Return to Sin City With These 25 Sensational Showgirls Secrets

It's been 25 years since Showgirls premiered on Sept. 22, 1995, and a cult classic was born.

By Billy Nilles Sep 22, 2020 5:00 PMTags

Bust out the Versayce and Doggy Chow, Showgirls fans!

It was 25 years ago, on Sept. 22, 1995, when one of the most infamous films in history arrived on screens. And promptly flopped. Thanks to an evisceration from critics and a challenging NC-17 rating, the high camp lunacy from director Paul Verhoeven seemed destined to be forgotten like so many other flops that had come before it.

And yet, something in the film's bonkers tale of a hardscrabble dancer making her way to Las Vegas and falling in with the smuttiest of Sin City connected with viewers when they finally got around to checking Showgirls out on home video. And like that, a cult classic was born.

Starring Saved by the Bell actress Elizabeth Berkley—in what she tragically thought would be her big break—as Nomi Malone and Gina Gershon as her nemesis Cristal Connors, Showgirls is truly the wildest ride, matched only by the journey the film's been on since its ill-fated initial release.

A Brief History of Male Full Frontal at the Movies

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, take a trip back to the Stardust with these 25 secrets from Showgirls' past—one for each sinful year of its existence.

1. Showgirls was almost a very different film. As documentary filmmaker Jeffrey McHale, whose 2019 film You Don't Nomi chronicles the history of Showgirls, wrote for The Wrap, the film was originally pitched as a big-budget movie-musical set in Las Vegas. It was only after director Paul Verhoeven traveled to Sin City for a debauched research trip with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas that the idea to shine a spotlight on the "raucous and sleazy" side of Vegas took hold.

2. Based on an idea Eszterhas scribbled on a napkin during a lunch with Verhoeven, the screenwriter was advanced $2 million to write the script. He netted an additional $1.7 million when the studio put the project into production. This payday, coupled with his checks for earlier hits Basic Instinct and Sliver, made Eszterhas the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood history.

3. Initially, Verhoeven didn't want to direct the film, passing on Eszterhas' first script. However, he eventually signed on as a favor to his friend and Basic Instinct collaborator. His change of heart was aided by his guilt over the failure to get Crusade, an action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger he'd signed on to direct, off the ground after its $100 million budget nearly bankrupted Showgirls' production company Carolco. Verhoeven even deferred 70 percent of his $6 million director's fee, allowing it to be dependent on potential profit.

4. Intent on casting someone A-list in the role of Nomi Malone, Verhoeven hoped to woo Drew Barrymore. However, she turned the film down due to the extensive nudity. Jenny McCarthy auditioned and was in the running until it became clear she couldn't dance. Other actresses who auditioned for the part included Charlize Theron (who reportedly fired her agent afterwards), Jennifer Lopez (who called the audition the worst of her career in 2016), and Denise Richards (who would go on to star in Verhoeven's Starship Troopers in 1997). Elizabeth Berkley arrived on Verhoeven's radar after the Saved by the Bell star impressed producer Charles Evans during an audition held in his hotel room, per The Hollywood Reporter.

5. For the role of Cristal Conners, which eventually went to Gina Gershon, Madonna was the first choice. But the pop star's involvement hinged on the condition of a major script revision, which neither Verhoeven nor Eszterhaus was willing to offer. After Sharon Stone, who'd worked with both men on Basic Instinct, passed, the role became Gershon's.

6. As Kyle MacLachlan told The A.V. Club in 2012, his role of Zack Carey was initially offered to Dylan McDermott, who declined. "That was a decision that was sort of a tough one to make, but I was enchanted with Paul Verhoeven," he said of his decision to take the part. "Particularly Robocop, which I loved. I look back on it now and it's a little dated, but it's still fantastic, and I think it's got some of the great villains of all time in there. It was Verhoeven and [Joe] Eszterhas, and it seemed like it was going to be kind of dark and edgy and disturbing and real."

7. As part of Verhoeven's contract, he was guaranteed total control over the final edit of the film—and pushed the limit so much, he was practically guaranteed an NC-17 rating. Eszterhas later told THR he thought Verhoeven made a mistake. "I was insistent that it be an R-rated movie, because I felt if it was NC-17, there would be such a gigantic glare on it, that it would obscure everything else," the screenwriter told the outlet. "And I think I was right, in retrospect."

8. While much of the film is high camp, the brutal rape of Nomi's supportive friend Molly (played by Gina Ravera) and its cover-up by male Vegas bigwigs closing ranks to protect one of their own stands out as a plot thread that's decidedly not fun. Eszterhas has said the story was inspired by real events that he'd learned about during his time at Rolling Stone in the 1970s. Speaking with New York Daily News in 2015, Verhoeven shared his thoughts on the plot point. "Molly is the only really genuinely supportive person and she is punished. The reason I did this was to show that Vegas is not a nice place and that is basically what the movie is all about," he said. "It is possible Showgirls was lacking in closure. Even some of my closest collaborators felt that way and have said they thought the rape scene took the fun out of the movie."

9. The competition between Nomi and Cristal was said to have spilled over into set life, with Berkley and Gershon's lives imitating art—something Verhoeven reportedly subtly encouraged.

10. Nomi's iconic mispronunciation of Versace—say it with us now: Ver-sayce—was reportedly a suggestion from Berkley herself.

11. Gershon was explicitly told by Verhoeven not to play Cristal with a Texan accent, despite the fact that she's written as being from the Lone Star State. But she did it anyway, telling The Daily Beast in 2017 that she spoke with the twang all day on set so that no one would notice it when cameras were rolling. "It drives me crazy," she said of watching Showgirls now. "I see parts where I wish I could loop and do ADR and fix my accent. I have a hard time watching the movie."

