Basic Instinct (Movie) Ending Explained

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Basic Instinct (1992) is a mystery thriller film starring Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel and Michael Douglas as Nick Curran.

This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Basic Instinct (1992). Who is the killer? Beware of spoilers.

Basic Instinct (1992) – Plot Summary

A retired rock star (Johnny Boz) dies at his own house. An unidentified woman stabbed him to death (with an ice pick) during sex. The murder starts an intense investigation lead by Nick Curran, a homicide detective.

The prime suspect for this case is Catherine Tramell, Johnny’s girlfriend. Many years ago, the crime novelist wrote a novel depicting a similar murder. According to the psychology experts there are two main possibilities: either Trammel is the killer or someone is trying to frame her.

During the interrogation, Catherine taunts Nick with intrusive questions about his past. Without strong evidence against her, the police releases the writer. Unconvinced about her “innocence”, Nick decides to follow her. One day, the detective spots Catherine greeting an older woman (Hazel Dobkins) who served time in prison for killing her family.

Nick meets Catherine again and finds out that she is writing a new novel. The story revolves around a police officer who falls for the murderer. Meanwhile, tension builds between the two. Catherine seems to know a lot about Nick’s troubled past: the substance abuse, the shooting incident and his wife’s suicide.

Out of anger, Nick accuses his psychologist (Beth Gardner) of disclosing his personal file to others. Beth tells him that Nielsen (a colleague from Internal Affairs) asked for his information. Later on, the police finds Nielsen dead. Since many witnessed their previous rift, Nick becomes a prime suspect. Also, his superiors put him on leave.

Nick’s fixation for Catherine grows stronger. One night, he follows her home and the two have sex. Meanwhile, Roxy (Catherine’s lover) have been watching them this entire time. Later on, someone tries to run Nick over with a car: it’s Roxy. The detective gets into his car and chases her back, Roxy ends up dying after a violent crash.

A devastated Catherine tells Nick to stay away from her. She warns him that people around her tend to die but Nick refuses to listen. After having sex, the writer tells Nick about a messy college affair. Apparently, there was a girl who became obsessed with Catherine.

While going through Catherine’s college records, Nick finds out that the girl is to his surprise: Beth Gardner. The detective confronts his former lover and she tells him that it was the other way around. According to Beth, she had to change her name to keep her anonymity and prevent Catherine from stalking her.

Meanwhile, Nick finds out that a mutual professor of Beth and Catherine also died from severe injuries caused by an ice pick. The detective shares his finding with his colleague Gus and defends Catherine. Nick thinks that she might not be the killer. However, Gus strongly disagrees and says that Nick’s feelings are interfering with the investigation.

Nick pays another visit to Catherine. As he reads the final pages of her latest novel, Catherine puts an end to their affair. Despite of the personal setback, the case seems to have a new breakthrough. Gus found someone from Catherine’s college days who can reveal more about her past with Beth.

Later that night, Nick and Gus go meet the source. The latter enters the building, while Nick awaits in the car. However, there is something about Catherine’s story ending that makes believe Nick believe that Gus is in danger. The detective rushes out of the car to warn his partner. When Nick finds Gus, it’s already too late. Someone stabbed him to death with an ice pick.

Suddenly, Beth appears and says that she had a meeting with Gus. Nick is on edge and ends up shooting the her when the psychologist refused to show her hands. However, Beth was unarmed at the time, there was only a key chain inside her pocket. Later on, the police finds a large amount of evidence against Beth in her apartment.

Nick regains his status in the force. When he returns to his apartment, Catherine is there waiting for him. Once again, the woman emphasizes the dire consequences for those who fall in love with her. Despite of her warning, Nick refuses to leave Catherine and the two have sex. The film ends with a shot showing what’s under Nick’s bed: an ice pick.

The Ending of Basic Instinct Explained

So what happened at the end of Basic Instinct? The final scene shows Catherine Trammel’s hand reaching for the ice pick laying under Nick’ bed, which means she was the killer all along. The crime novelist killed at least three people since the beginning of the story: Johnny Boz, Nielsen and Gus.

There are three other deaths related to Catherine: her parents, her college professor and Beth Gardner’s husband. Although, there is no solid evidence against her, the film hints that she is the culprit behind these people’s deaths.

What about Beth Gardner? How did she become a suspect? Catherine broke into the psychologist’s apartment and planted all the evidence against her. During Nick’s last visit, the detective informed Beth that her door lock is not working. Although, as viewers we never see Catherine step foot into Beth’s apartment, she is the only one who has a motive to do so.

The Murder of Gus Explained

Of all the people, what did Gus do to Catherine to deserve such a violent death? Gus did not like Catherine, and she knew it because Nick told her so. Also, according to Catherine words “somebody has to die”. Why? “Somebody always does”.

In her latest novel, the protagonist does not die but his partner does. Gus dies the exact same way Catherine describes in her novel. Too much of a coincidence? Probably not.

