Fight Club is one of the most important and controversial films of the last two decades. Met with revulsion upon release, David Fincher’s masterful adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s debut novel has grown in renown since it was released 19 years ago: Brad Pitt’s performance as the anarchic Tyler Durden is one for the ages. It’s become a modern classic, and, like many boundary pushing films, caused a slew of copycat films that couldn’t recapture the magic. Those films don’t make this list, instead we are counting down the top ten movies like Fight Club that will leave you floored.
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the Godfather’s of cinema as his work mainly focused on either the evil that men do, or when innocent people are corrupted by said evil. Psycho, a film that only Vertigo can come close to, muddies the waters of cinema completely. Sure, Norman Bates is one of the great villains but nearly every character in Psycho is guilty of something. Much like Fight Club, Psycho was a controversial film when it was released in 1960, as it set new standards for what is acceptable for films of that time. Perhaps the most controversial moment of Psycho, apart from the fact that the supposed heroine is murdered at he end of the first act, is the first shot of a toilet flushing on film. You can see a clear path from that toilet flushing to Tyler splicing porn into family comedies.
Despite the mixed response to the Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, there is no argument about whether the first film in the trilogy was a masterpiece or not. It is, but The Matrix has a surprising thematic connection, unlike the other movies like Fight Club on this list. Neo (or Mr. Anderson) is a lowly office worker that is challenged to wake up from the delusion that his life is real. Edward Norton’s nameless narrator has the same feeling of stagnation at the beginning of Fight Club. It takes a stronger person, Morpheus and Tyler (though that is where the connection between both end), to help them wake up. The Matrix uses this theme to make an intense, rule-breaking, and pioneering action film. Despite the sequels, The Matrix is still a modern classic (released in the same year as Fight Club) which deserves a re-watch, mainly for that awesome gun battle.
Fight Club began life as a transgressive novel by Chuck Palahniuk before a talented director made it into a cinematic gem. The same can be said about American Psycho. Based on Bret Easton Ells novel, which charts the exploits of Patrick Bateman as he murders and abuses people with no fear of getting caught, with the excess of New York in the 80s as a backdrop. The film was adapted and streamlined by director Mary Harron (who also directed every episode of Netflix’s Alias Grace, which you should check out) who, thanks to the casting of a pre-Batman Christian Bale, created the definitive version of the character. The film is nowhere near as horrifying as the novel, something that fans of the book hold against the film, but it is still pretty messed up. As an added bonus, you get to see the guy who would be Batman cave in the face of the guy who would be the Joker.
Twelve Monkeys was a movie that wrecked my young head when I saw it aged 14. That alone makes it qualify for the group of movies like Fight Club (which I watched a few weeks before). Twelve Monkeys has a lot in common with Fight Club, and not just because Brad Pitt is in it. Bruce Willis stars as James Cole, a prisoner sent back in time to stop the world from ending thanks to a deadly plgue that wipes out most of the human race. Cole is sent back to the 90s in which he meet/kidnaps Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) to help him avert this disaster. Which brings us to Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines in a performance that plays completely against his good looks and charisma. The real treat of Twelve Monkeys is scenes that Willis and Pitt share. I swear, Bruce looked less scared taking in terrorists in Die Hard than he does with one minute with Pitt.
Before re-defining what a superhero movie could be with Logan, director James Mangold (who has just been announced as the director of a Boba Fett movie) made this strangely compelling mystery movie. Starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall and Rebecca De Mornay, Identity takes its structure from the Agatha Christe novel, And Then There Were None, as ten strangers meet when they are stranded in a motel thanks to a storm. It doesn’t take long for people to start dying, but Mangold isn’t out to make a simple rip-off. Identity quickly becomes something much more narratively complex as theories about who the murderer is last about 30 seconds before that person is horribly killed. I won’t spoil the ending, though if you do guess it before the end of Identity then you’re smarter than I am.
Another appearance from Christian Bale who seems to enjoy the lead roles in movies like Fight Club. The Machinist is most remembered for Bale’s frightening weight-loss to play the role. Bale plays Trevor Resnik, the titular machinist whose mind begins to unravel after causing an accident at work which cost one of his co-worker’s his arm. It’s a pitch-black film that is devoid of the sense of humor that carried Fight Club’s darker moments, but The Machinist isn’t a film that can just lead you by the hand. Bale is fantastic as usual, firmly selling Trevor’s deterioration, both mentally and physically. Much like Fight Club, The Machinist tells the story of a man racked with insomnia whose mind begins to unravel. He’s not sure what is real, and thanks to the clinical direction from Brad Anderson, the tension never lets up.
Primal Fear is a movie that no one but Edward Norton fans remember. It’s legal drama that stars Richard Gere as a lawyer who takes on the case of a young man, Norton as Aaron Stamper, is accused of murder. Gere is fine as the lead, and he uses his charming façade to take Aaron’s case because he needs a challenge. That’s all well and good, but this is Edward Norton’s movie, which also seems, in retrospect, as if this was his audition for Fight Club. He blows Gere out of the water instantly, as well as the ever-reliable Laura Linney, as it becomes clearer and clearer that Aaron is just a sympathetic mask behind his true, homicidal self. What’s even more impressive is that this was Edward Norton’s first role: kicking off an amazing career of films in which he challenges the notion of what a leading man can be. Just as long as no one mentions The Incredible Hulk.
In any discussion about movies like Fight Club, and Fight Club itself, we must include the work of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Paul Schrader on Taxi Driver. There aren’t many films that can communicate the sense of alienation and isolation that Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro stars as Travis Bickle: a Vietnam veteran who can’t make meaningful connections with people thanks to his PTSD. What he does instead is well-known at this point, but Taxi Driver is more than just plot and character. There is a specific unease about Bickle driving through New York as we are seeing this famous city through his disturbed perspective. It’s easy to see how Taxi Driver informs Fight Club, even including a smart little Easter egg in the form of Edward Norton’s nameless narrator names himslef after characters Robert De Niro played, even Travis Bickle.
Fight Club is a cerebral film about how men devolve in reaction to a modern world in which their traditions don’t fit. Birdman does the same thing about Hollywood, and superhero films in general. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former A-list movie star thanks to his portrayal of the titular superhero. Like Fight Club, Birdman’s lead character is split in two. Riggan parallels Edward Norton, and Birdman is a textbook Tyler Durden presence. It’s a mad film, and Keaton s superb in the role that would have won him an Academy Award for Best Actor if it wasn’t for Eddie Redmayne. This one still hurts. Never mind, Birdman, and Keaton especially, will be remembered long after The Theory of Everything goes to the same dustbin as The Kings Speech. That’s even without mentioning Edward Norton playing a slightly exaggerated version of himself, which would have stolen the show but for Keaton’s performance of a lifetime.
It stuns me that there are still only two movies adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s bibliography. The first, and most successful is Fight Club, of course. The second adaptation isn’t as well thought of, mainly because it stayed under the radar for so long. That film is Choke, which is the favorite novel of many Chick fans (including myself). Get this: Choke, which stars recent Oscar winner, Sam Rockwell, was adapted and directed by Clark Gregg. Yes, you read that correctly. Agent Coulson himself is responsible for bringing this hilarious sex-romp of a film to the big screen. It’s true that the film is inferior to the novel, but it’s worth a watch mainly for Rockwell’s electric performance as the worst person in the world. Despite the many attempts to adapt other Chuck novels, it looks like Fight Club and Choke will be the only ones for the foreseeable future.