The filmmakers wanted Madonna to play Cristal Conners and Drew Barrymore to play Nomi Malone. The name card Gaye takes off the mirror when she shows Nomi her table in the dressing room even says "Drew."
After this film bombed at the box office and "swept" the 16th Annual RAZZIE Awards, MGM/UA attempted to re-market it as a "Midnight Cult Flick" à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). A new print ad, with a leopard-skin patterned background and prominently mentioning the film's seven RAZZIE "Wins" ran in several L.A. area newspapers, promoting midnight showings in West Hollywood in Spring, 1996. Clever though it was, this new marketing gimmick also failed at the time. However, since then, the movie has indeed enjoyed a significant degree of cult following, with fans showing up in Showgirls-themed attire at screenings of the movie. Several influential filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch and Jacques Rivette have professed their appreciation of the movie; screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven also claim that they frequently meet people who secretly admit that they loved the movie.
The director was insistent that actors not ad-lib or change lines as they were scripted. Three changes were allowed: The line "smiling beaver" was changed to "smiling snatch", the line "She's ginchy" was changed to "She's no butterfly", and the line "I wanna see the pimples on your ass" to "I wanna see your ass."
When the film tanked on its opening weekend, writer Joe Eszterhas took the unprecedented step of taking out an ad in Variety, urging female movie-goers to go see the movie, not because it was semi-pornographic but because it highlighted the exploitations that lap dancers are subjected to. He attacked the studio for using cheap marketing tricks, where they used the tag line 'Leave your inhibitions at the door' to sell the film as a cheap sex movie. Needless to say, this tactic didn't help the film any.
Joe Eszterhas came up with the idea for this script while on vacation at his home in Maui, Hawaii. Based on the idea he scribbled on a napkin, he was advanced $2 million to write the script and picked up an additional $1.7 million when the studio produced it into a film.
Director Paul Verhoeven made a deal with the studio unheard of at the time: he would get complete creative freedom to deliver an NC-17 rated movie from the beginning. Up to that time, the NC-17 rating had never been intentional, and was always given after screening of the movie by the MPAA. The deal did include that Verhoeven gave up 70% of his 6 million dollar salary, and he would only receive the remaining 30% if the movie was a success.
Set an all-time RAZZIE Award record with 13 nominations (one or more in all 11 categories of the 1996 Awards). Its seven "wins" tied it with Battlefield Earth (2000) as the third most dis-honored film in RAZZIE history (I Know Who Killed Me (2007) later held the dubious distinction with eight "wins". Which itself was then beaten by Jack and Jill (2011) with ten "wins".)
Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas did about fifty extensive interviews with real-life Las Vegas strippers, showgirls, producers, choreographers and casino owners, and incorporated parts of their stories, characters and use of language in the screenplay, to show the amount of exploitation of strippers in Las Vegas. Some of them were interviewed by magazines after the movie's premiere, and completely reversed their stories, maintaining that the movie did not depict their lives accurately. However, Verhoeven is quoted as saying that this is still the most realistic movie about contemporary America that he ever made.
In a 2013 interview, Paul Verhoeven explained his motives for doing the movie. He did not like Joe Eszterhas's initial script, and passed on the project in favor of doing "Crusade", based on a screenplay by Walon Green and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, that project fell through when Carolco Pictures could not afford to finance both "Crusade" and Cutthroat Island (1995). Since 10 million dollar had already been spent on "Crusade", and Eszterhas already received 4 million dollar for his Showgirls screenplay, Verhoeven felt morally obligated to do Showgirls as a personal favor to Mario Kassar to save Carolco from bankruptcy. Eszterhas' screenplay was extensively re-written with All About Eve (1950) as the main source of inspiration. Verhoeven intended it to be an over-the-top morality tale, populated with only amoral characters (except for the character of Molly (Gina Ravera), with Las Vegas as a metaphor for hypocrisy and extortion. However, the satirical intentions were not picked up by the critics, who regarded the movie as a simplistic portrayal of American culture, and the box office failure of both this movie and 'Cutthroat Island' made the bankruptcy of Carolco inevitable.
A source once told Paul Verhoeven that Steven Spielberg had requested a copy of the movie after the premiere. Reportedly, Spielberg stopped watching halfway through the movie while saying 'Sometimes, I hate this town.'
Paul Verhoeven called 'Showgirls' his most 'Fellini-esque', praising it for its lush cinematography and colors. He also admitted that it lacked dramatic drive, and that he should have included a thriller element in the form of a murder mystery.
The "Los Angeles" freeway sign at the end of the movie, was a hint at a sequel that Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas were already planning for with the working title "Bimbos: Nomi Does Hollywood", but was abandoned when this movie debuted. The sequel was to have Nomi going to Hollywood and taking on the movie business.
When Nomi is first seen on stage dancing at The Cheetah, the song playing is Prince's '319' (in reference to a room number). At the end of the movie when she goes to visit Cristal in her hospital room, Nomi is told by a nurse that Cristal is in room 319.