A movie doesn’t have to be a flop or a cult phenomenon to be heralded a camp classic. It also doesn’t have to be over-the-top in its manner of storytelling — all shocking, titillating style, no substance.
But put all three criteria together, and you’ve got Showgirls, touted as one of the worst films ever made, and also responsible for setting a new bar as far as movies about bad girls with naked ambition go. Last year’s Burlesque, for example, paled in comparison because it was less ostentatious and more believable. Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas – who previously teamed up for the straight-loving Sharon Stone flick Basic Instinct – weren’t trying to make you love or even much care about Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) or her naked ambition to supplant Cristal (Gina Gershon) as the queen of Vegas showgirls. They were just pleasing themselves and their straight male audience counterparts by having the two women scheme and fight each other when they’re not stripping nude and seducing men (or one another).
Showgirls cost approximately $45 million to make, which was a lot in its day, and it flopped in large part due to its NC-17 rating, the first with that rating given a wide release. But it has gained cult popularity ever since, with home viewing parties, midnight screenings, even special engagements at gay film festivals.
And that’s as it should be. A film this bad, even offensive, should not be viewed at home alone. You need to enjoy it in the company of knowing, like-minded friends over cocktails. Lots and lots of cocktails.