|Directed by||Bob Rafelson|
|Produced by||Harold Schneider|
|Written by||Charles Gaines|
|Music by||Byron Berline,|
|Cinematography||Victor J. Kemper|
|Edited by||John F. Link|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
The story centers on a young Birmingham scion, played by Jeff Bridges, who gets involved in a shady real-estate deal. In order to close the deal, he needs to buy a gym building to complete a multi-parcel lot. When he visits the gym, however, he finds himself romantically interested in the receptionist (Sally Field) and drawn to the carefree lifestyle of the Austrian body builder Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is training there for the Mr. Universe competition.
Schwarzenegger won a Golden Globe for "Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture" for his portrayal of Joe Santo: technically, it was not his debut role, since he had played Hercules (as "Arnold Strong") in the 1969 film Hercules in New York, a gangster's henchman in Robert Altman's 1973 film The Long Goodbye and a masseur in the 1974 television film Happy Anniversary and Goodbye.
Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a young Southern man born of a wealthy family, but left lonely and idle after his parents died in a plane crash. He is content to spend his time fishing, hunting and puttering around his large family mansion in Birmingham, Alabama, inhabited only by himself and a butler (Scatman Crothers). Blake's "job" is a sinecure working at a shady investment firm run by a slick con artist named Jabo (Joe Spinell) and he does very little actual work. But since he has to have his name "on paper" somehow as an employee, he is asked to personally transact the purchasing of a small gym that the real estate firm is buying in order to clear space for an office high-rise.
He initially approaches the gym representing himself as a businessman looking to buy it, and acts relatively impersonal with its owner Thor Erikson (R.G. Armstrong) and employees Franklin (Robert Englund) and Newton (Roger E. Mosley), although he is strangely fascinated with the world he discovers there. Blake's primary social life is normally centered around the upscale country club and its crowd, including the WASP-y Lester (Ed Begley, Jr.) and the roguish rake Halsey (John David Carson). Blake spends his time at this club with his friends playing tennis and shooting poker dice, and flirting with the women of all ages - one of whom asks Blake to find an "authentic" musical guest for an upcoming party at the club.
As Blake moves forward with his business deal, he falls in love with the gym after visiting it several times - he is immediately taken by the pretty receptionist Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) and the free-spirited, friendly bodybuilder Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger), who aspires to win the Mr. Universe title. He cannot bring himself to sell out his newfound friends at the gym for the sake of his job, and so he evades the inquiries of his friend and coworker Hal Foss (Richard Gilliland) as to his progress in the purchasing deal. All the while, he grows closer to Mary Tate and Santo - who initially appear to be a couple. However, Mary Tate latches onto Craig romantically - and Santo gives Craig his blessing for this unorthodox relationship, claiming that he needs to keep himself challenged both in the gym and in his romantic life in order to succeed.
Mary Tate and Craig begin a passionate and exciting relationship, but trouble erupts when he tries to integrate Mary Tate into his country-club scene. This tension comes to a head at a party at the club, which features Joe Santo as a musical guest, performing bluegrass songs on the violin with a small country group. Craig, with Mary Tate as his guest (dressed inappropriately in a revealing pink dress), is enthusiastic about Joe Santo's upcoming musical performance for the night. However, Craig's friends, particularly Halsey, mock Santo as a "freak" and an outcast. When Halsey suggests that Santo disrobe and show the crowd his "tits," Craig throws a glass of scotch in his face and tells Halsey that Santo could "crush him like an eggshell." A fight nearly breaks out between the two, but is broken up. Meanwhile, a bitter Halsey and his friend Packman formulate a plan to embarrass Santo.
When Santo's musical act is finally put on stage, the crowd seems enthusiastic about the music, though the hostess of the party dismisses it as a "racket." However, Halsey and Packman drunkenly bellow at Santo and heckle the band. Santo notices it, but stoically continues playing. However, when Halsey screams "let's hear it for Muscle Beach symphony orchestra!" Santo is unable to continue playing, puts down his violin and leaves the party. Meanwhile, a frustrated Craig tries to convince Mary Tate to see him for who he really is, and not for his snobbish friends and ritzy surroundings.
Jabo, owner of the shady real estate firm, attempts to bribe Thor, when he realizes that Blake will not purchase the building as he was supposed to. He plies Eriksen and his assistant Newton with drugs, booze and hookers, and on the day of the contest, they are busy with acts of debauchery as Santo is readying to take the stage - hoping to beat his rival Dougie Stewart (Ken Waller). While Thor is drunk and distracted with the prostitutes, Newton secretly stashes the prize money inside his handbag, and then leaves the gym with the prostitutes when they are finished - stealing the money and fleeing. Meanwhile, Joe Santo and Dougie Stewart pose together on stage, to the theme from the film Exodus and the enthusiastic applause of the crowd.
