers a new way of living and seeing things. Tyler pushes him to break free from social rules, which immediately has consequences for his work. But he doesn’t care because he has taken a liking to Fight Club and its redemptive violence. On the other hand, he does not appreciate Tyler starting a relationship with Marla Singer, and this leads him to reconsider the merits of their actions. He worries, in particular, about Tyler’s latest find: the mysterious “Project Chaos” that leads the members of the Fight Club to transform into a militia whose purpose remains unclear. He blames Tyler for keeping him away and decides to stop the project when a sabotage operation causes the death of one of their members: Bob, a friend of the narrator met at a meeting of testicular cancer patients.

With Tyler suddenly disappearing, the narrator follows his tracks across the country, and discovers to his horror that Tyler exists only in his head. He is, in fact, the victim of a split personality. Engaged in a dialogue with his other in which he no longer recognizes himself, he tries to discuss Tyler’s actions because the project aims to destroy buildings housing financial companies, thus erasing all traces of the country’s banking data.

Going to the police to denounce himself, the narrator discovers with astonishment that his organization has infiltrated the premises. He barely managed to escape from the police station and went to a booby-trapped building. But Tyler appears to prevent him from defusing the explosives and they start fighting in the parking lot of the building. The scene is filmed by surveillance cameras and we discover on the images that the narrator is fighting alone, against himself. In his mind, Tyler ultimately wins.

When he wakes up, the narrator sits in an armchair on the top floor of a building from where he and Tyler can admire the explosion of the various booby-trapped buildings. The narrator then tries one last time to reason with Tyler, but Tyler denigrates his pleas with contempt. The film picks up the scene from the beginning, where the protagonist has the barrel of a gun in his mouth. Tyler accuses him of persisting in defending an ungrateful and ridiculous society.

Suddenly, the narrator has an idea. He realizes that the gun Tyler is actually holding is in his own hand, then places it in his mouth before firing, imagining that it is Tyler who shoots himself in the head. The effect is immediate: Tyler disappears permanently, but the narrator survives as the bullet only passes through his cheek. The next moment, he is joined by his henchmen who bring Marla, kidnapped on Tyler’s orders. The narrator asks them to leave them alone. It was then that the bombs hidden in the nearby buildings exploded, causing the buildings to collapse. Both observe the scene in silence, hand in hand.

Technical datasheet

  • Original title: Fight Club
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Screenplay: Jim Uhls, based on the novel Fight Clubby Chuck Palahniuk
  • Music: The Dust Brothers (additional music: P.J. Hanke)
  • Art direction: Chris Gorak
  • Set design: Alex McDowell
  • Costumes: Michael Kaplan
  • Photography: Jeff Cronenweth
  • Editing: James Haygood
  • Producers: Ross Grayson Bell, Ceán Chaffinet Art Linson
  • Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Linson Films, Atman Entertainment, Knickerbocker Films and Taurus Film
  • Distribution companies: 20th Century Fox (US, international); UGC Fox Distribution (France)
  • Budget: $63,000,000
  • Country of production: United States, Germany
  • Original language: English
  • Format: Color — 35 mm— 2.35:1 — Dolby Digital sound
  • Genre: psychological thriller, drama, satire
  • Duration: 139 minutes
  • Release dates:
    • Italy: September 10, 1999 (Venice Film Festival)
    • United States, Canada: October 15, 1999
    • France, Belgium, Switzerland: November 10, 1999
    • Germany: November 11, 1999
  • Topic: Restricted in the United States (violence, sexuality and language), -16 in France, 16+ in Quebec

Distribution of Fight Club

  • Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden
  • Edward Norton as Narrator
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer
  • Meat Loaf: Robert “Bob” Paulson
  • Zach Grenier as Richard Chesler
  • Jared Leto as “Angel’s Mouth”
  • Eion Bailey as Ricky
  • David Andrews as Thomas
  • David Lee Smith as Walter
  • Peter Iacangelo as Lou
  • Thom Gossom Jr. as Inspector Stern
  • Michael Shamus Wiles as Bartender
  • Richmond Arquette as Intern


Fight Club development

The novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club was published in 1996. Before its publication, Raymond Bongiovanni, an employee of 20th Century Fox, discovered the novel and sent a preliminary version to executive manager Kevin McCormick and Laura Ziskin, head of the Fox 2000 Pictures division. Kevin McCormick commissioned a reviewer to report on it in order to study the project of a film adaptation, but the reviewer’s report was unfavorable.

