When Fight Club premiered at the 56th Venice International Film Festival, the film was fiercely debated by critics. A newspaper reported, "Many loved and hated it in equal measures." Some critics expressed concern that the film would incite copycat behavior, such as that seen after A Clockwork Orange debuted in Britain nearly three decades previously. Upon the film's theatrical release, The Times reported the reaction: "It touched a nerve in the male psyche that was debated in newspapers across the world." Although the film's makers called Fight Club "an accurate portrayal of men in the 1990s," some critics called it "irresponsible and appalling". Writing for the Australian newspaper, Christopher Goodwin stated: "Fight Club is shaping up to be the most contentious mainstream Hollywood meditation on violence since Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange."
Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, praised Fincher's direction and editing of the film. She wrote that Fight Club carried a message of "contemporary manhood", and that, if not watched closely, the film could be misconstrued as an endorsement of violence and nihilism. Roger Ebert, reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, called Fight Club "visceral and hard-edged", and "a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy" that most audiences would not appreciate. Ebert later acknowledged that the film was "beloved by most, not by me". Jay Carr of The Boston Globe opined that the film began with an "invigoratingly nervy and imaginative buzz", but that it eventually became "explosively silly". Newsweek 's David Ansen described Fight Club as "an outrageous mixture of brilliant technique, puerile philosophizing, trenchant satire and sensory overload" and thought that the ending was too pretentious. Richard Schickel of Time described the director's mise en scène as dark and damp: "It enforces the contrast between the sterilities of his characters' aboveground life and their underground one. Water, even when it's polluted, is the source of life; blood, even when it's carelessly spilled, is the symbol of life being fully lived. To put his point simply: it's better to be wet than dry." Schickel applauded the performances of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, but he criticized the film's "conventionally gimmicky" unfolding and the failure to make Helena Bonham Carter's character interesting.
Cineaste 's Gary Crowdus reviewed the critical reception in retrospect: "Many critics praised Fight Club, hailing it as one of the most exciting, original, and thought-provoking films of the year." He wrote of the negative opinion, "While Fight Club had numerous critical champions, the film's critical attackers were far more vocal, a negative chorus which became hysterical about what they felt to be the excessively graphic scenes of fisticuffs ... They felt such scenes served only as a mindless glamorization of brutality, a morally irresponsible portrayal, which they feared might encourage impressionable young male viewers to set up their own real-life fight clubs in order to beat each other senseless."
Fight Club was nominated for the 2000 Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, but it lost to The Matrix. Bonham Carter won the 2000 Empire Award for Best British Actress. The Online Film Critics Society also nominated Fight Club for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Norton), Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Uhls). Though the film won none of the awards, the organization listed Fight Club as one of the top ten films of 1999. The soundtrack was nominated for a BRIT Award, losing to Notting Hill.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Fight Club holds a rating of 80%, based on 161 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's consensus reads, "Solid acting, amazing direction, and elaborate production design make Fight Club a wild ride." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 66 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".