The film is set in Sheffield, England and, starting off with a travelogue of the city in 1972, tells the story of six unemployed men, four of them former steel workers, who decide to form a male striptease act (à la Chippendale dancers) in order to gather enough money to get somewhere else and for the main character, Gaz, to be able to see his son. Gaz declares that their show will be better than the Chippendales dancers because they will go "the full monty"—strip all the way—hence the film's title.
Despite being a comedy, the film also touches on serious subjects such as unemployment, fathers' rights, depression, impotence, homosexuality, body image, working class culture and suicide.
The film was later adapted into a musical in 2000, and a play in 2013.
The once-successful steel mills of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, have shut down and most of the staff have been made redundant. Former steelworkers Gary "Gaz" Schofield and Dave Horsefall have resorted to stealing scrap metal from the abandoned mills to sell. Gaz is facing trouble from his former wife, Mandy and her boyfriend, Barry over child support payments that he has failed to pay since losing his job. Gaz's son, Nathan, loves his father but wishes they could do more "normal stuff" in their time together.
One day, Gaz spots a crowd of women lined up outside a local club to see a Chippendale's striptease act. He gets the idea to form his own strip tease group using local men in hopes of making enough money to pay off his child support obligations. The first to join the group is Lomper, a security guard at the steel mill where Dave and Gaz once worked. Depressed, Lomper attempts suicide, but is rescued by Dave who convinces him to join the group. Next, they recruit Gerald Cooper, their former foreman at the mill, who is hiding the fact that he is unemployed from his wife. Gaz and Dave see Gerald and his wife, Linda, at a dance class, and recruit him to teach them some actual dance moves.
The four men hold an open audition to recruit more members and settle on Horse, an older man who is nevertheless a good dancer, and Guy, who can't dance but proves himself to be well-endowed. The six men begin to practice their act. Gaz then learns that he has to pay £100 in order to secure the club for the night. He cannot afford this, but Nathan gets the money out of his savings. When they are greeted by two local women while they put up posters for the show, Gaz boasts they're better than the real Chippendales because they go "the full monty". Dave drops out due to body image issues and gets a job as a security guard at Asda. The others do a public rehearsal at the mill in front of some female relatives of Horse, but are caught mid-show by a passing policeman, and Gaz, Gerald and Horse are arrested for indecent exposure.
This costs Gaz the right to see Nathan. Lomper and Guy manage to escape arrest, and go to Lomper's house where they look lovingly at each other, starting a relationship. Gerald, meanwhile is thrown out by Linda after bailiffs arrive at their house and seize their belongings to pay Gerald's debts, resulting in him having to stay with Gaz. Later Gaz goes to Asda and asks Dave if he could borrow a jacket for Lomper's mother's funeral. Dave agrees and also decides to quit his job and they go to the funeral together. Soon, the group find the act and arrest has made them famous.
They decide to forgo the plan, until Gaz learns that the show is sold out. He convinces the others to do it for one night only. Gerald is unsure as he has now got the job that Gaz and Dave earlier tried to sabotage his interview for, but agrees to do it just once. Initially, Dave still refuses, however regains his confidence after encouragement from his wife, Jean, and joins the rest of the group minutes before they go on stage. Nathan also arrives with Dave, having secretly come along, and tells Gaz that Mandy is there but she would not let Barry go with her.
However, Gaz himself refuses to do the act because there are men in the audience (including the police force members who watched the footage of the security camera's recording of them earlier), when the posters said it was for women only. The other five are starting the act when Nathan orders his father to go out on stage. Gaz, proud of his son, joins the others and performs in front of the audience and Mandy, who seems to see him in a new light.
The film ends with the group performing on stage in front of a packed house, stripping to Tom Jones' version of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (their hats being the final item removed) with an astounding success.
Channel 4 Films paid for the screenplay to be written but then declined to invest any equity in the film.
The famous "Hot Stuff" scene, in which the characters dance in the queue at the job centre, was originally going to be cut from the final production as it was "too unrealistic".
The cast allegedly agreed that all six of them would really do the "full monty" strip at the end in front of 400 extras, provided they had to do only one take. Therefore, the choreographer, Suzanne Darley-Grand, was hiding in front of the stage, just beyond the camera view, screaming directions at the cast during the closing scene.
The film was shot entirely on location in and around Sheffield, except for a couple of locations in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.
The opening sequence of the Sheffield promotion film from 1972 is taken from City on the Move, a film commissioned by Peter Wigley, Sheffield's first ever publicity officer, to convince people that Sheffield was a centre for tourism and commerce. City on the Move was produced and directed by Jim and Marie-Luise Coulthard and showed a modern thriving city that was rapidly developing thanks to the successful steel industry in Sheffield. However, the film went virtually unnoticed until the Coulthards were approached about some of the footage being included in The Full Monty for a payment of £400, which they accepted. In 2008, City on the Move was released on DVD under the new name The Reel Monty.