McCormick then sent it to producers Art Linson and Lawrence Bender, who in turn turned it down. But producers Joshua Donen and Ross Grayson Bell saw the potential and expressed interest in an adaptation. They set up readings of the script with interpreters to determine its length and the initial interpretation lasts six hours. The producers removed many sections to reduce this length and used this second, shorter version to record dialogue. Bell sent the recording to Laura Ziskin, who bought the rights to the novel from Palahniuk for $10,000.

Ziskin first wanted to hire Buck Henry to write the screenplay, as Fight Club reminded him of the movie The Laureate, for which Buck Henry wrote the adaptation. But a new writer, Jim Uhls, pressured Donen and Bell to be given the task, and the producers hired him. Bell contacted four directors to direct the adaptation. Peter Jackson is their first choice, but he is in the process of making Ghosts vs. Ghosts in New Zealand.

The studio sent a copy of the novel to Bryan Singer, who did not read it. Danny Boyle meets Bell and reads the book but is already on another project. David Fincher, who had read the novel and tried to buy the rights himself, was contacted by Ziskin. He hesitated to accept the contract offered to him by 20th Century Fox following the bad experience he had while making Alien 3 for the same studio. In order to get back on track with the studio, he first met Ziskin and, in August 1997, the studio announced that Fincher would direct the adaptation of Fight Club.

Uhls began working on a first version of the script without narration in voice-over because this technique was then perceived as hackneyed. When Fincher joined the film, he felt that a narrative would be needed, including to inject humor, and fearing that in his absence the film would be ” sad and pathetic “. Fincher and Uhls worked together for more than six months, and in late 1997 completed a third version with a reorganized narrative stripped down of a few elements. When Brad Pitt is hired, he worries that his character is too one-dimensional. Fincher then took advice from director Cameron Crowe, who suggested that he give Tyler Durden’s character more ambiguity. Fincher also hired screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker to help him. He invited Pitt and Norton to help him revise the script, and the group wrote five versions of the script in one year.

Palahniuk praised the adaptation’s fidelity to his novel and approved of the film’s script organization over that of his book. The writers debated for a long time whether to include the final twist of the novel in the film, wondering if the audience would find it believable. Fincher argues in favor of inclusion, stating that if viewers accept everything up to this point, they will also accept this turnaround. Palahniuk’s novel also contains homoerotic innuendos, which the director includes in the film in order to provoke a feeling of uneasiness in the viewer and accentuate his surprise during the twists and turns of the scenario.

The scene in the bathroom where Tyler Durden bathes next to the narrator is one of these innuendos, as is the one where he pushes the barrel of a gun into the narrator’s mouth. However, the famous line “We are a generation of men raised by women; I’m not sure another woman is the solution to our problems” refers to individual responsibility rather than homosexuality. At the end of the film, the narrator finds redemption by rejecting Tyler Durden’s speech; This ending diverges from that of the novel where he is placed in a psychiatric institution. Fincher felt that the novel was too infatuated with Tyler Durden’s character and changed the ending away from him, explaining, “I wanted people to like Tyler, but I also wanted them to agree with his demise.”

Choice of interpreters

The three main performers of the film: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter
The three main performers of the film: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter

Producer Ross Bell met with Russell Crowe to offer him the role of Tyler Durden. Art Linson, who joined the project late, met another candidate, Brad Pitt. As Linson was more experienced than Bell, the studio chose to hire Pitt instead of Crowe. Pitt was at the time looking for a new role after the commercial failure in the United States of Meet Joe Black. The studio thought the film would be more successful with a star headlining and Pitt was hired with a fee of $17,500,000.

For the role of the anonymous narrator, the studio first thought of Matt Damon and then Sean Penn. Fincher advised instead to hire Edward Norton based on his performance in Larry Flynt. But other studios also approached Norton with offers him the lead role in films in development such as The Talented Mr Ripley and Man on the Moon. Norton was already engaged in The Game Master but the production of this film was delayed. Fox offered Norton a fee of $2,500,000 to attach him to the project but the actor still could not accept immediately because he had to turn in a Paramount Pictures film. He, therefore, signed a contractual obligation with Paramount to play in one of their future films for a lower fee; it will be Italian Heist in 2003.

