Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Showgirls. This guide contains our detailed library of content covering key aspects of the movie’s plot, ending, meaning, and more. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Showgirls about?
Movies don’t become cult classics for no reason. The long, arduous journey of becoming a cult classic requires a movie to be lambasted, to be completely misunderstood upon its release. Cult movies are made for a fringe audience, for those who seek otherness in an age where Hollywood markets and caters to the masses. You must not fear being ridiculed in your pursuit of something greater, something beyond what we’ve grown accustomed to with movies. And Showgirls fits that bill with its story of a stripper who simply wants to dance, who wants to achieve something greater than the world has told her she’s allowed to achieve.
So what is Showgirls about? It’s actually quite simple: about how to achieve that same level of transcendence. Showgirls is inspiring in its relentless pursuit of truth and catharsis. Flippant in his tone and mocking in his satire, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas crafted a tale that exposes show business as a ruse. And Paul Verhoeven breathed such life and vigor into that derisive stance, created chaos around Nomi as she chases a giant lie. The celebrity lifestyle that seems so attractive at the beginning of the movie becomes ugly, malicious, empty by the end. And that level of depravity and insipidity achieves scary levels of intimidation thanks to Eszterhas’s profane script, thanks to Verhoeven’s campy aesthetic. The movie is so realized because it is so different, so unabashed in its satiric takedown of the norm, of what’s expected.
This setting becomes perfect for Nomi, who must learn to traverse such a callous system and all the horrid unwritten rules of show business to achieve transcendence—her definition of fulfillment, of catharsis. In this way, you can think of Showgirls as a template for how to live life. The movie is a satirical takedown of the vapid powers-that-be that attempt to write the rules, that dictate what is success and what is failure. Showgirls may put the focus on entertainment, but the message is much larger than that. There is power in the movie’s irreverence, in its unabashed personality, in its pursuit of what is true and human.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Elizabeth Berkley – Nomi Malone/Polly Ann Costello
- Kyle MacLachlan – Zack Carey
- Gina Gershon – Cristal Connors
- Glenn Plummer – James Smith
- Robert Davi – Al Torres
- Alan Rachins – Tony Moss
- Gina Ravera – Molly Abrams
- Lin Tucci – Henrietta ‘Mama’ Bazoom
- Greg Travis – Phil Newkirk
- Al Ruscio – Sam Karlman
- Patrick Bristow – Marty Jacobsen
- William Shockley – Andrew Carver
- Dewey Weber – Jeff
- Rena Riffel as Penny / Hope
- Joe Eszterhas – Writer
- Paul Verhoeven – Director
The ending of Showgirls explained
A recap of Showgirls’ ending
Nomi has taken out Cristal and become the star of Goddess—but at what cost? Molly suspects foul play and now sees Nomi in a different light. Is the success truly earned? Temporarily, though, Nomi doesn’t care. She and Zack are now together and she’s secured the fame she’s always wanted. A big party is being thrown for her, and Andrew Carver, one of the biggest musicians in the world, is going to be there.
At the party, Molly reluctantly shows up—mostly because she wants to meet Andrew Carver, her big celebrity crush. Nomi receives such validation when Andrew takes Molly away to buy her a drink. In this moment, every morally questionable decision has seemingly been erased: even though Nomi took out Cristal, it was in service of achieving stardom, of securing Zack as her beau, of pairing up Molly with her idol. Everything seems peachy as Nomi’s name flashes in lights above the party and everybody cheers.
But Andrew reveals his true colors. Molly is guided into a room where he and his bodyguards sexually assault Molly, landing her in a hospital with severe injuries. And Zack says the police won’t be called, because Andrew might play at the Stardust Casino in the future. “He’s part of the team,” Zack says, as he reveals everything he knows about Nomi’s past: that her real name is Polly Ann Costello, that she’s been arrested many times, that she used to be a prostitute. In this moment, Zack has Nomi by the reins, because he can reveal everything about her past and ruin her—unless she agrees to play by the rules, to let Andrew off scot-free.
