Its director, Paul Verhoeven, conceived it as a Hitchcockian murder mystery. Its star Michael Douglas described it as ”a sexy cop psycho-thriller.” But by the time Basic Instinct was released on March 20, 1992, the movie — starring Douglas as a self-destructive cop who gets entangled with Sharon Stone’s suspected ice-pick murderess — had emerged as one of the ’90s’ most controversial films.
Gay-rights groups slammed it because its main murder suspects were all mentally unstable lesbians or bisexuals. The National Organization for Women denounced it as ”blatantly misogynistic.” And then there was all the fuss over that now-infamous interrogation scene, in which Stone — wearing a clingy white minidress, heels, and nothing else — revealingly uncrossed her legs in front of God and everybody.
Riding a firestorm of free publicity, the movie opened with a bang on its way to a domestic gross of $117 million. It made a household name out of Stone, who, after starring in such junk as Police Academy 4, reunited with her Total Recall director Verhoeven for Instinct. Several A-list actresses, among them Michelle Pfeiffer and Kim Basinger, had already turned down the nudity-laden role, but Stone seized the part of femme fatale Catherine Tramell, establishing herself as a star in one fell swoop of the leg.
It may have been too bold a gesture. At least Stone seemed to think so — she claimed that a ”deceitful” Verhoeven had inserted that shot after telling her that nothing so explicit would be seen. ”I personally think it’s okay,” Stone said the week the film opened. ”I don’t think it’s okay that he didn’t call me into the editing room and say, ‘Gee, we see more of this than we thought we were going to.”’
To this day, Verhoeven maintains that Stone knew exactly what he was doing. But he agrees that he should have shown her his final cut before she saw it in a screening room full of people — including several of her friends, whose evident distress, he theorizes, ”might have strongly influenced her to [think] that this would hurt the performance.”
In fact, the pubic peekaboo helped kick off a career run that culminated in an Oscar nomination for her work in 1995’s Casino. Still, Stone has never connected with the audience the way she did as Tramell. So it’s not surprising that she’s the one principal from the original who remains attached to MGM’s proposed sequel, which is still mired in development muck.
Even if it gets made, Verhoeven is skeptical that any sequel could equal the impact of his original. ”Our times have become very conservative,” he laments. ”I doubt very strongly if we could get away with what we got away with then. A lot of things would [end] up on the cutting-room floor.”