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Basic Instinct (1992)

tomatometer

54

Average Rating: 5.9/10
Reviews Counted: 59
Fresh: 32 | Rotten: 27

Unevenly echoing the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Basic Instinct contains a star-making performance from Sharon Stone but is ultimately undone by its problematic, overly lurid plot.

41

Average Rating: 5.3/10
Critic Reviews: 17
Fresh: 7 | Rotten: 10

Unevenly echoing the work of Alfred Hitchcock, Basic Instinct contains a star-making performance from Sharon Stone but is ultimately undone by its problematic, overly lurid plot.

audience

64

liked it
Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 130,552

My Rating

Movie Info

This cold, stylish erotic-thriller grossed over $100 million at the box-office despite vigorous protests at its depiction of gays and women. The shocking opening sequence features a graphic sexual encounter involving a rock-star bound with a white Hermes scarf by an unidentified blond woman. Despite the fact that the scene ends with a bloody icepick murder (horrifyingly realized by makeup artist Rob Bottin), Hermes scarves quickly sold out at stores nationwide. This seeming paradox is at the

R,

Drama, Horror, Romance, Mystery & Suspense

Joe Eszterhas

Aug 26, 1997

Artisan Entertainment

Watch It Now

Cast

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All Critics (59) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (32) | Rotten (27) | DVD (34)

Verhoeven does not explore the dark side, but merely exploits it, and that makes all the difference in the world.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[The film has] a smug faith in the ability of its own speed, smartness and luxe to wow the yokels.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Slick, clever and entertainingly overheated while you're watching it, Basic Instinct starts to evaporate the second you leave the theater.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The harsh, politically incorrect truth about Basic Instinct is that it's a tantalizing, suspensefully correct thriller.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Basic Instinct is a reminder of the difference between exhilaration and exhaustion, between tension and hysteria, between eroticism and exhibitionism. The line may be fine, but it is real enough to separate the great thrillers from the also-rans.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Call me a prude, but it's not sexy watching an erotic thriller in which every time a couple does it, one of them gets it with an ice pick. I don't care how many firmly toned tummies and tushes are bared.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Joe Eszterhas shamelessly reworks ideas and themes he had earlier exploited in films such as Jagged Edge and Music Box, but the sheer overheated nature of Verhoeven's direction makes this extremely watchable.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Flashy, raunchy and schlocky, Basic Instinct is classic nineties noir for which Verhoeven's overblown direction and Stone's exposure secured a place in movie history.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

The result may be flimsy, but it goes out and grabs you from the start.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Sky Movies
Sky Movies

Trailer trash Hitchcock spliced with overboiled film noir.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

[Verhoeven] has always had a skill for storytelling, however questionable and tasteless the materials; but here he is hopelessly defeated by Ezsterhas' talky, slow-moving, and derivative script.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

If Basic Instinct achieves nothing else, it will replace Caligula as Bob Guccione's favorite movie.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Philadelphia Daily News

[Stone] is the very best thing about this often disappointing, frantically sexy and, ultimately, unpalatable thriller.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

There's nothing new about this ploy, or about much else in Basic Instinct, but it's disheartening to see that Hollywood is still afflicted by its age-old anxiety toward strong, confident women.

March 25, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

Through all this, there remains that calm center of nasty, brilliant social insight.

June 11, 2012 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

Excessive whodunit is definitely not for kids.

January 1, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Truly bonkers, and perhaps something of a guilty pleasure.

February 8, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for Basic Instinct

"Basic Instinct" is the type of interesting film that is both insane and calm at the same time. If you are watching anyone besides Michael Douglas on screen, they seem almost as if nothing has happened. As the opening scene of the film shows a very sexual murder, the remainder is about trying to put together the pieces as to who actually killed this man. It may not be a perfect movie, due to the predictability, but it sure has you guessing. I really enjoyed watching this film and I almost came to love it, until the final shot of the film. The last shot throws the entire film through a loop and makes everything confusing. This is a great film at it's core, but sometimes falls flat. Still, I loved watching it.
January 17, 2013
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

If I'm not mistaken, this is probably the gold standard of erotic thrillers. It's a stylish, lurid romp that owes a fair debt to Hitchcock, but due to just how graphic and sleazy it gets sometimes, the film really has far more in common with the works of Hitch devotee Brian De Palma more than anything.

Nick Curran is a troubled cop with a troubled past whose latest murder investigation leads him to Catherine Tramell- a lovely bisexual author of sleazy pulp who is the prime suspect because her lover is the victim, and was killed in a fashion basically verbatim from a scene from one of her novels. Nick makes the questionable decision to begin a torrid affair with Tramell, as he is really unsure if she's truly the suspect, but also because she's just too alluring to ignore, no matter how much danger could be involved.

The film really tows the line between exploitative sleaze and actual cinematic merit. It's not always balanced, as the plot often gets cast aside for sex and violence, but the film is certainly nothing if not intensely memorable. The look is great, the score is phenomenal, the performances are quite solid, especially from Stone as Tramell, and, if you watch the director's cut, the film really delivers the goods where the violence and lust are concerned.

This sort of thing is generally Z-Grade schlock, but I found the treatment of the material here to be surprisingly solid and entertaining. It's no masterpiece of course, but it's certainly a highlight on the B-List of Verhoeven's filmography.
October 2, 2012
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Paul Verohoeven controversial erotic Thriller is a memorable film about a sexy author accused of killing her lover with an ice pick because she wrote similarities to the murder in one of her books, she is the prime suspect. Sharon Stone plays author Catherine Trammel who is under investigation for the murder and Michael Douglas plays Detective Nick Curtan who investigates the murder. Basic Instinct is a mind bending thriller with terrific, thrilling and exhilarating moments. Paul Verhoeven's directing is as usual solid, bold and he keeps the film moving along with each provocative frame. Sharon Stone definitely lights up the screen, and this is one of her best roles. Basic Instinct is a non stop thrill ride from start to finish and it keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end. Paul Verhoeven has made better films, but Basic Instinct is still an entertaining and well acted film. If you enjoy most of Verhoeven's work, then your most likely going to enjoy this film as well, it's a change of pace for the director, but not one that shy's away from the usual controversy that most of his films get due to their amount of violence.
June 15, 2011
TheDudeLebowski65
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

Erotic thrillers have never had much by way of credibility. They have a reputation for being cheesy, lurid and sleazy, and are often lumped together with horror movies as the stuff that 'sensible', 'reasonable' citizens wouldn't touch with a twenty-foot pole. But as with horror, some erotic thrillers manage to explore interesting, often edgy ideas in amidst the gratuitous sex scenes and clunky dialogue. Basic Instinct is one such film.

Although the groundwork had been laid by Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct was the film which brought the erotic thriller into the mainstream. The controversy surrounding its R rating in America and misplaced allegations of homophobia created a whirlwind of publicity, which catapulted Sharon Stone to short-lived stardom and made an entire generation give in to guilty pleasure, if only for a couple of hours.

In bringing the erotic thriller to the multiplex, there is surprisingly little attempt on the part of anyone to sanitise the content, or make changes that would make the story less cheesy. The opening 20 minutes are pure cheese, as people take their clothes off with abandon, detectives trudge around in dark suits, and Catherine Tramell sashays around delivering every line like it's a turn-on. Joe Eszterhas' script is chock full of absurd one-liners that would have made Greg Dark proud - the best being the detectives' remark that the first victim "got off before he got offed".

As well as being everything you'd expect from an erotic thriller, Basic Instinct is everything you'd expect from a Paul Verhoeven film - it's sleazy, trashy, cheesy, and quite good fun. Verhoeven was in his commercial prime, having made a splash with Robocop and Total Recall, and had explored sexual crime previously in The 4th Man. Basic Instinct may have opened the floodgates for a wave of worse films, from the Demi Moore vehicle Striptease to William Friedkin's Jade, but outside of its legacy it is a smarter film than has often been assumed.

As with Total Recall, Basic Instinct begins with a big shock to separate the men from the boys. During the opening credits, with Jerry Goldsmith's eerie soundtrack and the movements in mirrored glass, we see the name of Rob Bottin - the make-up artist who did the effects on Total Recall and The Thing. His presence perplexes us: why would an erotic thriller need its own special effects boffin? Then you see the killer's ice pick go through the face and neck of Johnny Boz, and you sit there frozen to the spot, with no further questions.

