Showgirls is a 1995 French-American erotic drama film written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven. It stars former teen actress Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, and Gina Gershon. The film centers on a "street-smart" drifter who ventures to Las Vegas and climbs the seedy hierarchy from stripper to showgirl.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Verhoeven|
|Written by||Joe Eszterhas|
|Music by||David A. Stewart|
|Distributed by||MGM/UA Distribution Co.|
|Box office||$37.8 million|
Produced on a then-sizable budget of approximately $45 million, significant controversy and hype surrounding the film's amounts of sex and nudity preceded its theatrical release. In the United States, the film was rated NC-17 for "nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, some graphic language, and sexual violence." Showgirls was the first (and to date only) NC-17 rated film to be given a wide release in mainstream theaters. Distributor United Artists dispatched several hundred staffers to theaters across North America playing Showgirls to ensure that patrons would not sneak into the theater from other films, and to make sure film-goers were over the age of 17. Audience restriction due to the NC-17 rating coupled with poor reviews resulted in the film becoming a box office bomb, grossing just $37 million.
Despite a negative theatrical and critical consensus, Showgirls enjoyed success on the home video market, generating more than $100 million from video rentals, allowing the film to turn a profit and become one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers. For its video premiere, Verhoeven prepared an R-rated cut for rental outlets that would not carry NC-17 films. This edited version runs 3 minutes shorter (128 minutes) and deletes some of the more graphic footage. Despite being consistently ranked as one of the worst films ever made, Showgirls has become regarded as a cult classic, was released on Blu-ray in June 2010 and has even been subject to critical re-evaluation, with some notable directors and critics declaring it a serious satire worthy of praise.
An unofficial spin-off sequel entitled Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven, focused on the minor character Penny, played by Rena Riffel, was also written, produced, edited, and directed by Riffel. It was released at midnight film showings, art house theaters, film festivals, charity non-profit organizations, and was direct-to-video.
Nomi Malone is a young drifter who hitchhikes to Las Vegas hoping to make it as a showgirl. After being robbed by her driver, Nomi meets Molly Abrams, a costume designer who becomes her roommate. Molly invites Nomi backstage at Goddess, the Stardust Casino show where she works, to meet Cristal Connors, the diva star of the topless dance revue. When Nomi tells Cristal she dances at Cheetah's Topless Club, Cristal derisively tells her that what she does is akin to prostitution. When Nomi is too upset to go to work that night, Molly takes her dancing at The Crave Club. Nomi is arrested after causing a fight involving James, a bouncer at the club. James bails Nomi out of jail, but she pays him little notice.
Cristal and her boyfriend Zack Carey, the entertainment director at the Stardust, visit Cheetah's and request a lap dance from Nomi. Although the bisexual Cristal is attracted to Nomi, her request is based more on her desire to humiliate Nomi by proving she engages in sex work. Nomi reluctantly performs the lap dance after Cristal offers her $500. James happens to be at the strip club as well and witnesses the lap dance. He visits Nomi's trailer the next morning and, like Cristal, tells Nomi that what she is doing is no different from prostitution. Later Nomi and James have a brief fling; the affair ends when James gives the dance routine he choreographs for Nomi to Penny, a former coworker of Nomi's who he gets pregnant.
Cristal arranges for Nomi to audition for the chorus line of Goddess. Tony Moss, the show's director, humiliates Nomi by asking her to put ice on her nipples to make them hard while Cristal eagerly watches offstage. Furious, Nomi abruptly leaves the audition after scattering ice everywhere in a fit. Despite her outburst, Nomi gets the job and quits Cheetah's. Cristal further humiliates Nomi by suggesting she make a "goodwill appearance" at a boat trade show which turns out to be a thinly disguised form of prostitution.
