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Basic Instinct

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Basic Instinct
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Verhoeven
Written byJoe Eszterhas
Produced by
CinematographyJan de Bont
Edited byFrank J. Urioste
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed by
Release dates
  • March 18, 1992 (1992-03-18) (Los Angeles)
  • March 20, 1992 (1992-03-20) (United States)
  • May 8, 1992 (1992-05-08) (France and United Kingdom)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Budget$49 million
Box office$352.9 million[2]

Basic Instinct is a 1992 neo-noir[3] erotic thriller film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas. Starring Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Wayne Knight, the film follows San Francisco police detective Nick Curran (Douglas) as he investigates the brutal murder of a wealthy rock star. During the course of the investigation, Curran becomes entangled in a passionate and intense relationship with Catherine Tramell (Stone), an enigmatic writer and the prime suspect.

The script for Basic Instinct was developed by Eszterhas in the 1980s, and it became the subject of a bidding war. Carolco Pictures secured the rights to the film and brought Verhoeven on board to direct. Stone was cast as Tramell after the role was rejected by several actresses. Production was plagued by protests and intense conflict between Eszterhas and Verhoeven.

Basic Instinct premiered in Los Angeles on March 18, 1992, and was theatrically released in the United States by TriStar Pictures on March 20, 1992.[4] The film received mixed reviews upon its release, with praise for the performances of the cast, score, and editing, while its writing and character development were criticized. It also generated controversy due to its sexually explicit content, violence, and depiction of homosexual relationships.[5][6] Despite the public protest, Basic Instinct was a commercial success, grossing $352.9 million worldwide and becoming the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1992.[7] Due to its success and controversy, it inspired many imitators, and has been labelled as "perhaps the quintessential erotic thriller of the 1990s."[8][9]

Since its release, Basic Instinct has undergone a critical reevaluation. The film has been recognized for its groundbreaking depictions of sexuality in mainstream Hollywood cinema, and was described by one scholar as "a neo-film noir masterpiece that plays with, and transgresses, the narrative rules of film noir."[10] Numerous versions of the film have been released on videocassette, laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray, including a director's cut with extended footage previously unseen in North American cinemas.[11]

A sequel, Basic Instinct 2, was released 14 years later in 2006. The film stars Stone, but was made without the involvement of Verhoeven or Douglas. It received negative reviews and was relatively unsuccessful.[12][13]


Homicide detective Nick Curran and his partner and best friend Gus Moran investigate the murder of retired rock star Johnny Boz in San Francisco. Boz was stabbed to death with an ice pick while having sex with a mysterious blonde woman. Nick's prime suspect is Boz's girlfriend, crime novelist Catherine Tramell, whose novel mirrors the crime. Catherine is uncooperative and taunts the investigators by smoking and exposing herself. Although she is released, Nick discovers that she has a history of befriending murderers. This includes Roxy Hardy, Catherine's girlfriend, who impulsively killed her two younger brothers at the age of 16, and Hazel Dobkins, who killed her husband and children.

Nick, who accidentally shot two tourists while high on cocaine during an undercover assignment, attends counseling sessions with police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner. The two have an on-and-off affair. Nick discovers that Catherine is using him as the basis for the protagonist of her latest book, in which his character is murdered after falling for the wrong woman. He becomes suspicious that she has bribed Lt. Marty Nilsen for his psychiatric file. In response, Nick assaults Nilsen in his office. Nilsen is found murdered, and Nick is suspected and placed on leave. Moran later uncovers evidence that Nilsen had been paid fifty thousand dollars three months earlier, before Nick had even met Catherine.

