Fight Club is now considered one of the best films of the 1990s — with people still quoting it to this day — but when the film first debuted in 1999, it divided critics and scored average at the box office.
Speaking to Fight Club’s now-legendary status, Edward Norton, who starred in the movie alongside Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter, assigns partial blame for its lackluster debut to those in charge of promoting it.
“I think there was a reluctance on the part of some of the people who were actually marketing it, to embrace the idea that it was funny, and honestly I think they felt indicted by it,” Norton says on PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing.
Or as host Lola Ogunnaike puts it, they felt it was “calling them out.” The film was highly critical of societal ills like consumerism and toxic masculinity and — on top of its twists and turns — made for a project difficult to market.
“I think if you felt more like the guy who plays my boss in the film, then you tended to not like the film,” Norton says. “But also, it just was a tough one to distill.”
Admitting that he was hurt by the initial response to Fight Club, Norton — who’s currently starring in the new film Motherless Brooklyn, which he also directed and wrote — says he’s grateful for DVDs being “a powerful second conveyance” of its message.
“It was an interesting experience because we all loved it and we were very confident about it. We were a little stung,” Norton says. “You can never completely detach your ego to how does it do when it first opens, but then we all had the very special experience of realizing that the relationship it formed with people was everything you dream of when you get into films.”
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“It wasn’t financially successful at first, it never was even in conversation about awards and all that crap,” Norton adds. But as Ogunnaike points out, it became a film that “defines a generation.”
“[Not initially] but it became that, and that’s better,” Norton says.
Watch more in the Couch Surfing clip above, including Norton’s reaction to seeing Pitt’s ripped body during one of those fight scenes.