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Is Basic Instinct a True Story?

September 30, 2020
4 min read

‘Basic Instinct’ is a perfect blend of neo-noir and erotica, something that was unprecedented at the time of its release. Starring Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, the film revolves around a troubled detective Nick Curran (Douglas), who begins a fiery affair with novelist Catherine Tramell (Stone), who is one of the main suspects in the murder case he is pursuing. Although Paul Verhoeven’s directorial venture received modest reviews from the critics after its release, it was a massive commercial success, earning over $352.9 million at the box office against its $49 million budget.

It is now regarded as one of the most influential films of all time because of the changes it brought to how sex is portrayed in mainstream Hollywood projects. If the film’s morally ambiguous characters and sinfully dark plot set against the sunny and vibrant San Francisco backdrop have made you wonder whether the film is based on real events, you’re at the right place.

Is Basic Instinct Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Basic Instinct’ is not based on a true story. The screenplay was originally written by Joe Eszterhas (‘Big Shots’ and ‘Hearts of Fire’) in 13 days. In the years leading up to the film, Eszterhas garnered considerable recognition for writing similar scripts, including films like ‘Blue Thunder,’ ‘Jagged Edge,’ and ‘Betrayed.’ ‘Basic Instinct’ seems to be the culmination of all his previous works. The script drew some attention after it was finished, and that led to a bidding war. Ultimately, Eszterhas reportedly sold it to Carolco Pictures for $3 million.

After Verhoeven came on board to direct the film, his creative vision was so different from Eszterhas that the latter eventually left the production. Interestingly, the changes that Verhoeven initially wanted to bring to the script were later discarded by him. He even called those ideas “undramatic” and ” really stupid.” Although several screenwriters worked on the script in the intermediate period, Eszterhas’s original script, with some changes to its visual style and dialogues (including the famous leg-crossing scene, which was the director’s idea), that was ultimately turned into the film. Furthermore, only Eszterhas was credited as the film’s scriptwriter.

The two main characters, however, are based on real people. In an interview, Eszterhas spoke about the inspiration behind Nick Curran, whom he met while he was working as a police reporter for Cleveland-based news outlet The Plain Dealer. “I met a cop who just liked the action too much,” recalled Eszterhas to the now-defunct Nerve magazine. “He was always in the middle of shootings. He was a great cop on one level, but on another, you suspected he liked it too much. That’s what Nick Curran does in Basic Instinct. As Catherine says in the movie, he got too close to the flame. He loved the flame.”

Catherine Tramell, on the other hand, was based on a go-go dancer in Dayton. According to Eszterhas, she was a stranger whom he invited to his hotel room not long after becoming acquainted with her. “She reached into her purse, and she pulled out a .22 and pointed it at me,” he said. “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.”

Verhoeven’s deep love for the works of Alfred Hitchcock played a significant role in how he explored typical detective motifs in the movie. “In traditional films, the killer lurks in a house and the victim walks into the kitchen, turns on the radio, makes coffee, opens a book, gets comfortable—and then the killer strikes,” he stated in an interview. “In this film, the killer hides—but on the bed. The situation is the same, but the two people are facing each other in bed, not the kitchen.”

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