Basic Instinct is a deeply stylised film, which never feels the need to be visually realistic if a creative decision would enhance the mood of a given scene. In the famous interrogation scene, Verhoeven's long-time collaborator Jan de Bont lights the bunker-like room very unusually. Instead of having both parties in equal amounts of light, Catherine Tramell is lit in blinding white light coming from the floor, while the detectives are shrouded in darkness. This gives things a prominent noir feel while conveying the theme of women being in control: the detectives become like voyeurs, wishing to gaze longingly at Catherine without showing too much of their faces.

This scene brings on to one of the big talking points in Basic Instinct, namely the gratuitous nudity. We know what to expect up to a point: it wouldn't be an erotic thriller without some flesh, and the film is helmed by the man who left teenage boys drooling at the sight of a three-breasted woman from Mars. But even by those standards, the level of sex or nudity is way over-the-top. The film may not be totally exploitative in its treatment or depiction of women, but it does tip over into base titillation in several scenes. The moment where Sharon Stone crosses her legs is pure exploitation: to all those in denial, it's clearly not her thigh showing up on screen!

Like many attempts to bring something inherently trashy or silly into the mainstream, the story of Basic Instinct is contrived to the point of being ridiculous. The most obvious example of this is the level of intuition which Catherine Tramell possesses: it's one thing being able to guess what someone is going to say, but always being in the same place as the detective is a whole different matter. In its action moments it often gets completely silly, asking us to believe that Michael Douglas could participate in a high-speed chase only seconds after being knocked down by a car.

It will be clear by now that Basic Instinct is not a film for the faint-hearted, either in its full-on visual style or its blatant disregard for narrative cohesion. But once we have gotten past the sleaze, and the violence, and the smoking, and the swearing, and the silly action scenes, we do begin to see something going on beneath the surface, which turns into that kernel of substance buried deep in the heart of Verhoeven's work.

All of Verhoeven's films are essentially about questions of identity. In Robocop, how much is Murphy still a man and how much is he a machine? In Total Recall, has Quaid really been to Mars, or is the whole thing an implant? In Basic Instinct, the question revolves around Catherine Tramell and the motivations behind her unusual behaviour. Is she purely and simply the Devil, who taunts men for sport and uses her books to cover up her brutal murders? Or is she someone with a warped mind who is caught up in these events, someone who craves attention but has no desire to kill for it?

The wanton nature of the character is designed not merely to titillate, but to explore - albeit broadly - the sexual independence of women. Catherine doesn't need men to control her or define her in any way, and her actions are not motivated by a direct Freudian urge, e.g. craving affection to make up for the fact that Daddy showed her none. She treats men and women equally as playthings, taking the dominant role in every relationship.

This brings us on to the position of gay and lesbian groups, who used the film to attack what they perceived as Hollywood homophobia. The film may be clichéd in its depiction of lesbianism or bisexuality on an aesthetic level - all the lesbians in the film are still dolled-up and attractive enough to make them naturally appealing to men. But Basic Instinct is not homophobic in its view of sexual preference as a lifestyle choice. It maturely chooses not to make an issue of Catherine's sexuality; in other words, who she sleeps with has no direct bearing on whom or why she kills.

The film borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, with Verhoeven restaging certain sections involving the Golden Gate Bridge or the various steep staircases. There is a close parallel between the characters, with Michael Douglas being driven to obsession and Sharon Stone harbouring some kind of self-destructive impulse. One could say this is what a Hitchcock film would have looked like had such levels of sex and violence been acceptable in the 1950s.

In the end, however, Verhoeven's efforts to keep things totally ambiguous don't quite work as well as in Total Recall. While there are moments in which it is reasonable to believe that Catherine isn't completely insane, the final act in which Beth Garner is 'revealed' as the killer feels too contrived to cut the mustard. Jeanne Tripplehorn's character has been so peripheral up until this point that we never really believe she could have done it, even if all the plot points add up.

While it never reaches the heights of The 4th Man or Verhoeven's previous Hollywood efforts, Basic Instinct remains an enjoyable thriller which manages to raise a number of intelligent issues even in its most lurid moments. It has more than its share of problems, either relating to its plot or the inherent cheesiness of the erotic thriller genre. But as a guilty pleasure or something a little smarter than you'd think, it demonstrates that, once in a while, embracing trash is not such a bad thing.
June 5, 2011
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

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