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Paul Verhoeven’s 10 best films – ranked!

By Anne Billson
Virginie Efira in Benedetta.
Virginie Efira in Benedetta. Photograph: Ifc Films/Guy Ferrandis/Allstar

10. Flesh+Blood (1985)

Rutger Hauer, in his sixth and last film for Verhoeven, plays the leader of a band of mercenaries who kidnap and deflower the fiancee of a duplicitous nobleman, in this Dutch-American mini epic set in Italy during the middle ages. Brace yourself for non-PC sex and violence, Carry on up the Codpiece humour, and buboes a-go-go.

9. The Fourth Man (1983)

Soldier of Orange may be the best film from Verhoeven’s early Dutch period, but The Fourth Man is the most fun. Jeroen Krabbé plays a gay alcoholic writer who has visions of castration, oozing eyeballs and crucifixion as he embarks on an affair with a female hairdresser who may have murdered her first three husbands. Glorious tosh, deliberately stuffed with over-the-top symbolism to wind up the critics who had panned the director’s previous film.

Clarice Van Houten in Black Book.
Carice Van Houten in Black Book. Photograph: Clockwork Pictures/Allstar

8. Black Book (2006)

Carice van Houten, later to achieve TV superstardom as Game of Thrones’ Melisandre, plays a Jewish chanteuse enlisted by the Dutch resistance to seduce a Nazi officer, a mission requiring her to dye her pubic hair and expose her breasts, frequently. In typical Verhoeven fashion, behind the outrageousness lurks a sly and sometimes discomfiting subversion of second world war cliches.

7. Elle (2016)

Isabelle Huppert is sensational as a Parisian businesswoman who doesn’t behave the way you might expect after being raped on the floor of her dining room by a masked intruder. But, then, Verhoeven’s rape-revenge-comedy-thriller, neither particularly comic nor especially thrilling, consistently defies expectations in its nuanced exploration of trauma, blurred lines and the limits of control.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. Photograph: Carolco Pictures/Allstar

6. Total Recall (1990)

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a construction worker whose fake memory implant from a virtual holiday agency results in scrambled brain cells, everyone trying to kill him, and a mission to Mars. Verhoeven rewrites the rules of sci-fi action with an orgy of exploding heads, multi-breasted mutants, Arnie extracting a golfball-sized tracker from his nostril, and cunning mindgames courtesy of the Philip K Dick source material.

5. Benedetta (2021)

Verhoeven’s adaptation of Judith C Brown’s nonfiction book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy reels audiences in with the promise of nunsploitation and a Virgin Mary dildo before broadsiding them with conflicts of faith, religious power politics and women’s place in society. Also, buboes and altar snakes. Never a dull moment.

4. Showgirls (1995)

Verhoeven’s tits and bums variation on All About Eve, once dismissed as a turkey, has acquired a deservedly loyal following for its hilarious swimming pool sex, herky-jerky dance choreography, chimpanzee in the dressing room, and nervously brilliant dialogue. “I like tits,” declares a topless Las Vegas showgirl, to which our ambitious lapdancing heroine ripostes: “I like having nice tits.” A masterpiece of its type.

3. Basic Instinct (1992)

The erotic thriller subgenre hits peak preposterousness with Michael Douglas as a San Francisco cop in sexual thrall to his chief murder suspect, Sharon Stone, playing a bestselling novelist with PhDs in literature, psychology andknickerless exhibitionism. Verhoeven turns the Hitchcockian thriller on its head, while Stone transforms the screenplay’s sleazy macho posturing into a transgressive display of fem-dom firepower.

Peter Weller as RoboCop.
Peter Weller as RoboCop. Photograph: Orion/Sportsphoto/Allstar

2. RoboCop (1987)

Peter Weller plays Murphy, a murdered Detroit police officer who is resurrected as “part man, part machine, all cop”. Verhoeven made his Hollywood debut with this sci-fi fable garnished with religious allegory, splattery violence and satirical digs at American culture. The idea of a privatised police force using unstable AI to prop up corporate interests now seems horribly prescient. “I’ll buy that for a dollar!”

Starship Troopers.
Starship Troopers. Photograph: Touchstone Pictures/Allstar

1. Starship Troopers (1997)

Fascist teens battle extraterrestrial arachnids in this viciously satirical adaptation of Robert A Heinlein’s sci-fi yarn set in a totalitarian all-American future. High-school graduates undergo gruelling military training before half of them get dismembered by giant bugs. Gruesome, subversive fun that alternates genocidal propaganda (“Would you like to know more?”) with purposefully anachronistic second world war-style combat. A work of genius.

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Dive Deeper:
40 years ago, Conan the Barbarian turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a star
'Conan The Barbarian’s producer Ed Pressman first had an inkling that it would be successful years before the action epic…
‘RoboCop was like the American Jesus’ – Paul Verhoeven on his ultra-violent cult classic
‘Acting was important – but I can’t deny that Peter Weller’s chin was one of the main reasons we cast…
Move over Cannes: 10 of Europe’s best summer film festivals
The star-studded French fest starts today, but the coming months bring plenty more celebrations of the big screen – in…
RoboCop review – thrilling, subversive 80s masterpiece from Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven’s sophisticated sci-fi fable is rereleased in its original director’s cut, with the gruesome violence and black-comic queasiness restored
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Liverpool Comic Con 2022: ticket prices, guests, parking, Q&As and more
There are a limited number of tickets left for Liverpool Comic Con 2022
Jake Paul celebrates being ranked among top 10 highest-paid athletes under 25
Jake Paul was the sixth highest-paid athlete under 25 last year and the YouTube star has vowed to keep proving…
Get all your news in one place