SHOWGIRLS – 21st Anniversary

“I don’t care whether you live or die. I want to see you dance!”

Kristian Fletcher looks back at 21 years of the cult trash movie SHOWGIRLS.


Considered a loose (and I mean, very loose) adaptation of All About Eve, young drifter Nomi Malone arrives in Las Vegas and dances her way from stripper to showgirl in Stardust casino’s nude revue.

Based on personal accounts by over 200 Vegas strippers, Joe Eszterhas pieced together his screenplay, for which he was paid handsomely 3 million dollars. I bet in hindsight he regretted naming the lead character after his wife!

Director Paul Verhoeven was still riding the success of his previous erotic thrillers Basic Instinct (1992) and Sliver (1993), so Showgirls would have seemed an obvious next step. Even the trailers boasted ‘last time they took you to the edge, this time they’re taking you all the way’.

Drew Barrymore, Pamela Anderson and Anjelina Jolie were among the actresses considered for the role of Nomi. Charlize Theron was so close, but Elizabeth Berkley, fresh from the cancelled Saved by the Bell, was looking to overhaul her teen image and move on to more risque Hollywood fare. But it was to be the film which derailed her career.

The first teasers for Showgirls didn’t hold back. A ‘no holds barred’ advertisement for what would become one of the most controversial major motion pictures of all time – I say major, as it was a mainstream film to pretty much play for exploitation. To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino, Showgirls was the most expensive and heavily promoted ‘exploitation movie’ ever made. They slapped it with an NC17 rating (the equivelent of our R18+) and widely released it to mainstream cinemas. The glittery adult romp was playing suburban multiplexes and generating buzz many months prior to release.

The critics weren’t kind. In fact, they devoured the ‘vulgur sex pic’ and picked at the bones. With a budget of $45 million, and surrounded by much contrversy and hype, the film barely made $20 million back, and the cast and creative were left with egg on their face.

As the years passed, Showgirls was re-evaluated as a satire, and the same critics which called it a dud were now praising it as the ultimate ‘bad/fun’ movie. It was on video where the film finally took off and turn a profit, remaining one of MGM’s Top 20 best-sellers. Showgirls has become a guilty pleasure for many, rightfully acquiring the title ‘cult classic’.

I’m sure MGM saw the spike in sales as a result of ‘at-home’ Showgirls parties – watching the film with the group of friends and laughing their way through it seems to be a popular past-time among movie buffs (or ‘bad cinema’ lovers). MGM cashed in on this new-found success and re-released Showgirls as an audience participation film, likened to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with quote-alongs and interactive activities. An initial box office bomb was turned around and given a whole new life.

Today, Gina Gershon seems to tire of references to the cult epic. She was apparently ‘in on the joke’ whilst the celluloid newcomer Elizabeth Berkley was left, um, unemployed. It was only in 2014 that Berkley began embracing the film which essentially ‘killed her career’. Gershon and post-Twin Peaks co-star Kyle MacLachlan seem to be the only actors who went on to survive the film’s failure with successful careers. Rene Riffel (who plays Penny/Hope) even produced a sequel Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven in 2011 and filled it with cameos by the original supporting cast. Fans continue to lap it up and there’s still life in this showgirl…

Iconic lines from the movie:
“There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you”
“I’m doin’ some of the finest cocaine in the world, darlin”
“I used to love Doggy Chow”
“I want my nipples to press, but I don’t want them to look like they’re levitating”
“Honey, you could never handle me with all these wrinkles of fat”
“She’s no butterfly. Tony, she’s all pelvic thrust”
“I’m gettin’ a little too old for that whorey look”

Showgirls screens for its 21st anniversary on Friday 29 January at New Farm Cinemas, Brisbane. Ticket price includes goodies back to participate along with the movie.

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