Today, it’s hard to imagine that a hard R-rated adults-only movie which deals candidly with sex and violence could wind up being one of the biggest commercial success stories of its time (Fifty Shades of Grey notwithstanding). However, that was exactly the case when Basic Instinct hit screens in 1992.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall), Basic Instinct starred one of the most popular leading men of the time, Michael Douglas, alongside a comparatively unknown actress named Sharon Stone – who would quickly thereafter become one of the most in-demand actresses of the 1990s.
The film hasn’t lost its capacity to shock now, even though it’s (gasp!) almost 30 years old. Did you know the following titillating truths about Basic Instinct?
30. Julia Roberts turned down the chance to star in the film
Basic Instinct was considered first and foremost a star vehicle for Michael Douglas, still a hot leading man following his 1987 Best Actor Oscar win for Wall Street.
However, the casting of the film’s female lead – novelist and possible serial killer Catherine Tramell – was also of paramount importance.
However, Basinger declined the role, as did many other big name actresses of the time – in most cases because they were uncomfortable with the subject matter and level of nudity.
Paul Verhoeven had worked with Sharon Stone on his previous movie, Total Recall, and cast her despite her comparative obscurity at the time.
29. The film’s attitudes towards gay and bisexual people caused a lot of controversy
Michael Douglas had originally hoped to co-star with a fellow A-lister in Basic Instinct in order to “share the risks” the movie represented.
“I don’t want to be up there all by myself. There’s going to be a lot of s*** flying around,” the actor predicted.
Douglas’ instinct (no pun intended) was proven correct, as the film was a controversy magnet from the beginning.
Many people would complain about the graphic violence in the film, which includes a rape scene.
Basic Instinct was also opposed by gay rights activists, who were critical of the film’s depiction of homosexual relationships.
Many were angered by the fact that a bisexual woman was shown as being a murderer and a psychopath.
28. Sharon Stone claims the film’s most ‘revealing’ scene was shot without her consent
Basic Instinct’s infamous interrogation room scene, in which Sharon Stone uncrosses and crosses her legs, has gone down in history.
However, Stone has claimed that the nudity in this moment was filmed without her knowledge or consent.
The actress has said that director Paul Verhoeven asked her to remove her underwear only because it was reflecting light, and that he reassured her that only shadow would be visible.
Stone says that it wasn’t until she first saw the film in a screening room with a test audience that she discovered how explicit the shot really was.
- Credit: MGM-UA
After viewing the scene, she is said to have slapped Verhoeven in the face and left the screening room.
Paul Verhoeven has always strongly denied Stone’s claim, saying that she was fully aware of what the scene involved.
27. The film had to be re-cut to get an R-rating
With its heavy emphasis on sex and violence, Basic Instinct was always going to be an adults-only movie.
However, due to the nature of the film business in the US, the filmmakers were obliged to provide an R-rated cut for theatres.
The R rating, which allows under-17s in the company of adults, is more commercially viable than the restrictive NC-17: to this day, the stronger certificate places serious limitations on a film’s marketing and distribution.
To make sure Basic Instinct got an R, around 40 seconds had to be removed from director Paul Verhoeven’s original cut.
As well as re-editing the sex scenes to make use of less revealing footage, Verhoeven also had to trim the bloody murder of Johnny Boz in the opening scene.
Verhoeven explains, “actually, I didn’t have to cut many things, but I replaced things from different angles, made it a little more elliptical, a bit less direct.”
26. Michael Douglas refused to film a scene showing himself ‘stood to attention’
Having treated violence very bluntly in those films, Basic Instinct presented the director with an opportunity to be similarly blunt about sex.
With this in mind, Verhoeven – ever the provocateur – initially hoped to break a very significant Hollywood taboo with Basic Instinct.
The director wanted his film to be the first mainstream production to display – how best to put this? – male sexual stimulation.
That’s right – Paul Verhoeven wanted to show a nude Michael Douglas, on camera in a major motion picture, standing to attention.
Of course, this was not only immediately vetoed by the producers, but Douglas himself also refused to do full frontal nudity full stop, let alone anything else.
25. Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and Richard Gere were all considered to play Nick
Much as there were many major Hollywood leading ladies offered the part of Catherine Trammell, so too were several big name leading men considered for Nick Curran.
One of these was Mel Gibson, then at the height of his stardom from the Lethal Weapon series and other hits.
Paul Verhoeven is also said to have considered Peter Weller, who impressed the director on their 1987 film RoboCop.
Ultimately, Michael Douglas was deemed the best fit for Nick Curran, and Douglas himself was the most enthusiastic about the material.
24. Michael Douglas refused to play Nick as a bisexual
Basic Instinct was considered a fairly ground-breaking film in that one of its lead characters, Stone’s Catherine, is openly bisexual.
However, during the film’s development process the plan was for the film to go even further in that regard.
The plan was also for Michael Douglas’ character Nick Curran to be bisexual at one point.
However, as well as refusing to do frontal nudity, Douglas also refused to play a bisexual man.
On top of this, Douglas insisted on further script revisions to toughen his character, feeling that as originally written Nick was too passive and weak.
The actor’s concerns about his character’s strength (or lack thereof) was the root of numerous clashes with director Paul Verhoeven throughout the shoot.
23. Sharon Stone and Paul Verhoeven had a ‘love-hate’ relationship on set
Basic Instinct was the second collaboration of Sharon Stone and Paul Verhoeven after Total Recall, and the director fought for Stone to be cast in the film.
Despite this, the relationship between the two (even before the row over the leg-crossing scene) was reportedly difficult.
- Credit: Buckner/Deadline/REX/Shutterstock
Once during an interview together, Verhoeven said the pair had a “love-hate relationship,” to which Stone said, “yeah – he loves me and I hate him.”
Michael Douglas described the tension between the two as a “soap opera,” and suggested that Verhoeven wished he could have played Douglas’ role himself.
- Credit: Bestimage
Stone and Verhoeven have not worked together again since; the director declined the offer to call the shots on the 2006 Basic Instinct sequel.
However, Verhoeven did offer Stone the role of Cristal Connors (ultimately taken by Gina Gershon) in Showgirls, which she declined.
22. Brooke Shields turned down the part of Catherine’s lover Roxy
The supporting role of Roxanne ‘Roxy’ Hardy, Catherine Tramell’s lover, was taken by actress Leilani Sarelle.
Sarelle is a comparatively little-known actress, while Basic Instinct was, and remains, her most high profile credit.
However, it is rumoured that the filmmakers had initially pursued a considerably better-known actress for the part.
Allegedly, the role of Roxy was first offered to Brooke Shields, the former child actress and model who rose to fame in the late 70s.
Infamously, Shields had appeared nude in a number of her earlier films whilst still in her teens.
However, it has been reported that Shields (by then in her late 20s) turned down Basic Instinct as she was uncomfortable with the film’s sexual content.
21. The version of the film available outside of the US is more explicit
While cuts were demanded of Basic Instinct for its US theatrical release, these did not apply internationally.
In addition, in the years since Basic Instinct, ‘unrated’ VHS and DVD releases became popular in the US.
As such, the original uncut version of the film has long since been widely available in the US and beyond.
In line with Paul Verhoeven’s comments on the matter, the differences are not too noticeable at a glance.
Most of the changes amount to slightly more revealing angles and longer takes used in the sex scenes.
There are also a few additional frames of graphic bloodshed, particularly in the opening scene.
20. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas apologised for glamorising smoking in the film after he got throat cancer
- Credit: Washington Post/Getty Images
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was notorious for being one of 90s Hollywood’s most unapologetically provocative screenwriters.
However, there is one thing the writer has publicly apologised for: the use of smoking in his films.
Basic Instinct famously features lead actors Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone smoking on camera, often.
As such, one of the many criticisms levelled against the film was that it glamorised the unhealthy habit.
- AP Photo/Ron Schwane
Eszterhas (whose other credits include Jagged Edge, Sliver and Showgirls) was himself a smoker, until a battle with throat cancer which he happily survived.
He has since publicly apologised for glamorising smoking not just in Basic Instinct, but in all of the films he’s written.
19. Michael Douglas denies his controversial scene with Jeanne Tripplehorn constitutes rape
The issue of expressed consent in sexual relations is treated with far more importance today than it had necessarily been in the past.
Basic Instinct provoked questions on this issue, due to one particularly controversial scene between Michael Douglas and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
Early on in the film, Douglas’ Nick has sex with Tripplehorn’s Beth in a very rough manner, and many have declared it to be a rape scene.
Douglas, however, disputed this at the time, declaring, “that was not a rape. It was aggressive sex between adults.”
Director Paul Verhoeven felt similarly, although he wasn’t so adamant, noting, “there is consent and there are moments when you feel it’s going too far, and then she consents anyhow for whatever reason.”
Despite this, there are moments in the full uncensored cut of the scene when Beth can clearly be heard telling Nick to stop.
