1990s Infamous Controversial Flop Finally Accepted At Academy Screening

By Matthew Flynn | Published

Elizabeth Berkley is finally getting the appreciation she has long deserved for her performance in the cult-classic film Showgirls. The Academy Museum Theater held a screening of the film on March 20 (almost 29 years after its release), and its reception was nothing short of remarkable, with Elizabeth Berkley receiving three standing ovations.

The Legendary Showgirls

When Showgirls was initially released in 1995, it received mixed reviews. Many critics were not keen on the film’s explicit content. However, the film has managed to survive these initial criticisms and has since garnered a substantial amount of appreciation. Today, Showgirls is recognized as a cult classic, a testament to its unique appeal that extends beyond traditional norms of cinema.

Another Misunderstood Paul Verhoeven Satire

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Showgirls spins a tale of ambition and survival in the heart of Las Vegas. The protagonist, Nomi Malone (Berkley), embodies an all-consuming desire for fame and success as she steps into Sin City with dreams of becoming a dancer. An array of challenges, complex relationships, and a deep dive into the dark underbelly of the Vegas entertainment industry mark her journey, with unforgettable performances by Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, and Gina Gershon.

Nomi finds herself caught up in the glitz and glamour of the Stardust Casino show. Her journey is marred by exploitation, betrayal, and desperation. Even as she ascends to the top, replacing the diva star Cristal Connors, her past haunts her, causing her to lose friendships and face a harsh reality check.

A Rare NC-17 Rating

Showgirls, however, faced substantial challenges at the box office. The film was produced on a budget of $40-45 million, but the controversial NC-17 rating and the somewhat negative reviews hampered its prospects significantly, leaving it with a domestic gross of roughly $20.3 million. However, the film garnered a loyal cult following over the years, with many appreciating its unapologetic campy portrayal of the Las Vegas show culture.

The Rise Of Elizabeth Berkley

Elizabeth Berkley embarked on her journey in the entertainment sphere with a regular role on Saved by the Bell, a teen sitcom. Her iconic portrayal of Jessie Spano was well-received and played a crucial role in kick-starting her career—even though her success in that role initially prevented viewers and critics from accepting the power of her performance in Showgirls.

1995 marked a turning point in Berkley’s journey in the industry with her film debut in Showgirls. Despite the controversy and criticism that surrounded Showgirls upon its initial release, it gradually garnered a cult following and stands as a camp classic today. Berkley’s role in Showgirls, which met with varied reviews, turned out to be a significant phase in her career trajectory.

Finally Getting Her Due

In the following years, post Showgirls, Berkley continued to diversify her portfolio with roles in both film and television. She appeared on TV shows, such as CSI: Miami and New Girl, and movies, including The First Wives Club and Any Given Sunday. She has also found considerable success on the stage, making her Broadway debut in Sly Fox with Richard Dreyfuss in 2004 and receiving high praise for her work in the off-Broadway Hurly Burly.

The latter-day appreciation of Berkley’s performance, and Showgirls in general, is evidence that sometimes good works of art aren’t fully appreciated until they’re given a second chance.