Growing up, you probably heard about porn through the vague phrase “sex movie,” which is a weird way to refer to a porn. Truly, “sex movie” has expanded its definition. Movies can be sexy and
substantive. And they don’t have to be overtly pornographic either. But that’s not a new invention; it’s simply more accepted. Good movies about sex have been around for ages. You just have to know where to turn to on your television when you’re looking for something a bit spicier than your nightly fare.
Gone are the days of overtly pornographic films masquerading as “dramas.” Those are also on this list, but we can be elevated too. Sex is a complicated action to depict on film because at its most passionate, it embodies so many more emotions than just being “hornt up.”
What lies below is a mix of both the overt and the subtle: sometimes a good film about sex never features a sex scene. It’s all in the build up. The allure. The power of the secret. And then, you know, sometimes it’s just a good ol’ raunchy flick. Take the nuanced with the sexual romp-fest. Take a peek at this list, with sexiness depicted in all types of ways—kink, romance, escape, and thrill. The best is when it’s a few of those things at once.
For anyone who has ever had a one night stand that lingers in the back of your mind, Weekend
is the film for you. When two men have a connection after a night of partying, they find themselves spending the next day (and night) with each other and turning a quick fling into a passion-filled weekend that explores both sexuality and romance.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
I mean, it’s Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie waffling back and forth between shooting people, blowing stuff up, and having sex. Add in the bonus that the wardrobe ranges from underwear to formal wear, and what this action movie becomes is one of the sexiest features of our whole damn generation.
Find something sexier than doing what you know damn well that you shouldn’t. We’ll wait. Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola star in this complex drama about two women who share a forbidden love. When Ronnit returns home for her Orthodox Jewish father’s funeral, she quickly discovers that the same-sex attraction that once got her shunned is as alive as ever.
Support the Girls
Support the Girls
has Regina Hall, a Steph Curry tattoo, and a man who gets stuck in a ventilation duct. Oh, and Barack Obama said the movie—which features, smart, genuinely laugh-out-loud satire—was one of his favorite films of 2018. What else do you need?
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Is there any language as sexy as French? This stirring historical romance puts that thesis to the test in a lustful story about two women, one a painter and the other her reluctant subject. On a windswept coast, they struggle to ignore the pull of forbidden love, resulting in an unforgettable Gothic romance for the ages.
That library scene, am I right? In this sweeping WWII-era tale of one lie’s disastrous consequences, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy enjoy a torrid tryst against a row of bookshelves, making for one of the steamiest scenes ever committed to celluloid.
In the Mood for Love
In the Mood for Love
might just be the sexiest movie ever made where no one has sex. Set in Hong Kong in 1962, a journalist and a secretary living next door to one another develop an attraction while their respective spouses work long hours. When they begin to suspect that their spouses are having an affair together, their relationship grows, making for a poignant, provocative story about fidelity, beauty, and youth.
Horror-movie horniness is all over the place. There’s sexy vampire, crazy cannibal, and horror-comedy camp, which doesn’t necessarily always work. The Babysitter
(have to have the hot-babysitter cliche in here somewhere, right?) will go down in the cult canon years from now, if it hasn’t already.
Directed by the inimitable Ang Lee, Lust, Caution
is set in World War II-era Shanghai, where a drama student becomes a secret agent tasked with assassinating a high-ranking government official. When she falls for her target, the situation becomes more complicated than she anticipated. The sensual, explicit sex scenes are memorable, as is the film’s depiction of betrayal and revenge in wartime Shanghai.
There’s nothing less attractive than minor league baseball (see: cramped bus rides, chewing tobacco, spitting, just in general) but the chemistry between Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon makes this one a romcom all-timer.
If you spawned a freaking Vegas Chippendales-esque residency with your sexy movie, you better be on this list. Magic Mike
told a memorable story (thank you Steven Soderbergh, master of all genres), but abs. Right?
Talented Mr. Ripley
might be the first film that comes to mind when you think “sexual tension on a boat,” it has nothing on 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
. The film about a sociopathic tear in idyllic Italy is full of scandal, but it’s also rife with sexual chemistry between its three main stars: Jude Law, Matt Damon, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Barry Jenkins’ beautifully shot film about a gay black man coming of age is as sensual as it is poignant. As the film tells Chiron’s story from youth to adulthood, it’s clear that Moonlight
is weaving a romantic story that Hollywood rarely recognizes.
