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Paul Verhoeven’s American movies, ranked from worst to best

Nearly 40 years ago, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven moved to America after a successful career in his own country. And while Verhoeven’s first American film, Flesh and Blood, wasn’t a success, he rededicated himself to his goal and went on to helm some of the best sci-fi movies of the 1980s and ’90s, including RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. Verhoeven also embraced the erotic thriller genre with one of his biggest hits, Basic Instinct, and an infamous flop, Showgirls.

For most of the 21st century, Verhoeven has put Hollywood in his rearview mirror while continuing to make movies in Europe. Verhoeven turned 85 last month, and he may not be done making movies yet. His last film, Benedetta, was released in 2021, but it’s unlikely that Verhoeven will ever make another American flick despite his largely successful track record. To celebrate Verhoeven’s contributions to cinema in our country, Digital Trends is taking a look at Verhoeven’s best American movies ranked from worst to first. And you probably would have correctly guessed which film landed the bottom slot if it wasn’t directly below this sentence.

7. Showgirls (1995)

Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls.

Showgirls is best-known as the only NC-17 film to ever get a wide theatrical release, and it’s also considered by some critics to be one of the worst movies of all time. Verhoeven was good-humored enough about the whole thing to accept his Razzie Award for Worst Director in person. Prior to the film’s release, Elizabeth Berkley was eager to shed her good girl reputation from starring in NBC’s Saved By the Bell, which is one of the reasons why she took the lead role as Nomi Malone. In retrospect, it may not have been the best idea.

In the film, Nomi arrives in Las Vegas with big dreams of making it as a dancer, but she ends up working at a sleazy strip club. Nomi quickly finds a rival in Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), a dancer who delights in tormenting her. But as Nomi climbs the ladder in Vegas, she’s more than willing to get her revenge on Cristal while also stealing her boyfriend, Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan). However, Nomi eventually learns that success in Las Vegas carries a heavy price of its own.

Watch Showgirls on MGM+, Tubi, Hoopla, and Fubo.

6. Hollow Man (2000)

An invisible man wears a human mask in Hollow Man.
Sony Pictures

Hollow Man is essentially an Invisible Man narrative, but it’s not directly based on any preexisting story. Kevin Bacon’s Dr. Sebastian Caine becomes the title character when he develops an invisibility serum and uses it on himself. When he’s invisible and wrapped in bandages, Sebastian really does look hollow. But when it comes to his moral character, Sebastian was hollow on the inside long before his experiments, and he now feels empowered to take whatever he wants as his sanity slips away.

Elisabeth Shue co-stars as Sebastian’s ex-lover and scientific colleague, Linda McKay. When Sebastian discovers that Linda has already moved on with their co-worker, Dr. Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin, before he was one of the MCU’s best villains), his murderous rage turns him into a true monster.

Watch Hollow Man on Tubi.

5. Basic Instinct (1992)

Sharon Stone in the most famous scene from Basic Instinct.
Sony Pictures

The main reason that Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas got to make Showgirls was because their previous erotic thriller, Basic Instinct, was a massive hit. Among non-sci-fi fans, it’s also arguably Verhoeven’s most famous movie. Michael Douglas stars as Nick Curran, a police detective who is investigating the death of former rock star Johnny Boz (Bill Cable). Johnny’s girlfriend, crime novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), emerges as the prime suspect, and she seems to enjoy the fact that the police can’t officially link her to the crime.

Nick becomes so enamored of Catherine that he has an ill-advised affair with her. But as Nick looks into Catherine’s past, he can’t ignore the string of dead bodies that have been left in her wake. Nick also discovers that one of Catherine’s exes leads directly back to him as well. This story has a lot of twists and turns, as well as controversial scenes that are still remembered three decades later.

Watch Basic Instinct on Fubo.

4. Flesh and Blood (1985)

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer in Flesh and Blood.
Orion Pictures

Flesh and Blood was Verhoeven’s first American movie, and also his first American flop. But it’s also attracted a cult following for embracing a story that truly has no heroes. In the early 16th century, a group of mercenaries led by Martin (Rutger Hauer) are betrayed by an Italian lord, Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck), when he declines to pay them for their service. So Martin kidnaps Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the bride-to-be of Arnolfini’s son, Steven (Tom Burlinson), who will do anything to get her back.

Agnes turns out to be a shrewd operator in her own right, as she manipulates Martin for her own purposes. She won’t commit to loving either Martin or Steven even as they go to war with each other. And that’s a fight that can only have one winner.

Watch Flesh and Blood on Freevee.

3. Total Recall (1990)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall.
Sony Pictures

Verhoeven’s Total Recall was the first adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and it’s light years better than the 2012 version. In the late 21st century, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker who is bored with his life, so he turns to the virtual vacation services of Rekall to implant memories into his mind of being a secret agent on Mars. Much to everyone at Rekall’s surprise, Quaid’s memories of Mars are apparently real, and they wipe his mind again out of fear of angering whoever messed with his memories in the first place.

When Quaid comes home, he’s truly puzzled when his wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), and people he has never met are suddenly trying to kill him. The answers are somewhere within Quaid’s mind, but he’ll have to find his way to Mars if he wants to uncover the truth.

Watch Total Recall on AMC+.

2. Starship Troopers (1997)

Johnny runs from a giant alien bug in Starship Troopers
TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures

The adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers has plenty of great sci-fi action sequences, even if the cast isn’t always as compelling as the set pieces. But the thing that really makes this movie work is Verhoeven’s dark sense of humor and the satirical edge that he brings to the propaganda broadcasts that pop up throughout the film. They manage to be funny and disturbing at the same time.

Starship Troopers follows Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his classmates, Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), and Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), as they join Earth’s military with an eye toward service in space. However, their individual dreams of glory are crushed when a deadly race of giant alien insects attacks the Earth and pulls them into a war that they can’t win. In a conflict like this, Johnny is expendable, and so is everyone around him unless they can find a way to stop the bugs.

Watch Starship Troopers on Netflix.

1. RoboCop (1987)

Peter Weller in RoboCop.
Orion Pictures

RoboCop has all of the hallmarks of Verhoeven’s American films, and it’s easily the best movie he made during his time in this country. It’s the perfect mix of satire and pathos, thanks in large part to Peter Weller’s performance as Alex Murphy, an honest cop in Old Detroit who loses his humanity after he is brutally murdered by a crime lord, Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), and then resurrected as something else.

Without the consent of Murphy or his family, OCP executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) and his team resurrect the fallen officer as a cyborg known as RoboCop. And while RoboCop proves to be a genuine success in the field, Murphy’s memories of the man that he used to be force him to seek out answers about his identify. That quest also puts Murphy in conflict with Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), a corrupt OCP executive who has a trump card to keep RoboCop from ever bringing him to justice.

Watch RoboCop on Prime Video.

Editors' Recommendations

Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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