Some residents initially didn't appreciate the Coen brothers' dark humor or were offended by the extreme violence and depiction of Scandinavian culture. Not to mention those heavy accents on "you betcha" and "ya sure."
But the fame and cash it brought Fargo eventually brought the city around. Now, 16 years later, Fargo awaits the debut of a new cable television show by the same name, and many residents here are less apprehensive about how their hometown will be portrayed this time around. Just ask Kristin Rudrud.
"Anything the Coen brothers are going to be involved in is going to be brilliant," said Rudrud, 57, who played a supporting role in the movie and has a hankering to promote everything about her hometown. "And they love Fargo. They love this area. So it will be done in a very fun and loving way."
The Oscar-winning film starred Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police chief who investigates a series of murders, and William H. Macy as a car salesman who hires two criminals, played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, to kidnap his wife. In one of the final scenes, Stormare feeds Buscemi's body into a wood chipper.
Though the movie made Fargo a household name for many across the country, it wasn't a sure bet when it premiered at the Fargo Theater in 1996. The theater was quiet inside and some moviegoers were offended, said Margie Bailly, who was executive director of the Fargo Theater at the time. Some residents even walked out.
"Those of us who were laughing were a little lonely," she said.
But locals later warmed up as the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and Fargo started to see the benefits from all the publicity. The theater hosted a free Oscar party with a polka band and Jell-O treats that Entertainment Weekly billed as one of the top soirees of the evening.
That event was publicized in several countries, and Fargo cashed in. Donations flowed for the theater's restoration, which dovetailed with plans to revitalize the city's downtown.
Sixteen years later, travelers looking to see the real Fargo still swing through, with many flocking to take a picture next to the iconic wood chipper, autographed on the chute by the Coen brothers and displayed at the city's main tourism center. Tourism staff hand out ear-flap hats to tourists and take pictures of them stuffing the leg of a mannequin into the Yard Shark.
"A good majority of people come in here just looking for the wood chipper," said Jayne Rieth, who works at the tourism center. She didn't like the movie on the big screen, but watched it at home recently so she could be better informed at work. And the tourism center and shops around town sell plenty of wood chipper T-shirts, shot glasses, koozies, mugs and - of course - ice scrapers.
City boosters hope the TV show, which will be produced by Minnesota-born filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen, will add to the notoriety. No timeline has been announced by the FX Network, and John Solberg, FX's senior vice president of public relations, did not return messages left by The Associated Press.
"I don't know how it can be a bad thing for us," said Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the city's convention and visitor's bureau. "People still talk about the movie all the time."
Larry Gauper, of Fargo, a retired health insurance executive, also thinks most people are looking forward to the TV show.
"There are some people who don't like us sort of being mocked or being made fun of, but I think most people really appreciate the attention Fargo gets," Gauper said.
But Fargo movie fan Marnie Piehl wonders if the city has changed too much - thanks to population growth and a revitalized downtown with high-end restaurants and bars serving craft beer and organic vegetables - that it no longer makes sense to situate the TV show here. McDormand's character would have left Fargo years ago, Piehl said.
"That may sound funny to someone from New York, but it just doesn't fit for me anymore," she said. "The North Dakota story is not the Marge Gunderson story anymore."
Though details about the plot and characters in the FX show are scant, that hasn't many stopped Fargo residents from speculating about it.
Mayor Dennis Walaker said his favorite character is the sheriff, and hopes McDormand gets a prominent role. And although Rudrud's character, Macy's wife, was killed off in the movie, she joked that there might be room for her in the adaptation. "Well, I haven't been chopped up," she said. "There's always a possibility."