|Directed by||Robert Fiore|
|Produced by||George Butler|
|Written by||George Butler|
|Music by||Michael Small|
|Release||January 18, 1977|
|Running time||85 minutes|
Pumping Iron is a 1977 docudrama about the world of bodybuilding, focusing on the 1975 IFBB Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions. Inspired by a book of the same name by Charles Gaines and George Butler, the film nominally focuses on the competition between Arnold Schwarzenegger and one of his primary competitors for the title of Mr. Olympia, Lou Ferrigno. The film also features brief segments focusing on bodybuilders Franco Columbu and Mike Katz, in addition to appearances by Ken Waller, Ed Corney, Serge Nubret, and other famous bodybuilders of the era.
Shot during the 100 days leading up to the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions and during the competitions themselves, the filmmakers ran out of funds to finish production, and it entered development hell for two years. Ultimately, Schwarzenegger and other bodybuilders featured in the film helped to raise funds to complete production, and it was released in 1977. The film became a box office success, making Schwarzenegger a household name. The film also served to popularize the then somewhat niche culture of bodybuilding, helping to inspire the fitness craze of the 1980s; following the film's release, there was a marked increase in the number of commercial gyms in the United States. The film was released on CED, VHS, and then re-released on DVD in 2003 for the 25th Anniversary of the theatrical debut. The film inspired two sequels: George Butler's Pumping Iron II: The Women in 1985, a documentary about the world of female bodybuilding; and David and Scott McVeigh's Raw Iron in 2002, a documentary about the making of Pumping Iron and how the film affected the lives of those who appeared in it.
In 1975, bodybuilders are preparing for the upcoming Mr. Universe amateur competition and Mr. Olympia professional competition in Pretoria, South Africa. The first part of the film documents the life of Mike Katz, a hopeful for the title of Mr. Universe. Katz's being bullied in his youth for being Jewish and wearing glasses spurred him to become a pro football player; when his career with the New York Jets was ended by a leg injury, Katz became a bodybuilder. His psychological balance is thrown off by a prank by fellow contender Ken Waller, who steals Katz's lucky shirt before the competition. Waller wins Mr. Universe, and Katz comes in fourth. Fighting back tears, he cheerfully appraises the situation before deciding to call home and check up on his wife and children. Katz then goes to congratulate Waller.
The film then switches focus to the rivalry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, professional bodybuilders competing for the title of Mr. Olympia. Schwarzenegger, a ten-year veteran of bodybuilding, has won Mr. Olympia for five consecutive years, and intends to retire after a final competition. Ferrigno is determined to be the man to finally beat Schwarzenegger. The film contrasts each man's personality, home environment, and training style: Schwarzenegger is extroverted, aggressive, and works out with other bodybuilders at Gold's Gym and Muscle Beach, whereas the quiet, reserved Ferrigno - who went partially deaf after a childhood ear infection - trains with his father in a dimly lit, private basement gym. While Ferrigno surrounds himself with his family, Schwarzenegger is accompanied wherever he goes by other bodybuilders, reporters, and beautiful women.
In between interviews and workout demonstrations with Ferrigno and Schwarzenegger, Schwarzenegger explains the basic concepts behind bodybuilding. Although he emphasizes the importance of physique in bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger also stresses the psychological aspects of competition, crediting meticulously crafted strategies of psychological warfare against his opponents for his numerous victories.
The film briefly looks at Schwarzenegger's training partner, Franco Columbu, a favorite to win first in the under-200 pound division at Mr. Olympia. A former boxer from a tiny village in Sardinia, Columbu returns home to celebrate a traditional dinner with his family, who still ascribe to old world values and are skeptical of the overt aggression of boxing and bodybuilding. Nevertheless, Columbu impresses his family with a display of strength by lifting the back end of a car and moving it down a street.
In South Africa, Schwarzenegger wages his psychological warfare on Ferrigno, befriending Ferrigno and then subtly insulting him over breakfast with his family. The strategy appears to work and Ferrigno becomes troubled. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger attends the judging for the under 200 pound class in order to scope out who his competition will be for the overall Mr. Olympia title, jokingly disparaging Columbu. The appearance of Ed Corney stuns Schwarzenegger, who for the only time in the film praises another bodybuilder, openly admiring Corney's physique and posing prowess. Columbu places first and he moves on to compete against the winner of the over 200 pound category.
Schwarzenegger, Ferrigno, and Serge Nubret prepare to go onstage and compete for the over 200 pound category. In the locker room, Schwarzenegger engages in some last-minute intimidation of Ferrigno and succeeds in weakening Ferrigno's confidence. Ferrigno is visibly shaken onstage, and as a result, ends up placing third behind Nubret and Schwarzenegger, who is declared the winner. Schwarzenegger and Columbu engage in a posedown for the title of Mr. Olympia. Schwarzenegger uses his stage presence and intimidating looks to unnerve Columbu, who falters. Schwarzenegger is declared Mr. Olympia, and in a post-victory speech announces his official retirement from professional bodybuilding. Later, at an after party for the competitors, Schwarzenegger celebrates his victory by smoking marijuana and eating fried chicken. The competition over, he wishes Ferrigno happy birthday and leads the other competitors in singing "Happy Birthday to You" as a cake is revealed. The film ends with Schwarzenegger, Ferrigno and Ferrigno's parents riding together to the airport.