The Death Of The Erotic Thriller

The last time “Basic Instinct” man-eater Catherine Tramell prowled the big screen, the studio erotic thriller was hitting box office heights. The first “Instinct” took the top spot when it debuted in 1992, with an opening weekend of $15.1 million, the equivalent of $20.45 million in today’s dollars.

By comparison, “Basic Instinct 2” limped into 10th place upon its arrival this weekend, grossing just $3.2 million.

In the years between the two films, a string of high-profile flops, including MGM’s “Body of Evidence,” United Artists’ “Showgirls” and Paramount Pictures’ “Jade,” have all contributed to the cooling off of the erotic thriller, a genre that had once sizzled at the box office.

Paul Verhoeven, director of the first “Basic Instinct” (which scored $353 million worldwide) as well as the widely ridiculed “Showgirls” (now regarded as something of a camp classic), attributes the genre’s demise to the current American political climate.

“Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States,” said the Dutch native. “Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends.”

Scribe Nicholas Meyer, who was an uncredited writer on 1987’s seminal sex-fueled cautionary tale “Fatal Attraction,” agrees, noting that the genre’s downfall coincides with the ascent of the conservative political movement.

“We’re in a big puritanical mode,” he said. “Now, it’s like the McCarthy era, except it’s not ‘Are you a communist?’ but ‘Have you ever put sex in a movie?'”

Oh, the excuses these guys are coming up with. It’s Christianity! It’s conservatism! It’s the new McCarthyism! Actually, it probably has a lot more to do with the rise of internet porn. If people want to get titillated, they don’t have to go watch “Basic Instinct” any more so they can wait to get flashed by Sharon Stone. Instead, for good or for ill, they can hit the net and watch any and every perversion known to man without having to leave the comfort of their own home or pay an exorbitant ticket fee. In a sense, that makes films like “Showgirls” and “Jade” as outdated as silent movies.

However, these comments are telling in a different way. Here we have America rejecting a particular type of movie and not only do you have people in Hollywood blaming the movie-going public for their tastes, they’re continuing to make movies that keep failing at the box office over and over. Here’s a crazy idea: why not try to cater to the public and make movies they want to see?

So, what movies do they want to see? If you take a look at the films from the last 10 years that make a list of the top 100 grossing films of all-time, adjusted for inflation, you’ll note a trend.

19. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
34. Independence Day (1996)
48. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
50. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
54. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
55. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
57. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
58. The Sixth Sense (1999)
62. Finding Nemo (2003)
64. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
72. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
73. Twister (1996)
74. Men in Black (1997)
81. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
86. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
89. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
90. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
93. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
94. Toy Story 2 (1999)
96. Shrek (2001)
97. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
100. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the vast majority of these incredibly successful movies are PG-13 and they’re the sort of films, for the most part, that parents would feel comfortable taking their kids to see.

So, what’s more likely to make a mint — a script based on a family friendly comic book/hot sci-fi novel or another slut-murder thriller that no one wants to watch? There does seem to be a right answer to that question, although a lot of people in Hollywood don’t seem to want to accept it.

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