The film features frequent use of English slang, and in particular Sheffielder dialect.
The film's title is a phrase generally used in the United Kingdom to mean "the whole lot", or "the whole hog"; in the film, the characters use it to refer to full nudity — as Horse says, "No one said anything to me about the full monty!" The phrase, whose origin is obscure, gained a renewed prominence in British culture following the film.
Other dialect words are used in the film; some such as nesh (meaning a person unusually susceptible to cold) are widespread across the North Midlands region. Jennel (an alley) is local to Sheffield: it is a variation on the word "ginnel", which is in full versions of the Oxford English Dictionary and is used in many parts of England.
The film surprised the critics when it was first released, earning near universal acclaim. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 95% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 40 reviews, with an average score of 7.6/10, and it went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. When the film was released in the United Kingdom, it topped the box office for the next three weekends, before being overtaken by Contact.
The Full Monty won the BAFTA Award for Best Film in 1997, beating presumed frontrunners Titanic and L.A. Confidential and Carlyle won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Music Score and Best Original Screenplay.
In 1997, the Academy Award for Best Original Score was split up into two categories: Dramatic and Musical or Comedy. In light of 1997's big winner, Titanic, the film won only the Oscar for Best Original Music Score (Musical or Comedy) by Anne Dudley, with the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars going to Titanic and its director James Cameron and the Best Original Screenplay Oscar going to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting. The film was also nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
In 1999, it was ranked #25 on the BFI Top 100 British films list.
In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted The Full Monty the 49th greatest comedy film of all time. By that year it earned an estimated £170 million at the box office worldwide.
New Zealand playwrights Anthony McCarten and Stephen Sinclair filed a £180 million lawsuit against the producers of The Full Monty in 1998. They claim that the film blatantly infringed on their play Ladies Night, which toured both Britain and New Zealand. Anthony McCarten and Stephen Sinclair created a website containing their play in response to statements from the producers of The Full Monty that claimed the two productions were not alike. The underlying rights were attributed to co-producer, Paul Bucknor, and the lawsuit was settled out of court; as part of the agreement, the website containing Ladies Night was shut down.
Anne Dudley's Oscar for Best Score was a surprise, and some critics felt undeserved, inasmuch as the award is for original music and most of the film's memorable moments had jukebox favourites playing. Dudley composed "about 20 minutes'- worth of music" for the film. Bob Strauss called the Oscar "well-deserved", while Pauline Reay felt Dudley's underscore complemented the familiar hits. Dudley described her score to Steven Poole:
It was this conglomeration of sounds—baritone sax, acoustic guitar, harmonica [...] The reasoning was that all these six men are different, they come from different backgrounds, but in the final scene it all works. The idea was that the instruments should do that as well—they all come from different places but they actually gel...
The album The Full Monty: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack includes two original tracks by Dudley plus the pop hits, including a cover by Tom Jones of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" commissioned and produced by Dudley, who had collaborated with Jones on a 1988 cover of "Kiss".
- "The Zodiac" – David Lindup (3:06)
- "You Sexy Thing" – Hot Chocolate (4:03)
- "You Can Leave Your Hat On" – Tom Jones (4:26)
- "Moving on Up" – M People (5:29)
- "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (3:59)
- "The Full Monty" – Anne Dudley (3:04)
- "The Lunchbox Has Landed" – Anne Dudley (2:14)
- "Land of a Thousand Dances" – Wilson Pickett (2:24)
- "Rock & Roll, Pt. 2" – Gary Glitter (3:02)
- "Hot Stuff" – Donna Summer (3:49)
- "We Are Family" – Sister Sledge (3:35)
- "Flashdance... What a Feeling" – Irene Cara (3:49)
- "The Stripper" – Joe Loss & His Orchestra (2:11)
The film was adapted into a 2000 Broadway musical of the same name; the characters and setting were Americanized. The musical ran in the West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2002.
It was also adapted into a stage play by the original screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, which opened at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield on 2 February 2013, directed by Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans, before embarking on a national tour. It opened in the West End at the Noël Coward Theatre on 25 February 2014.
However, despite positive reviews, it was announced the show would close on 29 March, rather than the planned 14 June, after a run of just over a month. A Portuguese language version was adapted for theatrical performance in Brazil by Brazilian journalist Artur Xexéo. This version of the play was directed by Tadeu Aguiar, and debuted in Brazil on 6 October 2015.