Nick and Catherine embark on a passionate but tense affair, much to Moran's chagrin given his suspicions about her. It starts one night when Nick sees Catherine snorting cocaine with Roxy at Boz's club. They return to Catherine's place and Roxy observes Nick and Catherine having rough sex, with Catherine tying Nick to the bed. This mirrors the way Boz was tied up by the mystery blonde. Jealous of Nick, Roxy tries to run him over with Catherine's car but dies when the vehicle crashes. Catherine is saddened by Roxy's death and confesses to Nick about a college encounter with a girl that ended badly as the girl became obsessed with her. Nick identifies that girl as Beth; Beth claims that it was Catherine who was obsessed. Catherine insists that the obsessive behavior came from Beth and even led her to file a report to the Berkeley campus police; when Nick visits Berkeley, he finds out that Catherine's report was withdrawn by Nilsen a year earlier. Nick also learns that a college professor of Catherine and Beth's was killed with an ice pick in an unsolved homicide that inspired one of Catherine's early novels. He also discovers that Beth's former husband was mysteriously murdered five years earlier (this, too, had been investigated by Nilsen before), and that unconfirmed rumours at the time pointed to the involvement of Beth's unnamed lesbian lover.

Nick discovers the final pages of Catherine's book, where the fictional detective finds his partner's body in an elevator. Catherine breaks off their affair, leaving Nick upset and suspicious. He meets Moran, who has arranged to meet Catherine's college roommate in Oakland to learn about Catherine and Beth. Moran is stabbed to death with an ice pick in the elevator and Nick finds Moran's body in a fashion similar to the description in the book. Beth arrives unexpectedly and claims that she received a message to meet Moran. Nick suspects Beth of killing Moran and shoots her when he believes she's reaching for a gun. However, Beth was only fiddling with her keychain.

Evidence implicates Beth in the murders of Boz, Nilsen, Moran, and her own husband. The investigators also find photos and newspaper clippings of Catherine that imply an obsession with her. Nick is left confused and dejected. Catherine meets him at his apartment and explains her reluctance to commit to him due to her loved ones dying. However, they have sex and discuss their future. As they do, an ice pick is seen under the bed, implying that Catherine was the killer all along.



The screenplay, which was written in the 1980s, sparked a bidding war until it was finally purchased by Carolco Pictures for US$3 million.[14][15] Eszterhas, who had previously been the creative force behind several blockbuster films such as Flashdance (1983) and Jagged Edge (1985), managed to complete the script in just 13 days.[16] However, Verhoeven had suggested changes to the script that Eszterhas strongly disagreed with, including a lesbian sex scene that Eszterhas deemed "exploitative".[4] With Verhoeven unwilling to budge, Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler left the production.

Gary Goldman was subsequently brought on board to rewrite the script four times at Verhoeven's suggestion. However, by the fourth draft, Verhoeven himself acknowledged that his proposals were "undramatic" and "really stupid". By the fifth and final draft, the script had returned to Eszterhas' original vision, with only minor tweaks to visuals and dialogue.[17] As a result, Joe Eszterhas received sole writing credit for the film. In preparation for the car chase scene, Douglas drove up the steps on Kearny Street in San Francisco for four nights by himself.

The home of Stone's character, prominently featured in the film, is said to be in Stinson Beach, California, just north of San Francisco. In reality, the scenes were shot at a mansion near Carmel-by-the-Sea, about 120 miles (190 km) south of San Francisco. The property had been previously owned by the late adventurer Steve Fossett and his wife until her death in 2017.[18] In 2018, the residence was purchased by software engineer Gary Vickers, who combined it into an estate with four adjoining cottages he also owned; he put the entire property on sale the following year for $52.4 million.[19][20] By 2022, the asking price had been lowered to $29.6 million.[19]


After numerous actors turned down the lead role, Carolco worried they would not be able to cast a suitable male lead.[21] CAA's agent Ronald Meyer called Carolco and said that he knew the script had been turned down by actors; Meyer said Michael Douglas would agree to star in the film if Carolco could meet his salary requirement, and Carolco quickly agreed.[22] Douglas was cast in the project early on. He recommended Kim Basinger for the role of Catherine Tramell, but she declined.[23] He also suggested Julia Roberts,[24] Greta Scacchi,[25] and Meg Ryan,[26] but they all turned down the role. Debra Winger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner, Kelly Lynch, Ellen Barkin, and Mariel Hemingway all turned down the role as well when offered by Verhoeven and producers.[14][27]

