Verhoeven. What a wild ride Paul Verhoeven’s career has been. He’s been called a sleaze and a provocateur – but there’s an undeniable consistency in the work regardless of budget, genre, decade or, even—the quality of (which is admittedly a little all over the place). Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to catch the seven films he made in the Netherlands prior to coming to Hollywood to make Robocop in 1987. From 1987-2000 Verhoeven made big blockbusters— right there with Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Tim Burton. Verhoeven’s trademark tongue-in-cheek patented style did not always mesh. But the body of work here is what impresses me- more than any one film. He mixtures violence, sexuality, with an almost absurdist’s tone at times.

From 1987-2000 Verhoeven made big blockbusters— right there with Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Tim Burton.

Best film: Total Recall. Tonally bizarre, visually ambitious, and almost hypnotically engaging.

a shot from Total Recall– it is a Philip K. Dick adaptation that isn’t on the level of Blade Runner— but what is? It is still a film bursting with creativity. Verhoeven made the material his own- which is what an auteur does.

total archiveable films: 6

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  0

most overrated: Showgirls –I know I know- how could the Razzie winner for worst picture (and worst Director) and a 16 or whatever on metacritic be overrated? — well—it now sits at #1307 on the TSPDT consensus list. Unreal. Haha. I’m not with the consensus on Showgirls. I’d get to 2000 movies quickly before thinking about Showgirls. Also, while we’re at it Elle is also a few slots higher than it belongs as the #5 film from 2016 on the TSPDT 21st century list.

most underrated :   Basic Instinct

  • Like many of Verhoeven films it was severely underrated by critics but if you dig into the reviews- they admire Verhoeven’s style (at least a lot of them do) but cringe at the sleaziness of much of the content- which doesn’t factor in at all in my evaluation
  • I love the Vertigo-like opening with the Oscar nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Borrows from Jagged Edge and De Palma- but mainly it borrows from Hitchcock—specifically vertigo. The De Palma comparisons come with the elevator stabbing scene and the psychiatrist involvement in Dressed to Kill– but even saying it compares to De Palma is really like saying it compares to Hitchcock as De Palma largely based his career on Hitch
  • Vertigo- drives along the coast, long silent man chasing woman chase sequences to wonderful music, the dominant dark eyebrows on Sharon stone like Kim Novak, set in San Fran, stairs to the apartment (above picture)—all homages to Vertigo—but Verhoeven makes it his own—sleazy, pop-infused, ironic, funny at times, clearly not as well done or as intelligent as Hitchcock but worth of respect and the archives in his/its own right
  • Stable of reliable and talented early 1990’s character actors like Wayne Knight, Stephen Tobolowsky, and James Rebhorn

a beautiful shot from Basic Instinct


gem I want to spotlight :  Elle

  • It certainly has Verhoeven’s black comedic features and enhances his reputation as a provocateur
  • I think there’s a legit intelligent discussion here on violence in the media
  • Huppert and the narrative is the show. The narrative absolutely rolls- even more the second time seeing it. And, Isabelle Huppert has rarely been better. I think it may rank second behind Haneke’s the piano teacher (which these two characters share a great deal) as an accomplishment for her. Her work in la ceremonie and white material are there, too. She’s icy, complex, intelligent— she makes a great CEO
  • Impeccably stylish (pea coats, scarves) in her attire and a Parisian business executive—very rich character—not easy to pin down (sleep’s with her best friends husband, doesn’t really like her mother)
  • She’s no mere victim—and the film doesn’t really give her an out (even though her traumatic childhood is here in the background)- it doesn’t become the story or a real psychological examination
  • As much of anything it is again, a narrative that entertains and dances with heavy themes. And for anyone who doesn’t think it’s a black comedy—the dinner scene—we have her sitting next to the man who raped her (who she also has masturbated to and is attracted to), the son with the black baby, the best friend with her husband who she is sleeping with), the mother who is with a man like 50 years younger (gigolo), and then the ex-husband with the young new girlfriend. Wow
  • Incredibly ballsy film and performance/character. Verhoeven and Huppert are a perfect match

stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • Genre blending- violence and black comedy. merging tongue-in-cheek- Bong Joon-Ho comes to mind
  • Anti-zealotry, absurdism (Bunuel, Lanthimos)

this is from Starship Troopers– Verhoeven is in on the joke– I think sometimes critics have a hard time with the genre blending

  • The sleek style and narrative momentum in editing makes me think of Hitchcock (and yes, De Palma)

The sleek style and narrative momentum in editing makes me think of Hitchcock (and yes, De Palma)— a great shot here from Total Recall

  • Voyeurism (Hitchcock again), sexuality
  • bad acting- I know it sounds strange but it’s true. Certainly Huppert in Elle is an exception- and I think Stone is wonderful in Basic Instinct– but films like Showgirls and Starship Troopers make me wonder if the actors knew about the tone Verhoeven was going for
  • Surrealism—overt over-the-top melodrama that makes you question the reflexive nature and commentary by Verhoeven himself

Starship Troopers— an homage to 1950’s sci-fi films, a political critique, an engaging (if not totally strange) narrative

top 10

  1. Total Recall
  2. Starship Troopers
  3. Elle
  4. Basic Instinct
  5. Robocop
  6. Black Book


By year and grades

1987- Robocop R
1990- Total Recall HR
1992- Basic Instinct R
1997- Starship Troopers R/HR
2006- Black Book R
2016- Elle R/HR


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives