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Brad Pitt shirtless smoking Fight Club

Brad Pitt has starred in some of the most successful films in Hollywood history. But if you’re going to talk seriously about his career, you can’t ignore Fight Club -- a film that was, at least at first, not actually a success at all. These days, he’s happy to look back on the film, and can actually laugh about the fact that a lot of people hated Fight Club at first. In fact, he witnessed the backlash firsthand.

David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s controversial novel hit theaters in 1999. But even before it had a wide release, Fight Club’s stars realized that it might not be well received. On Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, Brad Pitt recounted his memory of an early Fight Club screening. According to the actor, the movie’s dark themes and even darker humor didn’t really sit well with the audience:

Oh we had the best screening ever. We had it at Venice Film Festival. They do this midnight screening. For some reason we thought it would be a good idea to smoke a joint before. We go in and they put you up in the balcony. You sit next to the guy who runs the festival. Everyone’s looking at you, they clap, you sit down. It’s very formal.

Then, Brad Pitt continued, the movie started. That's when things started to go wrong for everyone but Pitt and co-star Edward Norton:

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First joke comes up and it’s just crickets. It’s dead silence. And another joke and it’s just dead silence. This thing is not translating. Subtitles, it is NOT translating at all. The more that happened, the funnier it got to Edward [Norton] and I and we just start laughing. So, we’re the assholes in the back laughing at our own jokes. The only ones.

They weren't just laughing at their own Fight Club jokes, though. They also laughed at the disgust of the other moviegoers. (If they smoked a joint ahead of time, as Brad Pitt said, they may have laughed at absolutely anything.)

And then at some point it gets to the Helena Bonham Carter’s line where she says, ‘I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.’ And I watched the festival guy who had been squirming the whole 30 minutes just get up and he leaves! He doesn’t say a word. He just gets up and leaves, which makes us laugh even more.

Well, at least they could laugh at themselves. The Venice Film Festival screening was only the beginning of the backlash that originally befell the movie. It ultimately became one of the most controversial films of 1999, due to its excessive violence and wild twist ending. That buzz didn’t even translate into box office success, and it was widely seen as a failure at first.

However, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, David Fincher, and everyone else involved in Fight Club eventually had the last laugh. Over time, it’s become a cult classic, thanks to a devoted fan base. And some film critics have reassessed the film, and praised it for condemning, rather than encouraging, violence and toxic masculinity. To those who love it now, Fight Club was just simply ahead of its time.

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