When it came out in 1997, Starship Troopers was not an immediate success. It was lambasted by contemporary critics, and it took a few years before the public warmed up to this odd movie. Though it barely made back its budget upon release, hindsight turned it into a cult classic, one which has thankfully enjoyed its fair share of success on home media and in the digital market. The public’s delayed appreciation, unfortunately, could not save director Paul Verhoeven’s North American reputation. He was unhappy with his next film, Hollow Man, and the flop of Starship Troopers meant that the studio did not give him the same leeway he had previously enjoyed. Disillusioned with Hollywood, he retreated back to his native Netherlands, where he has since enjoyed considerable success.

As for Starship Troopers, its legacy is a complicated one. The film was not popular enough to warrant a theatrically-released sequel, but it does have two direct-to-video follow-ups and a bunch of animated spin-offs. How good these are is up for debate, but the one truth is that none have been as good as the original.

No matter where you stand when it comes to Starship Troopers, the film is unarguably fascinating; Its blend of wooden acting, creepy settings, and ultra-violent action is something that has rarely been seen since. These 25 little-known facts will hopefully create an accurate portrait of what came to be known as one of the best science-fiction movies of the 90s.

25 It’s Basically Two Stories In One

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When the film was first conceived, it was a simple script about bugs attacking humans titled Bug Hunt At Outpost Nine. Around the same time Paul Verhoeven became attached to the project, someone noticed that the script shared many similarities with a book titled Starship Troopers. Both stories had alien bugs and similar story beats, so the studio ended up licensing the book. Verhoeven, the director, read the first two chapters and found it so boring and depressing that he had to quit. His friend and collaborator Ed Neumeier finished it for him; they then tweaked the scenario, keeping only the title and character names from the book. Everything else is significantly different; the most notable of these changes is that the book took a significantly pro-military approach. Verhoeven’s movie, on the other hand, uses the over-the-top patriotism as a satire of the same mindset.


24 Carmen’s Dilemma

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In Starship Troopers, main character Johnny Rico has a complicated relationship with Carmen Ibanez. They are originally a couple, but she dumps him with a letter to pursue a career as a pilot. They both find new love interests, but these, unfortunately, don’t survive to see the end of the movie (spoiler alert!). The focus group who watched the movie first were completely appalled at that development. They thought it was immoral that Carmen would choose her career before love. Confronted with the news, director Paul Verhoeven decided to keep the plot, but cut a further scene where Carmen and Rico reunited after their new lover’s demise. According to the same surveys, the audience wished that it was Carmen who bit the bullet instead of Dizzy, who consoled Rico after he got dumped. Let's be honest: Dizzy was a million times more interesting than Carmen anyway.

23 You’re Getting It Wrong

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Upon release, the movie got some really bad critics in North America. It was even the target of multiple editorial in newspapers;

Many of them accused Starship Troopers of promoting fascism.

Though its Rotten Tomatoes score would eventually stabilize at 63%, it is only years after its release that it became a cult classic. It seems like people finally saw it for what Paul Verhoeven originally wanted it to be: a satire of militarism and grand displays of nationalism. This critique is mostly evident through the propaganda newsreel shown between scenes. Having grown up in an occupied Netherlands, Verhoeven wanted to use the movie to denounce the horrors he had seen in his youth. His intended message was “War makes fascists of us all”.

22 A Flashy Directing Style

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One of the stories’ feature is that it creates a future where men and women are viewed equally in society and in the military, something which we are still striving to achieve these days. To illustrate that point, Starship Troopers features a co-ed shower scene.

A bit shy (and wondering if the scene was entirely necessary), actress Dina Meyer approached Paul Verhoeven with a dare.

She wanted him to direct the sequence in his birthday suit, in a show of solidarity with the actors. Verhoeven did not seem to mind at all and took her up on her offer. Surprisingly, so did the cinematographer, Jost Vacano. According to Verhoeven himself, Vacano was born in a nudist colony, so all he needed was an excuse.

21 Seeing Double (And Triple)

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It’s commonplace in Hollywood to reuse parts of a movie in another one. It saves money and time, and that’s really all you need to make a convincing case to studio executives. Starship Troopers did its fair share when it comes to recycling. It uses some parts from another of Verhoeven’s movies: a lot of the sets used walls taken from Total Recall. As for the things created specifically for the movie, some of them also found a second life in future productions. The soldiers’ costumes were reused more than once, first in the TV series Power Rangers: The Lost Galaxy. They would eventually be seen a third time, as military uniforms on the cult series Firefly in 2002. Who knows where else they will pop up next?

20 If You Can’t Stand The Heat…

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The costumes used for the military were unfortunately extremely hot to wear. Originally consisting of form-fitting uniforms made of the same material as surfing gear, the costumes were the cause of many actors’ discomfort. Chief among them was Jake Busey, who portrays Ace.

At one point, the temperature onset reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which gave Busey a heat stroke so bad that production had to be shut down for a whole week.

When he came back, the uniforms were altered to make them more tolerable. First of all, the actors were allowed to wear simple black t-shirts underneath their protective gear. Second, holes had been made in the shielding to allow for better air circulation. During the filming on the “alien planet,” there was an average of 25 heat stroke per day being treated on set.

19 The Alien Planet

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Speaking of Klendathu, the alien planet, you must be wondering which real-life place served as its stand-in. Which place on Earth would look so good on film and yet provide such disgusting working conditions for the cast and crews? The answer is Wyoming, the most perfectly rectangular of all fifty American states. More specifically, it was filmed in the Badlands of Hell’s Half Acre. Its mix of mountains and semi-desertic landscape was perfect for the unfamiliar setting of the Arachnids’ home turf. The shooting there lasted several weeks, with a particularly gruesome sequence having to be filmed late into the night with the cast running up a steep hill take after take. By the end of that stretch, they must have been clamoring for the safety of a green screen.

18 Setting Records

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Starship Troopers is a movie of extremes, and as such, it has set several records during its making. Though it is probably not an all-time record, the movie did use an incredible 17 gallons of fake blood during filming;

It is the most intense of all of Paul Verhoeven’s American productions.

One thing which was a Hollywood record at the time was that Starship Troopers was the movie which used the most ammunition of all-time. That particular record has been broken by multiple films since. Finally, the movie has a solider count of 256, another number which sounds impressive, but which is nowhere near the top when it comes to an all-time list. I am unsure as to what all of this means when it comes to the state of movie-making in Hollywood.

17 Going Off The Wall

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Though most of the movie was shot on location and not in front of green screens, the imposing Arachnids were obviously added in post-production. This means that actors on set had to fight and flee invisible giant bugs, which I am sure must not have been as easy to make look good as it sounds. According to Clancy Brown, who played Sgt. Zim, Paul Verhoeven had some funny ways of making his actors appear scared of the bugs. Sometimes, he would chase them with sticks and brooms, hoping that the height at which he swung would signify how tall the creatures were supposed to be. His other tactic was to jump up and down while screaming “I’M A BIG [REDACTED] BUG! I WILL GET YOU!” into a megaphone. Whatever works, right?

16 What Could Have Been

via starshiptroopers.wikia.com

As with big-budgetudget Hollywood productions in the history of cinema, Starship Troopers went through several changes in cast and crew before arriving to its final form. First of all, before the script was brought to Paul Verhoeven’s attention, the studio thought they would offer to James Cameron. Unfortunately, he was too busy at the time with a little project called Titanic. In terms of casting, the role of Johnny Rico was offered to other actors before it went to Casper Van Dien.

Hoping to find the prototypical square-jawed hero, Paul Verhoeven considered Mark Wahlberg before actually getting Matt Damon to audition.

Future Cyclops James Marsden was also in the running for a while, but Verhoeven admitted that he was looking for someone who was prototypically blond and arrogant, something which Van Dien was apparently doing better than anyone else.

15 Danger Zone

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Despite all the insect guts and severed limbs shown on screen, there is still one scene which manages to make everyone uncomfortable despite its more low-key violence: the lashing of Johnny Rico after the accidental shooting of his teammate during an exercise. The actor who plays Corporal Bronski, the man who delivers the whipping, had a tendency to move forward slowly and steadily every time he swung the whip. He was originally far enough away from Casper Van Dien so that the whip wouldn’t connect, but he would always end up dangerously close at the end of every take. Unable to control himself, the crew ended up placing sand bags on top of his feet so that he wouldn’t move. From then on, he was only shot from the waist up.

14 Painting The Walls

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Starship Troopers uses newsreel films as in-universe propaganda, an effective tool to show the gruesomeness of the war against the Arachnids, but also a great settings for some quality sight gags.

One of the scenes in particular shows a cow being mutilated by a bug as a test by the military.

I say “show”, but it might not be the right word because the whole scene is censored in a very over-the-top way, with a big “censored” bar hiding everything. It was done so to prevent PETA from complaining about the movie, with the added merit of making the scene much easier to film. Underneath the censored bar, the only thing to be seen is a crew member with a small hose, spraying the walls with fake blood at the point where the bug is supposed to catch the poor little cow.

