F.I.S.T. (film)

F.I.S.T. (stylized on-screen as F•I•S•T) is a 1978 American neo-noir crime drama film directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sylvester Stallone. Stallone plays a Cleveland warehouse worker who becomes involved in the labor union leadership of the fictional "Federation of Inter-State Truckers" (F.I.S.T.). The film is loosely based on the Teamsters union and their former President Jimmy Hoffa.[4]

Fist ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNorman Jewison
Screenplay byJoe Eszterhas
Sylvester Stallone
Story byJoe Eszterhas
Produced byGene Corman
StarringSylvester Stallone
Rod Steiger
Peter Boyle
Melinda Dillon
David Huffman
Kevin Conway
Tony Lo Bianco
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byGraeme Clifford
Music byBill Conti
Chateau Productions
Huron Productions Inc.
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • April 13, 1978 (1978-04-13) (premiere)
  • April 26, 1978 (1978-04-26)
Running time
145 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$20.3 million[3]


At a loading dock in Cleveland in 1937, supervisor Mr. Gant hires a new worker, Polish American Lincoln Dombrowsky. Gant tells Dombrowsky that he will be paid for his regular shift only even if he must work overtime, and that any merchandise he damages will come directly out of his pay. When Dombrowsky drops a few carts of tomatoes, his pay is docked and another worker is fired for helping him collect the fallen merchandise. Resentful of these unfair labor practices, Hungarian-American worker Johnny Kovak leads a riot. The laborers go to the office of Boss Andrews, where Kovak believes he negotiates a deal for the workers, only to find out the next day that he and his friend Abe Belkin have been fired.

Kovak and Belkin are approached by Mike Monahan, who was impressed by their leadership. He offers them positions in the Federation of Inter State Truckers (F.I.S.T.), where they will be paid according to how many members they can recruit. Kovak is given a car to use while recruiting, which also allows him to meet and soon start dating Lithuanian-American worker Anna Zarinkas. Kovak is successfully recruiting new F.I.S.T. members, which attracts attention from business owners. When Kovak turns down their offer to recruit new workers to their non-union trucking firms, the shady owners have him physically attacked. Kovak rises into a leadership role through his union recruiting, causing competition with hothead F.I.S.T. leader Max Graham.

Soon Monahan, Kovak and Belkin begin working to get the F.I.S.T. members at Consolidated Trucking covered by a labor agreement. When management refuses to deal with them, the F.I.S.T. workers strike. They set up camp outside Consolidated Trucking's gates, but are pushed out by strikebreakers and hired security. Monahan tries to ram the gates in a truck, but is shot and killed. At his funeral, Kovak decides to "get some muscle" and accepts help from Vince Doyle, a local gangster. Doyle's men attack trucks trying to make deliveries. Local mobsters and the members of F.I.S.T. join forces to storm the gates of Consolidated Trucking. The president of Consolidated Trucking finally signs a labor agreement.

Building on this success, Kovak and Belkin travel the Midwest to recruit more workers. Kovak becomes wealthier and marries Anna. A new crime figure, Babe Milano, comes on the scene and wants a piece of the action. Kovak meets Milano with Doyle and, although reluctant to involve him in his business, decides it will be best for now.

By 1957, F.I.S.T. has become a large and important union, with about two million members. When Kovak visits Max Graham at F.I.S.T. headquarters, he is displeased to see how luxurious the building and Graham's offices are. Kovak visits with Belkin, now leading F.I.S.T. business on the West Coast, who explains that Graham has made money unethically off the union. In his investigation, Kovak finds that Graham used his influence to steer union businesses and funds to shell companies owned by him or his wife, and has used violence against the wife of a trucking company owner who resisted the union.

Graham is a strong favorite to be elected F.I.S.T. president. Belkin suggests to Kovak that they turn Graham in to the authorities, but Kovak is too worried about the damage to the union from the scandal. Kovak confronts Graham with what he knows, convincing him to support Kovak's run for union president.

