Brad Pitt in a scene from the 1999 film 'Fight Club'.
Brad Pitt in a scene from the 1999 film 'Fight Club'.

TV host’s ‘unforgivable’ movie spoiler

As far as plot twists go, no film has compared to the wild ending of Fight Club.

Starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, the 20th Century Fox cult classic was released 20 years ago and blew away audiences worldwide with its bolt-from-the-blue finale.

That is, apart from the millions of people who had tuned into The Rosie O'Donnell Show the week of the movie's release in October 1999.

The popular actor turned NBC host was lucky enough to see an early screening of the David Fincher-directed psychological thriller, based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk, but became offended by the graphic and violent themes featured throughout it.

She was so angered by the scenes she panned the film to her national audience in the US, which reached more than five million viewers, and straight up dropped the big twist to deter people from going to see it.

In the time of no social media, O'Donnell's major breach is considered to be one of the first documented spoilers, which A-lister Pitt, who played Tyler Durden, described at the time as "unforgivable".

Fight Club turns 20 this month.
Fight Club turns 20 this month.

It's been 20 years so we think it's safe to detail the ending.

The spoiler was that Tyler (Pitt) wasn't real. He was a projection of Norton's unnamed character - or the narrator's - imagination. Whenever we saw Tyler, the rest of the in-universe characters saw the narrator.

That's a pretty big spoiler to drop before a film is even released.

On the 2000 DVD commentary track for Fight Club, Pitt said of O'Donnell, "I guess that is OK she hated it. She was saying this movie disturbed me, she could not sleep for nights. It hit a nerve. It struck some nerve whether she wanted to look at it or not. But the deal was, she gave away the ending on national television. That's just unforgivable."

Her efforts to hurt the movie at the box office appeared to work, with Fincher fleeing to Bali to avoid dismal financial news and poor commentary.

A figment of all our imaginations tbh.
A figment of all our imaginations tbh.

It made only $US37 million at the domestic box office against a $US65 million budget, with mixed reviews panning it, again mostly for its violent scenes.

The lack of initial interest, of course, didn't last, with Fight Club smashing DVD sales as well as becoming a cult classic to this day.

But Bill Mechanic, who was at the helm of Fox at the time, said O'Donnell's attempts to sabotage the movie were not the reason it flopped at the box office.

"Two things: It was (made for) a younger demographic, so (O'Donnell) going to the housewives during the day on that movie couldn't have mattered less," Mechanic told the Hollywood Reporter.
"And the second thing: the movie didn't depend on the surprise ending. The movie stood on its own. Getting the audience to go see the movie was a different thing.

"We had a number of commentators, not film critics … who were openly antagonistic, despairing, trying to shoot down the movie before it opened."

TV talk show host Rosie O'Donnell on her show. Picture: AP
TV talk show host Rosie O'Donnell on her show. Picture: AP

Richard Greene, who authored the book Spoiler Alert! (It's a Book About the Philosophy of Spoilers), said there was only one other incident before O'Donnell where an ending was given away on a public stage.

He told the Hollywood Reporter a group of gay rights activists stormed cinemas showing the 1992 movie Basic Instinct, protesting the nature of which lesbian characters were portrayed in the film.

They would scream the murderer's identity to the scores of people waiting in line.

"They're trying to bring about social change," Greene said.

"Even if their cause is a noble one there are certainly other ways to deliver their message.

"(Fight Club) was the largest (spoiler) of its kind pre-social media.

"It's not just something she shouldn't have spoiled then, it is something you can't spoil today."

Holt McCallany, who played a supporting role in Fight Club, was sitting in a doctor's waiting room when he saw O'Donnell slamming the movie on live TV - before dropping the big bomb.

"I just remember being absolutely flabbergasted, it was stunning to me. I remember being infuriated by her remarks and wondering why she felt the need to do that," he said.

"I had met her once or twice in New York City at events, and I had no reason to dislike her, but when you start to wilfully damage the commercial prospects of the work of other artists, you have to expect that that is going to inspire a very dim view."



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