In January 1998, 20th Century Fox announced that Pitt and Norton were involved in the film. Performers prepare for their roles by taking lessons in boxing, taekwondo, wrestling and soap making. Pitt goes to a dentist to have small pieces of his front teeth removed because his character does not have perfect teeth. These pieces are reimplanted after the filming of the film.

Fincher’s first choice for the role of Marla Singer was Janeane Garofalo, who turned him down because of his sexual content. The producers considered the applications of Courtney Love and Winona Ryder without any follow-up. The studio wanted to hire Reese Witherspoon but Fincher objected because she was too young for the role (she was 22 at the time of pre-production). He chose to hire Helena Bonham Carter instead in view of her performance in Wings of the Dove (1997).


Fox 2000 Pictures executives Laura Ziskin and Bill Mechanic planned an initial budget of $23,000,000 to finance the film, but at the beginning of production, it increased to $50,000,000. Half of the budget was then financed by New Regency but, during filming, the estimated budget rose to $67,000,000. Arnon Milchan, who runs New Regency, is asking David Fincher to cut costs by at least $5,000,000. Following the director’s refusal, Milchan threatened Mechanic to withdraw from financing. Mechanic sought to reassure Milchan by sending him proofs of filming and, after seeing three weeks of filming, Milchan renewed his studio’s financial support. The final budget for the production is $63,000,000.

The fight scenes are very choreographed but the performers are asked to “go all in” in order to have realistic effects, as when they are out of breath. Makeup artist Julie Pearce, who previously worked with Fincher on The Game (1997), studies boxing and mixed martial arts matches to accurately represent fighters’ injuries. Makeup artists devised two methods to represent sweat: spraying mineral water on a layer of petroleum jelly and using pure water to “wet the sweat”.

Meat Loaf, who plays a member of the Fight Club with prominent breasts (a consequence of hormonal imbalance), wears a 40kg harness to simulate them. He also wears wedge-soled shoes that grow him 20 cm taller than Edward Norton in their common scenes. To represent the narrator’s deteriorating fitness throughout the film while Tyler Durden’s improves, it is decided early on that Norton will begin starving himself early on while Brad Pitt will do weight training and tanning sessions, so that Pitt becomes more and more idealized as Norton withers.

Fincher collaborated for the third time with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, son of Jordan Cronenweth, who was Fincher’s cinematographer on Alien 3, before having to leave the set due to his Parkinson’s disease. Fincher and Cronenweth were inspired for filming by the visual styles used by the director in Seven and The Game. The film crew also uses desaturated colors for costumes, makeup and sets. This dark style aims to bring out the “brilliance” of the characters. The techniques of postlumination, treatment without bleaching are used to modify the appearance of the images.

Fincher and Cronenweth also drew inspiration from American Graffiti (1973) to give a mundane look to night exteriors while simultaneously including a wide range of colors. Filming took place mainly at night and Fincher deliberately chose shady locations for the daytime scenes. The basement of the bar where the fighting takes place is lit with inexpensive lamps to produce a glow in the background, while fluorescent light illuminates the prostheses representing the wounds of the fighters. In the scenes before the narrator meets Tyler Durden, four images of Tyler are inserted to create a subliminal effect.

Filming lasted 138 days, running from August to December 1998. Fincher shot more than 1,500 reels, three times more than for an average Hollywood movie. Filming locations are in and around Los Angeles and sets for interiors are shot at Fox Studios in Century City. The two buildings destroyed at the end of the film are the Century Plaza Towers, located near Fox Studios. Production designer Alex McDowell built more than 70 sets. The sets for the exteriors of the squat where Tyler Durden lives are built in San Pedro. The sets of the squat’s interiors are carefully dilapidated to illustrate the deconstructed world in which the characters live.

The apartment where Marla Singer lives is based on photographs of the Rosalind Apartments in downtown Los Angeles. While filming the scenes set in this apartment, in a notorious neighborhood of Los Angeles, Cronenweth had to be briefly hospitalized after being hit in the head by a bottle of beer thrown by a disgruntled resident. The production includes a total of 300 scenes, 200 different filming locations and complex special effects. Comparing the filming of Fight Club to the much less complicated filming of his next film, Panic Room, Fincher said, “I felt like I was spending all my time watching the trucks load and unload so I could shoot three lines of dialogue. There was too much travel. »

Postproduction of Fight Club

Kevin Tod Haug, who previously worked with Fincher on The Game, is responsible for supervising the special effects. He distributes the effects to be created between different companies specialized in different fields (three-dimensional computer graphics, composition, animation…) and coordinates their work. The film’s credits are a 90-second visual effects sequence that represents the inside of the narrator’s brain on a microscopic level.