Verhoeven considered Demi Moore,[28] but ultimately chose Sharon Stone, with whom he had previously worked on Total Recall. Verhoeven had been particularly struck by the way she quickly transitioned from evil to love in a couple of seconds before her character's death in that film.[29] Verhoeven tested with Stone as Douglas first refused to test with her. Verhoeven kept playing her test after testing everyone else, and Douglas later agreed to test with Stone after 12 other actresses turned down the role.[30] Michael Douglas was initially upset that the relatively unknown Stone was cast in the role, determined to have another A-list actress star in the movie with him. Worried about taking the risk on his own, he said, "I need someone to share the risks of this movie. [...] I don't want to be up there all by myself. There's going to be a lot of shit flying around."[24] He later remarked that "we had a fabulous actress in Sharon. She was just perfect for the role".[31] Stone was paid $500,000 for her role, while Douglas received $14 million.[32]



Professional ratings
Review scores
Filmtracks link

The musical score for Basic Instinct was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and earned him nominations for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award.[33] Goldsmith described the process as challenging, stating, "Basic Instinct was probably the most difficult [score] I've ever done. It's a very convoluted story with very unorthodox characters. It's a murder mystery, but it isn't really a murder mystery. 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. It was a true collaboration."[34]

In terms of featured music, commercially released tracks played a minor role in the film. The club scene prominently features "Blue" by Chicago house music performer LaTour and "Rave the Rhythm" by the group Channel X, as well as "Movin' on Up" by Jeff Barry and Ja'Net DuBois. Chris Rea's "Looking for the Summer" is heard during a scene between Douglas and his partner at Mac's Diner.

The film's official soundtrack was released on March 17, 1992. In 2004, Prometheus Records issued an expanded version of Goldsmith's score, which included previously omitted sections and alternative compositions for certain elements.



Jeanne Tripplehorn, Michael Douglas, Martine Tours (wife of Verhoeven), Paul Verhoeven, Sharon Stone and Mario Kassar at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival

The film opened in North American theatres in March 1992, and after being entered into the 1992 Cannes Film Festival[35] continued on to a worldwide release.

MPAA rating[edit]

Basic Instinct is rated R for "strong violence and sensuality, and for drug use and language". Initially, the film was given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA for "graphic depictions of extremely explicit violence, sexual content and strong language". However, under pressure from TriStar and Carolco, Verhoeven cut 35 to 40 seconds from the film to achieve an R rating.[14] Verhoeven described the changes in a March 1992 article in The New York Times:

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.[14]

The European theatrical release did not require these cuts. The uncut version was later released in the USA on home video.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

Following its theatrical version, an unrated version of the film was released on video in 1992, running at 129 minutes. In 1997, a DVD release containing only the R-rated version was issued, followed by a "collector's edition" DVD release in 2001. This edition contained the uncut version of the film along with a commentary by Camille Paglia and a small ice pick (which was actually a pen), the villain's weapon of choice. This version, which runs 127 minutes, was subsequently re-released twice in 2003 and 2006, respectively.[citation needed]

In March 2006, the unrated version, also known as the "director's cut", was re-released on DVD and labeled as the "ultimate edition". The film was released on Blu-ray in 2007 with the "director's cut" label.[citation needed]

The theatrical release of the film was cut by 35 to 40 seconds to avoid an NC-17 rating,[14] with some violence and sexually explicit content removed. The missing or censored material, later released on video and DVD as the director's cut, included:

  • The murder of Johnny Boz in the opening scene. In the director's cut, the killer is seen stabbing him in his neck, in the chest and through his nose. In addition, the killer is still having violent sex with him while stabbing him at the same time.
  • The scene where Nick rapes Beth is cut in the US theatrical version. He is seen ripping off her clothes and forcing her over the couch, before a cut to the two of them lying on the floor. In the uncut version, she verbally tells him to stop and says 'no' multiple times.
  • The scene where Nick and Catherine have sex after going to the club is longer and much more explicit in the uncut version.