12. The film's stark poster, which featured Berkley revealing but a sliver of her body through a stage curtain, was actually adapted from a photograph by Czech artist Tono Stano. Taken in 1992, the original photo was used on the cover of a popular 1994 book The Body: Photographs of the Human Form, by William Ewing.

13. Put off by MGM's marketing materials, which he believed only targeted men, Eszterhas took out a full-page at in Variety in the hopes of appealing to women. "It was addressed from Joe Eszterhas, to women," he told THR. "It made the case that there was a real spiritual regeneration in this picture, because she turns her back on everything that happens. The movie itself had a bull's-eye on it, but when I did that I put a gigantic bull's-eye on myself."

14. Fearful that the NC-17 rating spelled certain doom at the box office, Eszterhas also encouraged teens via press release to attend the film using fake 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," he wrote in Hollywood Animal. "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." As such, distributor United Artists had to dispatch several hundred employees to multiplexes across North America to ensure no one underage was sneaking in to the film from other theaters.

15. As the first—and still only—NC-17 film to get a wide release in mainstream theaters, the film was eviscerated by critics and ultimately flopped at the box office. It grossed only $37 million on a budget of $45 million.

16. When MacLachlan finally saw the finished product, he was beside himself. "I was absolutely gobsmacked," he told The A.V. Club. "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. And I was like, 'Wow. That was crazy.' I mean, I really didn't see that coming. So at that point, I distanced myself from the movie."

17. If you look closely enough, you'll notice a young Carrie Ann Inaba—fresh off her stint as a Fly Girl on In Living Color—among the sea of dancers in Goddess, the topless revue at the heart of the show. It would be nearly 20 years before she and Berkley crossed paths once more when the latter competed on season 17 of Dancing With the Stars, on which Inaba is a judge, in 2013. (Berkley finished in sixth place.)

18. The film set a record for the most nominations in a single year at The Razzies, earning 13. It would go on to win seven, including Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director and, hilariously, Worst Screen Couple—awarded to "any combination of two people (or two body parts)." Verhoeven made history as the first person to ever show up and accept their wins (losses?) in person. "Nobody knew I was there at first and they kept playing scenes from the movie. Everybody was laughing, but when they started to give out the prizes, to their amazement, I stood up to collect them...It was absolutely fantastic because by the end of the evening people were screaming and laughing and clapping, it was a really great experience for me," he told New York Daily News in 2015. "On this occasion, I think attending the Razzies and 'turning the other cheek' was absolutely the right thing to do because it was like a catharsis for me and felt like the end of the whole negative spiral, like it had all been wiped away. As soon as I came out of that room I felt purified in some way."

19. Though the dismal box office killed any chance of it, a sequel was originally planned. With Nomi leaving Las Vegas at the end of the film for Los Angeles, Verhoeven and Eszterhas wanted to follow her there with Bimbos: Nomi Does Los Angeles. The film, chronicling Nomi's attempts to break into the movie business, would've utilized seedy stories picked up along the way during the collaborators' years in the industry.

20. While no one was rushing out to see Showgirls in theaters, once the film was released on home video, it quickly became a cult sensation. It generated more than $100 million from rentals and became one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers. Recognizing that people were watching the film with an ironic detachment, MGM capitalized on it and began screening Showgirls at midnight movies alongside other cult favorites like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They even hired drag queens for screenings in New York City to encourage audience participation. By the movie's 10th anniversary, they were able to celebrate with a DVD box set that came with a drinking game, playing cards and shot glasses.

21. Showgirls was banned in Ireland for more than two decades because the Irish Film Censor Board chair Sheamus Smith objected to the line "I got bigger tits than the f--kin' Virgin Mary and I got a bigger mouth, too." The film was eventually released on video uncut in 2017.

22. When VH1 purchased the rights to air the film on TV, something had to be done to censor the frequent nudity in the film, so a censored version of Showgirls was created with digitally-rendered black bras and panties covering up the actors. Some scenes were beyond censoring, though, and wound up on the cutting room floor altogether. And if you listen closely enough, you'll hear another actress' voice coming out of Berkley's mouth in key moments. That's because MGM refused to pay her $250 to re-dub her lines to make them cable-TV friendly, so she refused to do it at all.

23. While Bimbos never got made, the film did receive an unofficial sequel in 2011 when actress Rena Riffel—who played Penny in the original—wrote, directed, produced and starred in her own. Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven followed her naive newcomer and essentially recreated the plot of its predecessor. In 2013, an off-off-Broadway musical parody of the film was also mounted. And for one month, Riffel appeared as Penny in the spoof.

24. Though Berkley's career never quite rebounded from the film, Verhoeven was able to go on and direct several more big-budget films, including Starship Troopers and Hollow Man, seemingly undeterred. In 2015, he admitted that he felt badly about that. "Showgirls certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way," he told New York Daily News. "It made my life more difficult, but not to the degree it did Elizabeth's. Hollywood turned their backs on her. If somebody has to be blamed, it should be me because I thought that it was interesting to portray somebody like that."

25. Berkley certainly got the raw deal in the equation. Not only was she only paid $100,000 for Showgirls, but she was dropped by her agent after the release, with others refusing to take her calls. She was awarded not one, but two Razzies—for Worst Actress and Worst New Star. No new roles were ever offered her way. And when the 10th anniversary box set was being put together after a decade of bonkers home video business, her request for $2,500 to sit for an interview was denied. On the film's 20th anniversary, however, she attended a screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where she admitted she'd finally come to terms with the whole experience. 

"When a dream is happening, it's unlike anything you can ever imagine. Which is why when the movie came out it was more painful than anything you can imagine," she told the crowd. "1995 was such a different time, where taking risks like that were 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."

Showgirls is available to stream on HBO Max.

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