Paul Verhoeven was one of my favourite directors before I knew what a director was. Thanks to a spell of hits which I watched a lot in my youth, he was one of the first Directors whose name I knew and whose films I would hunt down. I admit I was always disappointed that the films I found weren’t outlandish, bloody action movies like the ones I loved, but when I got more into my teen years and became a more dedicated film lover I found a new appreciation for all of his work.
I think the best terms to use to describe Verhoeven’s work are ‘sleazy’, ‘controversial’, and ‘over the top’. Even in his early work pre-Hollywood, there was a dedication to depicting violence and sex in certain ways, blown out of all proportion once he landed in the US, but there has always been a tongue in cheek approach to it all which many critics have outright missed if not denied or dismissed. He has of course had more streamlined, subtle films but even those use action or violence or satire in a certain fashion.
10. Hollow Man.
One of the many revisions of The Invisible Man which has appeared over the years, this one took the 90s Blockbuster approach, merging horror, action, nifty effects and make-up, and dollops of sleaze. It’s an inevitably voyeuristic film which was a hefty success and basically allows Kevin Bacon to go Terminator on everyone, while occasionally stopping to have a spy at ladies getting undressed. If that sounds like your sort of thing, and it absolutely should, give it a go.
9. Basic Instinct.
Verhoeven took soft-core porn, sleazy thrillers, bedroom aerobics, and crazy white lady films to new artistic heights with Basic Instinct. Underneath all the iconic uncrossing of legs and gyrating searches for ice picks, it’s a sweaty, up close, ice cool thriller which shook suburbia and allowed all of our dirty secrets to bubble up to the surface. It’s silly, it’s Sweat Noir, and it made a star out of Sharon Stone. Basically every 90s softcore movie took its inspiration from this.
8. Flesh And Blood
Flesh And Blood is a film which never found its audience, yet it’s clearly ripe for re-evaluation now as a cult film. This should be streaming everywhere – it’s 80s, a mix of action, history, and romance. It’s stars Rutger Hauer. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the love interest. It was shot be Jan De Bont. The score is by Basil Poledouris. It has the Orion seal of quality. The plot is all over the place and you half expect it to be a swords and sorcery movie – it’s not, but it is a lot of fun for those viewers always on the lookout for a forgotten 80s movie.
This was the first non-US Verhoeven movie I saw, having read reviews of it in some Must See European Cinema book I had in my teens. It mentioned motorcycles, graphic violence – that was really all I needed at the time. Even in the liberal Netherlands, the film was controversial enough to cement Verhoeven’s desire to head to the US where he could explore different types of movies, and the film’s notoriety led in some part to helping Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe become more established worldwide. It’s somewhat similar to something like Y To Mama Tambien, a coming of age of sorts as three young men encounter a sexually aggressive woman who wants escape as much as they do. It’s an uncomfortable watch, not necessarily due to the sex and violence, but due to the depictions of masculinity which may be too close for comfort even now.
He doesn’t make very many movies any more, hardly a surprise given his advanced years, but when he does they always make an impact. One of Verhoeven’s gifts has always been in finding a strong female lead and getting a powerful performance out of them. That, and never shying away from tackling or courting controversy head on. In Elle it’s rape which takes centre stage, and one woman’s reaction to her ordeal. That woman is Isabelle Huppert, giving a performance which saw her receive a deserved Academy nomination. The film tows the line between disturbing and funny, and while it may be advertised as a rape revenge thriller, it’s not as seedy or horrible as those movies tend to be, instead finding Verhoeven using the subject and character to examine triumph. Nothing is ever as it seems in a Verhoeven film and Elle is no different.
5. Soldier Of Orange
The first of several War films Verhoeven made, this saw him become a huge name in his home and made the rest of the world aware of his abilities. It’s one of his most grounded films and one of those great coming of age type war movies which follows a group of friends pre, during, and post-war. It’s a great gateway movie into European cinema because it will be familiar to fans of films such as The Deer Hunter and it has a few familiar faces to not make the transition from US to non-US so alien.
4. Black Book
One of the finest all round movies of the 21st Century. I’ve written about it elsewhere on the blog, but it’s another WWII based drama which sees The Red Woman working as a Resistance Spy in the midst of Nazi horrors, a mature and twisting film largely free from the usual Satire and cynicism which put many people off Verhoeven’s films.
3. Starship Troopers
One of the most bonkers, all out fun movies of the 90s – it pits muscle-bound grunts against big-ass bugs in a giant space war. Great effects, hilarious violence, top notch action, all topped off by a memorable score and tonnes of one-liners. It feels like Robocop 2.0.
2. Total Recall
Arnie. Verhoeven. Ironside. Cox Stone. Mars. Aliens with three breasts. If I’m not me, then who the hell am I? Get ready for a surprise!
Arguably the greatest movie ever made. Unquestionably the most quotable. It’s in my personal Top Five movies of all time. It’s flawless in my eyes. If Verhoeven had only ever made this movie, he would be a legend – thankfully he made all of the others above, and a few more besides.
Let us know your Top Ten Verhoeven movies in the comments below!