Showgirls: how a trashy 90s cult classic withstood the test of time

Kristian Fletcher looks back at 21 years of the cult trash movie Showgirls.

Considered a loose (and I mean, very loose) adaptation of 1950 Best Picture Oscar winner All About Eve, Showgirls burst onto cinema screens in 1995 with a story about a young drifter named Nomi Malone who arrives in Las Vegas and dances her way from stripper to showgirl in Stardust Casino’s ‘nude revue’.

Joe Eszterhas pieced together his screenplay based on personal accounts from over 200 Vegas strippers – for which he was handsomely paid three million dollars. (I bet in hindsight he regretted naming the lead character after his wife!)

Director Paul Verhoeven was still riding the success of his previous erotic thrillers with Sharon Stone – Basic Instinct (1992) and Sliver (1993) – so Showgirls would have seemed an obvious next step. Even the trailers boasted: “Last time they took you to the edge, this time they’re taking you all the way”.

Drew Barrymore, Pamela Anderson and Angelina Jolie were among the actresses considered for the role of Nomi. Charlize Theron was so close, but Elizabeth Berkley, fresh from the cancelled Saved by the Bell, was looking to overhaul her teen image and move on to more risque Hollywood fare.

But it was to be the film which derailed her career.

Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley for Showgirls (1995)

The first teasers for Showgirls didn’t hold back with “no holds barred” advertisements for what would become one of the most controversial major motion pictures of all time – to paraphrase Quentin Tarantino, Showgirls was the most expensive and heavily promoted ‘exploitation movie’ ever made. They slapped it with an NC17 rating (the equivalent of our R18+) and widely released it into mainstream cinemas. The glittery adult romp was playing suburban multiplexes and generating buzz many months prior to release.

The critics weren’t kind. In fact, they devoured the “vulgar sex pic” and picked at the bones. With a budget of $45 million, and surrounded by much controversy and hype, the film barely made $20 million back, and the cast and creatives were left with egg on their face.

As the years passed, however, Showgirls was re-evaluated as a satire, and the same critics which called it a dud were now praising it as the ultimate bad/fun movie. It was on video where the film finally took off and turned a profit, remaining one of MGM’s Top 20 best-sellers. Showgirls had become a guilty pleasure for many, rightfully acquiring the title ‘cult classic’.

I’m sure MGM saw the spike in sales as a result of ‘at-home’ Showgirls parties – watching the film with a group of friends and laughing your way through it seemed to be a popular past-time among movie buffs (or ‘bad cinema’ lovers). MGM cashed in on this newfound success and re-released Showgirls as an audience participation film, likened to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with quote-alongs and interactive activities. An initial box office bomb was turned around and given a whole new life.

Today, Gina Gershon seems to tire of references to the cult epic. She was apparently ‘in on the joke’ whilst the celluloid newcomer Elizabeth Berkley was left, um, unemployed. It was only in 2014 that Berkley began embracing the film which essentially killed her career. Gershon and post-Twin Peaks co-star Kyle MacLachlan seem to be the only actors who went on to survive the film’s failure with successful careers.

Rene Riffel (who plays Penny/Hope) even produced a sequel Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven in 2011 and filled it with cameos by the original supporting cast. Fans continue to lap it up and there’s still life in this showgirl…

Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle Maclachlan

The, um, Best Oneliners from Showgirls:

“There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you”

“I’m doin’ some of the finest cocaine in the world, darlin”

“I used to love Doggy Chow”

“I want my nipples to press, but I don’t want them to look like they’re levitating”

“Honey, you could never handle me with all these wrinkles of fat”

“She’s no butterfly. Tony, she’s all pelvic thrust”

“I’m gettin’ a little too old for that whorey look”

Showgirls is screening for its 21st anniversary on Friday 29 January at New Farm Cinemas, Brisbane. Ticket price includes goodies bag to participate along with the movie.

BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

the author

Kristian Fletcher

Kristian Fletcher is a Brisbane cult movie exhibitor. For full details about his upcoming events, visit kristianfletcher.com

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