It follows his thought process initiated by the fear he feels. Digital Domain, and its supervisor Kevin Mack, who won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Beyond Our Dreams in 1998, is commissioned to direct this sequence with P. Scott Makela. A computer-generated brain map is made using the L-System based on drawings by a medical illustrator. During the sequence, which goes from inside the brain to outside the skull, neurons, nerve impulses and a hair follicle can be seen. The shallow depth of field is achieved with the technique of ray tracing.

The scene where the camera passes in a flash through the streets of the city to embrace the material of destruction that “Project Chaos” has hidden in underground parking lots is realized according to the technique of composition by assembling in three dimensions a hundred photographs of Los Angeles. The final scene of the destruction of the buildings is directed by Richard Bailey, of the Image Savant studio, who worked there for fourteen months. Halfway through the film, Tyler Durden points viewers to a reel change marker. This scene is a turning point that announces the coming rupture and the inversion of the “rather subjective reality” that existed until then. Fincher explains: “Suddenly, it’s as if the projectionist missed the reel change, the audience has to start seeing the film in a totally different way.”

The film was edited in early 1999 and Fincher prepared a screening for the production studios. They do not like the film and fear that it will not find its audience. The film was still scheduled for a theatrical release at the end of July 1999, but this was postponed until the fall, officially due to competition from other summer films and hasty post-production. Outside observers, however, attribute this decision to the Columbine shooting.

The film is dedicated to Raymond Bongiovanni and P. Scott Makela, respectively discoverer of the novel at the origin of the film and co-director of the opening credits, who died respectively on June 5, 1996, and May 7, 1999.


David Fincher fears that artists with experience in composing film scores will be unable to connect the themes of his film together and is therefore looking for a group that has never worked in this field. He first thinks of Radiohead, before directing his choice on the breakbeat duo The Dust Brothers, formed by John King and Mike Simpson. The duo creates a postmodern soundtrack that includes drum loops, electronic scratches and computer-generated samples. Mike Simpson, one of the two members of the band, explains that Fincher wanted all aspects of the film to be innovative and that “[their] non-traditional soundtrack helped accomplish that.” The song of the final scene and the credits is Where Is My Mind? of the Pixies.


Film release and box office

Marketing officials at 20th Century Fox believe that the film is primarily aimed at a male audience, due to its violence, and that even Brad Pitt’s presence will not appeal to female audiences. David Fincher objected to the posters and trailers focusing on Pitt and advised the studio to hire the communications agency Wieden+Kennedy to develop the promotional campaign. Fox officials refuse that the image of the pink soap, with the title of the film inscribed on it, made by Wieden + Kennedy, is the main image used for the promotion. They also rejected Fincher’s idea of making two fake public service announcements by Pitt and Norton and instead funded a large-scale $20,000,000 promotional campaign that featured the fight scenes. Despite Fincher’s protests, television commercials were mostly aired during WWE wrestling shows. Producer Art Linson believes that this one-dimensional marketing largely contributed to the film’s commercial failure in the United States.

The film premiered at the 1999 Venice Film Festival. The film was released in the United States on October 15, 1999, in 1,963 theaters and grossed $11,035,485 in its opening weekend. It spent one week at the top of the box office in the United States and grossed a total of $100,853,753 worldwide (including $37,030,102 in the United States), making it a semi-commercial failure. It achieved 1,065,155 admissions in France, 242,366 in Belgium and 144,077 in Switzerland. In the rest of Europe, it also exceeds one million admissions in the United Kingdom (1,372,464) and Germany (1,057,527).

Critical reception of Fight Club

The film received very mixed reviews. At its first screening at the Venice Film Festival, debates between supporters and detractors were fierce, with several critics comparing its impact and controversial reflection on violence to A Clockwork Orange (1971). The aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 80% favorable reviews, with an average score of ⁄10, based on 161 reviews collected. The aggregator Metacritic gives an average score of ⁄100, based on 35 reviews collected.

