Many first spied Sharon Stone when she made her wordless big-screen debut in 1980, billed as Pretty Girl on the Train, in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.” She does leave an impression while blowing a kiss from behind a train window. As Stone has said, “I gave it my best shot to melt that sucker.”
She would come to define a ‘90s brand of sex symbol, one who was more in control of her fate in films and not afraid to enjoy sex as well as dabbling in lethal behavior. Her signature performance remains 1992’s “Basic Instinct,” as a bisexual psychopath with likely murderous intent. It is hard not to acknowledge that the quality of her films has been up and down, resulting in nine Razzie nominations, including three wins. But she compensated when she poured her soul into Ginger McKenna, a booze-addicted, me-first ex-hooker married to Robert De Niro’s sullenly brutish Vegas honcho in “Casino” from Martin Scorsese. That role would bring her the only Oscar nomination in her career so far.
Let’s focus more on the positive than the negative as we rank 10 of her greatest films. Our photo gallery lists them from worst to best, including “Total Recall,” “Casino” and “Basic Instinct.”
10. The Mighty (1998)
Director: Peter Chelsom. Writer: Charles Leavitt. Starring: Gena Rowlands, Gillian Anderson, Harry Dean Stanton, Kieran Culkin, Elden Henson.
Stone, in a change of pace role, is the caring mother of Kevin (Culkin), a brainy 13-year-old disabled boy who relies on leg braces and crutches to walk. He makes friends with a hulking classmate, Max (Henson), who is also a misfit due to his dyslexia. Having flunked seventh grade twice, Max is tutored by Kevin while he in turn assists little pal to participate in physical activities like basketball. Obstacles such as a murderess father, a thieving gang of local punks and Kevin’s deteriorating body provide hurdles. As for Stone, she is able to project maternal love and goodness in a way that she hasn’t been allowed before.
9. Above the Law (1988)
Director: Andrew Davis. Writers: Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, Davis. Starring: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Henry Silva.
Hollywood in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was obsessed with tough guys, and Stone was a go-to actress to help humanize macho action heroes. She was by Seagal’s side as his devoted spouse when the 6-foot- 4 aikido master made his film debut in this plot-stuffed thriller about a Chicago cop entangled in a drug smuggling ring and CIA dirty doings. Foxy Brown herself, Grier, gets the meatier female role as the star’s law enforcer partner. But Stone, with her housewife-y haircut, offers some welcome distraction to such Seagal-style mayhem as smashing cars through walls or killing people with his bare hands.
8. The Specialist (1994)
Director: Luis Llosa. Writer: Alexandra Seros. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, James Woods, Rod Steiger, Eric Roberts.
Stallone is Ray Quick, a former CIA agent turned freelance hit man. After being involved in an accidental killing of a child while on a mission, he specializes in explosions that only hurt the intended target and not innocent bystanders. Stone is May Munro, a femme fatale who wants to avenge the murders of both her parents at the hands of a Miami gang leader (Roberts) as she infiltrates the world while putting herself in harm’s way. She recruits Ray to assist in her plot and, of course, they find time to hit the bedroom in between showy explosions. At least Stone gets one good zinger when she checks out Roberts’ apartment: “The next time you order a hit, you might consider taking out your decorator.”
7. Broken Flowers (2005)
Director and writer: Jim Jarmusch. Starring: Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton.
Don, a rich former lothario (a delightfully deadpan Murray), learns via a pink envelope the news that he has a 19-year-old son by a former flame and he might be looking for him. He visits four likely ex-girlfriends — each bearing their own issues — who might have written the letter. Stone is Laura, his first stop on his road trip to visit the ladies in question. The widow of a NASCAR whiz who “died in a wall of flame” works as a closet and drawer organizer. She has a flirtatious daughter, helpfully named Lolita, who offers Don a Popsicle and tempts him while flitting around nude in front of him. He instead spends the night with her mom, although whatever they actually do with each other is kept under wraps.
6. The Muse (1999)
Director: Albert Brooks. Writers: Monica Johnson, Brooks. Starring: Brooks, Andi MacDowell, Jeff Bridges, Steven Wright.
Even middling Brooks is better than most , especially with a vivacious Stone at the center of this showbiz satire as Sarah, a Hollywood muse for hire. Brooks is Steven, a revered screenwriter, who receives a lifetime achievement honor – which is tantamount to a career kiss of death. His buddy (Bridges) suggests that Sarah, who has previously sparked the imaginations of James Cameron (“Stay away from the water,” she suggests for a follow-up to “Titanic”), Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese, might be the answer. But it comes with a price, including a get-to-know you gift from Tiffany’s. She also requires room and board at the Four Season, a chauffeur and 24-hour access to whatever she desires, whether a salad or hair accoutrements. The forlorn Steven quickly regrets his decision, particularly when she moves into his home and inspires his wife (MacDowell) to pursue her dream of being a cookie mogul.