So, Nomi decides to take justice into her own hands. Dressed in a sexy outfit, she visits Andrew in his Las Vegas hotel room. She seduces him, lures him into thinking they will have sex—before pulling out a knife. She then beats Andrew bloody, leaving him passed out in his bedroom as she leaves the building.
Nomi then returns to the hospital to tell Molly she beat up Andrew, that she plans on leaving Las Vegas for good. On her way out of the building, she stops by Cristal’s room. And they share this conversation:
Cristal: You know the best advice I ever gave you? If you’re the only one left standing up there…
Nomi: …they’ll hire you.
Cristal: Thank you, and good night, ladies and gentlemen. Cristal has left the building.
Nomi: I’m sorry, Cristal.
Cristal: Yeah, I know just how sorry you are. How do you think I got my first lead? There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.
Nomi: Why didn’t you tell anyone?
Cristal: Oh hell, darlin’. I needed a rest. Besides, my lawyers got me a real nice settlement.
Nomi: I gotta go.
Cristal: Aren’t you gonna come here and give me a big kiss?
*They kiss, and then Cristal cries as she puts her cowboy hat on Nomi’s head*
Cristal: Bye, darlin’.
Nomi: Bye, darlin’.
Nomi then steps out onto the highway to hitch a ride out of Las Vegas. And wouldn’t you know it: Jeff stops for her once again, just like he did at the beginning of the movie. “So did you gamble?” he asks. She nods. “Did you win?” Nods again. “What’d you win?” Nomi takes her sunglasses off to reveal her full face, and says, “Me.” As they drive out of town, the camera cuts to a billboard for Goddess with Nomi’s face towering above.
The meaning of Showgirls’ ending
The ending of Showgirls is all about Nomi taking control of herself, writing her own narrative. Throughout the entire, we hear so much about her craving for fame, about her desire to see her name on billboards, about the importance of becoming No. 1. But why is she so attached to this narrative? Why is she so hellbent on conquering show business?
In this world, she’s all alone, with no friends or family to comfort her or guide her. Which makes her angry and frustrated and causes her to push people away. But it also makes her susceptible to manipulation. In her pursuit of finding a better life, a grand narrative has been illustrated by the powers-that-be that show business provides towards fulfillment, towards enlightenment. Because Nomi doesn’t have friends and family in her life, she seeks something greater…a life that people like Andrew Carver and Zack Carey can provide for her. These men who have made it to the top of the pyramid can provide a path for you as well—as long as you’re willing to play by their arbitrary and self-servicing rules.
In this way, you can view the wealthy and powerful overseers of show business as obstacles in Nomi’s path to find herself. People like Andrew and Zack abuse lost and traumatized people like Nomi, who is simply a broken person, who’s never had it easy. Andrew represents the abuse, and Zack the manipulation. They don’t share the dewey-eyed view of show business that Nomi had when she first drove into Las Vegas. They have achieved the apex, yet they haven’t been satisfied—they want more. And they know that to get more wealth and fame, you have to burn a few people along the way. Humans become expendable in that pursuit.
And Nomi realizes this once Molly is hurt. In this world where Nomi has been abused and forgotten, Molly was always there as a guiding light, as somebody who wouldn’t give up on Nomi. But once Nomi loses that rock, she realizes who is left in her corner: people like Zack and Andrew. Nomi may be a bit vapid in her pursuit of fame, but she’s not blind. And she’s certainly not disloyal. She is, in the end, a fierce friend who understands that the sacrifice for fame is far too great. The cost of her humanity is too much to bear.
Which brings us to the other important character for understanding the ending: Cristal Connors. Throughout the film, Cristal has been set up as Nomi’s ideal mirror image: someone who’s made it in show business and can show Nomi the path towards the top of the mountain. There’s something malevolent about Cristal that’s also kind of sad. You can see recognize someone who once shared Nomi’s dewey-eyed view of stardom, but now treats it as routine. Show business slowly but surely turned Cristal into someone who associated herself with the Zack Careys of the world, who flaunted power like it was currency. She wears a black cowboy hat and struts about Las Vegas like she owns the joint.