Among the positive reviews, David Rooney of Variety called the film “incredibly in tune with the times” because it is “a perfect reflection on the malaise of the millennium”. He praises the “challenging script”, humor, “incisive dialogue” and “disillusioned comments on consumerism, corporate culture and capitalism” as well as the “effective” interpretation of the three main performers.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it an uncompromising classic and wrote, “Is Fight Club a good movie? It is so full of explosive ideas and fierce humor that the guardians of morality start shouting: Danger! So it’s a good movie.” For David Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle, the film is “sensational” and “eerily funny” with a “tour de force in art direction” and a “caustic script”, “perhaps too good” because “Norton delivers so many pure and sharp observations that the narrative becomes almost overloaded”. The New York Times’s Janet Maslin called it a “visionary and disturbing” film that “explores the allure of violence in a far more dangerous dehumanized and regulated culture,” saying Fincher “finds for the first time a subject bold enough to accommodate his visual sophistication, and uses that style in a dazzling way.”

It highlights “expert” photography and editing and the “provocative and complex” duo of performers. James Berardinelli of the website Reelviews called the film “a kinetic style, a visceral approach, an irresistible plot and a powerful social message,” presenting “an overload of provocative ideas operating on so many levels that they offer grist to grind for thousands of exams, feature articles and conversations.” Empire magazine’s Adam Smith gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, praising Fincher’s visual style, Pitt and Norton’s soundtrack, and acting performances, but regretting the implausibilities of the final half-hour and a predictable final twist that prevented the film from being classified as a masterpiece.

As for mixed reviews, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice felt that this “cheerful and malicious satire is extremely funny, well acted and boldly crafted” but that its second part is “exhausting and superfluous” although the “nihilistic buffomy of the finale” is worth it. Newsweek’s David Ansen described the film as a “mixture of brilliant technique, childish philosophy, incisive satire and sensory overload” and found the ending too pretentious. Richard Schickel of Time Magazine applauded Pitt and Norton’s performance but criticized the conventional process of developing the film and the failure to make Bonham Carter’s character interesting.

Among the negative reviews, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it the “most openly fascist Hollywood film since A Vigilante in the City. A celebration of violence in which heroes grant themselves the right to drink, smoke, kiss and bump into each other.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it “an infantile, whiny mixture of pseudo-philosophy and violence.” And Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly believes it’s based on a “silly principle” and that “if it’s supposed to be fun, it’s at our expense.”

In France, criticism is also very divided. As for the positive reviews, Jean-Yves Katelan, of Première, gives the film 4 stars out of 5 and comments, to illustrate his ambivalence and his multiple possible readings: “Fight Club is an openly gay film. Fight Club is not a gay movie. Fight Club is a facho movie. Fight Club is a libertarian film. Fight Club ends badly. Fight Club has a happy ending. And, above all, it leads to a dead end. Stéphane Dugast, from, evokes a film “corrosive, incisive, resolutely “fin de siècle”” and believes that it is a “cult film in power”. For Patrick Fabre of Studio Magazine, the film “is a compendium of cinema, a real lesson in directing, where Fincher mixes […] A multitude of narrative techniques […] with real inventiveness. In Fight Club, there is something to see, but also to think.” For Marc Toullec of Ciné Live, it is a “dazzling, hard-hitting and provocative style exercise”.

Among the mixed reviews, Gilles Médioni, of L’Express, evokes “a film destroy, sadomasochistic and romantic, stylized, sophisticated but far too flashy, especially in its second part”. Sacha Reims, of Le Point, admits that he “does not know” whether or not he liked the film and highlights the impression of discomfort felt and especially the impressive side of the work “which we feel that it perhaps announces a reality that, already, knocks at our doors”. For Samuel Blumenfeld, of Le Monde, “this satire is sometimes very funny, rather well interpreted, at times brilliantly staged, except that it falls like a soufflé”. And for Laurent Vachaud, of Positif, “David Fincher does not have the means to achieve his ambition. His film is a strange and quite unsympathetic object, very close to Oliver Stone’s Born Killers, which also looked like what he wanted to denounce.”

As for the negative reviews, Bruno Bayon, of Libération, evokes “a melee of hollow ideas” where “the fights are flat”. For François Gorin of Télérama, “Fight Club is content to unleash a sub-Nietzschean molasses spiced with gratuitous violence”. For Emmanuel Burdeau, of Cahiers du Cinéma, the film “makes necessary the creation of the culinary, aesthetic, moral concept of disgusting film”. Finally, Olivier Père, of Les Inrockuptibles, believes that the film “will not fail to arouse offended – and understandable – reactions because of its dubious ideology (is it better to talk about stupidity?)” and adds: “nothing surprising in the journey of a filmmaker more unsympathetic with each new film: after selling Coke, Nike […], Fincher takes his foot to sell violence and cynicism in identical visual packaging”.