Undeterred, Nomi sets out to get revenge against Cristal and claim her mantle. She seduces Zack, who secures an audition for her to be Cristal's understudy. Nomi wins the role, but when Cristal threatens legal action against the Stardust, the offer is rescinded. After Cristal gloats and taunts her, Nomi pushes her down a flight of stairs, breaking her hip. Unable to perform, Cristal is replaced by Nomi as the show's lead. Although Nomi has finally secured the fame she sought, she alienates Molly, who realizes she pushed Cristal down the stairs.
Later, Molly relents and attends Nomi's opening night celebration at a posh hotel, where she meets her idol, musician Andrew Carver. Carver lures Molly to a room where he brutally beats her and helps one of his bodyguards rape her. Molly is hospitalized after the assault. Nomi wants to report the assault to the police, but Zack tells her the Stardust will bribe Molly with hush money to protect their celebrity performer, Carver. Zack then confronts Nomi about her sordid past: her real name is Polly, and she became a runaway and prostitute after her parents' murder-suicide. She has been arrested several times for drug possession, prostitution, and assault with a deadly weapon. Zack blackmails Nomi by vowing to keep her past quiet if she will not tell the police about the assault.
Unable to obtain justice for Molly without exposing her past, Nomi decides to take justice into her own hands. She gets Carver alone in his hotel room and beats him bloody. Nomi then pays two hospital visits: one to Molly to let her know that Carver's actions did not go unpunished, and another to Cristal to apologize for injuring her. Cristal admits she pulled a similar stunt years ago. Because her lawyers secure her a large cash settlement, Cristal forgives Nomi, and they exchange a kiss. Nomi leaves Las Vegas and hitches a ride to Los Angeles, coincidentally with the same driver who stole her possessions when she arrived.
- Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi Malone/Polly Ann Costello
- Kyle MacLachlan as Zack Carey
- Gina Gershon as Cristal Connors
- Glenn Plummer as James Smith
- Robert Davi as Al Torres
- Alan Rachins as Tony Moss
- Gina Ravera as Molly Abrams
- Lin Tucci as Henrietta "Mama" Bazoom
- Greg Travis as Phil Newkirk
- Al Ruscio as Mr. Karlman
- Patrick Bristow as Marty Jacobsen
- William Shockley as Andrew Carver
- Michelle Johnston as Gay Carpenter
- Pamela Anderson as Party Singer
- Dewey Weber as Jeff
- Rena Riffel as Penny / Hope
- Melissa Williams as Julie
- Ungela Brockman as Angie
- Melinda Songer as Nicky
- Bobbie Phillips as Dee
- Carrie Ann Inaba as Goddess dancer
Eszterhas came up with the idea for Showgirls while on vacation at his home in Maui, Hawaii. During lunch in Beverly Hills, Verhoeven told Eszterhas that he had always loved "big MGM musicals", and wanted to make one; Eszterhas suggested the setting of Las Vegas. Based on the idea he scribbled on a napkin, Eszterhas was advanced $2 million to write the script and picked up an additional $1.7 million when the studio produced it into a film. This, along with the scripts for both Verhoeven's previous film Basic Instinct (1992) and Sliver (1993; also an erotic thriller starring Sharon Stone), made Eszterhas the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood history. Verhoeven deferred 70% of his $6 million director's fee depending on if the film turned a profit.
"I wrote Showgirls at the single most turbulent moment of my life," said Eszterhas later. "The stuff I've done since then has more warmth, more humor, is more upbeat."
A long list of actresses were considered for the role of Nomi Malone including Pamela Anderson, Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Vanessa Marcil, Jenny McCarthy, Denise Richards, and Charlize Theron, but they all turned it down before Elizabeth Berkley, following the cancellation of Saved by the Bell, signed on to play the role. Madonna, Sharon Stone, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, and Finola Hughes (who allegedly turned down the script because she thought it was sexist) were considered for the part of Cristal Connors before Gina Gershon became available.
