Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight

updated 10/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT


WHEN IT ARRIVED IN MOVIE THEATERS on Sept. 22, the $39 million Showgirls promised to be a bare-breasted trail-blazer. The sexually explicit tale of a girl whose sole ambition is to rise from topless dancer in a strip joint to topless dancer in a casino, Showgirls was the first major studio film to be released widely with the Motion Picture Association of America's dreaded NC-17. Sure there were drawbacks to that rating—you sacrifice the teenage audience (anyone under 17 is barred), the networks exile your ads to after 10 p.m., and Blockbuster won't carry the video. But sex always sells, doesn't it?

As it turns out, no. After pulling in a respectable $11 million on 1,388 screens its first week, Showgirls went into a steep swan dive. Industry analysts now say the movie may break even, when international revenue is factored in. The movie, damaged off the bat by the refusal of two southern theater chains to carry it, also met with local protests in towns from California to Illinois to Arkansas and Mississippi (where it was yanked from at least three screens). Still, Showgirls' real problems were awful reviews ("a film of thunderous oafishness," according to the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan) and worse word-of-mouth. "Even the people who went to check out the raunchy content didn't like it," says Art Murphy, box office analyst for The Hollywood Reporter.

So how does all this bode for other explicit—if R-rated—movies on the way? The thriller Jade, with Linda Fiorentino as a psychiatrist who turns tricks after hours, opened last week, and Striptease, starring a topless Demi Moore, is grinding before cameras now. Its producer Mike Lobell seems unworried. Showgirls, he says, "would have failed whatever its rating. The material didn't work." Oddly, Showgirls' director isn't inclined to disagree. "Maybe it's just a bad movie," says a dispirited Paul Verhoeven. Of one thing he's sure: After Showgirls, "studios will be hesitant to make NC-17 movies. And I'm certainly not going to be first in line to do it again."

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