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Movies & TV

20th Mar 2022

Released 30 years ago today, the pinnacle of the erotic thriller was almost a very different movie

Rory Cashin

The list of performers originally offered the roles is jaw-dropping.

In the year 2022, the erotic thriller genre is all-but-dead. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a big Hollywood movie that features a sex scene at all anymore.

But back in the 90s, the erotic thriller was incredibly popular, with people arriving in their droves to the big screen to get their thrills and, er, spills from the latest entry into this particular type of movie.

The Last Seduction, Bound, Poison Ivy, Wild Things, Body of Evidence, Indecent Proposal, Jade, Single White Female, Color of Night, Sliver… but the one that ruled over them all was Basic Instinct.

Released in cinemas on 20 March 1992, the $49 million production made $352.9 million at the global box office, becoming the fourth biggest hit of that year, behind only Aladdin, The Bodyguard and Home Alone 2.

It was nominated for two Oscars – Best Editing and Best Original Score – and is still widely discussed, for better and for worse, to this day.

However, behind-the-scenes and during production, this classic could’ve wound up something completely different…

Based on an original script by Joe Eszterhas, who had previously written the likes of Flashdance and Jagged Edge, it immediately grabbed the attention of director Paul Verhoeven, who has hot in Hollywood off the one-two hits of RoboCop and Total Recall.

Michael Douglas was on board the project practically from the jump, as he had huge success in the late 80s with the erotic thriller Fatal Attraction, but he was very concerned about who would be cast opposite him in the movie, telling reporters at the time that “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.”

That “shit” did very much materialise upon the movie’s release, with controversy surrounding not just the explicit sex and violence on screen – including a rape scene – but also the depiction of a bisexual woman as a murderous psychopath would result in gay right’s activists protesting the production of the movie, including the use of whistles and laser pointers to interrupt filming.

Before all of that though, Douglas and Verhoeven were on the hunt for a leading female co-star.

Douglas recommended Kim Basinger, who had also previously had a hit within the erotic genre thanks to 9 1/2 Weeks, but the actress declined, deciding instead to make a different erotic thriller – Final Analysis, co-starring Richard Gere, a movie we’ve literally never heard of until we started writing this article.

Douglas and Verhoeven then did what seems like a lap of the A-list Hollywood stars at the time, including Julia Roberts (who turned it down to make The Pelican Brief instead), Meg Ryan (who instead made Sleepless in Seattle), Michelle Pfeiffer (made Batman Returns instead), Geena Davis (made A League of Their Own instead), Ellen Barkin (made Into The West instead), and Demi Moore (made A Few Good Men instead, but would make another erotic thriller with Michael Douglas two years later, Disclosure).

However, with stars that big, they come with their own baggage, and the character of Catherine Tramell required a certain level of mystery that huge A-list stars are no longer equipped with.

By 1992, Sharon Stone had just a handful of credits on her CV, but one of those was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s duplicitous wife in Total Recall, which Verhoeven has directed two years earlier.

Verhoeven rallied behind the young actress, noting a particular emotional beat while filming the sci-fi action epic together: “That [emotional] transition for me was so notable. The evil in her eyes changes into the love of her life in a couple seconds.”

Douglas was still concerned that his co-star wasn’t A-list to help share the risk of the movie fully, but jump forward three decades later, and Stone’s performance is pretty much all anyone talks about.

Basic Instinct helped make her the household name she is today, but her performance also helped make Basic Instinct the classic it is today.

Clips via Secret Agent & DoctorNotSure