Inspiration for the Work: Chuck Palahniuk once had an altercation while camping, and though he returned to work bruised and swollen, his co-workers avoided asking him what had happened on the camping trip. Their reluctance to know what happened in his private life inspired him to write the novel.
Write What You Know: Palahniuk has said the book was heavily inspired by a period in his life when he was in the closet, and covered up his homosexuality by acting overly masculine to a self-destructive extent. One specific instance which is almost directly adapted to the book was after he had gotten into a bad fight one night, when he came to work next day with his face bloodied and bruised, Palahniuk noted to his surprise that absolutely nobody commented on his appearance.
Many of Tyler Durden's actions and lines of dialogue are based on things Palahniuk's friends have said and done.
Marla Singer is named after a girl who used to beat up his sister in school and Palahniuk decided it was the most hateful name he could think of.
Acting for Two: According to Brad Pitt (from the DVD Commentary), during the scene where the Narrator is in a hotel watching a Welcome video, Pitt plays one of the staff members on the screen.
Billing Displacement: The film is about Brad Pitt starting up a club where men beat each other up, and also sharing a few scenes of disfunctional romance with Helena Bonham-Carter. At least, that's what the ads and DVD cover make it look like, both of them billing Pitt first. Actually, the film is Edward Norton's (unnamed) character. Pitt doesn't even show up until about 45 minutes in, and near the end, we learn he's really just a visual manifestation of Norton's fractured psyche, not even a real person.
Box Office Bomb: Budget, $63 million. Box office, $37,030,102 (domestic), $100,853,753 (worldwide). At the time of its release, the film was ravaged by critics for its messages, dark humor, and violence, and was K.O'ed at the box office. Fox owner Rupert Murdoch never forgave executive Bill Mechanic for greenlighting this film, and was rumored to be one of the reasons why Mechanic was fired from the studio (though the official reason was another bomb that also became a cult classic— Titan A.E.). Thankfully, the film managed to become a huge Cult Classic, being voted as one of the greatest movies of all time in multiple magazine polls, and one of David Fincher's best films.
Creator-Preferred Adaptation: Palahniuk has spoken on several occasions about how he prefers the film over his novel, to the point the book now slightly embarrasses him. He specifically mentioned that he thinks the film's ending is far superior to the novel's. He also commends the film for giving more focus to the narrator's relationship to Marla, and has described the narrator's character arc as him "reaching the point where he can commit to a woman".
DVD Commentary: The film has four commentaries. In one, Chuck Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls discuss how Uhls adapted the novel. The track featuring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and David Fincher together in a room is highly amusing, as the actors frequently gang up on the director for laughs but also respect his craft and the info he wants to share. Helena Bonham-Carter is dropped in via solo clips, some of which have priceless anecdotal information. Most notably, the very English HBC had no idea how old American children are in grade school, so the "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school" line meant nothing to her when she delivered it.
Defictionalization: The soap is an exact copy of the one used in the film, very popular. It probably doesn't contain the "special ingredient" that Tyler and the Narrator used, though.
Dyeing for Your Art: As the filming went on, Edward Norton deliberately lost weight and slept little while Brad Pitt exercised and got tanned. One character wasting away while the other gets stronger has plot relevance here.
When Tyler asks the narrator he wants to be hit as hard as he could, the narrator winds up and... hits him in the ear. Brad Pitt was told Ed Norton would hit him in the shoulder. "Ow! Motherfucker! Why the ear, man?!" is a legit reaction.
Well not so much enforced as it was lucky method acting: Marla's amazingly blasé delivery of "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school" was the way it was because Helena Bonham-Carteris British and didn't know that grade school in America was the equivalent of primary school: she thought that meant Marla was a teenager when she first had sex. When Helena Bonham-Carter later learned the truth, she was not happy.
The scene of the Narrator and Tyler whanging golf balls out into the neighborhood was captured because Norton and Pitt did exactly that after having a lot of beer. The actors were aiming at the catering truck.
None of the characters appear to use or own mobile phones. The Narrator calls Tyler on a payphone and Tyler says he *69ed him to see who called.
One of Project Mayhem's pranks involves pouring petrol into the tube of a CRT monitor so that it explodes when turned on. Another prank involves using electromagnets to wipe the VHS tapes in a video rental shop.
Tyler points out the "cigarette burns" in the film, splices images into the film, and addresses the audience with such intensity that it causes the physical film to nearly be rocked out of the projector. In modern times, digital projection is the standard.
Pitt and Norton mostly ad-libbed the scene in Lou's Bar. Fincher cut together the final version of the scene from thirty-eight separate takes.
When the Narrator punches Tyler in the ear, Pitt's reaction was genuine; Norton actually punched him straight in the ear. The original script had Tyler getting punched in the shoulder, but Fincher changed it at the last minute without informing Pitt about it.
The movie taps into the zeitgeist of the late 90s and channels it very well: the technology (no one seems to have a cell phone, Project Mayhem plays pranks on stores selling CRT monitors and VHS tapes) and attitudes about airport security (the narrator is surprised and confused when his luggage is held because of a perceived security risk). Tyler's speech about how his generation has "no great war and no great depression" also firmly places it in a time of relative peace and economic prosperity when middle America more or less felt like everything of importance had been accomplished and all that was left was for humanity to slowly die off. Most importantly, its themes were in large part an exploration of a popular meme in The '90s, the idea that "traditional" masculinity was in collapse as a result of the ever-growing penetration of technology and the modern world. The film (and the book it was based on) was largely a deconstruction of those ideas, and of the men's movement that emerged out of them.
Not to mention those hairstyles and fashions! From the narrator's short haircut to Tyler's sunglasses, this movie SCREAMS "Post-Matrix''/Pre-9/11." Even the music, with its heavy techno influence, seems firmly rooted in the Turn of the Millennium zeitgeist.
One of the "blips" of Tyler appearing for a single frame before his introduction proper was going to be in the 20th Century Fox vanity plate, but Fox refused to send the filmmakers the animation file.
Tyler Durden was originally going to recite a workable recipe for home-made explosives (as he does in the novel). But in the interest of public safety, the filmmakers decided to substitute fictional recipes for the real ones.
Peter Jackson was the initial choice to direct, as the producers had been impressed with his work on Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners. Jackson however, although he loved the novel, was too busy prepping The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. The second choice was Bryan Singer, who was sent the book, but who never got back to the producers (he later admitted he didn't read the novel when he received it). Next to be offered the job was Danny Boyle, who met with the producers, read the book, and loved the material, but who ultimately decided to concentrate on The Beach instead.
Producer Ross Grayson Bell initially wanted Russell Crowe to play Tyler Durden, but he was overruled by fellow producer Art Linson, who felt Brad Pitt was the better choice. Bell has since said that he is glad Linson stepped in, as he can't imagine anyone being as good in the role as Pitt proved to be.
David Fincher managed to use the Fox executives' Exact Words against them when they objected to Marla's original line from the novel after she has sex with Tyler ("I want to have your abortion"). Fincher agreed to change it under the proviso that he would only had to change it once, to which Fox agreed. When the line was rewritten as "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school," they asked Fincher to change the now-worse line back to the original one, but he reminded them that the agreement was he a). change the line, not make it less offensive, and b). only had to change it once, meaning he didn't have to change it back.
The movie contains a great deal of Product Placement, nearly all of which ends up criticized, smashed, blown up, or otherwise vandalized over the course of the movie.