Paul Verhoeven Wishes He'd Made Showgirls More Like Basic Instinct

The lifecycle of Paul Verhoeven's 1995 film "Showgirls" is fascinating. It was to be the widest release ever given to a film rated NC-17, a rating that caused a great deal of chatter. Its star, Elizabeth Berkley, was best known at the time for playing the straightlaced Jessie on the kid-friendly sitcom "Saved by the Bell," so her presence in an all-nude, sex-soaked Las Vegas melodrama raised a few eyebrows. A tie-in coffee table book was authored, selling "Showgirls" as upscale, big-budget adult entertainment for a new age. Upon its release, however, the $45 million bonanza immediately drew negative reviews, with critics bristling at its dumb dialogue and male-gaze/onanism perspective. It currently holds a 23% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film eked out a mere $20 million before flopping down completely. "Showgirls" immediately became a joke. 

"Showgirls" was nominated for 13 Golden Raspberries, "winning" six. People started quoting its idiotic dialogue ironically ("Everybody got AIDS and s***!") and MGM, perhaps a little too eager, immediately declared that their box office bomb was, in fact, a camp classic in the making. In 1996, "Showgirls" was re-released on the midnight movie circuit. It was, however, far too soon for audiences to accept it as a camp classic, and it bombed a second time. This was a pattern that recently repeated itself with "Morbius." Years later, the cult for "Showgirls" did eventually emerge, and by the late '00s, "Showgirls" was indeed playing at midnight shows in earnest. After about 15 years of camp glory, "Showgirls" has gently drifted off to become trashy, once-beloved comfort food. 

In 2015, upon the film's 20th anniversary, Verhoeven was interviewed by Rolling Stone about his oddball sex flick. Regrets? He's had a few.

The wrong kind of sex

Verhoeven already had a reputation as a provocateur for his 1992 thriller "Basic Instinct." In that film, Sharon Stone plays a bisexual crime novelist named Catherine Tramell who is being investigated for the icepick murder of a former rock star. The detective on Catherine's case is Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and he becomes increasingly drawn to her aggressive sexuality over the course of the film. 

"Basic Instinct" features several notable sex scenes and a great deal of nudity. The film banked on cliché, the dialogue was clunky, but it has a lurid appeal that made the film into a hit. 

20 years after "Showgirls," Verhoeven looked at his use of sex in both films and found that only one used sex to add to the film's dramatic power. He said: 

"In 'Basic Instinct,' there are very, very long sex scenes, which aren't there in 'Showgirls.' Because it was a thriller, the idea that Sharon Stone could kill him during sex was always an element of protection. So we could show sex and nudity much longer than normal, because there was another element there — the element of threat."

Verhoeven felt that American audiences are more comfortable with nudity on film if it comes cloaked in the trapping of violence. While "Showgirls" features two notably grim scenes of extreme violence, it was, overall, a movie about ambition and glitz and the stage. He added that, by adding violence, "it would have been easier for audiences to go to a movie where there was abundant nudity — which was probably too difficult, in general, for the American public."

The most beautiful thing in the world

Because "Basic Instinct" is about the relationship between a man and a woman, the sexual tension became a natural outcropping of the story. Sex, in other words, was a central part of the plot. 

For "Showgirls," the story is about Nomi Malone's career. Nomi (Berkley) arrives penniless in Las Vegas, clearly on the run from something, aiming to headline a Vegas strip stage spectacular. She starts by stripping at Cheetah's, catches the eye of the vulpine Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), catches a break, and rises through the ranks of the showgirl world. Nomi will also attract the eye of Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) and they will briefly date. Nomi's sex life is but a small part of the story. Nudity comes naturally to a story about a nude dancer, but sex does not.

Verhoeven acknowledges this, and credits it as one of the gaffes he made while making "Showgirls," saying: 

"[T]he sexual elements of 'Showgirls' are extremely limited; it's more about the nudity. If you make a story about a lap-dancer who becomes a showgirl, I think nudity is obligatory. It followed the storyline. But I wouldn't call that sexual. I would say 'Showgirls' is more anti-erotic than erotic." 

Still, Verhoeven knew that he had to include what he considered vital to both films. Going by the advice of an old professor, Verhoeven said: 

"When I was in high school in Holland, my art teacher said: The breast of a woman is the most beautiful thing in the world. I never forgot that."