Fight Club distinctions

At the 72nd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. In addition, at the 5th Empire Awards, Helena Bonham Carter won the Empire Award for Best British Actress for her role. At the 2000 Brit Awards, the film was nominated for Best Original Score. And Edward Norton was nominated in 2000 at the MTV Movie Awards in the category of best fight (for his fight against himself). At the 1999 OFCS Awards, the film received five nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (for Norton), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing, but did not win a single trophy. The following year, it won three OFCS Awards in the categories of Best DVD, Best DVD Audio Commentary and Best DVD Bonus Features.


David Fincher describes his film as a rite of passage, as The Laureate (1967) had been in its time, but for people in their thirties. The narrator is a very ordinary man, the character being identified in the script as “Jack” but never named in the film. Fincher puts it this way: “He tried to do everything he was taught to do, to adapt to this world by becoming what he wasn’t.” The narrator cannot find happiness, and he takes a path of enlightenment during which he must “kill” his god and teacher. With the help of Tyler Durden, he kills his god by doing things you’re not supposed to do. To complete the process, the narrator must kill his teacher, Tyler Durden.

The narrator is the opposite of the archetype of the Laureate: “a guy who does not have a whole world of possibilities opening up before him, he has no possibility, he literally cannot imagine a way to change his life”. He is confused and angry and responds to his environment by creating in his mind Tyler Durden, a Nietzschean superman. Tyler is the man the narrator would like to be, but he has no empathy with him and doesn’t help him make the “complicated decisions that have moral and ethical implications.”

Fincher explains that Tyler “can overcome the concepts of our lives in an idealistic way, but he wants nothing to do with the real-life compromises that modern man knows. And the main one is: You are not really needed for most of what is happening around us.” As studio producers worried that Fight Club was “sinister and seditious,” Fincher sought to make it “fun and seditious” by infusing it with hints of humor to temper the darker elements.

Jim Uhls describes the film as a “romantic comedy”, explaining that the narrator and Marla Singer seek to have a healthy relationship, which involves reciprocal behavior that seems harsh and unhealthy “but works for them because these two characters are on the brink psychologically”. The narrator is looking for an intimate relationship while avoiding having one with Marla because he sees too much of himself in her. Marla is both a seductive and negative prospect for the narrator, who instead chooses the novelty and excitement that comes from his friendship with Tyler Durden.

The narrator is comfortable as long as he is in direct connection with Tyler, but he becomes jealous when Tyler begins to have sex with Marla. When the narrator argues with Tyler about their friendship, Tyler tells him that this friendship is secondary to pursuing the philosophy they are exploring. Tyler also suggests doing something about Marla, implying that she is a risk that needs to be removed. The narrator then realizes that his desires are converging on Marla and begins to separate from Tyler.

The narrator, who is unaware that Tyler Durden is a mental projection, creates the Fight Club mistakenly thinking that it is a way to feel strong, but his physical condition deteriorates while Tyler’s improves. Abandoning the experience of Fight Club, Tyler manifests a nihilistic attitude of rejection and destruction towards institutions and morality. His impulsive nature, which represents it, conveys a seductive and liberating attitude for the narrator and the members of “Project Chaos”. Tyler’s initiatives and methods become dehumanized, causing a split between him and the narrator. According to Norton, his character — like that of the Laureate — arrives at the end of the film at a happy medium between his two conflicting identities.

For Norton, the film “explores the despair and paralysis that people feel in the face of this value system they have inherited from advertising.” Pitt believes it is “a metaphor for the need to walk through the walls we have erected around us, and thus experience pain.” The film can also be compared with The Fury of Living (1955), both works exploring the frustrations of individuals living within the system. The characters, having undergone social emasculation, are reduced to being “a generation of spectators”.

Advertising defines the “outward signs of happiness” of society, thus provoking a superfluous continuation of the accumulation of material goods that replaces the more essential one of spiritual fullness. When the narrator walks into his apartment while visual effects identify his material possessions, Fincher describes it as “the feeling of living in a false idea of happiness.” Pitt describes this dissonance as “a self-defense mechanism that prevents my generation from having a truly honest connection or engagement with our true feelings… We are too concerned with success and failure, as if these two things are all that will ultimately define us.”