In 2021, StudioCanal released a restored 4K Ultra HD 'collector's edition' of the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download in the UK (June 14), Australia (July 7), and New Zealand (July 14). The restoration was supervised by the director and completed in 2019–2020, using the original 35MM negative. Additionally, a new documentary titled "Basic Instinct, Sex, Death & Stone" was added as a special feature.[36]


Box office[edit]

Basic Instinct opened in theaters in the United States and Canada on March 20, 1992, and became one of the highest-grossing films of that year. It debuted at number one at the US box office, grossing $15 million in its opening weekend. After briefly dropping down the charts, it returned to number one in its fifth week, where it remained for four weeks. In total, the film grossed $117.7 million in the United States and Canada. Internationally, it grossed $352,927,224,[37] making it the fourth-highest-grossing film released in 1992 worldwide.[38] In Italy, it had a record opening of $5.44 million and remained number one for four weeks,[39] ultimately grossing $20 million and becoming the highest-grossing film for the year.[40] It was the highest-grossing film in Spain of all time, with a gross of $21.6 million,[41][42] and in the United Kingdom, it was number one for three weeks and the highest-grossing film for the year with a gross of £15.5 million.[43] It was also number one for the year in France ($27 million), Germany (4.5 million admissions), South Africa ($3 million), Iceland, and Ireland.[44][45] In Australia, it was number one for three weeks and the second-highest-grossing film for the year, grossing A$13.1 million.[46]

Critical response[edit]

Basic Instinct's critical reaction was mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 56% based on 77 reviews, with an average rating of 6.20/10 and the consensus that "Unevenly echoing the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Basic Instinct contains a star-making performance from Sharon Stone, but is ultimately undone by its problematic, overly lurid plot."[47] On Metacritic the film holds a score of 43 based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[48] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[49]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the film, saying "Basic Instinct transfers Mr. Verhoeven's flair for action-oriented material to the realm of Hitchcockian intrigue, and the results are viscerally effective even when they don't make sense."[50] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also praised the film, saying it was a guilty pleasure film; he also expressed admiration for Verhoeven's direction, saying his "cinematic wet dream delivers the goods, especially when Sharon Stone struts on with enough come-on carnality to singe the screen," and praised Stone's performance: "Stone, a former model, is a knockout; she even got a rise out of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Verhoeven's Total Recall. But being the bright spot in too many dull movies (He Said, She Said; Irreconcilable Differences) stalled her career. Though Basic Instinct establishes Stone as a bombshell for the Nineties, it also shows she can nail a laugh or shade an emotion with equal aplomb."[51]

Australian critic Shannon J. Harvey of the Sunday Times called it one of the "1990s['] finest productions, doing more for female empowerment than any feminist rally. Stone—in her star-making performance—is as hot and sexy as she is ice-pick cold."[52]

The film had many detractors.[53] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded it two out of four stars, saying the film was well crafted but died down in the last half-hour: "The film is like a crossword puzzle. It keeps your interest until you solve it. Then it's just a worthless scrap with the spaces filled in."[54] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune also gave a negative review, calling it psychologically empty: "Verhoeven does not explore the dark side, but merely exploits it, and that makes all the difference in the world."[55]



After the script was made available to gay rights activist groups in early 1991, concerns arose as to the film's depiction of homosexual relationships, and the portrayal of a bisexual woman as a murderous psychopath. Activists claimed that the film followed a pattern of negative depictions and stereotypes of homosexuals in film.[56] While Eszterhas was open to addressing these concerns, Verhoeven, Douglas, and producer Alan Marshall rejected the changes, claiming that they "undermined" Eszterhas' script and "lessen the integrity of the picture."[57] Upon resuming filming in San Francisco in late April 1991, gay and lesbian rights activists and demonstrators attended,[58] and the San Francisco Police Department's riot police were present at every location to manage the crowds. Protesters outside the filming locations held signs that said "Honk if you love the 49ers" and "Honk if you love men." On April 29, Marshall ordered a citizen's arrest and personally identified each protester he wanted arrested. However, this did not result in any action by the local police department.[4][56][57]

Members of the lesbian and bisexual activist group LABIA protested against the film on its opening night. Others also picketed theatres to dissuade people from attending screenings, carrying signs saying "Kiss My Ice Pick", "Hollywood Promotes Anti-Gay Violence" and "Catherine Did It!"/"Save Your Money—The Bisexual Did It".[59] Verhoeven himself defended the groups' right to protest, but criticized the disruptions they caused, saying "Fascism is not in raising your voice; the fascism is in not accepting the no."[60]

