Nobody had to be told not to talk about Fight Club when it came out.
Portland author Chuck Palahniuk's darkly satirical novel about fistfights, manliness and—spoiler alert!—split personalities sold a mere 5,000 copies in its first run in 1996, and the hardcover quickly went out of print. When movie people started showing interest in it—David Fincher, director of the 1999 film adaptation, was apparently an avid member of that 5,000—Palahniuk didn't even have a literary agent.
Despite some critical raves, the film performed similarly. When the Brad Pitt-Edward Norton vehicle hit theaters, it promptly nose-dived after starting atop the box office, pulling a mere $37 million gross against its production budget of $63 million. At the Venice Film Festival, Pitt told Entertainment Weekly, he remembered that he and Norton were the only ones laughing at the screening. "It gets to one of Helena [Bonham Carter's] scandalous lines," Pitt said, "'I haven't been fucked like that since grade school!'—and literally, the guy running the festival got up and left."
But Palahniuk's book thrived in its afterlife, with a fan base that passed the DVD around dorm rooms and watched the film over and over, divining hidden meanings on the Internet. What the movie did not achieve on the large screen, it demolished on the small one. As of 2013, according to Fincher, the film has sold 13 million copies. This success transferred to Palahniuk's subsequent novels. He hovers in the top 50 best-selling contemporary literary authors on Amazon.com, and the debut that made him famous has received two reissues. His rabid fan base calls itself "The Cult," treating the novelist as a prophet of the disaffected.
Palahniuk's success brought a focus on Portland's literary scene it had never before encountered. In a way, the success of the Fight Club DVD did more for the city's writing scene than anything before or since. Palahniuk has since released a dozen successful novels and Portland's all-time greatest guidebook, Fugitives and Refugees. Four different members of his writing group have recently had their books optioned for high-profile projects. Monica Drake's novel Clown Girl was picked up by comic actress Kristen Wiig, while Chelsea Cain's Heartsick series was optioned by the FX network as a TV show and Lidia Yuknavitch's Dora: A Headcase was optioned by filmmaker Katherine Brooks. Wild author Cheryl Strayed is having wine brunches with Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey—who, in 2012, bested Jimmy Kimmel in a round of "Book Club Fight Club."
1974: Mt. Hood Freeway Killed
1978: Bill Walton Sits Down
1995: Bicyclists Sue Portland
2009: Sam Adams Admits Lying
2011: Occupy Portland