Have you seen Michael B Jordan? In Creed
, he’s at peak physical perfection in a movie that is 90 percent him with his shirt off and/or working out. It also helps that Ryan Coogler’s reboot of the Rocky
franchise is one of the greatest sports movies of all time.
is an erotic look into forbidden love. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star in this film about two friends who raise their sons together before taking up physical relationships with the other woman’s adult son. It’s strangely incestuous, yet somehow not?
Another sexy movie sub-subgenre: The human crushing on an android story. With Alicia Vikander’s sensitive, wholly believable performance as a robot coming into sentience (which is enough to attract a wayward programmer), Ex Machina
does it best.
is notorious for two things: Kevin Bacon’s exposed penis and a threesome between Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, and Matt Dillon. The latter is mostly an excuse to feature then-unknown Richards topless.
Elisa and Marcela
In this biographical true story, Spanish director Isabel Coixet depicts the first same-sex marriage recorded in Spain. After sixteen years of hiding their love for one another, Elisa adopted a male identity in order to marry the woman she loved. Bleak and elegant, this gripping tale of forbidden love is an unforgettable romance.
A ’90s update to Dangerous Liaisons
sees a pair of horned-up, upper-crust Manhattan teens (and step-siblings) scheming to bring social ruin upon their virginal classmates.
A Englishman named Matt and an American woman named Lisa form a relationship based on two common interests: seeing rock shows and fucking. Michael Winterbottom’s film is part-concert montage, part boundary-pushing sex film.
Call Me By Your Name
Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeous, sun-soaked summer romance finds a precocious young man falling for an older college student. It’s a touching coming-of-age story—one that will change the way you look at (and possibly taste) a peach forever.
Combine a little bit of heist-adjacent scam with a tinge of homoeroticism, and you have The Handmaiden
. The film, directed by Park Chan-wook, starts as a ruse to fool a Japanese woman out of her inheritance, but when a hired handmaiden gets a bit closer to her than she imagined, an unexpected relationship forms.
Future Oscar winner Mark Rylance plays a failed musician who has a weekly anonymous tryst with a woman he barely knows. When his curiosity gets the best of him, he seeks out to learn more about the woman—which leads to the destruction of their relationship.
While David Lynch’s neo-noir focuses mostly on an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) playing amateur detective upon her arrival in Los Angeles, the film features a notorious lesbian love scene between Watts and her co-star, Laura Elena Harding.
Director Catherine Breillat has been labeled a “porno auteuriste;” the term is most applicable with her 1999 drama in which a French teacher, frustrated with her boyfriend’s disregard for intimacy and affection, searches elsewhere to fulfill her insatiable desires.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ensemble-driven film offers a comic—and at times dark—look at the heyday of the American porn industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Not to be confused with the fairy tale, this erotic drama stars Emily Browning as a young student named Lucy who takes a curious job as a live lingerie model of sorts in an exclusive club catering to various men and their desires.
A journalist (Juliette Binoche) interviews two sex workers as she works on a story about prostitution. Instead of hearing horror stories, she discovers them to be proud and empowered—and it forces her to re-examine her own view of sexuality.
If you’re going to cheat on Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez is as good a choice as any. And that’s who Diane Lane falls for in her Oscar-nominated performance—and it’s not too difficult to see why.
Gaspar Noé is no stranger to provocation, but his arthouse sexual drama took full advantage of the technological marvels of 3-D. While, uh, objects
won’t be flying out of your normal TV or laptop screen when you stream this one online, the titillation remains intact.
The Pillow Book
Nagiko (Vivian Wu) is a Japanese model with an usual fetish: words, particularly calligraphy painted on the human body. She finds an eager partner in Jerome, played by Ewan McGregor (who appears in a few full-frontal nude scenes).
Henry & June
Henry & June
explores the relationship between Henry Miller and his wife as he wrote his infamous novel Tropic of Cancer
—as well as his affair with the French writer Anaïs Nin. Practically tame by today’s standards, this is the movie responsible for the creation of the NC-17 rating.
