Paul Verhoeven is one of the most successful directors from the Netherlands, as well as one of the most divisive. He has perfected the skill of sarcastic storytelling, and his works frequently highlight society’s hypocrisies.
After spending his youth under Nazi rule, the experienced director witnessed some of the most dreadful living situations imaginable, which he frequently depicts in his films. That said, he will always be remembered as a garbage trader whose exploits in the American genre were more Hollywood than Hollywood itself!
He isn’t afraid to depict society’s double-faced nature in films like RoboCop, Basic Instinct, and many more amusing and thought-provoking films. When it comes to enticing voyeurism and gruesome brutality, he is equally unafraid.
You may either adore him or think he’s overrated, but you can’t deny the importance of his filmography! We’ve put together a selection of 11 of his most outstanding pieces in this movie, which showcase the master satirist’s greatest work!
Starship Troopers (1997)
A military society has emerged on a futuristic planet, where civilians must join the army in order to become class citizens. Johnny Rico and his fiancée Carmen enlist in the military, but they quickly discover they are fighting for the wrong reasons.
After being separated from Carmen, he sets out to show his value by becoming a good soldier. In the meantime, tragedy strikes, and highly intelligent alien bugs pose a threat to Earth. In the full-scale war that follows, Johnny must help his fellow soldiers for the sake of humanity!
The narrative may sound like any other action movie, but this is where Paul Verhoeven’s masterstroke comes into play. In his storyline, he incorporates a subtle anti-war message, and the astute social commentary becomes the film’s heart.
We see how patriotism is being exploited by those in charge to lure young people into a pointless war. It takes courage to dress the seemingly good guys in Nazi uniforms, but Verhoeven never shied away from such daring stuff!
Aside from the Nazi iconography, the ridiculousness of the perfect society in this film, which satirises jingoistic American politics, will blow your mind. Starship Troopers also features some incredible visual effects that make the fighting sequences stand out; it was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
The violence is severe, and the savagery on film will either satisfy or repel you. This is top-notch science fiction, and you’ll seldom find a more incisive criticism of fascism!
Total Recall (1990)
Douglas Quaid is a regular construction worker who has glimpses of a populated Mars that are troubling. He goes to a business that replaces troubling memories with joyful ones to get rid of the trauma. However, there is a flaw in the technique that allows Quaid to realise that his current existence was all along a fake memory. He remembers being a secret agent who fought the administration on Mars, but the people who got his memories replaced now want him dead!
The nicest part of Total Recall is that you’re never sure what’s real and what isn’t! The interesting topic of how far you can trust your memory is explored in this classic Verhoeven sci-fi thriller. We can confidently say that this is one of the best movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who stars as the protagonist. While the narrative isn’t as action-packed as some of his other films, the constant suspense surely makes up for it.
Rob Bottin’s special effects are particularly noteworthy since they were far ahead of their time. As a spectator, you’ll have the impression that you’re on a virtual voyage to Mars! Total Recall more than justifies its colossal budget, and it’s no wonder that the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. You must check it out if you have a taste for the satirical storytelling of Verhoeven.
The city of Detroit is beset by societal turmoil, with crime rates spiralling out of control. Alex Murphy is a tenacious officer on the hunt for Clarence Boddicker and his gang. When Murphy seems to be killed, his body is converted into RoboCop, a strong cyborg who conducts an effective anti-crime crusade. However, he starts to recall memories of his death and soon uncovers the evil plans of the corporation that built him. What will happen when RoboCop turns against its makers?
Robocop has been embedded in popular culture over the years, yet the narrative remains as relevant as ever. The satirical plot is spot-on, with everything from the wealthy and powerful inciting organised crime to police militarization! Parts of the movie where we watch consumers being desensitized by news and propaganda are probably more relatable in today’s world than when it was released.
A heartfelt performance by Peter Weller helps this cyberpunk action film, and its huge success led to a series over time. We were blown away by the RoboCop suit’s amazing design, and there are some outrageous antics to keep things interesting. Weller lost nearly 3 pounds each day because of the water loss induced by the hefty and suffocating prostheses, which took superhuman efforts to construct.
Despite the futuristic storytelling and absurdity of the plot, Robocop hits so close to reality today that it hurts!
The Fourth Man (1983)
Gerard Reve is a macabre, drunken author who experiences inexplicable visions that appear to warn him of imminent peril. He is asked to give a speech and begins an affair with Christine, a woman in the audience. Gerard is bisexual, and he was drawn to a gorgeous man who happens to be Christine’s boyfriend on his way to the lecture.
After finding his picture at her place, he plans to seduce him, but in the absence of Christine, discovers three tapes that contain videos of men Christine had married before. All three blokes died under mysterious circumstances, and Gerard starts to believe that Christine might be the reason behind their deaths! Is he the doomed fourth husband?
