Producer Edward R. Pressman purchased the film rights to the novel in 1992. After discussions with David Cronenberg fell through, Harron was brought on to direct and cast Bale in the lead role. Lionsgate acquired worldwide distribution in 1997 and temporarily replaced Harron and Bale with Oliver Stone as director and Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Patrick Bateman. DiCaprio left in favor of The Beach and Harron and Bale were brought back. American Psycho debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2000, and was released theatrically on April 14, 2000. The film received generally positive reviews and was a financial success, with critics mainly praising the screenplay and Christian Bale's performance.
In 1987, wealthy New York investment banker Patrick Bateman's life revolves around dining at trendy restaurants while keeping up appearances for his fiancée Evelyn and for his circle of wealthy and shallow associates, most of whom he dislikes. Bateman describes the material accoutrements of his lifestyle, including his daily morning exercise and beautification routine. He also discusses his music collection, with performers such as Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins, and Whitney Houston. His focus on a lavish lifestyle is also evident by his taste in expensive designer clothing and his luxurious apartment.
Bateman and his associates flaunt their business cards in a display of vanity. Enraged by the superiority of co-worker Paul Allen's card, Bateman murders a homeless man and kills the man's dog. At a Christmas party, Bateman makes plans to have dinner with Paul, with Paul mistaking Bateman for another coworker, Marcus Halberstram. Bateman gets Paul drunk and lures him back to his apartment. While playing "Hip to Be Square" on the stereo, explaining to Paul his opinion and interpretation of the song, Bateman murders Paul with an axe. He disposes of Paul's body, then goes to Paul's apartment to stage the situation so that others believe Paul has run off to London.
Bateman is later interviewed about Paul's disappearance in his office by private detective Donald Kimball. During the night, Bateman takes two prostitutes, whom he names Christie and Sabrina, to his apartment and explains to them the improvement he saw in the band Genesis after they moved away from progressive rock toward a more pop rock sound beginning with the album Duke. After they have sex, Bateman tells them to stay, while taking out instruments he uses for torture. In the next scene, the prostitutes leave his apartment bruised and bloodied.
The next day, Bateman's colleague Luis Carruthers reveals his new business card. Bateman tries to kill Luis in the restroom of an expensive restaurant, but cannot bring himself to strangle him. Luis mistakes the attempted murder for a sexual advance and declares his love for Bateman, who flees in disgust. After murdering a model, Bateman invites his secretary, Jean, to dinner, suggesting she meet him at his apartment for drinks beforehand. When Jean arrives, Bateman, unbeknownst to her, holds a nailgun to the back of her head while the two converse. When he receives an answering machine message from his fiancée, he asks Jean to leave. Kimball meets Bateman for lunch and tells him he is not under suspicion.
Bateman has a threesome with his friend Elizabeth and Christie at Paul's apartment. Bateman kills Elizabeth during sex, and Christie runs, discovering multiple female corpses as she searches for an exit. She is chased by a naked Bateman wielding a chainsaw, and as she is running down the stairs of Paul's apartment building, is killed by the chainsaw which Bateman drops from several levels above her.
Bateman breaks off his engagement with Evelyn. That night, as he uses an ATM, he finds a stray kitten; the ATM displays the text "feed me a stray cat". As he prepares to shoot the cat, a woman sees him and tries to stop him; he shoots her and lets the cat go free. A police chase ensues, but Bateman destroys the police cars by shooting their gas tanks. Fleeing to his office, Bateman enters the wrong office building, where he murders a security guard and a janitor. In an office he believes to be his, Bateman calls his lawyer Harold and frantically leaves a lengthy confession on Harold's answering machine.
The following morning, Bateman visits Paul's apartment, expecting it to be full of decomposing bodies and in the middle of a police investigation, but it is vacant and for sale. The real estate broker tells him to leave. As Bateman goes to meet with his colleagues and lawyer for lunch, a horrified Jean finds detailed drawings of murder, mutilation, and rape in Bateman's office journal.
Bateman sees Harold at a restaurant and mentions the phone message he left the other night. Harold mistakes Bateman for another colleague and laughs off the phone message confession as a joke, saying he had dinner with Paul in London days earlier. A confused Bateman returns to his friends and in a final voice-over narration, he realizes he will continue to escape the punishment he deserves, that there has been no catharsis: "This confession has meant nothing".
Producer Edward R. Pressman purchased the film rights to Bret Easton Ellis's novel American Psycho in 1992, with Johnny Depp expressing an interest in the lead role. After discussions with Stuart Gordon to direct fell through, David Cronenberg became attached and brought Ellis to adapt the novel into a screenplay. The process was difficult for Ellis, due to Cronenberg's scene constraints and not wanting to use any of Ellis's restaurant or nightclub material from the novel. The script ended with an elaborate musical sequence to Barry Manilow's "Daybreak" atop the World Trade Center. "I'm glad it wasn't shot, but that kind of shows you where I was when I was writing the script," Ellis reflected. "I was bored with the material." Cronenberg was still listed as being attached to direct in March 1994, but with a new script by Norman Snider.
