13 Stripped-Down Facts About ‘Showgirls’

This 1995 erotic drama was about as appetizing to moviegoers as a bowl of brown rice and vegetables when it first came out—but it’s since become a sensation on the midnight movie circuit.
Nobody puts Nomi in a corner.
Nobody puts Nomi in a corner. / Getty Images/GettyImages

Nearly 30 years ago, the semi-pornographic yet campy Showgirls was released into theaters, starring Saved by the Bell's Elizabeth Berkley as an exotic dancer turned Vegas showgirl. The movie tanked at the box office, won seven Razzies, and was so poorly reviewed and received that it ended careers. But thanks to video rentals, the midnight movie circuit, and some hilarious drag parodies, this meant-to-be darkly-funny cult classic has finally found its audience. Below, discover more titillating facts about the flick that Roger Ebert once called a “waste of a perfectly good NC-17 rating.”

1. Joe Eszterhas came up with the idea while he was on vacation.

Joe Eszterhas was fresh off the success of 1992’s Basic Instinct when he came up with the idea for Showgirls while on vacation in Maui. The screenwriter—who also co-wrote the script for Flashdance (1983)—sold the idea of a “rock musical about Las Vegas showgirls” before it was even written. He reportedly just jotted down the premise on a napkin, then sold the concept for about $2 million.

After the project was green-lit, he received an additional $1.7 million. But for Eszterhas, who was going through a messy divorce from his first wife at the time, it was bittersweet. He would later claim that he “wrote Showgirls at the single most turbulent moment of my life.”

2. Kyle MacLachlan was “gobsmacked” when he saw the movie for the first time.

Facts about "Showgirls": Kyle MacLachlan on the set of "Blue Velvet" with Isabella Rossellini.
It was a far cry from "Blue Velvet," that's for sure. / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

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, who subsequently distanced himself from the film, 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.

3. Quentin Tarantino loves it.

Facts about "Showgirls": Quentin Tarantino is pictured
Naturally, the patron saint of mainstream exploitation cinema approves. / Martyn Goodacre/GettyImages

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!”

4. Feminist Gloria Steinem wanted to work with Joe Eszterhas.

In his 752-page autobiography, Eszterhas claimed 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.”

5. Elizabeth Berkley has finally made peace with the film.

Berkley attended a 20th anniversary screening of the film in 2015 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where she spoke candidly about the humiliation she felt when the film came out. “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.

The First Wives Club star went on to explain 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.” Fortunately, Berkley claimed that she found her “own resiliency and my power and my confidence” through the experience, but appreciated getting to have a “full-circle moment” with the audience.

6. Eszterhas thinks critics would’ve liked the film more if Madonna had been cast.

Madonna Blond Ambition Tour
The Queen of Pop would have fit in perfectly. / Frank Micelotta Archive/GettyImages

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.”

7. Eszterhas also told teenagers to use fake IDs to get into screenings.

Joe Eszterhas'' New Steamy White House Novel
The "most reviled man in America" still has hot takes. / Paul Harris/GettyImages

Eszterhas became known as “the most reviled man in America” because, when the NC-17 movie was released, he issued a press release telling teens to bring fake IDs. In Hollywood Animal he wrote, “Had I not told teenagers to bring their fake IDs, I would’ve avoided making a colossal asshole 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.”

8. He 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, 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. 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.

10. Gina Gershon wasn’t supposed to use a Texas accent, but did it anyway.

"Showgirls" facts: Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley in a scene from "Showgirls."
Doggy chow sold separately. / Getty Images/GettyImages

As written, Gershon’s character Cristal was from Texas. But in a 2017 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.”

11. Rena Riffel 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.

In 2015, a re-cut, shortened version came out, with deleted scenes 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.

For her part, Riffel revealed that she faced plenty of backlash too after the original film came out. “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.” 

12. Carrie Ann Inaba and Elizabeth Berkley were both involved with Dancing With the Stars.

Choreographer and dancer Carrie Ann Inaba played a dancer in the stage production of Goddess within the film and was previously an In Living Color Fly Girl before she danced her way into becoming a judge on Dancing With the Stars.

Meanwhile, 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 ultimately eliminated.

13. Jimmy Fallon once simultaneously parodied Showgirls and Saved by the Bell.

In February 2015, 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” scene from the show.

A version of this article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for 2024.

Read More About Cult Movies: