MOTW: Operation Chaos, Phase II: The Potential Sequel to "Fight Club"

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
August 30th, 2013

MOTW: Operation Chaos, Phase II: The Potential Sequel to "Fight Club"

The first rule of making a sequel to "Fight Club" is: don't talk about the sequel to "Fight Club." It seems pretty straightforward, but the buzz over a possible sequel to the wildly influential 1999 classic film, based on the similarly successful 1996 novel by the same name, started almost before the credits rolled on Ed Norton's dramatic closing scene.

The speculation was only natural, as with any movie that manages to touch its fans as deeply as "Fight Club" did. Unfortunately, the makers of the film have been somewhat less than encouraging in public statements about a sequel. Director David Fincher seems to have discovered far more promising prospects with his later films "Zodiac," and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

One can hardly blame him for being reluctant to follow through with a big-screen sequel. "Fight Club" has followed an arc that's become almost routine for the most brilliant, innovative films in Hollywood. In this arc, stage one is the much hyped pre-release buzz that winds up marketing the film to the wrong demographic. The publicity for "Fight Club" was split between fans of quirky romantic comedies and action/adventure audiences, for example, not necessarily the people who would go on to enjoy it most. Stage two, the release, usually ends with wildly negative reviews from critics who aren't sure what they just watched, and howls of outrage from audiences who—rightly—feel they were misled by the film's marketing.

Stage two is a difficult time for the people behind the movie. In Hollywood, no reputation is as unwelcome as that associated with a box office flop. The cast has to worry about their job prospects, the director fears for his legacy, and the production team has a lot of explaining to do to the studio brass. It's usually around this point that the film wraps up its theatrical run, leading to stage three, home release. In this stage, as with "Fight Club", a miracle sometimes happens; the movie and its true audience find each other, and find true love. "Fight Club" was a massively experimental film, and it appears that it was very badly suited to wide release. The disappointing take at the box office was immediately taken as a red flag for the "Fight Club" franchise, but "Fight Club" is now regularly listed as being among the ten, or even five, best films of the decade.

There's no doubt that this turnaround would never have happened before home video. "Fight Club" would have gone the way of "Battleship Potemkin," or—at best— "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," something known and loved by a relatively small number of dedicated cinephiles. It was lucky for "Fight Club" that it was released in an age when fans can connect with their cult favorites from the privacy of their living rooms.

That connection, which has touched tens of millions of viewers who would otherwise never have seen the film, has generated exactly what a movie needs for a sequel to be feasible—a guaranteed audience. Thus, the inevitable buzz has revived, and this time it's being answered, at least in part. While it's true that no studio has announced a sequel, the first step on the road will be to write up a plausible followup storyline.

That's where the story turns hopeful; Chuck Palahnuik has acknowledged that he's working on a sequel to his 1996 book, so, many of the same production elements that made the original "Fight Club" so successful—at least in the hearts and minds of its fans—are in the process of being recreated. The original writer is involved, the work will be marketed to a literate public before being reworked into a screenplay, and—given the publicity surrounding a remake of this fan favorite—it's just possible that some of the first film's talent might be persuaded to have another go at it. On top of that, the latest from Palahnuik is that he'll be going forward with what's being known as "Fight Club 2" as a graphic novel.

To understand why this is important, it helps to understand the way a written work maps to a movie. Author Douglas Adams ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") spent a full twenty years trying to get his movie produced, and made the trenchant observation that the best material for a movie is actually a short story, as so much of a full-length novel has to be cut for a 90-120 minute movie runtime. This holds across genres, especially for movies in which the characters' actions require some access to their internal monologues, as with "Fight Club." Looked at in this way, the news that "Fight Club 2" is being written in graphic form is very hopeful indeed. It signals that Chuck Palahnuik, at least, is already thinking about a screen adaptation. With any luck, this film will meet its true audience in the theaters.