Brad Davis plays the titular character in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film. The sailor Querelle, while on leave in Brest, discovers a brothel where the owner, Nono, has a fondness for gambling. A roll of the dice earns Querelle either a night with Nono’s wife, Lysiane—or Nono himself.
Love & Basketball
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Love & Basketball
remains a turn-of-the-century romance masterpiece. Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps star as best friends and lovers who try to balance their own relationship with their basketball careers from childhood through adulthood.
Sex and Lucia
This film focuses on the lives of various people living on a small island in the Mediterranean Sea—a group of people whose lives are connected by a novelist, whose work affects their complex relationships with each other.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
This acclaimed romance finds two young French schoolgirls—Emma and Adèle—falling in and out of love. It’s a devastating love story, but one that features some shockingly graphic sex scenes for which its leads wore prosthetic genitals.
To describe Girls Trip
, you first have to start with a grapefruit. What you do is you take a grapefruit and cut a chunk off both ends. Then you hollow out a whole in the middle. What you’re going to do then is slide it over an erect penis. Mind you, this grapefruit technique only takes up about five minutes of the film, so that should give you an idea of the kind of content you’re signing up for in this female-ensemble led comedy that helped launch Tiffany Haddish’s career.
The Wachowskis’ debut is a thriller starring Gina Gershon as an ex-con who seduces the wife of her crime boss neighbor. The women conspire to steal $2 million from the mobster—but first, they engage in some sexy scenes choreographed by feminist critic Susie Bright.
The timid Lee breaks out of her shell when she takes a job as an assistant for a demanding—and aggressive—lawyer Mr. Grey. Their office relationship quickly evolves when the sadistic Mr. Grey turns his daily taunts into sexual play.
Y Tu Mamá También
Tenoch and Julio are a couple of horned-up Mexico City teenagers who take a spur-of-the-moment road trip with Luisa, the wife of Tenoch’s cousin. On the way, the young men must face the facts about their friendship as they embark upon adulthood.
No, not the dubious Best Picture winner—this is the infamous Crash
in which James Spader, Holly Hunter, and co. get their sexual kicks from car crashes in David Cronenberg’s controversial adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel.
was released in 2009—long before thirst
became a 101-level vocabulary sexy word on the Internet—so rest assured it’s not a 50 Shades spinoff or anything. This thirst is of the vampiric variety. The South Korean horror film follows priest-turned bloodsucker Sang-hyun, who has quite the adventure following his first brush with the taste of human blood.
9 1/2 Weeks
A wealthy business man named John Gray seduces a young gallery assistant, Elizabeth. Their relationship becomes more complex as she finds herself succumbing to his demands, slowly allowing him to cross an ever-moving line.
Eyes Wide Shut
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play a couple whose relationship is tested when the wife reveals her fantasy about another man. In retaliation, the husband wanders through the night, finding himself at a masked ball that soon turns into an Illuminati-esque orgy.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee’s 1986 comedy is a classic and a damn good movie to boot, but that’s what this list is about. You can be sexy and elevated at the same time. When Nola Darling finds herself dating three different men, things get as steamy as they do complicated. And make no mistake, Nola is not the type of character to pass on sexual liberation for fear of hurting a man’s feelings.
Belle de Jour
Catherine Deneuve plays a beautiful young housewife who remains unsatisfied in her marriage. So she does what any clever, enterprising woman would do: She becomes a prostitute, fulfilling her desires working in a Parisian brothel.
Stranger by the Lake
Franck visits a gay cruising beach and takes notice of the handsome Michel—and also that Michel has murdered his companion. In this provocative thriller, Franck must reconcile his lust for passion with his potentially deadly object of desire.
In the Realm of Senses
This film tells the infamous tale of Sada Abe, a geisha who murdered her lover by erotic asphyxiation. One of the most notorious films ever made—one that features unsimulated sex between its actors—the film was widely banned in countries across the world.
Matthew is an American studying in Paris during the tumultuous spring of 1968. There he meets a French brother and sister duo who share a love of cinema and debauchery. The three begin a complex friendship that borders on taboo when the three push the boundaries of desire.
Arguably the last great American noir film, this ’80s thriller featuring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner harkens to the old-fashioned femme fatale films of the genre. It ups the ante with sex scenes that would’ve made Barbara Stanwyck blush.
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