But, really, she’s just a moneymaker for people like Zack. She might feel secure in her status, but if someone else presented an opportunity to make more money, the men who rush Stardust Casino would happily replace her—and they do. Nomi is a gamble, but she’s also willing to take Cristal’s subservient place.
Throughout the film, you can almost sense Cristal trying to warn Nomi. “You are a whore, darlin’,” she says to Nomi. “We all are. We take the cash, we cash the check, we show ’em what they wanna see.” The idea, the image that you’ll be your own person, that you’ll define your own fulfillment from show business, is nothing more than a mirage to a seasoned veteran like Cristal. Her cat-and-mouse game with Nomi is aggressive, yet yearning: Cristal has been bred to battle, to keep her spot at the top, yet she yearns to reach Nomi, to reveal the emptiness of fame.
This explains Cristal’s battle with Zack, who is also trying to court Nomi. Cristal is trying make a genuine connection with Nomi, to reach her, to show her what it’s truly like on the other side of celebrity. While Zack recognizes someone who’s willing to be another cog in the moneymaking machine that is show business. Zack’s desire to kiss Nomi has malicious, selfish motivations. While Cristal…just wants to reconnect with a lost part of herself. Cristal, who became the star of Goddess, has already given up that innocent, idealistic part of herself that’s still present in Nomi. And the pained expression on her face at the end of the movie as Nomi walks out of the hospital room with Cristal’s cowboy hat shows just how badly she’d like to become that person again.
When Nomi and Cristal finally kiss, it gives Cristal that reconnection. But it also sets Nomi free. She can recognize the pain and sadness hidden beneath the veneer of stardom in Cristal’s face. Which means this life isn’t for her. Nomi must decide her own path, find her own way. Nobody can tell you how to find happiness. You must just keep moving on, onto the next town, where the answer might be waiting for you. Nomi did become a goddess—just not the one she expected. One she chose to illustrated and design herself.
The themes and meaning of Showgirls
How satire works in Showgirls
To understand the tone and ultimate messaging of Showgirls, we need to understand the man behind the camera: director Paul Verhoeven. These days, he’s widely known as a master satirist—but back in the 1980s and 90s, that wasn’t the case, and the satire often went unnoticed or dismissed. Specifically, however, Starship Troopers has found a second life in cinephilic circles as a satire of totalitarianism. But his other movies have followed suit. RoboCop is now seen as a clear satire of capitalism and media. It’s generally agreed upon that Total Recall satirizes Hollywood and consumerism. Flesh+Blood contains trace elements of satire in its brutal takedown of religion and idolization.
And I would argue that Showgirls, a movie that clearly satirizes show business and eroticism, falls in line with the rest of Verhoeven’s biting social commentaries.
But before we go down that road, let’s define satire. Many would argue that Verhoeven’s movies are nothing more than social commentaries, that “satire” is just an intellectual buzzword used by cinephiles to legitimize enjoying his blockbusters. But there’s a huge difference between social commentary movies like Philadelphia, which examines how society’s ignorance and fear of AIDS was driven by prejudice and hate, or even a comedy like Dumb Movie, which blends humor with real events to highlight the irresponsibility of our stock market, and something like RoboCop, which openly and crassly mocks a media-driven culture controlled by big-business interests. The big difference here is tone, as RoboCop paints the evil-powers-that-be—which, in this case, would be corporate guys like Bob Morton and Dick Jones and the businesses that push mindless advertising—as indefensibly self-servicing entities that prey upon members of society, no matter what cost. They are composite characters that reflect the worst qualities of civilization.
This mocking tone is a step further than your normal comedy, and it’s very essential for satire: you must criticize stupidity. You must ridicule the public through your characters. Which is one step too far for many filmmakers, who like to tackle their social commentaries with more groundedness. Satire has no time for groundedness, and instead must expose the lunacy of the world for what it simply is. Of course there is always nuance when it comes to capitalism and media and politics. But satire makes the case that some aspects of those topics—like how capitalism makes the rich richer and the poor poorer; like how media becomes mindless in its pursuit of attention and revenue; like how politics is more influenced by lobbyists than voters—must be recognized for the injustices they are. These are simply stupid aspects of society.