Kyle MacLachlan says Dylan McDermott was the first choice for the character of Zack Carey, but he declined and MacLachlan was then cast. The actor later recalled, "That was a decision that was sort of a tough one to make, but I was enchanted with Paul Verhoeven. Particularly Robocop, which I loved. I look back on it now and it’s a little dated, but it’s still fantastic, and I think it’s got some of the great villains of all time in there. It was Verhoeven and [Joe] Eszterhas, and it seemed like it was going to be kind of dark and edgy and disturbing and real."
Eszterhas and Verhoeven did extensive interviews with over 200 real-life Las Vegas strippers, and incorporated parts of their stories in the screenplay to show the amount of exploitation of strippers in Vegas. Eszterhas took out a full-page advertisement in Variety in which he dubbed the film a morality tale and denounced the advertising of the film as "misguided", also writing "The movie shows that dancers in Vegas are often victimized, humiliated, used, verbally and physically raped by the men who are at the power centers of that world."
The film was a critical and commercial failure on initial release. In 1997 Eszterhaus said:
Clearly we made mistakes. Clearly it was one of the biggest failures of our time. It failed commercially, critically, it failed on videotape, it failed internationally. . . . In retrospect, part of it was that Paul (Verhoeven, the director) and I were coming off of Basic,' which defied the critics and was a huge success. Maybe there was a certain hubris involved: We can do what we want to do, go as far out there as we want.' That rape scene was a god-awful mistake. In retrospect, a terrible mistake. And musically it was eminently forgettable. And in casting mistakes were made.
Kyle MacLachlan later recalled seeing the film for the first time at the premiere:
I was absolutely gobsmacked. I said, “This is horrible. Horrible!” And it’s a very slow, sinking feeling when you’re watching the movie, and the first scene comes out, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a really bad scene.” But you say, “Well, that’s okay, the next one’ll be better.” And you somehow try to convince yourself that it’s going to get better… and it just gets worse. And I was like, “Wow. That was crazy.” I mean, I really didn’t see that coming. So at that point, I distanced myself from the movie. Now, of course, it has a whole other life as a sort of inadvertent… satire. No, “satire” isn’t the right word. But it’s inadvertently funny. So it’s found its place. It provides entertainment, though not in the way I think it was originally intended. It was just… maybe the wrong material with the wrong director and the wrong cast.
Showgirls was universally derided by film critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 23% based on 52 reviews with the consensus; "Vile, contemptible, garish, and misogynistic – and that might just be exactly Showgirls' point." Metacritic give the film an average score of 16/100, indicating "Overwhelming dislike. Roger Ebert, following a relatively mild negative review (2 stars out of 4), wrote that Showgirls received "some bad reviews, but it wasn't completely terrible". The film remains heralded as one of cinema's worst.
The film was the winner of a then-record seven 1995 Golden Raspberry Awards (from a record thirteen nominations, a record that still stands) including Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Elizabeth Berkley), Worst Director (Paul Verhoeven), Worst Screenplay (Joe Eszterhas), Worst New Star (Elizabeth Berkley), Worst Screen Couple ("any combination of two people (or two body parts)") and Worst Original Song (David A. Stewart and Terry Hall for "Walk Into the Wind").
Verhoeven gamely appeared in person at the Razzies ceremony to accept his award for Worst Director; Showgirls would later win an eighth Razzie Award for Worst Picture of the Last Decade in 2000. It was soon tied with Battlefield Earth for winning the most Razzies in a single year, a record broken when I Know Who Killed Me won eight trophies in 2008 and then again when Jack and Jill won ten awards in 2012.
Due to Showgirls' poor reception, Striptease, a 1996 film about nude dancers starring Demi Moore, was distanced from Showgirls in advertisements; Striptease nonetheless won the next year's Razzie Award for Worst Picture. Rena Riffel, who played Penny/Hope in Showgirls, was also cast in Striptease, as Tiffany Glass.
The term "Showgirls-bad" has been adopted by film critics and fans to refer to films considered guilty pleasures, or "so-bad-they're-good". To date, Showgirls is the highest-grossing NC-17 production, earning $20,350,754 at the North American box office.
"I met Paul Verhoeven and he was just so charismatic," remarked Toni Halliday, who contributed to the soundtrack. "He wowed me into this horrible film, selling it as some intellectual comment on the sex industry. I walked out after 45 minutes. The screen went dead every time that woman was on it." (Select magazine, August 1996)
While the film's theatrical run was underwhelming and did not recoup its budget, it went on to gross over $100 million in the home video and rentals markets, and as of 2014, the film is still one of MGM's highest selling movies.
Since its release, the film has achieved cult status. According to writer Naomi Klein, ironic enjoyment of the film initially arose among those with the video before MGM capitalized on the idea. MGM noticed the video was performing well because "trendy twenty-somethings were throwing Showgirls irony parties, laughing sardonically at the implausibly poor screenplay and shrieking with horror at the aerobic sexual encounters".
In the United States, Showgirls is shown at midnight movies alongside such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It is heralded as one of the best "bad movies", a camp classic in the vein of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Although the film was not successful when first released theatrically, it generated more than $100 million from video rentals and became one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers. Verhoeven accepted the film's unexpected cult status, saying "Maybe this kind of ritualistic cult popularity isn't what I intended, but it's like a resurrection after the crucifixion." Eszterhas, however, maintains that the humor was intentional: "What Paul [Verhoeven] and I had in mind was something darkly funny. We went through the script line by line, and we were really laughing at some of it. I defy people to tell me that a line like, 'How does it feel not to have anybody coming on you anymore' isn't meant to be funny."
The rights to show the film on TV were eventually purchased by the VH1 network. However, because of the film's frequent nudity, a censored version was created with black bras and panties digitally rendered to hide all exposed breasts and genitalia. Also, several scenes were removed entirely. Berkley refused to re-dub her lines, so a noticeably different actress's voice can be heard on the soundtrack.
As revealed on the DVD release, a sign showing the distance to Los Angeles in the last shot of the film hinted at a sequel in which Nomi takes on Hollywood. The film was also ranked #36 on Entertainment Weekly magazine's "The Top 50 Cult Movies list.
Critics such as Jonathan Rosenbaum and Jim Hoberman, as well as filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Jacques Rivette, have gone on the record defending Showgirls as a serious satire. Rivette called it "one of the great American films of the last few years", though "very unpleasant: it’s about surviving in a world populated by assholes, and that’s Verhoeven's philosophy". Quentin Tarantino has stated that he enjoyed Showgirls, referring to it as the "only ... other time in the last twenty years [that] a major studio made a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie", comparing it to Mandingo.
Showgirls has been compared to the 1950 film All About Eve as a remake, update, or rip-off of that film. For Jonathan Rosenbaum "Showgirls has to be one of the most vitriolic allegories about Hollywood and selling out ever made". "Verhoeven may be the bravest and most assured satirist in Hollywood, insofar as he succeeds in making big genre movies no one knows whether to take seriously or not", Michael Atkinson has noted.
In Slant Magazine's four-out-of-four-star review, Eric Henderson rejects the "so-bad-it's-good" interpretation and lauds the film as "one of the most honest satires of recent years", stating that the film targets Hollywood's "morally bankrupt star-is-born tales." Henderson draws from a round-table discussion in Film Quarterly in which others argue its merits. Noël Burch attests that the film "takes mass culture seriously, as a site of both fascination and struggle" and uses melodrama as "an excellent vehicle for social criticism." In the same round-table, Chon Noriega suggests that the film has been misinterpreted and the satire overlooked because "the film lacks the usual coordinates and signposts for a critique of human vice and folly provided by sarcasm, irony, and caustic wit."
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Despite its poor critical reception, Showgirls is regarded as a cult classic and performed much better on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, becoming one of MGM's Top 20 Best-sellers, grossing over $100 million dollars in home media alone.
On February 13, 1996, Showgirls was released on VHS in two versions: A director's R-rated version for rental outlets (including Blockbuster and Hollywood Video), and an NC-17-rated version. The NC-17 version was also released on Laserdisc that same year.