13 No Animals Were Harmed During The Filming Of This Movie

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Cows were not the only animals in danger during the filming of Starship Troopers. A movie about a race of alien insects going to war against humans was obviously going to have some bugs in harms way. A particular scene shows kids stomping on cockroaches in the streets of an undisclosed city, doing their part against the war on bugs. To the delight of bug lovers everywhere (and to the dismay of most of the rest of the world’s population), all of the bugs stomped by the kids were fake bugs. At the very least, we can salute the special effects people who came up with a “crunch” that was convincing enough to sound like the real thing.

12 "The Most Expensive Art Movie Ever Made"

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This entry’s title might sound slightly pompous, but it is exactly how Paul Verhoeven described Starship Troopers. Though a science-fiction romp featuring exciting space battles sounds like something a Hollywood studio would love, the film’s subversion of fascist imagery and violent tendencies are evident enough that you would think someone would have flagged it at some point.

According to the director, he was only able to get away with making such a weird film because no one saw it.

The period of 1995 to 1997 was a tumultuous one for Sony, the owners of TriStar Pictures. The company changed executives every three or four months during the filming period, which means that no one had time to watch the project’s progress. By the time someone laid eyes on a cut of Starship Troopers, it was too late to make any significant changes.

11 Verhoeven’s Favorite

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Paul Verhoeven’s career spans multiple countries and continents, but even if you restrain his work to North America, his filmography remains sizable and very memorable. His legacy includes Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct and, well, Showgirls (they can’t all be winners). Despite this impressive list of box-office hits (and Showgirls), Verhoeven’s favourite movie is Starship Troopers. The main reason is because a lot of it was inspired by his own childhood, living in the Netherlands during World War 2. His house was right down the block from a secret German base, so he saw first-hand the horror of a fascist regime. Being able to make a movie which ridicules fascism and totalitarianism was a cathartic experience for the director.

10 Don’t Lose Your Head

via starshiptroopers.wikia.com

Despite copious amounts of blood and graphic Arachnid attacks, Starship Troopers still got away with an R rating in the United States.

The MPAA at first wanted to slap a rating of NC-17 on the movie, but Verhoeven managed to change their mind with one little cut.

All he had to do was remove a few seconds from a scene where a soldier gets decapitated by a flying bug with particularly strong jaws. The change would barely be noticeable, if it wasn’t for the fact that the complete scene has been reinstated for the version of the movie shown on cable TV. So if you really want to compare the two versions, I guess you’re gonna have to stay up late someday and catch it on FX.

9 Keeping Things Authentic

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The movie starts with the characters still in school, which might be a bit jarring when you realize that the high schoolers are played by Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, and a bunch of other actors who were getting close to their 30s. When casting the movie, Verhoeven wanted to hire actual teenagers to play the soldiers, as he thought it would reflect the age of the characters and make the movie seem more realistic. The producers thought that seeing kids shoot guns and go to war would be too disturbing for the audience. They might have been right, but Verhoeven thought it also would have matched with his memories of World War 2. He had to settle for actors who had been on Beverly Hills 90210 before, so at least they had experience pretending to be teenagers.

8 Déjà Vu

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Despite being a movie about humanity going to war against gigantic insects, Starship Troopers managed to sneak a little dose of reality into the craziness.

Keen-eyed viewers will want to pay attention to the newsreel piece which tells us about the initial attack on Earth.

When the bugs direct a comet towards Buenos Aires, we are shown a few glimpses of the destruction, with buildings on fire and entire blocks torn apart. The images on screen are in fact from the very real Oakland Hills fire, which razed the area in 1991. In real life, the inferno left thousands homeless and took the lives of 25 people. Bonus fact: The fire burned down the house of Will Wright, who used his real-life experience to add a similar scenario to his game, SimCity 2000.

7 Jake Busey’s Dedication To His Art

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Starship Troopers is not just about war (though it mostly is). The movie also features a scene where the soldiers are having fun together, trying to spend a good night before they are all sent to the front. In that scene, the character of Ace (played by Jake Busey) briefly plays the violin for his friends who happily dance to his tunes. It’s a futuristic violin, all made of green transparent plastic, but it seems to work just like the real thing. Because he wanted his playing to be as authentic as possible, Jake Busey spent several months learning how to play the violin for real just so that it would look good on film. Post-production and audio synching issues being what they are, chances are that it is not even him we actually hear playing on-screen.

6 Expensive Toys

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In 1997, CGI effects were becoming the norm, but still were not entirely convincing depending on the effect desired. Because he wanted his movie to hold up many years down the line, Paul Verhoeven opted to go with practical effects whenever possible.

That’s why he had the crew build actual models of all the space ships used in Starship Troopers, including two that were about 18 feet long.

Then once all the scenes had been filmed with the gigantic models, Verhoeven had the crew ram the two ships into each other, effectively destroying them. It was costly, but it looked great. In total, only 200 shots had effects added in post production, a number which is laughably small these days.

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