18. The screenplay was bought for a record-breaking $3 million
There was, for a time, a more-or-less friendly rivalry between screenwriters Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black.
The two scribes were the first of a new breed in Hollywood, commanding far higher salaries for their work than was the norm.
However, Black didn’t hold this record for long, as within months Eszterhas would sell Basic Instinct for an eye-popping $3 million.
This was a record for a few years – until Black once again went one better, earning $4 million for The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Today, Shane Black has moved into directing with such major blockbusters as Iron Man 3 and The Predator.
17. Wayne Knight’s performance landed him his role in Jurassic Park
In the iconic interrogation scene, almost as vital as that leg cross is the reaction shot of actor Wayne Knight.
Knight had been a comedian and a bit-part actor in movies for over a decade when cast in Basic Instinct as John Correlli.
- Credit: IMDb
While most audience members were distracted by Sharon Stone, one person who paid closer attention to Knight was Steven Spielberg.
The legendary director was so captivated by Knight’s performance that he sat through the end credits to get a note of the actor’s name.
Shortly thereafter, Spielberg contacted Knight to offer him the key supporting role of Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park. Knight was the first actor cast in what became the biggest box office hit ever at the time.
This made 1992 a big year for Knight, as he also landed a recurring role in the soon-to-be massively popular sitcom Seinfeld.
16. Eszterhas quit in protest when Paul Verhoeven asked him to make the script more extreme
- Credit: MGM-UA
Director Paul Verhoeven is a filmmaker for whom the words ‘too much’ almost never seem to apply.
As provocative as the original Basic Instinct screenplay was, Verhoeven wanted it to go even further.
- Credit: Studiocanal/MGM
The filmmaker demanded that screenwriter Joe Eszterhas add some scenes to the script, including a lesbian love scene.
Eszterhas did not agree with Verhoeven’s demands, considering them “exploitative,” and as a result the writer quit the movie.
- Credit: Paramount
Verhoeven then drafted in screenwriter Gary Goldman, and the two men worked together on incorporating the director’s ideas.
However, after several rewrites Verhoeven conceded that his suggested changes were “stupid,” and they wound up reverting almost entirely to Eszterhas’ earlier draft.
15. Michael Douglas did most of his own stunt driving
While Basic Instinct is most renowned for its energetic sex scenes, it also boasts some impressive automobile action.
The film has a couple of tense car chase sequences involving Stone’s Catherine and Douglas’ Nick.
In a fairly rare move for a major motion picture, headline star Douglas did the bulk of the driving himself.
As can be seen in the sequence above, this included some fairly hairy manoeuvres at high speed.
However, Douglas was considered to be up to the task, as a highly-skilled driver since his youth.
In his younger years, Douglas had driven race cars, and at one time considered pursuing a career in Formula One.
In fact, Douglas made his very first screen appearance behind the wheel of a car, performing a stunt on Cast a Giant Shadow (which starred his father, the late screen legend Kirk Douglas).
14. Gay rights activists demanded Nick be rewritten as a woman
Before cameras were even rolling on Basic Instinct, word got out about the film’s subject matter.
A number of major gay rights groups were protesting the film when it was still in the pre-production stages.
The main complaint was that, as Stone’s Catherine was bisexual, the film was demonising anyone outside the heteronormative standard.
This was a sensitive subject for many at the time, as Oscar-winning hit The Silence of the Lambs had been widely criticised for the same reason.
Because of this, activists protesting the film demanded that Michael Douglas’ role of Nick Curran be rewritten as female, feeling this would redress the balance.
The Basic Instinct filmmakers disregarded these demands, and this proved to be just the beginning for the hate the film received from gay rights activists and feminists.
13. Douglas and Stone’s first sex scene took five days to shoot
Even in its slightly censored theatrical cut, the key sex scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone is a lengthy, eye-opening sequence.
This single scene took the Basic Instinct team a full five days to shoot from start to finish.
Michael Douglas has described the experience as being similar to shooting a fight sequence, due to how heavily choreographed it was.
The actor recalls, “you break it down into beats: This, this, that, that, boom, boom. ‘You start here, you go there.’ You do it with your clothes on in rehearsals.”
“It’s an exhausting process, because it’s a 10-hour day, and you do it for four or five days… you have to worry about light, shadows.”
Stone likened the scene to a song-and-dance number, dryly describing Douglas and herself as “a horizontal Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for the 90s.”
12. Verhoeven was hospitalised after an argument with Douglas gave him a stress nosebleed
Stories of leading men actors butting heads with their directors have long been commonplace in Hollywood.
