Content Warning: This article contains references and discussions of murder, sexual violence and Nazism
With its latest feature Benedetta on MUBI on July 1, and several projects put on hold, Paul Verhoeven, 83, tells the world that he still has his spirits up.
The role of a provocateur is to push an audience’s buttons. Well, an audience has a lot of buttons, and Paul Verhoeven has a lot of fingers. For decades, Verhoeven has been pushing the boundaries of taste and taboos. His films are violent, outrageous and seductive, as well as very funny. And these ten films are, according to IMDbhis best.
Note: IMDb listings are live and collect votes regularly, so the order of this listing may vary from the date of publication.
ten Benedetta (2021) – 6.8
A scintillating tale of Catholicism and corruption in the 17th century, the film follows its title character, a nun ‘blessed’ with visions of Christ, as she becomes entangled in an illicit love affair with another nun.
Verhoeven is known for his erotic thrillers, and Benedetta shows that he always knows what he is doing. The chemistry between the two leads is electric, resulting in some heart-pounding scenes. It also raises deep questions about religious hypocrisy and morality – questions that audiences will ponder long after the film is over.
9 Basic Instinct (1992) – 7.0
Another sultry slice of cinema, Primary instinct follows Nick Durran, a police detective investigating a brutal murder, as he becomes ensnared in a passionate affair with the prime suspect, a writer named Catherine Tramell.
It’s a slick, sordid thriller, and it still has the power to shock. While the explicit depictions of sex and violence certainly strayed into the realms of bad taste, especially the notorious interrogation scene, there’s no denying the film’s resilience due to the shocking twists to keep fans guessing. However, there’s one thing that’s pretty important to note – this isn’t a film that movie buffs will want to watch with their parents.
8 Turkish Delight (1973) – 7.1
turkish delightknown as Turkish Fruit in the Netherlands, was adapted from the novel of the same name. Verhoeven’s first film on the big screen, the film follows a young woman who, after picking up a hitchhiking sculptor, embarks on a tempestuous romance with him.
The director’s hit, turkish delight still has value almost 50 years later. It’s an engaging love story with sizzling chemistry. The late and great Rutger Hauer, who would appear in the 1982s blade runner, makes its big-screen debut here. It also marks the starting point for many of Verhoeven’s trademarks, such as his obsessions with sexuality and violence.
seven She (2016) – 7.1
Winning the “Best Foreign Language Film” award at the Golden Globes, She follows its titular character who, after being raped in her own home, refuses police assistance due to her past experiences with the organization.
Subverting the conventional revenge film formula, She received a controversial reception among critics and audiences. While many praised Isabelle Huppert’s performance, believing that she made Elle a compelling character study, there has been much controversy surrounding the plot, with critics, such as The gardians Bidisha, condemning how Verhoeven’s film ignores survivors of sexual violence and perpetuates misogynistic ideas.
6 The Fourth Man (1983) – 7.2
The fourth man tells the story of Gérard, a bisexual writer who, after falling in love with Christine, is plagued by disturbing visions. These visions lead him to believe that Christine plans to assassinate him, making him the eponymous “fourth man”.
The fourth man was another box office success for Verhoeven, but much more overseas; it became the highest-grossing Dutch film of all time in the United States (according to Variety review, January 1991). It’s a gripping thriller with a hypnotic, dreamlike quality, and there’s enough symbolic imagery to please the arthouse crowd. An ideal choice for fans of surreal films.
5 Starship Troopers (1997) – 7.3
Reuniting him with screenwriter Ed Neumeier, co-writer of 1987’s Robotcop, Starship Troopers follows Johnny Rico, a soldier in the mobile infantry. The film traces his exploits as he rises through the ranks, fighting in the war against arachnids, a hostile alien life form.
Starship Troopers may seem simple on the surface, with its cookie-cutter characters and questionable acting. However, there is more to this action movie than meets the eye. It is an extremely effective critique of the fascist propaganda, satirical advertisements and promotional campaigns seen everywhere. Sadly, many critics still reject it today, showing just how misunderstood Verhoeven’s work has been.
4 Total Recall (1990) – 7.5
Adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick, Total recall is a gloriously gory action flick. It follows construction worker Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who finds himself drawn into a fantasy of being a real-life secret agent.
Total recall is Verhoeven at his best B-movie. Its dark humor with outbursts of violence among all the action sequences is a joy to watch. Schwarzenegger is her typical self, while Sharon Stone has a memorable turn as Douglas’ wife. Fans of action movie one-liners are in for a treat with this one.
3 Soldier of Orange (1977) – 7.6
His third feature film, Orange soldier is a war film set during World War II. The plot centers around the German occupation of the Netherlands, following a wide range of students and their different rules during the war.
A top notch big budget extravaganza, Orange soldier is a real epic. He has a stellar cast, like the aforementioned Rutger Hauer, who has several appearances in Verhoeven’s work. It also has an uplifting message of resistance against tyranny, as seen in the struggles of the students who fought back.
2 Robotcop (1987) – 7.6
Verhoeven’s most famous work, and some would say his best, Robotcop. The film follows Alex Murphy, a cop who, after being murdered by a group of vicious thugs, is redeemed as Robocop. Now both man and machine, he demands his own brand of justice.
There is so much to say about Robotcop. Peter Weller is iconic in the lead role; it takes a lot of talent to make an audience sympathize with a machine. The storyline is dark and hilarious, delivering laughs that audiences will surely be ashamed of. And, if that weren’t enough, it contains some of the most memorable action sequences ever filmed.
1 Black Book (2006) – 7.7
Verhoeven’s black Book follows Rachel, a young Jewish woman, played by game of thrones star Carice Van Houten, who becomes a spy for the resistance during World War II, due to a personal tragedy involving the Nazis.
Voted the best Dutch film of all time in a public poll in 2008 (via The Hollywood Reporter), black book is a masterful demonstration of Verhoeven’s abilities as a director and as a storyteller. It’s a lavish, extravagant drama, filled to the brim with memorable characters and outstanding performances. Carice Van Houten, in particular, does a terrific job in the lead role. It’s a must-have for fans of Verhoeven’s work.
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