David Fincher’s Fight Club is now considered a classic, but it had trouble getting off the ground.
What the hell is Fight Club anyway? A horror film about a Jekyll-and-Hyde office worker who becomes a terrorist? A drama about late 20th century masculinity in crisis? A warped romance about a man trying to change himself into someone as interesting as the woman he loves? A thriller about a decadent generation goading itself into extremism?
Executives at 20th Century Fox certainly struggled with Fight Club. Unsure how to market a film in which young men beat one another to a pulp and stole bags of fat from the bins of liposuction clinics, the studio placed ads for it during World Wrestling Federation matches. Meanwhile, Fight Club‘s posters, dreamed up by an expensive design firm, featured a pink bar of soap with the title incised into its waxy surface. It certainly looked unlike anything else stuck up outside a movie theater in 1999, even if most people walking past wouldn’t have had a clue as to what it meant – the soap being a wry reference to a key scene in the film.
The bewildering split between TV ads during wrestling matches, which emphasized the film’s bruising bare-knuckle scenes, and the artistic posters with their pink bars of soap, were an indication, perhaps, of Fight Club‘s slippery quality. How do you get people to go and see a film like this, Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt?
In retrospect, it’s little surprise that some of Fox’s higher-ups didn’t like Fight Club – least of all one Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul whose News Corporation had acquired Fox in 1985. Here, after all, was a film which openly attacked corporations, advertisers and the entire capitalist system.
One of Fight Club‘s producers, Art Linson, recalled the first screening of the film for Fox’s executives; they were, he said, “flopping around like acid-crazed carp wondering how such a thing could even have happened.”
There was one executive who did believe in Fight Club: Fox’s studio head Bill Mechanic. In the mid-90s, Chuck Palahniuk‘s Fight Club novel was doing the rounds at Fox before it had even been published, and was originally envisioned as a low-budget movie to be made through the studio’s Fox 2000 division, which specialized in independent film. Along with production executives Laura Ziskin and Kevin McCormick, Mechanic was an enthusiastic champion of Fight Club‘s spiky humor and unpredictable plot.