Twenty years ago, the semi-pornographic yet campy Showgirls was released into theaters, starring Saved by the Bell's Elizabeth Berkley as a stripper-turned-Vegas showgirl. The movie tanked at the box office, won seven Razzies, and was so poorly reviewed and received that it ended careers. Years later, through video rentals, the meant-to-be darkly funny film became a cult classic, made a huge profit, and found an audience.
1. KYLE MACLACHLAN WAS “GOBSMACKED” WHEN HE SAW THE MOVIE FOR THE FIRST TIME.
In a 2012 interview with The A.V. Club, Kyle MacLachlan (Zack Carey) talked about the first time he saw Showgirls. “I was absolutely gobsmacked,” he said. “I said, ‘This is horrible. Horrible!’ And it’s a very slow, sinking feeling when you’re watching the movie, and the first scene comes out, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a really bad scene.’ But you say, ‘Well, that’s okay, the next one’ll be better.’ And you somehow try to convince yourself that it’s going to get better … and it just gets worse.”
MacLachlan went on to say he thinks that the movie is “inadvertently funny” but it didn’t turn out the way he expected. He also thinks the wrong material was placed in the hands of the wrong cast and crew, and he accepts it for what it is. “Even Ishtar eventually disappeared. But this one keeps coming back!” he said.
2. QUENTIN TARANTINO LOVES SHOWGIRLS.
In the 1998 book Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, Tarantino applauded Showgirls’s status as a mainstream exploitation film. “The thing that’s great about Showgirls, and I mean great with a capital great, is that only one other time in the last 20 years has a major studio made a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie,” explained Tarantino. "Showgirls is the Mandingo of the '90s."
However, Tarantino did have one critique: “The only scene that didn’t work for me at all was where Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan have sex in this pool. But the scene where she lap dances on him ... that was a good scene, man!”
3. FEMINIST GLORIA STEINEM WANTED TO WORK WITH JOE ESZTERHAS.
In his 752-page autobiography, Hollywood Animal, Basic Instinct and Showgirls scribe Joe Eszterhas revealed that, after Showgirls came out, Gloria Steinem approached him about a film project. “Gloria Steinem and I had a meeting about doing a movie about the young Marilyn Monroe,” he wrote. “I took the idea to Paul [Verhoeven] and he’d turned it down. The media had a lot of fun with it, though: Gloria Steinem producing a movie done by the Showgirls guys.”
4. AFTER 20 YEARS, ELIZABETH BERKLEY HAS FINALLY MADE PEACE WITH THE FILM.
Berkley attended a 20th anniversary screening of the film this summer at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where she spoke about the humiliation she felt when the film came out and how painful the backlash was to her, saying that “1995 was such a different time, where taking risks like that was not embraced. They were laughed at, they were shamed, publicly. To be a young girl in the center of that was something that was quite difficult. But I found my own resiliency and my power and my confidence … Tonight I want to thank you guys for giving me this gift of truly getting a full-circle moment of experiencing the joy with you.”
5. ESZTERHAS THINKS THE MOVIE WOULD’VE BEEN A HIT HAD MADONNA BEEN CAST.
Madonna was considered for the part of Cristal Connors, which eventually went to Gina Gershon. Eszterhas wrote in Hollywood Animal that Verhoeven didn’t like “Madoo’s” (his nickname for Madonna) input, so she wasn’t cast. “Had Paul liked Madoo’s script ideas, then the critics would have liked Showgirls better because it would have been Madoo’s script, not mine. Then Showgirls may not have been one of the greatest clinkers of all time.” Drew Barrymore was considered for the Nomi part, but she couldn’t dance. Again, Eszterhas thinks if Madonna and Barrymore were in the film, it would’ve turned out better.
