Directed by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall), Basic Instinct stars 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, Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer turned the film down
After Michael Douglas was cast as Basic Instinct’s male lead, cop Nick Curran, the hunt was on for someone to play Catherine Tramell. However, most of the big name actresses approached about the role quickly declined due to the subject matter and amount of nudity required.
Those who passed on the film included Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Basinger, Geena Davis, Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore (who later co-starred with Douglas in Disclosure). Finally, director Paul Verhoeven gave the part to the comparatively unknown Sharon Stone, who had co-starred in his previous movie Total Recall.
29. The film’s attitudes towards gay and bisexual people caused a lot of controversy
Before cameras even started rolling on Basic Instinct, the film was a major for controversy due to its subject matter. Gay rights activists strongly objected to the film due the depiction of the bisexual Catherine Tramell as a psychopath and possible murderer.
Objections were also raised over Catherine’s female lover Roxy (Leilani Sarelle) who also attempts murder in a rage of jealousy. Protesters picketed cinema screenings of the film, although arguably this controversy only helped the film at the box office.
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 long since been the most famous moment in the movie. 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. Immediately afterwards, she slapped Verhoeven and walked out.
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, but the filmmakers were obliged to provide an R-rated cut for theatres. This allows under-17s in the company of adults, and is more commercially viable than the restrictive NC-17.
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.
26. Michael Douglas refused to film a scene showing himself ‘stood to attention’
Having treated violence very bluntly in RoboCop and Total Recall, 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 male sexual stimulation, by filming Michael Douglas himself in the nude, standing at 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 before Michael Douglas. One of these was Mel Gibson, then at the height of his stardom from the Lethal Weapon series.
Another contender was Kevin Costner, arguably the biggest movie star in the world at the time (although that would soon change thanks to Waterworld). Also in the frame was Richard Gere, who was enjoying a hot streak at the time in the wake of Pretty Woman.
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. Early on the plan was for the film to go even further in that regard, as Michael Douglas’ character Nick Curran was also originally bisexual.
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 up his character, feeling that as originally written Nick was too passive and weak.
23. Sharon Stone and Paul Verhoeven had a ‘love-hate’ relationship on set
Even though director Paul Verhoeven fought for Stone to be cast in the film, the relationship between the two (even before the row over the leg-crossing scene) was reportedly difficult. During an interview, 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. Stone and Verhoeven have not worked together again since; the director declined the offer to call the shots on the 2006 Basic Instinct sequel.
22. Brooke Shields turned down the part of Catherine’s lover Roxy
The supporting role of Roxanne ‘Roxy’ Hardy was taken by actress Leilani Sarelle, and it remains her most high profile film credit. However, it is rumoured that the makers of Basic Instinct 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. 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 was more explicit
While cuts were demanded of Basic Instinct for its US theatrical release, these did not apply internationally, where a more graphic cut was released to cinemas. (In the years since, the film’s ‘unrated’ cut has been available on home entertainment in the US and worldwide.)
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 more graphic bloodshed, particularly in the opening scene.
20. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas apologised for glamorising smoking in the film after he got throat cancer
Basic Instinct famously features lead actors Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone smoking on camera. One of the many criticisms levelled against the film was that it glamorised the unhealthy habit – and this was something screenwriter Joe Eszterhas later apologised for.
Eszterhas (whose other credits include Jagged Edge, Sliver and Showgirls) was one of the most provocative screenwriters of the time, and was himself a smoker until a battle with throat cancer which he happily survived. He has publicly apologised for the smoking scenes 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 sex scene between Michael Douglas and Jeanne Tripplehorn, which many have declared it to be rape.
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.”
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. The Last Boy Scout earned Black $1.75 million, the biggest fee ever paid for a single script at the time.
However, Black wouldn’t hold this record for long, as mere months later 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.
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, who plays cop John Correlli. 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. Spielberg then offered Knight to offer him the key supporting role of Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park, making him the first actor cast in what became the biggest box office hit ever at the time.
16. Eszterhas quit in protest when Paul Verhoeven asked him to make the script more extreme
As provocative as the original Basic Instinct screenplay was, Paul Verhoeven wanted it to go even further. He demanded that screenwriter Joe Eszterhas add some scenes to the script, including a lesbian love scene. Eszterhas refused, considering this “exploitative,” and quit the movie.
Verhoeven then drafted in screenwriter Gary Goldman to incorporate his ideas into the script. However, after several rewrites Verhoeven conceded that his suggested changes were “stupid,” and they wound up reverting almost entirely to Eszterhas’ earlier draft.
- Credit: Studiocanal/MGM
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, with a tense car chase sequences involving Stone’s Catherine and Douglas’ Nick. In a rare move for a major movie, headline star Douglas did the bulk of the driving himself.
Douglas was considered to be up to the task, as he’d been a highly-skilled driver since his youth. He made his very first screen appearance behind the wheel of a car, performing a driving stunt on one of his father Kirk Douglas’ films. At a later point, he even considered a career in Formula One.
14. Gay rights activists demanded Nick be rewritten as a woman
Gay rights activists protesting Basic Instinct in its earliest stages had a very specific demand. As Sharon Stone’s Catherine was bisexual, they felt the film was demonising anyone outside the heteronormative standard. 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. However, the filmmakers disregarded these demands, and would continue to draw the ire of gay rights groups.
13. Douglas and Stone’s first sex scene took five days to shoot
The pivotal sex scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone 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, “It’s an exhausting process, because it’s a 10-hour day, and you do it for four or five days.” 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
Whilst Michael Douglas and Paul Verhoeven had a mutual respect, both were domineering, opinionated men who demanded control.
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. He 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
When Basic Instinct opened, a protest movement arose known as the ‘Catherine Did It’ campaign. Protesters accusing the film of misogyny and homophobia picked cinemas, hoping to kill the film at the box office by giving away plot details including the killer’s identity.
However, reports at the time speculated this controversy only helped Basic Instinct sell more tickets. After making $15 million on its opening weekend, the film would eventually earn almost $360 million worldwide, making it the fourth biggest box office hit 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 writer says he’d been on a date with a dancer, and they went home together. Later, she alarmed Eszterhas by pulling a weapon out of her handbag.
Happily, this did not lead to violence and the two parted on good terms, but 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. It was also the film debut of Jeanne Tripplehorn, who had previously worked extensively in theatre, as well as appearing in 1991 TV movie The Perfect Tribute.
Basic Instinct was a pretty major calling card for Tripplehorn, as it gave her one of the leading roles in Dr. Beth Garner. She went on to more major movie roles in The Firm, Reality Bites, Waterworld and Sliding Doors, and has since taken key roles on TV’s Big Love and Criminal Minds.
8. Many female critics have defended the film
Considering the amount of outrage the film attracted, you might thinking no one had a kind word to say about Basic Instinct, but in fact the film has been praised by a number of noted feminist critics. Camille Paglia said Sharon Stone gives “one of the great performances by a woman in screen history.”
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,” whilst Shannon J. Harvey of Sunday Time Australia says 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 afterwards director Paul Verhoeven, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and producer Mario Kassar got back together to make another high profile erotic movie: 1995’s Showgirls, starring Elizabeth Berkley.
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: it flopped hard at the box office, and was quickly declared one of the worst films ever made. Today, Showgirls is considered a so-bad-it’s-good classic.
6. The cops never consider DNA evidence – an error that Eszterhas regrets
Whilst it may have pushed boundaries, at heart Basic Instinct is a fairly old-fashioned detective story. 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 evidence, the collection of which has been commonplace since the mid-80s. Joe Eszterhas has since admitted that ignoring this was a terrible oversight.
5. The film earned Sharon Stone a Golden Globe nomination
While the reviews for Basic Instinct were mixed, it was widely agreed that Sharon Stone’s performance was truly iconic, firmly establishing her as a major movie star. She landed a Best Actress in a Motion Picture: Drama nomination at the Golden Globes.
Unfortunately for Stone, she missed out on this award to Emma Thompson for Howard’s End. Nonetheless, her career went from strength to strength afterwards: Stone’s next movie Sliver (also scripted by Joe Eszterhas) earned her $2.5 million, and she went on to command salaries of $5 million and above on such 90s hits as The Specialist and Diabolique.
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.
The big budget, sexually-charged movies made in the wake of Basic Instinct include Body of Evidence, 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. Basic Instinct’s stars would make more erotic thrillers: 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 neither Paul Verhoeven nor Michael Douglas were interested – which left Sharon Stone as the only remaining link to the original film.
After a string of potential directors and leading men were linked, Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction was eventually was directed by Michael Caton-Jones and co-starred David Morrissey. Released In 2006, the film was a critical and commercial flop. Stone has since voiced interest in directing a third Basic Instinct film herself, but this hasn’t come to pass.
2. Jerry Goldsmith considered the score one of his best
As well as Stone’s performance, Basic Instinct also garnered praise for its music. The late Jerry Goldsmith, who had previously worked with Paul Verhoeven on Total Recall, provided the score for Basic Instinct, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Before he passed away in 2004, Goldsmith 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… Because of Paul pushing me, I think it’s one of the best scores I’ve ever written.”
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 scene to inspire many parodies, in such comedies as National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 and Fatal Instinct.
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. Sharon Stone herself has also recreated the moment – in a less revealing fashion – on numerous TV talk shows and public appearances.