5. The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Director: Sam Raimi Writer: Simon Moore. Starring: Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Stone is front and center in this revisionist spaghetti-style Western about a gunslinger who is known as “The Lady.” She rides into a frontier town called Redemption and signs up for a quick-draw contest overseen by corrupt and cold-blooded mayor, John Herod (Hackman). Other participants include a boastful teen sharpshooter known as “The Kid” (DiCaprio), who may be Herod’s son. As for Reverend Cord (Crowe), he takes a non-violent stance despite being the fastest draw in the West. The oater clichés come fast and furious and Raimi makes Stone a bit too touchy-feely for her own good as she seeks revenge for a past wrong.
4. Antz (1998)
Director: Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson. Writers: Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz, Todd Alcott. Starring: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Sylvester Stallone, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman.
DreamWorks’ first-ever animated film rubbed Pixar the wrong way when it opened a month before its similar “A Bug’s Life,” but audiences were fairly tickled by hearing Allen’s trademark neurotic whining coming out of the mouth of a morose worker ant named Z. His life is turned around after he meets Stone’s rebellious Bala, the princess of the colony, when the spoiled royal sneaks out to a bar “Roman Holiday”- style. To see her again, Z dons a borrowed military uniform and assumes the guise of a soldier. When he joins the war against an attacking platoon of termites, he becomes accidental hero and foils Bala ‘s fascist fiancé, General Mandible (Hackman), who used the battle to kill loyalists of the Queen (Bancroft) and so he could stage a coup. While the politics fly over the heads of kids, adults will enjoy typical Allen-esque moments such as this exchange: Bala says, “Don’t you get it? I was just slumming it. I chose you because you were the most pathetic little bug in the joint.” Z retorts, “You know, I was going to let you become a part of my most erotic fantasies, but now you can just write it off.”
3. Total Recall (1990)
Director: Paul Verhoeven. Writers: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman. Starring : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox.
This mind-bendingly violent and over-the-top sci-fi thriller gave Stone a showy futuristic role opposite Schwarzenegger’s lowly construction worker Douglas Quaid in the year 2084, as he suffers from unsettling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman. As wife Lori, Stone discourages him from having thoughts about Mars. But when he buys a virtual reality holiday, Quaid learns he was a secret agent on the Red Planet as he begins to remember suppressed memories. Lori reveals herself to be an agent who is meant to monitor Quaid and is actually the wife of Ironside’s sadistic baddie Richter. She can handle herself with considerable martial arts skills and is adept in the use of knives and firearms. The most memorable scene between her and Schwarzenegger is when he shoots her in the head and declares, “Consider that a divorce.”
2. Casino (1995)
Director: Martin Scorsese. Writer: Nicholas Pileggi, Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollack, James woods.
Some critics felt that this savagely violent film, based on a real-life Mafia mobsters who controlled casinos in Las Vegas in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, was a bit too much of a “Goodfellas” redux. In his eighth collaboration with De Niro, Scorsese has him playing Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a Jewish American gambling handicapper who is tasked by a Chicago mob to oversee a casino. Pesci is his cutthroat made-man enforcer and childhood friend, Nicky. Stone is his beautiful trainwreck of a hustler wife, Ginger McKenna, a former prostitute and mother of his daughter, who is always on the make and is still drawn to her ex-boyfriend pimp, Lester Diamond (Woods). After Rothstein and Nicky beat Diamond to a pulp, Ginger hits the bottle and never lets go. Stone was the only recipient of an Academy Award nomination (losing to Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking”) and Entertainment Weekly’s review at the time reveals why, stating that she “does wonders with her thinly conceived role; her rage and desperation are palpable.“
1. Basic Instinct (1992)
Director: Paul Verhoeven. Writer: Joe Eszterhas. Starring: Michael Douglas, George Dzunda, Jeanne Tripplehorn.
This slick neo-noir erotic thriller is typically transgressive Verhoeven, one that upsetted gay rights activists with Stone’s portrait of bisexual crime novelist Catherine Tramell, who might be a psychopathic killer, and other overwrought depictions of homosexuality. But such notoriety simply made it a must-see in its day, including the fact that Douglas – the guy most likely to be ensnared in such volatile situations in the ‘90s– was the detective investigating her and ultimately gets snagged in her dangerous sexual web. Go ahead and take an ice pick to its questionable portrayals. But the luminous Stone – a Disney princess with a dirty mouth — knocks her performance out of the park even if the plot points don’t all add up. I defy any male actor to cause audiences to hold their breath as they cross and then uncross their legs on screen the way Stone did.