6. ESZTERHAS ENCOURAGED TEENAGERS TO BRING FAKE IDS BECAUSE HE THOUGHT THE MATERIAL WAS MATURE ENOUGH FOR THEM.
One reason Eszterhas became known as “the most reviled man in America” was because when the NC-17 movie was released, he issued a press release telling teens to bring fake IDs. In Hollywood Animal he says, “Had I not told teenagers to bring their fake IDs, I would’ve avoided making a colossal a**hole of myself.” He also explains his motive for the teen IDs: “There was nothing in the movie to harm them, because I didn’t believe that either four-letter words or naked body parts would do any harm to teenagers. Since only those teenagers who look close to 18 have fake IDs, I certainly wasn’t calling for 10- or 14-year-olds to see it. It would be good for teenagers’s values to see Nomi Malone [Berkley] rejecting stardom and money because of the amorality which it cost.”
7. SHOWGIRLS IS THE HIGHEST-GROSSING NC-17 RATED FILM OF ALL TIME.
Though getting slapped with an NC-17 is usually a death knell at the box office, Showgirls was made with that rating in mind. Showgirls has a lifetime gross of $20,350,754, which is good enough for first place. Other NC-17-rated films in recent years such as Shame (2013), Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), and Killer Joe (another film starring Gina Gershon, 2012), didn’t even come close to Showgirls’s gross. The film went on to earn more than $100 million on home video.
8. ESZTERHAS REGRETS CALLING THE FILM “A DEEPLY RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE.”
When the film came out, Eszterhas said it was “a deeply religious experience,” but in a 2006 interview with Nerve, he clarified his comment. “At the end of the picture, [Nomi] does turn her back on all of it,” he said. “The final image is of her walking away from everything that’s made her a star, and in a sense, she cleanses herself. But to call it a deeply religious experience was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m Hungarian, and Hungarians are noted for doing some singularly stupid things, and I don’t think I would consider myself an especially intelligent Hungarian either, so there you go.”
9. GINA GERSHON WASN’T ALLOWED TO DO A TEXAS ACCENT, BUT DID IT ANYWAY.
As written, Gershon’s character Cristal was from Texas. But in an interview with The Daily Beast, the actress said that Verhoeven was against her speaking with an accent. Instead, she spoke in a Texas twang all day on the set in the hope that nobody would notice. “It drives me crazy,” she said about watching Showgirls. “I see parts where I wish I could loop and do ADR and fix my accent. I have a hard time watching the movie.”
10. PENNY WROTE, DIRECTED, STARRED IN, AND EDITED A SHOWGIRLS SEQUEL.
Rena Riffel, who plays Penny in the movie, made a satirical sequel in 2011 called Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven. The movie features some of the original film’s cast members, and pokes fun at its source material. This year a re-cut version is coming out, with deleted scenes, a shortened version, and new dance numbers. Riffel asked Verhoeven to direct the sequel but “he said it was the most painful, hurtful, negative experience and he would never step foot back in the Showgirls world again,” she told Gawker. “A lot of the casting directors would call me in for a big movie after Showgirls was out just to sit there and get mad at me and say, ‘How could you do that, Rena? You should be ashamed of yourself.’ They didn’t even care if I read my scene for them. Hollywood, it made them mad.”
11. CARRIE ANN INABA AND ELIZABETH BERKLEY GOT INVOLVED WITH DANCING WITH THE STARS.
Choreographer/dancer Carrie Ann Inaba played Goddess Dancer in the film and was previously an In Living Color Fly Girl, but she danced her way into becoming a judge on Dancing With the Stars. In 2013, Berkley finally got over her fear of dancing (she experienced a lot of ridicule after the film bombed) and competed in the reality series’s 17th season. But she and her partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, were eliminated.
12. JIMMY FALLON SIMULTANEOUSLY PARODIED SHOWGIRLS AND SAVED BY THE BELL.
In February of this year, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon arranged a partial Saved by the Bell reunion with Fallon participating in a sketch featuring Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack Morris), Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater), Tiffani Thiessen (Kelly Kapowski), Dennis Haskins (Principal Belding), and Berkley (Jessie Spano) reprising their characters from the show. At one point during the self-aware skit, Gosselaar says, “Jimmy going on a date with Nicole Kidman is like Jessie becoming a stripper,” a reference to Berkley’s Showgirls role. Berkley took the swipe in stride and also parodied her famous “I’m so excited, I’m so scared” line from Saved by the Bell.