However, there aren’t so many stories of leading men literally sending their directors to hospital – especially without physical contact.
Whilst Michael Douglas and Paul Verhoeven had a mutual respect, both were domineering, opinionated men who demanded control.
As such, when the two disagreed, their arguments could become very heated indeed, and one such confrontation pushed the director too far.
Verhoeven, who had been prone to nosebleeds his whole life, started bleeding profusely following a row with Douglas – and had to be rushed to hospital.
Verhoeven wound up staying in hospital for several days, with work on the film temporarily put on hold in his absence.
11. Campaigners tried (and failed) to kill the film at the box office
Some gay rights and feminist groups had been angry enough when Basic Instinct went into production – and they certainly didn’t let up once the film hit screens.
A protest movement swelled up around the film, which came to be known as the ‘Catherine Did It’ campaign.
As might be apparent, this campaign hoped to kill Basic Instinct at the box office by openly spoiling the climactic revelation of the killer’s identity.
Protestors in San Francisco picketed cinemas showing the movie, handing out pamphlets which gave away plot details and accused the film of misogyny and homophobia.
However, reports at the time speculated that this attempt at negative publicity had only helped Basic Instinct sell more tickets, by making it such a talking point.
After taking $15 million on its opening weekend, Basic Instinct ended up making $117.7 million at the US box office and a total of $352.9 million worldwide, making it the fourth highest-earning film of 1992.
10. Joe Eszterhas came up with the story after a one-night stand pulled out a weapon
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas is said to have come up with the idea for Basic Instinct following an encounter with a real-life Catherine Tramell.
The story goes that Eszterhas had been on a date with a dancer, and the two proceeded to go home together.
Things advanced as you’d probably expect they would – but there was to be an unexpected twist in the tale.
In the aftermath of their physical intimacy, Eszterhas was taken aback when his date produced a weapon from her handbag.
Happily, this did not lead to a violent altercation, and the two are said to have parted on good terms.
However, the incident left Eszterhas thinking about how dramatic and terrifying it would have been if things had developed differently – and from there, the essential plot of Basic Instinct came together.
9. It was the film debut of Jeanne Tripplehorn
Sharon Stone was not the only actress for whom Basic Instinct was a major career turning point.
The film was also a big break for Jeanne Tripplehorn, with it being literally her first movie.
Before Basic Instinct, Tripplehorn had worked in theatre, and appeared in 1991 TV movie The Perfect Tribute.
Basic Instinct was a pretty major calling card for the then-29-year-old actress, as it gave her one of the leading roles.
She also went on to work prominently in TV, with key roles on Big Love and Criminal Minds.
8. Female critics have defended the film
Considering the amount of outrage the film attracted, you’d be forgiven for thinking no one was left with a kind word to say about Basic Instinct.
This is not the case at all, however, as the film has been praised and defended by a number of noted feminist critics.
Camille Paglia, a famed feminist academic, called Stone’s performance as Catherine Tramell “one of the great performances by a woman in screen history.”
Many contemporary re-appraisals of Basic Instinct by female critics have also been positive about the film and its legacy.
Casey Cipriani of Bustle calls Basic Instinct “the classic erotic neo-noir thriller… [the film] has questionable morals, but at least the woman has all the power.”
Shannon J. Harvey of Sunday Time Australia declares that the film did “more for female empowerment than any feminist rally.”
7. The film’s director, writer and producer all reunited for 1995 flop Showgirls
Basic Instinct’s success proved that sexually explicit movies could make big money – so the filmmakers were keen to see how far they could take that.
Director Paul Verhoeven, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and producer Mario Kassar got back together to make another high profile erotic movie, entitled Showgirls.
Released in 1995, the film cast Elizabeth Berkley of TV’s Saved by the Bell as an ambitious young dancer trying to hit the big time in Las Vegas.
Budgeted at around $45 million, Showgirls had a bold aim: to break the taboo of the NC-17, and become the first blockbuster to carry that rating.
This approach backfired spectacularly. Showgirls attracted universally damning reviews, flopped hard at the box office, and was quickly declared one of the worst films ever made.
However, in the years since Showgirls has gradually come to be re-appraised as a camp classic, and a masterpiece of so-bad-it’s-good cinema.
6. The cops never consider DNA evidence – an error that Eszterhas regrets
Whilst it may have pushed boundaries for what was acceptable in a mainstream movie, at heart Basic Instinct is a fairly old-fashioned detective story.
