Movie Postmortems: BASIC INSTINCT 2

by John S.

Movie Postmortems is a series that reviews certain films which showed promise but misfired, critically and/or commercially, upon release. Join us in our attempt to find out what the hell happened.

THE CASUALTY: Basic Instinct 2

THE CASE HISTORY: February 1992. A controversial erotic thriller titled Basic Instinct is gearing up for release. The film revolves around Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), a San Francisco homicide detective who finds himself drawn like a moth to the flame to the prime suspect in his latest murder case. She is Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone), a bisexual novelist whose latest mystery novel seems to predict the crime in question. In addition to the explicit sex scenes featured in the movie, Basic Instinct has been garnering controversy from LGBT community protests about its depiction of its bisexual characters are cold-blooded killers.

Even before the LGBT protests began, Basic Instinct went through many development and pre-production hurdles. The female lead role of Catherine Trammell proved notoriously difficult to cast because of the nudity involved. Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Basinger, Kelly Lynch, Geena Davis, Greta Scacchi, Julia Roberts, and even Emma Thompson were reportedly among the A-listers who were approached for the role. None would take it. Eventually, an actress on an altogether different tier scored the role. Sharon Stone had been toiling in B movies for over a decade and sees this as an opportunity to move up in the pecking order of Hollywood.

March 1992. Basic Instinct opens in the number 1 spot at the North American box office, scoring a solid $15 million (about $33 million today) and, despite (or maybe because of) all the various controversies, legs it to an impressive $117 million domestic total (about $260 million today). Worldwide, it ends up with $352 million total (about $750 million today). Basic Instinct ends up being one of the biggest hits of 1992. More importantly, it finally makes a star of Sharon Stone and puts her firmly on the A-list. Her long game gamble pays off.

Over the next few years, Stone wisely tries to grow her new fame by trying to show her range and prove she’s good for more than playing calculating femme fatales. After a mis-step with the similar-in-genre Sliver in 1993, the roles she subsequently chooses seem meant to distance herself from her star-making turn in Basic Instinct. She eventually scores a Best Actress Academy Award Nomination for Casino in 1996. She further hones her versatility with various turns in Last Dance, The Mighty, Sphere, and Antz. Conversely, in 1999 she passes on two high-profile femme fatale roles: the leads in the Bond entry The World Is Not Enough and the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair – which go to Sophie Marceau and Rene Russo, respectively.

Meanwhile, plans to move forward with Basic Instinct 2 without Stone begin to gel. Ashley Judd and Demi Moore are named by producers as potential replacements for her. However, around circa 2000, Stone finally returns to the project and agrees to reprise the role that put her on the map. In an interesting reversal to the casting difficulties that plagued the first film, though, this time it is the male lead that proves challenging to lock in. After Michael Douglas declined to return, a new male lead role was created. Robert Downey Jr, Benjamin Bratt, Pierce Brosnan, Harrison Ford, Aaron Eckhart, and Viggo Mortensen are considered when the story is initially set in New York. When the setting moves to London, Jude Law, Gabriel Byrne, and Ewan McGregor are tipped. On the director side, David Cronenberg and John McTiernan are considered to replace Paul Verhoeven.

Things are further complicated by reported legal wrangling between Stone and the producers over the delays hampering the film. Eventually, around 2004 timeframe all this is resolved and pre-production on Basic Instinct 2 continues anew. Eventually, relative British unknown David Morrisey (The Walking Dead) is cast opposite Stone, with Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy, The Jackal) directing. In 2005, production begins in London, with a veritable who’s-who of British thespians: Charlotte Rampling, David Thewlis, and Hugh Dancy. Basic Instinct 2 is slated for a release in March 2006 – about 14 years after the original debuted.

March 2006. Basic Instinct 2 is released in North America and promptly bombs at the box office with a meager $3.2 million. It finishes its domestic run at barely $6 million. Overseas, it pulls in about another $32 million – for a total global take of only $38 million. It’s an especially abysmal performance that is a stark contrast to how spectacular the original did. There’s only one pertinent question to ask here.

What the hell happened?

THE AUTOPSY DETAILS:  Put simply, Basic Instinct 2 is far from a terrible film. It’s very competent, interesting, and even good overall. While it definitely is not as strong as the original, it is certainly not the stinker its horrible box office performance would suggest. In a nutshell, what we have here is a matter of timing, folks. Had this filmed been released with some minor tweaks here and there about 4-5 years after Basic Instinct’s bow, it might have fared much better at the box office. Sadly, 14 years is just way too long for any sequel, especially a non-franchise one.

Its surprising how engaging Basic Instinct 2 is, considering it’s basically recycling the premise and story beats of the first film. What keeps it from being a total rehash is the interesting idea at its core – the elusive, possibly lethal Catherine Trammell locked in an intimate relationship with her psychiatrist which just might lay bare her psyche. Of course, this being Catherine we know there’s really little chance of that – and that he is the one who should be afraid. As Nietzsche opined: “when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.” And there are fewer deeper, darker  abysses than Catherine. Still, it’s fun to watch the cat and mouse chase between them.

Stone still looks great, even though her performance here is not as nuanced as her star-making bow in the original. In Basic Instinct, she brough an understated lightness, elegance, and wry humor to the role that was a nice counterpoint to her character’s sinister undercurrent – kind of like Grace Kelly with a hint of Hannibal Lecter. In the sequel, she is in full-on over-the-top vampy femme fatale mode. Which is still entertaining but also changes the dynamic and atmosphere of the story. In the original, Stone’s subtle, playful take on the character kept us guessing up until the very end as to Catherine’s guilt or innocence. In Basic Instinct 2, she’s so flat out evil in the role that all bets are off. I guess Catherine just got more hardened and cynical with age.

The rest of the talented cast are on their game and the film is technically well-made. Again, so compelling is the premise and the lead character (even if she is also less complex) that even a blatant repeat of the original’s premise doesn’t really hurt the film. The real issue here is that Basic Instinct 2 was released in 2006 instead of 1996. If it had been released four years after the original we might have had another hit. It’s all about timing, baby.

LIKELY CAUSE OF DEATH: Right movie. Wrong time. They waited waaaaaaay too long to release this one.

NEXT CASUALTY: Blade Runner 2049 – “More Human The Humans…”

In 1982, an eagerly-anticipated sci-fi/action/thriller was released – and promptly misfired at the box-office. The movie was Blade Runner. Over time, however, it began to grow a following. A very, very, VERY loyal following. Soon, the movie was annointed an unsung classic that had deserved better. In time, it became such an integral part of cinema history and pop culture that a sequel or reimagining became all but inevitable. In 2017, that sequel was released – and history repeated itself…


John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

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