It was the crotch shot to end all and it almost did. Now, the Sharon Stone film that gave a new meaning to police interrogation is back for another “viewing” and quickly climbing the HBO Max most-watched charts, sitting at #7.
Basic Instinct is the Paul Verhoeven erotic thriller that stars Sharone Stone as femme fatale Catherine Tramell and Michael Douglas as her equally troubled, if not more, “love” interest, Detective Nick Curran.
Set in San Francisco, Detective Curran is investigating the murder of retired rock star Johnny Boz. The death is gruesome with Boz being stabbed to death with an ice pick while having sex with a mysterious blonde woman.
Nick’s only suspect is Boz’s bisexual girlfriend, crime novelist Catherine Tramell, who has previously written a novel in which a murder mirrors Boz’s. Nick finds Catherine uncooperative and quite taunting in her nature, so she is brought in for questioning. She continues her taunts, at one point giving the officers, more pointedly Nick, an eye-opening peek (much more on this later) up her dress during the interrogation.
Nick, though, has troubles of his own. He’s a known cocaine user, something that caused irreparable damage when he shot two tourists while high on the drug during an undercover operation. He fights his battle with counseling sessions with Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a woman with whom he’s had an on-and-off affair.
As Nick looks further into Catherine’s life, he finds out that her next novel is going to feature a character based on himself, one that gets murdered after falling for the wrong woman. Nick thinks Catherine bribed Lieutenant Nielsen from Internal Affairs and that Beth gave Nielsen the information after he threatened to recommend Nick’s firing.
Nick then turns his attention to Nielsen, assaulting him in Nielsen’s office. Nick becomes the prime suspect when Nielsen turns up dead.
After Nick is placed on leave, his torrid affair with Catherine begins. It is violent and sexual leading audiences to more suspicions about Catherine’s possible guilt. Nick leans more of Catherine’s history including an affair she had with Beth in college. He also finds out that one of Beth and Catherine’s college professors was murdered with an ice pick.
The sexual twists and turns continue, as well as the dead bodies. As the suspects begin to narrow, will Nick figure it all out before it’s too late?
Basic Instinct comes from the mind of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who has made a name for himself with the erotic thriller. Along with Basic Instinct, Eszterhas has written Jagged Edge, Betrayed, Sliver, and Jade. He is also well-known for his scripts for Flashdance, Blue Thunder, Nowhere to Run, and the infamous Showgirls.
Although Verhoeven’s film is most famous for that one scene, the movie isn’t a bad thriller, as far as erotic thrillers go. On his $49 million budget, Verhoeven brought back $353 million at the box office.
Michael Douglas had a lot to say about who would star opposite him in the film. He said via Express UK, “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.”
This is why there were nearly 60 women to audition for the role. Douglas wanted Julia Roberts, though it’d be hard to imagine Roberts in such a role. He also recommended Kim Basinger for the role but the actress declined. Other actresses looked at were Greta Scacchi, Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner, Ellen Barkin, and Mariel Hemingway. Each and every one of them decided to say no to the part.
Sharon Stone, though, wanted the role. She had quite established herself in Hollywood, though she did have a nice role two years prior in Verhoeven’s Total Recall opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although Verhoeven was fond of the actress, he agreed with Douglas that a bigger name might be best for the role. Problem was, no one wanted to take on the erotic role.
Stone eventually won over Douglas and the die was cast. Then came the time for “that scene.” It was to be brief, full-frontal, and not so revealing. As Stone recalls, she was told that her white panties were reflecting the light, making the shot unfilmable. The panties would need to be removed and she was assured nothing could be seen. She believed Verhoeven. Then she was brought into a screening with a roomful of agents and lawyers.
“That was how I saw my vagina-shot for the first time, long after I’d been told, ‘We can’t see anything — I just need you to remove your panties, as the white is reflecting the light, so we know you have panties on,’” Stone writes in her memoir The Beauty of Living Twice. “Now, here is the issue. It didn’t matter anymore. It was me and my parts up there. I had decisions to make.”
So, a decision she made. She called her lawyer, Marty Singer, and he told her explicitly that the film could not be released. Stone can get an injunction. “First, at that time, this would give the film an X rating. Remember, this was 1992, not now, when we see erect penises on Netflix. And, Marty said, per the Screen Actors Guild, my union, it wasn’t legal to shoot up my dress in this fashion. Whew, I thought.”
Sharon Stone took more time to think about the direction she wanted to go. Ultimately, she decided not to go after Verhoeven and the producers over the controversial scene. “Why? Because it was correct for the film and for the character; and because, after all, I did it,” she said via Vanity Fair in an excerpt from her book.
For the longest time, Verhoeven remained mum on the controversy. Finally, in 2017, he opened up and while he says he and Sharon Stone remain friends to this day, he didn’t hold back. He says Stone definitely gave her consent to film the scene.
“Sharon is lying,” he said via CNN. “Any actress knows what she’s going to see if you ask her to take off her underwear and point there with the camera.”
“My memory is radically different from Sharon’s memory,” Verhoeven explained through Indiewire. “That does not stand in the way and has nothing to do with the wonderful way that she portrayed Catherine Tramell. She is absolutely phenomenal. We still have a pleasant relationship and exchange text messages. But her version is impossible. She knew exactly what we were doing.”
Verhoeven continued, “I told her it was based on a story of a woman that I knew when I was a student who did the crossing of her legs without panties regularly at parties. When my friend told her we could see her vagina, she said, ‘Of course, that’s why I do it.’ Then Sharon and I decided to do a similar sequence.”
Since her portrayal of Catherine Tramell, Sharon Stone went on to other erotic thrillers like Sliver and even the not-so-controversial sequel, Basic Instinct 2. But Stone also tried to shed her erotic thriller persona by grabbing solid roles in films like the underrated The Quick and the Dead, Casino, and The Mighty.
Over the years, Sharon Stone has never truly stepped away from Hollywood, though the light hasn’t been shining as brightly as it once did. Lately, Stone has been working on television series like Agent X, Mosaic, and Ratched. She also has a few projects lined up that include Beauty, What About Love, and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.
For now, you can see a whole lot of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct on HBO Max.