This is one of those frightening and thrilling films that you don’t want to see yet can’t turn away from. In cinematographer Jan De Bont, Verhoeven’s creativity finds a competent collaborator, and the two create a bizarre environment of horrible sexual images.
The Fourth Man isn’t for everyone, and some of the sex scenes are a little too excessive, but the symbolism is intriguing. We were also bowled over by the designs here, the work with the lingering camera movements, and the clever color choices that add to the evocative psychodrama that unfolds.
The scene where Gerard has a dream within a dream is an insight into the complexities that Verhoeven dives into. The Fourth Man has an eerie Hitchcock flair to it, making it definitely one of Verhoeven’s best works ever!
Nomi Malone is a driven young woman who aspires to be a famous dancer in Las Vegas. Cristal Connors, one of the city’s bigwigs, notices her because she is beautiful and passionate. Nomi, on the other hand, aspires to be at the top of the glamour world, and she is willing to take the winding route to get there.
She soon realizes that there can only be one starlet in the industry, and it has to be made between Cristal and herself. As the competition rises between the two, how far will she go to come out on top?
We’re all aware of the dangers of the entertainment industry, but a tale with such depth has rarely been tackled on this topic. Showgirls is a misunderstood classic because it is often dismissed as sexist and exploitative.
They overlook the fact that the entire point is to reveal the thin veneer of empowerment that frequently obscures society’s blatant misogyny. Here, we have a female protagonist who is willing to do everything from selling her dignity to sleeping with her boss for personal gains.
In the end, she claims to have won herself, and that is a sharp critique of those who harp on the pseudo empowerment that is present in movies.
Elizabeth Berkley is exactly who Verhoeven envisioned for the part, and her theatrical demeanour is purposefully presented to pique your interest. Of course, there are some hilarious sequences that help to lighten the mood and take the edge off the complex plot.
Verhoeven had planned a sequel for Showgirls, but given the poor response from the audience, he bailed on it.
Hollow Man (2001)
It’s nice to go invisible, but only if you have the ability to turn it back on! Sebastian Caine discovers this the hard way after developing a drug that may render him invisible. After messing around in his new condition for a while, his coworkers fail to restore his visibility, resulting in his mental deterioration.
In a burst of fury, he becomes increasingly unstable and commits acts of violence. When he starts murdering his team members, he turns into a danger that must be dealt with immediately! What happens next is for you to find out after watching this gem of a thriller!
This visually stunning narrative about a smart but conceited scientist is a visual treat. It’s not surprising to anticipate something spectacular from Verhoeven in terms of spectacle, and he more than lives up to his reputation. The terrific special effects, which received an Oscar nomination, bolster the basic storyline before you.
Kevin Bacon is perfectly cast as the psychotic Sebastian Caine in terms of performance. As the film progresses, it becomes more brutal and gory, yet you’ll notice after viewing it that this was never done for cheap thrills. There are some shock sequences that are simply unforgettable, and the thrilling climax will make you jump in your seats!
If you’re going to see Hollow Man, obtain the director’s cut, which includes most of the deleted sequences. They did try making a sequel without consulting Verhoeven, and the attempt was bashed by the fans who could never get over the original!
Basic Instinct (1992)
Johnny Boz, a former rockstar, was found assassinated, and it appears that he was murdered while indulging in intercourse. Nick Curran, a tough investigator with personal problems, is assigned to the case, and he immediately begins questioning Catherine Tramell, Boz’s attractive girlfriend.
He is certain that this strange woman is the killer after meeting her, but there isn’t enough proof to back him up. Meanwhile, he is getting involved in a dangerous lust-filled mind game with Catherine that has the potential to hamper the investigation! Will Nick be blinded to the real truth by all the sexual escapades with this femme fatale?
Is there an erotic thriller that compares to Basic Instinct in terms of intensity? We don’t believe so. This sleazy, amoral storey is bolstered by a cast of interesting characters, none more enthralling than Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell. It’s difficult to forget the iconic interrogation scene in which she reveals a little too much in order to take advantage of the police officers there.
It is believed that Sharon Stone’s panties were causing extensive glare in the camera, prompting Verhoeven to ask her to remove them. However, this deft touch of combining voyeurism with shock made for a clever satirical subversion that almost ridicules the double standards of society.
Michael Douglas is fantastic as the brash investigator who is nearly hypnotised by his desire for Catherine. Jerry Goldsmith’s enthralling background score was well-deservedly nominated for an Academy Award. There are some raunchy moments that sparked off a lot of protests, but they are kind of crucial to the script! Watch out for the plot-twists that will change your perspective in the blink of an eye.
