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Basic Instinct (1992) is an Americanmarker erotic thriller/neo-noir film, directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Leilani Sarelle and George Dzundza.

The film centers around police detective Nick Curran (Douglas), who is put in charge of the investigation of a brutal murder of a wealthy former singer. Beautiful, seductive and wealthy writer Catherine Tramell (Stone) could be involved; over the course of the investigation, Detective Curran becomes involved in a torrid and intense relationship with the mysterious woman — who turns out to be very dangerous.

Controversy surrounded Basic Instinct before it was even released. Gay rights activists strongly criticized the film and its depiction of homosexual relationships, especially the depiction of lesbian and bisexual women as psychopathic serial killers.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its controversy, Basic Instinct was a major hit and became one of the most successful box office performers of 1992, collecting nearly $353 million worldwide and becoming one of the most iconic films of the 1990s. While receiving major commercial attention, it was also critically commended, receiving two Academy Award and two Golden Globe nominations—Jerry Goldsmith, the composer, was nominated for both awards for his original score, while Frank Urioste was nominated for an Academy Award for his editing and Sharon Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress. In 2006, a sequel was released, which was critically panned and a commercial flop. Multiple versions of the film have been released including a director's cut, the most recent release being in 2006.


When a wealthy former rock star named Johnny Boz is brutally stabbed to death with an ice pick while having sex with a blonde woman, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is sent to investigate. The only suspect they have is Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a crime novelist last seen with Boz on the night he died.

Nick and his partner, Gus Moran (George Dzundza), visit a Pacific Heights mansion, but there they find only Tramell's lesbian lover, Roxy, at home. Roxy sends them to Tramell's Stinson Beachmarker beach house, where they find her on a deckchair by the ocean. They ask about her relationship with Boz, who then shows very little remorse at hearing he is dead.

Nick and Gus, along with their superiors, discover that Catherine Tramell has written a novel about a former rock star who was killed in the exact same way—tied to the bed with a white scarf and murdered with an ice pick. Catherine goes to police headquarters for questioning. During the interview, she engages in provocative behavior, refusing to extinguish her cigarette and at one point uncrosses her legs, revealing she isn't wearing underwear under her short skirt.

Later that night Nick goes to a bar with several of his co-workers and gets into a heated argument with Officer Nilsen (Daniel von Bargen), an Internal Affairs officer who has been a major source of problems for Nick throughout his career. Police psychologist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) then arrives and she and Nick leave together. At Beth's apartment, the two engage in violent sex.

Nick learns that Catherine's parents were killed in a boat explosion when she was an adolescent, leaving her with an inheritance of $110 million. He also discovers that Catherine makes a habit out of befriending vicious murderers, such as a woman who stabbed her husband and children to death for no apparent reason.

On a visit to Catherine's house, the detective discovers that she knows things about him that should be strictly confidential. When Nick confronts Beth about this because she is the only person with access to that private information. She reluctantly admits that, because Nilsen perceived that she was biased in favor of Nick, she decided to give Nick's file to Nilsen in order to allow him and other IA investigators to evaluate Nick directly (IA was seriously considering discharging Nick from the police force). Upon learning this information, Nick assaults Nilsen in his office, accusing him of having sold his psychological profile to Catherine Tramell, who then fires Nick.

Later, Officer Nilsen is found dead in his car with a single gunshot to the head. Most of the department detectives consider Nick to be the prime suspect, due to his recent altercation with Nilsen. A torrid sexual affair then begins between Nick and Catherine Tramell, with an initial air of a cat-and-mouse game. Roxy, Catherine's jealous female lover, attempts to kill Nick by running him over with Catherine's car, but she ends up being killed in a car accident while being chased by Nick.

Nick, now on forced leave from the police department, continues to investigate on his own and discovers several facts that make Catherine seem more and more like the killer. However, he also uncovers facts at a hospital in Salinas, Calif., about Beth's deceased husband, Dr. Joseph Garner, who was shot to death with an unrecovered .38 revolver (the same weapon used to murder Nilsen) several years earlier and that the case had no leads and still remains unsolved. Also, it turns out Catherine and Beth had a sexual encounter while in college and each accuses the other of being obsessed with her. In addition, Nick learns that a psychology professor was murdered with an ice pick while both of the women were attending college and majoring in psychology.

Nick's partner, Gus, is lured to a building and murdered by someone wearing a hood, in the same way described in Catherine's new book. Nick, who was left waiting in the car, figures out there is trouble brewing and runs into the building but arrives too late to help his partner. Hearing the floor creak, Nick grabs Gus' gun and turns to find Beth standing in the hallway. She claims she received a message to meet Gus there. However, Nick believes she murdered his partner and suspects she has a weapon in her jacket pocket. When she refuses to remove her hand from her pocket quickly enough, he fatally shoots her. With her final breath, she tells Nick that she loves him. When he checks her pocket, he discovers that she had only her keys in her hand. In the stairway, the detectives find a blond wig, a raincoat with "SFPD" on it and an icepick, the weapon used to murder Gus. To most detectives, it appears that Beth ditched the items when she heard Nick coming up the stairs. A subsequent examination of Beth's apartment supplies the incriminating evidence needed to brand her as the killer of Boz, Gus and presumably her husband (a .38 revolver, photos of the victims and of Catherine, an ice pick and Catherine's novels).

