'Basic Instinct': 25th Anniversary of the '90s Thriller

This month marks 25 years since the erotic thriller 'Basic Instinct' premiered in U.S. theaters. It went on to become one of the highest-grossing films of 1992.
Publish date:
'Basic Instinct' 1992 Photo

Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone dancing in a scene from the film 'Basic Instinct,' 1992.

Basic Instinct tells the story of bisexual novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), who is suspected of being an ice pick-wielding, sex-crazed serial murderer. San Francisco detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) investigates her case but quickly gets seduced by her dangerous charms.

Written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the erotic noir thriller became an international box office hit in 1992, despite (or perhaps because of) its highly sexual content and the controversy it received from the LGBTQ community. With a $49-million budget, Basic Instinct went on to gross over $352 million worldwide.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, here are nine interesting facts about  the film.

1. Listening to the Rolling Stones on loop, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wrote Basic Instinct in less than two weeks. The film was initially entitled Love Hurts.

2. A few days later, Eszterhas sold the script for a whopping $3 million in 1990.

3. The main characters, Catherine Tramell and Nick Curran, were inspired by real people. Prior to becoming a screenwriter, Eszterhas once worked at a local Cleveland newspaper as a police reporter. It was there that he met a cop who "was always in the middle of shootings" and "just liked the action too much." That cop was the basis for Detective Nick Curran.

As for Catherine's character, Eszterhas tells the story of meeting a go-go dancer, whom he fooled around with in a hotel one night. According to him, things suddenly went awry. “She reached into her purse, and she pulled out a .22 and pointed it at me,” he claimed. “She said, ‘Give me one reason why I shouldn’t pull this trigger.’ I said, ‘I didn’t do anything to hurt you. You wanted to come here, and as far as I know, you enjoyed what we just did.’ And she said, ‘But this is all guys have ever wanted to do with me, and I’m tired of it.’ We had a lengthy discussion before she put that gun down. Those two random characters are where those parts of Basic Instinct come from.”

4. Before Michael Douglas agreed to play Detective Nick Curran, Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, and Don Johnson were among the actors who were offered the role but turned it down. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Patrick Swayze, and Ray Liotta were said to have auditioned for the role.

5. Thirteen actresses were offered the role of Catherine, but Stone was the only actress hungry for the part. However, Stone was afraid she wouldn't be considered for it because her name wasn't big enough, so she decided to use her womanly charms to convince director Verhoeven. Having worked with him before on Total Recall, she explained how she went about nabbing the role.

“I wouldn’t ask [for an audition], because I didn’t want him to test me just because he felt obligated,” she told Playboy. So what did she do? She decided to visit Verhoeven while he was at work dressed in a tight dress that was characteristic of the manipulative Catherine. “I was being cool. Very cool,” she said. “I didn’t want him to think I was insane, but I did want to give him a general idea that I could transform myself. Men are visually stimulated—and that’s usually enough, at least at first.”

Stone was right. The dress was enough. She got her audition and won the role.

6. Michael Douglas wanted a big-name actress as his leading lady, so that if the film tanked, the two actors would equally share in the burden. However, Stone was the only actress who was willing to appear in the nude.

7. Stone and Douglas didn't have natural chemistry in real life. However, Stone told Playboy that the uncomfortability helped the film. “I think that kind of discomfort lends itself to this kind of movie,” she said. “Tension is good. I basically didn’t get to know Michael. There was something about the mystery of not knowing each other that lent itself to this situation. It’s odd, because now I have this very intimate bond with a stranger.” Regardless, Stone used her "primal" instincts to make their working relationship productive. “It was all about watching him, observing his movements, provoking him. If one were to believe in karma, I would say there is some karmic circle yet unfulfilled between the two of us. Our energy together was strong. It still isn't comfortable for me, but I think it works very well for our work together.”

8. Stone had more problems getting through the violent ice pick scenes than her nude ones. The violent reenactments apparently gave her nightmares and anxiety, so much so that she had her best friend on stand by, along with a paramedic, in case she fainted.

9. The notorious and most memorable moment of the film — Stone's leg-uncrossing scene — wasn't in the original script. In fact, it was conjured up by director Verhoeven while on set and was based on his college memories of a young woman who did the same thing to him at a party.