10 Best Paul Verhoeven Movies
Paul Verhoeven is a marvel filmmaker. He is never one to shy away from graphic violence nor explicit sexual content. Throughout his career he has been recognized—though not always lauded—for pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in mainstream cinema. But empty exploitation it is not. His films emphasize overkill (sometimes literally) to underscore his usually satirical tone. He uses his power as a filmmaker to criticize some ill he identifies in society—whether it be through the genre of science fiction or his later work in straightforward drama. Some of Verhoeven’s work is not for the easily squeamish—though it is worth noting that his ultra-violent films have generally found significantly less revulsion that his films which focus on sexual depravity and deviancy. Here are his best films.
Total Recall (1990)
Based of a short story written by Philip K. Dick, Total Recall recounts the story of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a construction worker in the future who has dreams of living on the now-colonized Mars. But when he goes to a business which implants memories of fictional vacations so that he can have a memory of a Mars trip, it triggers memories which were buried deep in his subconscious. Suddenly, everyone in his life is out to get him and he has to go on the run. It is a marvel of practical effects and was lauded by critics and audiences alike.
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Starship Troopers (1997)
Starship Troopers portrays the adventures of Johnny Rico as he works his way up the space-age military. Verhoeven took a novel of the same name which was done completely in earnest, and turned it into a big, explosive critique of the military-industrial complex and the media environment which is necessary to promote it.
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Robocop chronicles the story of Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), a police officer in dystopian Detroit who is gunned down in the line of duty. He finds new “life” when the private corporation overseeing the underfunded department puts his brain into a prototype robot police officer. The film touts incredible special effects, visceral gruesomeness and a biting commentary on police militarization.
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Basic Instinct (1992)
In Basic Instinct, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is tasked with investigating the murder of famed rock musician Johnny Boz. The case becomes more complicated when Curran becomes sexually involved with the prime suspect in the murder, Boz’s girlfriend and crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). The film was a box office smash—the most successful of the decade.
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Elle is a deeply, deeply dark French-language film in which Isabelle Huppert plays a woman named Michele Leblanc. She is sexually assaulted by a masked intruder but does not report it to the police. The central fallout of the incident is how it shapes her perception of the world around her. It is a powerful piece a with a deeply emotional performance by Huppert at the center.
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Black Book (2006)
Black Book was the first film made by Verhoeven in his native Holland since 1983. It is a World War II-era dramatic thriller in which Carice Van Houten plays an ethnically Jewish woman living in the Netherlands who becomes a spy for the resistance against the Third Reich. Critics reacted relatively warmly to the erotic and thrilling film and responded to the morally-challenging nature of the story.
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Flesh + Blood (1985)
Flesh + Blood stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer. Set in the late period of the Dark Ages, the film tells the story of the adversarial relationship between the son of a feudal lord and the mercenary who kidnaps his enigmatic betrothed. It had an abject performance at the box office—failing to even earn a sixth of its budget back—but critics gave generally positive reviews.
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Hollow Man (2000)
Inspired by H.G. Wells’s famous novel The Invisible Man, Hollow Man follows a team of scientists (Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Shue, Josh Brolin) who are experimenting with a serum which can turn the consumer invisible and back to visible again. One of the scientists (Bacon) consumes in but cannot turn back. He begins to commit horrifying, depraved acts and is driven to his wit’s end when he finds his coworkers are in a relationship. It was praised for its incredible effects but otherwise underwhelmed critics.
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The Fourth Man (1983)
The Fourth Man, Verhoeven’s last Dutch film of the twentieth century, is based on Gerard Reve’s novel of the same name. The eponymous, alcoholic Reve enters into a relationship with a beautiful woman—but he starts experiencing visions of the Virgin Mary. Characteristic of Verhoeven, it is both sexually explicit and ultra-violent. It was lauded by critics as suspenseful, erotic and even perhaps one of the best films in modern world cinema.
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Showgirls chronicles the story of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a woman who seeks to become a showgirl in Las Vegas, Nevada. Critics and audiences alike were put off by Showgirls and its sexually explicit content. Whatever point Verhoeven was trying to make was apparently lost in translation for audiences because though it has a number of fans who champion it as a cult classic, the NC-17 rated film is pretty widely reviled still today by critics and general filmgoers alike.
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