Six protestors disrupted the filming of Saturday Night Live on April 11, 1992, while Stone was hosting.[61] The protestors attempted to rush the stage, but they were apprehended by security; two women and four men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and harassment.[62] [63] The live version of Stone's interrupted monologue was replaced in repeat broadcasts with footage from the dress rehearsal.[61]

Film critic Roger Ebert mentioned the controversy in his review, saying "As for the allegedly offensive homosexual characters: The movie's protesters might take note of the fact that this film's heterosexuals, starting with Douglas, are equally offensive. Still, there is a point to be made about Hollywood's unremitting insistence on typecasting homosexuals—particularly lesbians—as twisted and evil."[54] Camille Paglia denounced the gay activist and feminist protests against Basic Instinct, and called Sharon Stone's performance "one of the great performances by a woman in screen history", praising her character as "a great vamp figure, like Mona Lisa herself, like a pagan goddess."[64]

Women's rights groups also protested the film over its negative depiction of women and a brutal rape scene, with a branch of The National Organization for Women calling the film "the most blatantly misogynistic film in recent memory." Its Los Angeles branch president at the time claimed the movie sent a message "that women like violence, women like to be used, women like to be raped."[65] The film was also criticized for glamorizing cigarette smoking. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was later diagnosed with throat cancer and publicly apologized for glamorizing smoking in his films.[66]


Since the release of the film, Stone has alleged multiple times that a scene in which her vulva was exposed as she crossed her legs was filmed without her knowledge.[67] Stone later said she was told that her lack of underwear would only be alluded to and not shown.[68] She had been wearing white underwear until Verhoeven said they reflected light on the camera lens and asked her to remove them, assuring her that only a shadow would be visible. Stone stated that it was not until she saw the film in a screening room with a test audience that she became aware of the visible nudity, leading her to slap Verhoeven in the face and leave the screening.[67] In her 2021 memoir, Stone alleged once again that she was misled by Verhoeven with regard to the circumstance of the filming of the scene, even though she ultimately did not seek an injunction against it.[69] Verhoeven responded that it was "impossible" and "she knew exactly what we were doing." However, despite having a "radically different" memory about the particular scene, he praised Stone's performance and said they are on good terms.[70] In a 1998 Inside the Actors Studio interview, Stone said that while she was initially angry, she realized the director's decision was the right one, saying "And I thought about it for a few days and I knew in my heart, he was right. I hated that it existed, I hated it more that he stole it from me instead of allowing me to choose. But he was right."[71] She has also allegedly joked, "At least it proves I'm a natural blonde."[72]

Jeanne Tripplehorn has also said that the notorious scene in which her character and Douglas's had brutal, bruising sex was somewhat "lighter" when described to her by Verhoeven before shooting.[73] During the trial of the murder of Jun Lin, the prosecution stated that Luka Magnotta was inspired by the film and Stone's character, Catherine Tramell.[74][75]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipient Result
20/20 Awards Best Actress Sharon Stone Nominated
Academy Awards[76] Best Film Editing Frank J. Urioste Nominated
Best Original Score Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Sharon Stone Nominated
Best Film Editing Frank J. Urioste Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award Jerry Goldsmith Won
Cannes Film Festival[35][77] Palme d'Or Paul Verhoeven Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[78] Best Actress Sharon Stone Nominated
DVD Exclusive Awards Best Original Retrospective Documentary Jeffrey Schwarz Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[79] Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Sharon Stone Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Jerry Goldsmith Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards[80] Worst Actor Michael Douglas (also for Shining Through) Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress Jeanne Tripplehorn Nominated
Worst New Star Sharon Stone's tribute to Theodore Cleaver Nominated
Golden Screen Awards Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Movie Nominated
Best Male Performance Michael Douglas Nominated
Best Female Performance Sharon Stone Won
Most Desirable Female Won
Best Villain Nominated
Best On-Screen Duo Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone Nominated
Nikkan Sports Film Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Saturn Awards Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Director Paul Verhoeven Nominated
Best Writing Joe Eszterhas Nominated
Best Actress Sharon Stone Nominated
Best Music Jerry Goldsmith Nominated

See also[edit]


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