Flesh + Blood (1990)
This is a mediaeval European storey about a band of mercenaries who assist the noble Arnolfini reclaim his castle. They are promised large sums of money in exchange for their help, but when the promise is violated, they resolve to avenge themselves by kidnapping his son. Having to hide in a castle to wait out a storm, the mercs are unaware that Arnolfini’s Army is on their heels, and soon, their fates will be decided!
Flesh and Blood is sometimes criticised for being excessively dramatic, yet this amoral, mesmerising journey is more realistic than Hollywood. When Hollywood depicts mediaeval peasants and soldiers, they almost always praise them. In this case, you’ll encounter impoverished individuals with untidy clothing and deplorable living conditions.
The story is very humane, and you will end up sympathizing with the characters. There are some standout performances from Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason that elevate the quality of the film. The direction by Verhoeven is as efficient as ever, and it is a true classic that has been ignored for too long.
Flesh + Blood is also a fine example of well-crafted religious imagery, which contributes to its thought-provoking nature. There are some horrific sequences, particularly the rape scenes that have been criticised by many, but much of it is just part of the effort to be genuine.
This is not for the prudish or those easily offended by extreme violence, but if you don’t have such reservations and are looking for a well-made medieval drama, this surely fits the bill.
Black Book (2006)
Rachel Stein, a Jewish teenager from Poland, tries to flee the Nazis in the Netherlands during WWII. She joins the resistance and assumes a new identity in order to work as an undercover spy. She encounters Ludwig Muntze, an SS officer, and seduces him to earn his trust. This helps her join his office and perform her duties as a spy.
However, the tides turn when someone in the resistance group betrays her. Now a villain for both sides, and with nowhere to run, Stein must prove her innocence and get away with the man she loved!
Verhoeven created this picture in the Netherlands after a successful Hollywood career. It had one of the highest budgets for a Dutch film, and Verhoeven more than lived up to the expectations. The hardships of occupied Holland and the Nazis’ oppressive reign gradually give way to a very different narrative.
The plot has a lot of surprises in store for you, and the exciting themes of tragic romance and espionage make it a must-watch for those who love a good thriller. The cast is perfect- each of them exudes authenticity that adds to the realism.
There are some thought-provoking passages, particularly in the film’s concluding minutes, when it explores the link between justice and conflict, as well as the wounds of the past and the possibilities of the future. Black Book is a masterpiece that puts together a World War II drama in the best way possible!
Michele is a rich businesswoman who owns and operates a thriving video game company. Her must-win mindset is cutthroat, and it even shows in her personal relationships. Her invincibility is shattered, however, when she is assaulted and raped in her own house by an unknown intruder.
She is determined to get the man who attacked her, and as she tries to track him down, they get embroiled in an intriguing cat-and-mouse game. Who could the rapist be?
Paul Verhoeven’s brilliance matures like excellent wine, and this film is a perfect illustration of that. Elle blends his daring filming technique with Isabelle Huppert’s demanding performance to create a compelling narrative with a protagonist you won’t soon forget! Can you imagine a lady ordering from a restaurant, after being assaulted, over calling the cops? She even has an interesting back-story that will put things into perspective.
Isabelle Huppert performed her heart out, and her antics will frighten or terrify you in equal measure. Her connection with the rapist is central to the film, and the suspense remains long after the rapist’s name is revealed.
The convoluted plot is certainly meant for a mature audience, and the grim subject matter might be off-putting to many. If you are up for it, an unconventional drama with a careful balance of seriousness and funny awaits you!
Turkish Delight (1973)
Eric is a talented sculptor who is head over heels in love with Olga. Olga’s parents, on the other hand, believe Eric isn’t stable enough to be a decent spouse. After many trials and tribulations, Eric and she eventually part ways. They have a brief reunion, but will there be a happy ending after all?
You can guarantee that when Paul Verhoeven takes on the task of directing a love tale, it will be something special. This charming picture is sometimes dismissed as just another exploitation film, but it is so much more! Eric, the perpetual woman-chaser, has a fascinating narrative to tell, and his attitude toward sex is just hilarious.
The masterful camerawork courtesy of Jan de Bont is one of the greatest assets of Turkish Delight. The likes of Rutger Hauer and Van de Ven have performed brilliantly to start off successful careers for themselves.
It’s a bold endeavour, and the graphic sequences reveal that Verhoeven doesn’t give a damn about the censors. This love story is also a stinging indictment on society’s arrogance when it comes to what constitutes acceptable traits in a possible spouse! It wouldn’t be complete without the satirical approach, showing that, even in the early days of his career, Verhoeven was putting out exceptional works.