In the final scene of the film, Catherine and Nick make love. The conversation soon turns toward their possible future as a couple. While talking, Nick turns his back on Catherine as she slowly reaches for something underneath the bed but stops when Nick turns around and summarizes their future together. The two resume making love, as the camera slowly pans down to show the underside of the bed an ice pick can be seen lying on the floor.


The screenplay, written sometime in the 1980s, was popular enough to prompt a bidding war; it was eventually purchased by Carolco, for a reported USD$3 million. Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the film in 13 days, and who had been the creative source for several other blockbusters, including Flashdance (1983) and Jagged Edge (1987), was replaced by Gary Goldman as the writer; as Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler walked off the picture after failing to reach agreement with Verhoeven over how the film should be tackled. Verhoeven promptly hired Total Recall (1990) writer Goldman to come up with some new scenes, most of which butched up Douglas's character and made him less weak and self-destructive as a person. These changes were largely made at the behest of Michael Douglas. It was during this stage that Verhoeven realized his changes weren't going to work so he had to publicly make up with Eszterhas. Problems recurred later when Eszterhas wanted to make more changes to appease the gay and lesbian communities. Verhoeven point-blank refused to incorporate these changes. However, after 5 months of rewrites, Verhoeven went back to the original script. Original drafts included the concept of the love scene between Nick and Catherine in Catherine's apartment. The scene would have been even longer and more explicit than the version finally shot and included in the movie. The stars and director thought the sexual acrobatics were too long and overtly extreme to be believed and the scene was scaled back to the existing version.

The initial production title Love Hurts was quickly changed to Basic Instinct, but was later re-used as the name of Tramell's murder novel. Tri-Star Pictures, which had the United Statesmarker distribution deal with Carolco at that time, played that role for Basic Instinct. Warner Brothers Pictures acquired help during the production, including building the Johnny Boz Club. Adjusted for inflation, the budget of the film was an estimated USD$49,000,000.

Douglas took the role after several actors, including Peter Weller, turned it down. In preparation for the car chase scene, Douglas reportedly drove up the steps on Kearny Street in San Francisco for four nights by himself. When residents complained, $25,000 was donated to their community center. Douglas recommended Kim Basinger for the role of Catherine Tramell, but Basinger declined. Greta Scacchi and Meg Ryan also turned down the role, as did Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis, Ellen Barkin, and Mariel Hemingway. Verhoeven considered Demi Moore. Stone was a relative unknown until the success of this movie; she was paid a minimal amount of $500,000 for her role as Catherine Tramell, considering the film's extensive production budget. Stone was later paid $13.6 million for Basic Instinct 2, in 2006. Stone was cast by Verhoeven because he was extremely fond of her performance in his Total Recall , a film in which Stone played a manipulative, sexually provocative character, not dissimilar to Tramell.

Filming commenced on April 5, 1991 and concluded on September 10, 1991. Filming in San Francisco was attended by demonstrations by gay and lesbian rights activists, and San Francisco Police Department riot police had to be present at every location every day to deal exclusively with the crowd. See Portrayal of homosexuals below.

In addition, Verhoeven initially fought during the production and filming for a lesbian love scene to be added to the script over the objection of Eszterhas, who thought such a scene would be far too gratuitous. Verhoeven eventually agreed with Eszterhas and apologized to him for forcing the issue. Following the success of Basic Instinct, Ezsterhas and Verhoeven went on to collaborate on Showgirls.

MPAA rating

Basic Instinct is rated R for strong violence and sensuality, and for drug use and language. It was initially given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, but under pressure from Tri-Star, Verhoeven cut 35 to 40 seconds to gain an R rating. 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.

The film was subsequently re-released in its uncut format on video and later on DVD.

Portrayal of homosexuals and bisexuals

The film generated controversy due to its overt sexuality and graphic depiction of violence. During principal photography the film was protested by gay rights activists who felt that the film followed a pattern of negative depiction of gay and lesbian people in the film industry. An April 29, 1991 Los Angeles Times article documents activists' protests, and the book Family Values: Two Moms and Their Son by Phyllis Burke (New York: Random House, 1993. ISBN 0-679-42188-2) covers the protests over several chapters. Members of the lesbian and bisexual activist group LABIA protested against the film on its opening night. The group GLAAD released a statement protesting the film's stereotypical and homophobic portrayal of gays and lesbians.

Basic Instinct also received criticism from those who feel it portrays bisexuals as insatiable, untrustworthy, and homicidal (in the film, Tramell is an openly bisexual woman). Outspoken bisexual writer Camille Paglia, however, has not only defended Basic Instinct, but called it her "favorite film", even providing an audio commentary track on the various special edition DVD releases of Basic Instinct.