No one had access to that information except for the person who wrote it (Catherine) and the person who read it (Nick). Therefore, if Nick was the one who found the body, the other individual must be the one who murdered his partner.

The Murder of Nielsen Explained

Why did Catherine kill Nielsen? She wanted to implicate Nick in a murder, probably to tarn his image and also get rid of “loose ends”. So, it’s seems that Catherine bribed Nielsen to give her Nick’s personal file. Otherwise, how could she know so much about his past?

Also, it’s very likely that Catherine paid Nielsen to investigate Lisa Hoberman’s whereabouts. That person turn out to be a mutual acquaintance of Nick and Nielsen: Dr. Beth Gardner.

There is indeed a police report filed by Catherine regarding her situation with Beth. However, no one truly knows what really went down between the two. Both ladies accused each other of being the obsessive one.

Given that Nielsen is dead, it’s also safe to assume that the file might be in Catherine’s hands or gone for good. Most likely, she doesn’t want anything linking her to Beth.

That way, it becomes relatively easier for Catherine to perpetrate other crimes such as getting rid of Beth’s husband. Remember? The man’s death remains an unsolved murder. Someone shot him out of nowhere, the police never caught the culprit.

By the way, Catherine told Nick about “Lisa Hoberman” because she knew the detective would arrive at a dead end. Despite of being able to find out who “Lisa Hoberman” was, Nick never managed to unveil the truth about Catherine and Beth’s messy affair. Also, Catherine needed the police to investigate, so she could get her hands on Gus.

The Murder of Johnny Boz Explained

Catherine killed Johnny Boz for a very simple reason: she wanted to frame Beth. From beginning to end, all the murders (Gus, Nielsen and Johnny) were just pieces of a calculated plan to ruin Beth’s life.

Turns out, the rock star and the psychologist knew each other and Catherine wanted to use that information against the latter to tie her to his murder.

In very simple terms, Catherine wanted to have a final saying on her story with Beth. She wanted to make her former lover look like an obsessive stalker who never got over the break up. However, Catherine’s revenge is beyond “cold”.

Even after her death, Beth gets no peace. The psychologist went down for all the crimes that she didn’t commit. By the way, there is something even more painful than death itself: betrayal. The bullet came from someone she loved and trusted (Nick).

Given what we know about Catherine Trammel so far, she probably killed her parents and her college professor too. The woman did it to see if she could get away with it, and she did.


Basic Instinct (1992) [DVD]


Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Basic Instinct is an acquired taste. When I first watched it, I thought that the film was just a cheesy thriller. A one trick pony famous for using the leading actress’s sensuality to captivate its audience. However, over the years I realized that Basic Instinct is more than meets the eye.

The fact that many viewers are still unsure about the true killer in Basic Instinct, shows that the film did its job. You see, there are a lot of small details throughout the film hinting that Catherine Trammel is indeed the killer. For me, it was Gus’s death. Who could’ve done it besides Catherine? There are no coincidences at this point.

Also, the writer didn’t even try to hide it. Catherine told the world exactly how she would do it (in her novel), yet Nick (and some viewers) still refuse to connect the dots. Why is that? What’s so special about Catherine Trammel that makes a lot of people give her the benefit of the doubt? I believe it is her entire persona.

Catherine Trammel is very charismatic. She is beautiful, sophisticated and rich. Having said that, how could someone like that be a murderer, right? An average person cannot fathom why someone like Catherine would commit such heinous crimes. However, the writer is perfectly aware of this and uses it to her advantage.

Gus is like the voice of reason, he never fell for Catherine’s charms. Unlike his partner Nick, Gus can sense that there is something “fishy” about Catherine. When Nick was trying to defend Catherine as a possible victim, Gus stopped him right away. Not only that, but Nick’s partner also alerted him that he is probably letting his feelings (basically his lust) get in the way of his judgement.

Now, here are my two cents on Nick: he is not the smartest tool in the box. The homicide detective is no opponent of Catherine Trammel. Sadly for Nick, he is against a very smart and meticulous killer. The man never stood a chance against Catherine. He failed miserably as a detective and as a lover who is trying to “steal” Catherine’s heart. By the way, does she even have one?

The choice of the actress to play Catherine Trammel was beyond perfect. Sharon Stone made Catherine Trammel iconic with her incredible screen presence.

Here is the thing, Sharon Stone is often praised for her looks, but what actually stand out to me in Basic Instinct were her acting skills. In my opinion, there is no other actress at the time that could’ve brought the energy that Sharon Stone did. Her performance as Catherine Trammel was strong and believable.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the soundtrack of Basic Instinct. Although the torrid sex scenes are often the hot topic of many discussions about the film, let’s not forget about the music. For me, the soundtrack of Basic Instinct was the cherry on the top of the cake. It’s suspenseful, thrilling and sometimes even creepy. The music definitely elevated the film’s overall atmosphere and made it even more memorable.