Pressman appeared at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival to pre-sell distribution rights, but to no avail. Mary Harron replaced Cronenberg as director while writing a new script with Guinevere Turner. Harron cast Christian Bale in a deal on good faith, and attached Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto in supporting roles. Development was looking to move forward following six years of rejection by Hollywood studios when independent Canadian distributor Lionsgate Films acquired worldwide distribution in April 1997. After having waited for a year, Bale and Harron were aiming to begin filming in August 1998 on a $6–10 million budget, but Lionsgate instead pursued Edward Norton and Leonardo DiCaprio for the lead role, arguing Bale was not famous enough. Lionsgate was still hoping to finalize a deal with Harron, while Bale's handshake deal without a pay or play contract was let go. Harron refused to meet with DiCaprio, displeased as she specifically chose Bale and believed DiCaprio's screen presence would have been too boyish for Patrick Bateman. She also believed the actor's reputation as a teen idol following Romeo + Juliet and Titanic would distract from American Psycho's production and tone.
Lionsgate was planning to increase the production budget to $40 million in the hopes of securing DiCaprio's $21 million asking price. At the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, a press release was issued that DiCaprio had taken the offer, which was quickly rebutted by DiCaprio's manager, Rick Yorn, who claimed the actor had simply expressed interest in the part. Yorn also wanted to make clear that DiCaprio had no knowledge of the development history under Harron and Bale. DiCaprio drafted a shortlist of replacement directors, including Oliver Stone, Danny Boyle and Martin Scorsese. Working from a new script written by Matthew Markwalder, Stone was brought aboard, who Harron called "probably the single worst single person to do it". The director wanted to eliminate the satire from Harron's script, emphasizing the psychological character traits of Patrick Bateman. However, Stone could not agree on the film's direction with DiCaprio, who decided to star in The Beach instead.
Bale remained committed, turning down other movie roles and auditions for nine months, confident DiCaprio would depart. Lionsgate made an offer to Ewan McGregor, who turned it down after Bale personally urged him to do so. Harron and Bale were eventually brought back under the agreement that the budget would not exceed $10 million. Bale spent several months working out by himself, and then three hours a day with a trainer during pre-production, in order to achieve the proper physique for the narcissistic Bateman. The actor struggled with the role until he noticed Tom Cruise in an interview on Late Night with David Letterman, being struck by Cruise's energy and "intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes." Bale also used Nicolas Cage's performance in Vampire's Kiss as inspiration for this role. Filming began in March 1999 in Toronto, Canada.
As promotion, one could register to receive e-mails "from" Patrick Bateman, supposedly to his therapist. The e-mails, written by a writer attached to the film and approved by the book's author Bret Easton Ellis, follow Bateman's life since the events of the film. He discusses such developments as his marriage to (and impending divorce settlement with) his former secretary, Jean, his complete adoration of his son, Patrick Jr., and his efforts to triumph over his business rivals. The e-mails also describe or mention interactions with other characters from the novel, including Timothy Price (Bryce in the film version), Evelyn, Luis, Courtney, David, Detective Kimball, and Marcus. However, the film's star, Christian Bale, was not happy with this kind of marketing: "My main objection is that some people think it will be me returning those e-mails. I don't like that ... I think the movie stands on its own merits and should attract an audience that can appreciate intelligent satire. It's not a slasher flick, but it's also not American Pie. The marketing should reflect that."
Lionsgate spent $50,000 on an online stock market game, Make a Killing with American Psycho, which invited players to invest in films, actors, or musicians using fake Hollywood money. This marketing ploy did little to help the film's box office but the studio's co-president Tom Ortenberg still claimed that it was a success: "The aim was to gain exposure and awareness for the picture, and we did that," he said. "Lionsgate will make a tidy profit on the picture."
The soundtrack for the film was scored by John Cale, with artists such as David Bowie, The Cure, and New Order. The Huey Lewis and the News song "Hip to Be Square" appears in the film and was initially intended to be on the soundtrack album, but was removed from the album due to lack of publishing rights. As a result, Koch Records was forced to recall approximately 100,000 copies of the album which were destroyed. Koch Records president Bob Frank said, "As a result of the violent nature of the film, Huey Lewis's management decided not to give the soundtrack clearance". Lewis' manager Bob Brown claimed that the musician had not seen the film and that "we knew nothing about a soundtrack album. They just went ahead and put the cut on there. I think what they're trying to do is drum up publicity for themselves". In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Lewis stated that the violence in the movie played no part in the decision not to allow the song to be included on the soundtrack. He reiterated Bob Brown's earlier denial stating "It was in the USA Today and everywhere else. It said, "Huey Lewis saw the movie and it was so violent that he pulled his tune from the soundtrack." It was completely made up." In addition, prior to the start of principal photography, Whitney Houston refused to allow the use of her performance of the song "The Greatest Love of All" in the film; her version was replaced by an easy-listening orchestrated version.