Showgirls was released on DVD for the first time on April 25, 2000. Special features included only the original theatrical trailer and a special behind-the-scenes featurette. The NC-17 version was re-released on VHS the same day as part of the MGM Movie Time collection.
In 2004, MGM released the "V.I.P. Edition" on DVD in a special boxed set containing two shot glasses, movie cards with drinking games on the back, a deck of playing cards, and a nude poster of Berkley with a pair of suction-cup pasties so viewers can play "pin the pasties on the showgirl". The DVD itself includes several bonus features, including a "how-to" tutorial for giving a lap-dance hosted by real strippers, and a special optional "trivia track" feature. When on, it adds humorous comments and factoids in the vein of VH1's Pop Up Video that relate to the scenes as they play out. It also includes "The Greatest Movie Ever Made: a commentary by David Schmader". In 2007, MGM re-released the V.I.P. Edition DVD without the physical extras.
On June 15, 2010, MGM released a 15th Anniversary "Sinsational Edition" in a two-disc dual-format Blu-ray/DVD edition. This edition contains most of the same bonus features as the V.I.P. Edition DVD, except the trivia text feature has been reformatted. The NC-17 edit of the film is used.
The trivia track on the 2010 edition contains some errors, such as a statement that some of the dancers featured in the film were recruited from the XFL football league cheerleaders, an impossibility as the XFL was not formed until 2000.
The film is classified R18+ in New Zealand and Australia for its violence, offensive language, and sex scenes; the Blu-ray lacks any special features despite featuring the same cover as the American "Sinsational Edition", while the DVD comes with a single theatrical trailer.
In 2011, actress Rena Riffel wrote, directed, produced, and starred in an unofficial sequel/parody of the film. Titled Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven, Riffel reprises her role of naive newcomer Penny. The film essentially follows the plot of the original.
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In 2013, an off-off-Broadway parody called Showgirls! The Musical was mounted by Bob and Tobly McSmith of Medium Face Productions. Originating at The Krane Theater in New York City, the critical and audience response was overwhelmingly positive. It was moved to a 200-seat off-Broadway theater, XL Nightclub. The production continued to be successful, its original run was extended through July 15, 2013. Actress Rena Riffel reprised her role from the films as Penny for one month of the production.
The show closely mimics the plot of the film and often directly incorporates dialog from the film. As the title suggests, it is a musical. It is highly satirical while staying true to the campy nature of the film. It stars actress April Kidwell as Nomi. Her performance has been critically lauded. Andy Webster of The New York Times stated "The coltish April Kidwell, as Nomi, is a wonder. Amid an exhausting onslaught of often obvious ribaldry, she is tireless, fearless and performing circles around Elizabeth Berkley’s portrayal in the movie. Her vibrant physicality and knowing humor are a potent riposte to the story’s rabid misogyny."
The musical takes several characters and condenses them for stage. The characters of Marty and Gaye have been combined to one character, simply called 'Gay'. The characters of Molly and James are both portrayed by actor Marcus Deison. MacLachlan's character of Zack is simply called Kyle MacLachlan. The show features sexually explicit language and nudity throughout. The tagline is "Singing. Dancing. Tits".
The original cast:
- April Kidwell as Nomi Malone
- Rori Nogee as Cristal Connors
- John E. Elliott as Kyle MacLachlan (Zack Carey)
- Marcus Deison as Molly/James
- Philip McLeod as Gay
- Amanda Nicholas, Natalie Wagner, and Israel Vinas as Showgirls
- Original cast recording
On June 11, 2013, a cast recording was released featuring eight tracks from the musical.
All tracks written by Bob and Tobly McSmith.
|4.||"Different Places (The Dead Hooker Song)"||2:08|
|5.||"Dancing Ain't Fucking, Girl"||2:13|
|6.||"You're a Whore, Darlin'"||2:45|
|7.||"The Best Friend Song"||2:50|
|8.||"Don't Lick That Pole, Girl"||2:42|
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