According to Fincher, the violence of Fight Club is not intended to promote or glorify physical confrontation but is a way for its participants to experience sensations in a society where they are numb. The fights tangibly represent resistance to the impulse to have a sense of security in society, stripping its participants of their fear of pain. When Fight Club evolves into a revolutionary movement, the film only half endorses Tyler Durden’s dialectic because the narrator rejects his ideas. The film thus deliberately delivers an ambiguous message whose interpretation is left to the public.


Video editions

In the video market, Fight Club was released on November 15, 2000, on DVD, single edition and special edition. The single edition contains only an audio commentary while the special edition also includes a bonus DVD. In 2001, Entertainment Weekly ranked the double DVD edition of Fight Club at number one on its list of 50 must-own DVDs, commenting, “The movie can be a lot of different things for a lot of people, but the DVD is just pure genius.” DVD sales of the film were among the largest made by 20th Century Fox, allowing the studio to make more than $10,000,000 in profits despite initial losses due to the film’s failure upon theatrical release in North America.

The Blu-ray disc version was released on November 17, 2009, in Region A and on November 25, 2009, in Region B. It features four different audio commentaries (David Fincher’s; Fincher’s, Brad Pitt’s, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter’s; Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls’; and the technical team’s) as well as numerous bonus features. It opens with a fake home menu, which is the one from the movie College Attitude (1999), before displaying the real menu. Fincher got permission from Drew Barrymore to include this fake welcome menu.

Video game adaptation

A video game, also titled Fight Club, was released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The critical reception of this one is quite bad, the site criticizing the game for “dwelling only on the fights and neglecting the other aspects of the feature film”. Gamekult calls it a “title to forget very quickly”. It was also a commercial failure, selling only 290,000 copies.

Broadcast on the Chinese video platform Tencent

The film is offered on the Chinese online video platform Tencent Video in 2022 in a version where the ending has been changed. The scene of the buildings exploding is replaced by an on-screen message saying: “Thanks to the evidence provided by Tyler, the police quickly discovered the project, arrested all the criminals, and prevented the bombs from exploding. After a trial, Tyler was sent to an asylum for psychiatric treatment. He was released from the hospital in 2012.” In February 2022, following the many reactions, the original ending is restored.

Fight Club posterity

Fight Club is one of the most controversial films of the 1990s. Like several other films released in the same year (Magnolia, In the Shoes of John Malkovich and Kings of the Desert), it is considered innovative in its style, exploiting new developments in cinematographic technique. After its theatrical distribution, it became more popular via word-of-mouth and DVD sales established it as a cult film. This success also benefited Chuck Palahniuk, who gained international fame.

Several fight clubs were created in the United States due to the popularity of the film. A Gentleman’s Fight Club was established in Menlo Park in 2000, with participants coming mainly from the high-tech industry. Teenagers have founded Fight Clubs in Texas, New Jersey, Washington and Alaska, posting videos of their fights on the Internet. In 2006, a high school student was seriously injured in a fight in Arlington and the police investigation led to the arrest of six teenagers. An unauthorized fighting club has also been established at Princeton University, with fights taking place on campus. In 2009, a Manhattan teenager was arrested for detonating a homemade device in front of a Starbucks café on the Upper East Side, causing some property damage, in an attempt to replicate a “Project Chaos” action.

The film is ranked 10th in the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 Films, based on audience votes, with an average rating of ⁄10. In 2008, Empire magazine ranked it 10th in its list of the 500 greatest films of all time. The same year, Tyler Durden’s character was ranked first in the list of the 100 best movie characters, according to Empire. In 2007, the line “The first rule of Fight Club is: it is forbidden to talk about Fight Club” was ranked by Première at the 27th place of its list of the 100 best lines in cinema.

In 2012, Anonymous, in its “Mayhem Project 2012”, used Tyler as the name for its “decentralized WikiLeaks” project. On September 30, 2014, the satirical show Les Guignols de l’Info takes up the theme of Fight Club, featuring the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who takes over the role of Tyler Durden, the Minister of Economy and Finance Michel Sapin, in the grip of the bad unemployment figures, who takes over the role of the insurance expert, and suggests that he go, the same evening, to the basement of the Hôtel de Matignon, where he discovers all the government ministers who are supposed to be there to let off steam and relieve their stress.

The film is cited as one of the main influences of the television series Mr. Robot, especially through its anti-consumerist message and the psychological disorder suffered by its main character.

References (sources)