The Producers courted four different directors.
It's hard to imagine anyone else behind the camera, but producers approached at least three other directors for the job before making a deal with David Fincher, who at the time had made Alien 3, Se7en, and The Game. A copy of the book was reportedly sent to future X-Men director Bryan Singer. Producers met with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle and reportedly really wanted to work with Peter Jackson, but the New Zealand filmmaker was busy making The Frighteners, instead.
Russell Crowe could have been Tyler Durden.
Speaking of famous men from New Zealand, producers were interested in casting Russell Crowe as Tyler Durden. 'Though L.A. Confidential was released in 1997, Crowe breakthrough Gladiator had yet to arrive. Fox wanted a bigger name. David Fincher had worked with Brad Pitt on Se7en, so with the director's help producers were able to bring him onboard. Pitt helped fashion the character into the one audiences ultimately saw onscreen, in all of his swaggering and aggressive glory.
Matt Damon and Sean Penn were considered for Jack.
The role of the everyman Narrator, nicknamed "Jack" in the script, of course went to Edward Norton. Producers considered Matt Damon; both of them were up for The Talented Mr. Ripley. Years later, in one of the Jason Bourne movies, Matt Damon's character squares off against a guy in a "fight club." Edward Norton appeared in 2012's The Bourne Legacy, the Bourne movie that actually starred Jeremy Renner. Sean Penn, another almost Narrator, did eventually play a character named Jack in a movie that costarred Brad Pitt, Terence Malick's 2011 drama The Tree of Life.
Many familiar faces were up for Maria.
The movie's stars once jokingly summarized Fight Club as, "A story about two friends who start an amateur boxing club for disadvantaged young men and the woman who comes between them." That woman, of course, is Maria, who may or may not even be real, depending on which Internet rabbit hole holds the truth. Fincher offered the part to Janeane Garofalo, who passed. Other actresses considered for the role included Winona Ryder, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Courtney Love, who acted alongside Norton in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
That all important first punch feels real because it was.
"I want you to hit me as hard as you can." Norton and Pitt had trained in various fight styles and even soap making, but this was supposed to be just another movie punch. Shortly before calling "Action," Fincher told Norton to hit Pitt for real. Look closely after it happens - Edward Norton is clearly giggling at Pitt's surprise.