So, who or what is being ridiculed in Showgirls? Show business; the inane system that almost arbitrarily determines who “makes it” in entertainment. Showgirls paints a world where talent is only a tiny part of becoming famous. Really, it’s more important (as Cristal Connors says) to be the last one standing, to show that you want it more than anyone else, to eliminate your competition; to buddy up to the greater powers that be, to follow all the little rules and show that you’re the most subservient to the rich people who control show business in your ride to the top.
Think of Showgirls‘ approach as “trash satire.” Many films are about a young actor/performer’s journey through Hollywood or some other aspect of show business, such as Mulholland Drive or Perfect Blue or Black Swan. And all of those films criticize the way in which young people are enticed by the allure of stardom, only to be abused and manipulated by the higher-ups, the people who want it more. But Showgirls approaches this topic with characters that are so over-the-top, so exaggerated in their pursuits that any and all nuance and subtlety goes out the window. The movie is practically shaking you and asking you to see: this is all quite stupid.
Nomi’s pursuit of stardom isn’t stupid—the system set up around her that causes her to lose sight of herself is stupid. In truth, Nomi’s pursuit of stardom is quite earnest and lovely. She is all alone and has no family in her life, either because they all died or because they disowned her for being the kind of person she is. She’s had to fend for herself her entire life, which inevitably created someone who felt backed into a corner and made some poor decisions. And it’s clear that her most regrettable moment came as a prostitute, as Nomi shudders at the very idea of being called a “whore.”
But Showgirls makes the case that entertainment, that show business is nothing more than a prostitution ring, that we require people to sell their bodies, sell their dignity in order to achieve wealth and fame. And that message is achieved through boneheaded characters like Al Torres, who tells someone like Hope to give him fellatio if she wants to keep her job; through characters like Andrew Carver, who is so famous that he can get away with the most heinous of crimes; through characters like Zack Carey, who believes he is making Nomi’s dreams come true at the end of the film. While Nomi is busy chasing transcendence, these clods are busy padding their pockets and relishing in others’ misery.
This becomes a challenge to the viewer: what is achieved through one’s pursuit of fame? What are we watching as Nomi and her fellow dancers perform on stage? Many movie critics lambasted Showgirls and its NC-17 rating for lacking eroticism, for its rather cold and uncomfortable portrayal of nudity, of women performing on stage for our collective delight. But…wasn’t that the point? To show the machinations of show business in order to expose the dark underbelly of Nomi’s striptease? There is tenderness to Nomi’s pursuit because she needs to achieve fame to feel whole again. But when you see what people sold her that dream? And the kind of person she needs to become in order to achieve that dream? That sours everything. And the movie does indeed become an uncomfortable examination of show business’s stupidity.
Questions & answers about Showgirls
Who else was considered for the part of Nomi in Showgirls?
Before Elizabeth Berkley landed the role of Nomi, several other prominent actresses were considered for the part, including Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Pamela Anderson, Denise Richards, and Charlize Theron.
How many Razzies did Showgirls win?
At the time of the 1995 Golden Raspberry Awards—a ceremony that honors the worst movies of the year—the box office bomb Showgirls won a then-record seven Razzie Awards and earned a still-record 13 nominations.
The movie’s wins included: Worst Picture (Alan Marshall and Charles Evans), Worst Director (for which Paul Verhoeven accepted in person at the ceremony), Worst Actress and Worst Star (Elizabeth Berkley), Worst Screenplay (Joe Eszterhas), Worst Screen Couple (any combination of two people (or body parts)), and Worst Original Song (Andrew Carver’s song).
The movie was also nominated for Worst Actor (Kyle MacLachlan), twice for Worst Supporting Actor (Robert Davi and Alan Rachins), twice for Worst Supporting Actress (Gina Gershon and Lin Tucci), and Worst Remake or Sequel (it was considered a “remake” of All About Eve and The Lonely Lady).
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Showgirls? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!