When Blake visits the gym next, he engages in an intense physical fight, dodging weights and gym equipment thrown by the drunken and drug-crazed Eriksen. He finds Mary Tate at the gym, who had just moments earlier been assaulted by Eriksen in an amyl nitrite fueled rage.
When the contestants at the Mr. Universe show discover that the prize money has been stolen, they run after Santo, who himself is actually running to try to meet Mary Tate. The chase results in the wave of bodybuilders pouring out into the streets of Birmingham, to the amazed crowd of onlookers who see them. The bodybuilders take advantage of this unexpected attention to put on an impromptu posing routine for the crowd, and the members of the crowd join in, imitating the athletes' poses and enjoying themselves.
Ultimately, Craig sarcastically derides his former bosses at the real-estate firm, and decides to go into the gym business with Santo. Craig has finally "found himself" and discovered a true place in the sun, and true friendships, and he mocks his former boss Jabo with an exaggerated bodybuilding pose - acting as a final burning of the bridge between his old life and his new one. He moves out of his family's mansion, passing on all of his old family memorabilia to his loyal butler, and leaves behind his old self once and for all - on the way to a new and exciting future.
- Jeff Bridges as Craig Blake
- Sally Field as Mary Tate Farnsworth
- Arnold Schwarzenegger as Joe Santo
- R.G. Armstrong as Thor Erickson
- Robert Englund as Franklin
- Helena Kallianiotes as Anita
- Roger E. Mosley as Newton
- Woodrow Parfrey as Uncle Albert
- Scatman Crothers as William
- Kathleen Miller as Dorothy Stephens
- Fannie Flagg as Amy
- Joanna Cassidy as Zoe
- Richard Gilliland as Hal
- Mayf Nutter as Richard Packman
- Ed Begley Jr. as Lester
- John David Carson as Halsey
- Joe Spinell as Jabo
- Clifford A. Pellow as Walter Jr. (credited as Cliff Pellow)
- Dennis Fimple as Bubba
- Garry Goodrow as Moe Zwick
- Bart Carpinelli as Laverne
- Bob Westmoreland as Fred Kroop
- Brandy Wilde as Flower
- Laura Hippe as Mae Ruth
- John Gilgreen as Security Officer
- Murray Johnson as Heavy #1
- Dennis Burkley as Heavy #2
- Autry Pinson as Heavy #3
- Martin Hames as Bartender
- Byron Berline as Fiddler with Mustache (uncredited)
- Susan Bridges as Blonde Photographer at Contest (uncredited)
- Roger Callard as Bodybuilder in Blue Shorts (uncredited)
- Franco Columbu as Franco Orsini (uncredited)
- Ed Corney as Bodybuilder (uncredited)
- Roland LeGrand Godfrey as Water Skier single ski dock start (uncredited)
- Mary Leona Perry Kirtley as Water Skier double skiies dock start and skiing next to a tug boat and barge (uncredited)
- Bob Rafelson as Man on Sidewalk with Painting (uncredited)
- Robbie Robinson as Bodybuilder at Contest (uncredited)
- Ken Waller as Doug Stewart (uncredited)
- Jolene Wolff as Mrs. Clyde (uncredited)
Stay Hungry marked the final film for Production Designer Toby Carr Rafelson, Bob's wife and film production partner. When she learned husband Bob played with one woman too many on this film, including Sally Field, she filed for divorce, which was granted shortly after the film's release. She never worked for Rafelson again.
Roger Callard, one of the top bodybuilders of that era, was quoted in a 1983 bodybuilding magazine[which?] regarding an event he experienced during the making of the film. "The director was screaming over his megaphone, 'Please do not touch the bodybuilders!' People were rushing us, even scratching us!"
The film opened to positive reviews as many felt it was a good film about body building. Arnold Schwarzenegger was especially applauded as Santo, building a movie career with appearances in Pumping Iron and other films, including Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator. Stay Hungry maintains a 75% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with critics, albeit much lower with audiences with a score of 40%.
- Canby, Vincent (April 26, 1976). "Stay Hungry (1976) Screen: 'Stay Hungry':Rafelson Film Is About 'New' South". The New York Times.
- Hause, Irene. (1983, January). Mike Mentzer’s Video Venture Archived 2009-01-25 at the Wayback Machine. Muscle Mag International. Issue Number 33, page 25. (Retrieved August 21, 2008.)
- Tonguette, Peter. Bob Rafelson and His Odd American Places. The Film Journal. Issue 11. (Retrieved December 1, 2005.)
- Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Simon and Schuster. 1998. 273.