Critical reception

The film was entered into the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.

The film's critical reaction was widely mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 60%, the minimum score to be considered "fresh". 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". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine also praised the film, saying it was a guilty pleasure film, he also expressed admiration for Verhoeven's direction, saying "his [Paul Verhoven] 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 Ah-nold 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".

The film was not without its detractors; Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times dismissed the film: giving it two out of four stars, stating that the film is well crafted, yet dies down in the last half hour: "The film is like a crossword puzzle. It keeps your interest until you solve it, by the ending. Then it's just a worthless scrap with the spaces filled in". The international critical reception was favorable, with Australian critic Shannon J. Harvey of the Sunday Times calling 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".

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. Jerry Goldsmith, the composer, was nominated for both awards for his original score. Frank Urioste was nominated for an Academy Award for film editing and Sharon Stone was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress, for her performance as Tramell. It was also nominated for three Razzie Awards including Worst Actor (Michael Douglas), Worst Supporting Actress (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Worst New Star (Sharon Stone's tribute to Theodore Cleaver).

Box office performance

Basic Instinct opened in theatres in the United States and was one of the highest grossing films of 1992, after its March 29 release. In its opening week, the film grossed $15 million. It was the ninth highest-grossing film of 1992, adjusted for inflation, it grossed $352,927,224 worldwide.

Releases and versions

Following the theatrical version, the film was first released in its uncut format onto video in 1992, running at 129 minutes. This was followed by a DVD release in 1997, in a bare-bones format. A "Collector's Edition" setup was released on DVD in 2001, containing the Special Edition of the DVD and an ice-pick pen (the villain's weapon of choice). This version of the film, running 127 minutes, was re-released twice: in 2003 and 2006.

In March of 2006 an unrated director's cut version was released on DVD and labeled "Ultimate Edition." In 2007, the film was released in Blu-Ray and HD DVD format with the "Director's Cut" label as well. All three of these director's cut versions have a stated run time of 128 minutes.

The film was cut by 35–40 seconds to avoid an NC-17 rating on its theatrical release in 1992, with some violence and sexuality explicit content removed. The missing or censored material (later released on video and DVD as the directors cut) included:

  • The murder of Johnny Boz in the opening scene. Instead, we see the killer stabbing him in his neck, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest, in the face and we see the icepick passing through his nose.
  • The scene where Nick almost rapes Beth is severely cut in the US theatrical version (we see him ripping off her underwear and forcing her over the couch, then there's a cut to the two of them lying on the floor). In the uncut version Nick pulls down his pants, exposing his rear, penetrates Beth from behind as she reaches orgasm.
  • The scene where Nick and Catherine make love after going to the club is longer and much more explicit in the uncut version (Nick is seen burying his face between her legs).
  • The death of Nick's partner, Gus, in the elevator is more graphic. The US version omits shots of Gus being repeatedly stabbed in the neck with blood and gore flying at the camera.


Apart from the film score – professionally released music did not play a major part in Basic Instinct. The prominent music scene occurs during the club scene; Curran, Tramell and Roxy are seen at in Downtown San Francisco. It features Blue by Chicago singer LaTour and Rave the Rhythm performed by the group Channel X. It also features Movin’ On Up by Jeff Barry and Janet DuBois. The soundtrack also contains excerpts of dialogue, including the interrogation scene.

The soundtrack was released on March 17, 1992. A 2 disc version of Jerry Goldsmith's score, featuring previously omitted sections and alternative compositions of certain elements, was given a limited release years later.

Track listing
  1. "Main Title" 2:13
  2. "Crossed Legs" 4:49
  3. "Night Life" 6:03
  4. "Kitchen Help" 3:58
  5. "Pillow Talk" 4:59
  6. "Morning After" 2:29
  7. "The Games Are Over" 5:53
  8. "Catherine's Sorrow" 2:41
  9. "Roxy Loses" 3:37
  10. "Unending Story / End Credits" 9:23

See also


  1. Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  2. Basic Instinct at Box Office Mojo; accessed November 5, 2007.
  3. Basic Instinct at Rotten Tomatoes; accessed November 5, 2007.
  4. Basic Instinct at UK Critic; accessed November 5, 2007.
  5. Joe Eszterhas interview at Moviemaker; accessed November 4, 2007.
  6. Basic Instinct (1992) - Trivia from Internet Movie Database
  7. Basic Instinct script at Daily Script; accessed November 5, 2007.
  8. Basic Instinct (1992) - Box office / business from the Internet Movie Database
  9. Greta Scacchi, a BBC Drama Faces article
  10. Meg Ryan: In The Cut (Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum), an October 2003 BBC article
  11. Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1991: Gays Bashing Basic Instinct
  12. Maslin, Janet. Basic Instinct. New York Times; accessed November 5, 2007.
  13. Travers, Peter. Basic Instinct. Rolling Stone; accessed November 5, 2007.
  14. Reviews :: Basic Instinct from Roger Ebert's website

External links

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