Now the newly elected president of F.I.S.T., Kovak is investigated by Senator Madison, who suspects Kovak of ties with the Mafia through his work with gangsters Doyle and Milano. Belkin urges Kovak to cut off Milano and make the union "clean again", but Kovak ignores his request. When Doyle later tells Kovak that Belkin plans to testify against them, Kovak insists that Belkin not be harmed.

Subpoenaed to testify before Senator Madison's committee, Kovak is told that Belkin has been killed and the senator believes Kovak is responsible. Shocked, Kovak has an emotional outburst and storms out of the hearing. He returns home to find Anna and the children are missing. He gets his pistol but is shot and killed by Milano's men. The movie ends with a shot of a bumper sticker on a truck which reads, "Where's Johnny?"


Anthony Kiedis, who became the founding lead singer of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers five years later, appeared in a small role using his stage name Cole Dammett, a tribute to the stage name Blackie Dammett used by his actor father.


Development and writingEdit

Sylvester Stallone rewrote Joe Eszterhas' script, saying "Joe Eszterhas wrote a script that was nearly 400 pages and was more of a novel than a shootable screenplay. A great deal of work was done by myself, along with Norman Jewison, to hammer it into shape, but Joe had conceived a great concept."[5] Eszterhas was reportedly paid $85,000 for the script. Stallone received $350,000 for acting and $150,000 for writing.


Most of the filming was done in Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque was chosen firstly because the older sections of the town looked more like Cleveland of the 1930s than Cleveland did at the time, and secondly because of the absence of roof-mounted television antennas due to most of the homes having cable television. Because of the large bluffs, over-the-air television signals had problems reaching homes in the low-lying areas, so a cable system was developed in the mid-1950s, which was considerably earlier than many other municipalities.

Some locations used in filming included St. Raphael's Cathedral, Sacred Heart Church, the Fourth Street Elevator, E.J. Voggenthaler Co. and Dubuque Star Brewery. Filming was also done at the former Caradco manufacturing company in Dubuque. Portions of the Caradco building were fitted with new windows which were then purposely smashed for filming. The windows were replaced by the end of filming. Other Dubuque locations that were also visible in the finished film were the Dubuque County Courthouse and Saint Mary's Catholic Church.

Some filming was also done in the English city of Sheffield.



The film premiered as the Gala Opening Night film at Filmex on April 13, 1978 at the Plitt Theatre in Century City and was released in 100 theaters in the United States and Canada on April 26, 1978 before expanding to 350 on June 21.[1]


Box officeEdit

The film was a success, grossing $20,388,920 on an $8 million budget, though it was not as successful as Stallone's previous film Rocky (1976).

Critical responseEdit

Hugh Hefner at the premiere of Sylvester Stallone's movie F.I.S.T., 1978

F.I.S.T. received generally positive reviews from film critics. Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of five, stating "F.I.S.T. is a big movie that benefits from the accumulating of small, ordinary detail than from any particular wit or inspiration of vision." Another positive review came from TV Guide, who gave the film three stars out of four. They praised Stallone's script and acting, saying that "Stallone likes to depart himself from his muscles, it usually doesn't work. But, with F.I.S.T. it works well as he cares more about the character than anything else, something we'd like to see more of."

A negative review came from Richard Schickel of TIME Magazine, who said that the film "stands for nearly 2½ hours of almost unmitigated boredom—a misfired would-be proletarian epic with Sylvester Stallone misplaying the Jimmy Hoffa part with a self-confidence that borders on the sublime."[6]

The film holds an 73% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews.[7]


  1. ^ a b F.I.S.T. at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Kilday, Gregg (Apr 2, 1977). "Stallone Wins Heavyweight-Purse". Los Angeles Times. p. b6.
  3. ^ F.I.S.T. at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "Screen: 'F.I.S.T.,' Drama of Unionism:Stallone Returns". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Stallone answers December 9th & 10th Questions in a double round – plus Harry's Seen ROCKY BALBOA..." Aintitcool.com. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  6. ^ Cinema: J.U.N.K., TIME, May 01 1978
  7. ^ "F.I.S.T. (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes.

External linksEdit