American Psycho premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave the film an NC-17 rating for a scene featuring Bateman having a threesome with two prostitutes. The producers excised approximately 18 seconds of footage to obtain an R-rated version of the film.
American Psycho debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, where it polarized audiences and critics; some showered the film with praise for its writing and performance from Christian Bale, others with scorn for its disturbing nature and gratuitous violence. Upon its theatrical release, however, the film received positive reviews in crucial publications, including The New York Times which called it a "mean and lean horror comedy classic". Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised Christian Bale's performance as being "heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "The difficult truth is that the more viewers can model themselves after protagonist Bateman, the more they can distance themselves from the human reality of the slick violence that fills the screen and take it all as some kind of a cool joke, the more they are likely to enjoy this stillborn, pointless piece of work". Newsweek magazine's David Ansen wrote, "But after an hour of dissecting the '80s culture of materialism, narcissism and greed, the movie begins to repeat itself. It becomes more grisly and surreal, but not more interesting". In his review for the Village Voice, J. Hoberman wrote, "If anything, Bale is too knowing. He eagerly works within the constraints of the quotation marks Harron puts around his performance".
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote, "whenever Harron digs beneath the glitzy surface in search of feelings that haven't been desensitized, the horrific and hilarious American Psycho can still strike a raw nerve". In his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris wrote, "The best scenes in the film involve the kind of status-seeking jokes that would make a very funny short subject. But over a feature-length film, there is only so much hollowness this viewer can endure before starting to yawn and look at his watch. Curiously, the material has even lost its power to shock and outrage". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "By treating the book as raw material for an exuberantly perverse exercise in '80s Nostalgia, [Harron] recasts the go-go years as a template for the casually brainwashing-consumer/fashion/image culture that emerged from them. She has made a movie that is really a parable of today". Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "Harron and co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner do understand the book, and they want their film to be understood as a period comedy of manners".
Bloody Disgusting ranked the film at No. 19 in its list of the 'Top 20 Horror Films of the Decade', with the article praising "Christian Bale's disturbing/darkly hilarious turn as serial killer/Manhattan businessman Patrick Bateman, a role that in hindsight couldn't have been played by any other actor. ... At its best, the film reflects our own narcissism, and the shallow American culture it was spawned from, with piercing effectiveness. Much of the credit for this can go to director Mary Harron, whose off-kilter tendencies are a good complement to Ellis' unique style."
Author Ellis said, "American Psycho was a book I didn't think needed to be turned into a movie," as "the medium of film demands answers," which would make the book "infinitely less interesting." He also said that while the book attempted to add ambiguity to the events and to Bateman's reliability as a narrator, the film appeared to make them completely literal before confusing the issue at the very end. On a 2014 appearance on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, Ellis indicated that his feelings towards the film were more mixed than negative; he reiterated his opinion that his conception of Bateman as an unreliable narrator did not make an entirely successful transition from page to screen, adding that Bateman's narration was so unreliable that even he, as the author of the book, didn't know if Bateman was honestly describing events that actually happened or if he was lying or even hallucinating. However, Ellis appreciated that the film clarified the humor for audiences who mistook the novel's violence for blatant misogyny as opposed to the deliberately exaggerated satire he'd intended, and liked that it gave his novel "a second life" in introducing it to new readers. Ultimately, Ellis said "the movie was okay, the movie was fine. I just didn't think it needed to be made."
The film currently holds a 68% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states "If it falls short of the deadly satire of Bret Easton Ellis's novel, American Psycho still finds its own blend of horror and humor, thanks in part to a fittingly creepy performance by Christian Bale."
A Special Edition DVD was released on July 21, 2005. In the U.S., two versions of the film have been released: an R-rated and Unrated Version. For the edited version and R-rated cinematic release in the United States, the producers excised approximately 18 seconds of footage from a scene featuring Bateman having a threesome with two prostitutes. Some dialogue was also edited: Bateman orders a prostitute, Christie, to bend over so that another, Sabrina, can "see your asshole", which was edited to "see your ass". The unedited version also shows Bateman receiving oral sex from Christie. The uncut version was released on Blu-ray on February 6, 2007.
The film's influence can be seen in Kanye West's music video "Love Lockdown".
The film has generated various academic work that examines the film as a form of social critique.
A direct-to-video sequel, American Psycho 2, directed by Morgan J. Freeman and starring Mila Kunis, was released in 2002. The sequel's only connection with the original is the death of Patrick Bateman (played by Michael Kremko wearing a face mask), briefly shown in a flashback. The film was denounced by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis. In 2005, star Mila Kunis expressed embarrassment over the film, and spoke out against the idea of a sequel. “Please — somebody stop this,” she said. “Write a petition. When I did the second one, I didn’t know it would be American Psycho II. It was supposed to be a different project, and it was re-edited, but, ooh … I don’t know. Bad.”
On September 10, 2013, it was announced that FX and Lionsgate are developing an American Psycho television series that will serve as a sequel to the film. It would be set in the present, with Patrick Bateman in his 50s, grooming an apprentice to be just like him.