As such, the film takes an old school approach to police work, with cops dusting for prints and Stone’s Catherine talking a lie detector test to ‘prove’ her innocence.
However, there’s one rather essential aspect of modern crime scene investigation which the film completely overlooks: DNA.
The collection of DNA evidence to place individuals at the scene of the crime has been commonplace since the mid-80s.
As such, one of the first things the homicide cops would have done is get a DNA sample from Catherine – but they never do this.
Joe Eszterhas has since admitted this was a terrible oversight on his part, and that the film is weaker for it.
5. The film earned Sharon Stone a Golden Globe nomination
Sharon Stone worked her way up the Hollywood ladder in the 80s with such middle-of-the-road movies as King Solomon’s Mines and Police Academy 4, before first collaborating with Paul Verhoeven on Total Recall alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This being the case, she was in no way an A-lister when she was cast in Basic Instinct – but the film’s success changed all that.
While the reviews were mixed, it was widely agreed that Stone’s performance in Basic Instinct was truly iconic, and established her as a major star.
Stone even landed a nomination in the Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama category at the 1993 Golden Globes. (She missed out to Emma Thompson for Howard’s End.)
After getting a reported $500,000 for Basic Instinct, Stone’s next movie Sliver (also scripted by Joe Eszterhas) earned her $2.5 million. Stone went on to command salaries of $5 million and above on such 90s hits as The Specialist and Diabolique.
Of course, as the actress has since discussed, this was far less than the major leading men of the time were earning. As such, she not unreasonably demanded a far higher $13.6 million for Basic Instinct 2 in 2006.
4. The film paved the way for more explicit blockbusters
Despite the initial controversy, Basic Instinct went on to become one of the most commercially successful films of the 1990s.
Having cost $49 million to make, it took $350 million at the worldwide box office, to say nothing of home video returns.
This convinced Hollywood of the commercial viability of the erotic thriller genre for a time.
The big budget, sexually-charged movies made in the wake of Basic Instinct include Body of Evidence (above), Indecent Proposal and Wild Things.
Even the most esteemed American filmmaker of the time, Stanley Kubrick, would explore the genre with his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (above).
Basic Instinct’s stars would go on to revisit erotic thriller territory: Michael Douglas in Disclosure, and Sharon Stone in Sliver and The Specialist.
3. 2006 sequel Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction was a huge box office bomb
Given the success of Basic Instinct, and its somewhat open ending, there was soon talk of a sequel.
It wasn’t until 2000 that work on a follow-up film finally got underway, but director Paul Verhoeven wasn’t interested.
Michael Douglas also passed, feeling he was too old – which left Sharon Stone as the only remaining link to the original film.
Directors David Cronenberg and John McTiernan, and leading men such as Robert Downey Jr., Kurt Russell and Pierce Brosnan were linked to Basic Instinct 2, but eventually it was directed by Michael Caton-Jones and co-starred David Morrissey.
Released In 2006, 14 years after the original, Basic Instinct 2 was a critical and commercial flop.
Although Stone voiced interest in directing a third Basic Instinct film herself, this hasn’t come to pass.
2. Jerry Goldsmith considered the score one of his best
While Basic Instinct was not unanimously well-received by the press and the film industry overall, the film did garner a lot of praise for its music.
The late Jerry Goldsmith, who had previously worked with Paul Verhoeven on Total Recall, provided the score for Basic Instinct.
- Credit: David Keeler/Getty Images
Goldsmith earned both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his efforts, and he considered the score some of his best work.
Goldsmith once said, “Basic Instinct was probably the most difficult I’ve ever done. The director, Paul Verhoeven, had a very clear idea of how the woman should be, and I had a hard time getting it.
- Credit: Universal Pictures/Photofest
“Because of Paul pushing me, I think it’s one of the best scores I’ve ever written. It was a true collaboration.”
Goldsmith (whose other credits include Chinatown, Gremlins, Rambo: First Blood Part II and The Mummy) passed away in 2004, aged 75.
1. The leg-crossing scene has been widely parodied
As soon as Basic Instinct opened, the leg-crossing in the interrogation room became the moment that viewers were left talking about.
It didn’t take long for the memorable and controversial scene to inspire all manner of parodies.
Within a year of Basic Instinct’s release, a send-up of the scene appeared in National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1.
In 2015, James Cordon re-enacted the scene on The Late Late Show, when Michael Douglas appeared as a guest. Spoofs of the scene have also popped up on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and many more comedy shows.
And of course, Sharon Stone herself has recreated the moment – in a less revealing fashion – on numerous TV talk shows and public appearances.