The 25 Greatest Sex Movies of All Time
Masked orgies to plain old orgies.
Trying to distinguish between a “romantic movie” and a “sex movie” might be challenging. However, even though sex is a common plot device in “love” films, that doesn’t necessarily indicate the film is about the act of sex. We have to set some parameters, else we’ll just be producing a list of the best movies of all time—and that’s not what we’re going for.
What we’re not talking about is this. Nonconsensual sex is not what we’re discussing here. No, that isn’t sexual behavior. That’s against the law. All of those movies have one thing in common: they’re about sex crimes. There are lots of films that blur the boundary between theme and extratext—think Promising Young Woman—but we’re just going to stay away from it.
In addition, we’re going to limit sex comedies, partly since they feel like a distinct category and we already have a list of those; we’ll include some of the big ones, however.
Our focus here is on films in which sex is an integral component of the narrative—whether it is a conscientious or unconscientious relationship. Sex isn’t an afterthought; it’s the central act, the catalyst for the plot, the point of the story. The rite of passage story’s rite. It’s the character’s principal objective, or, in certain cases, a compulsion.
In the end, it’s a film about sexuality that’s got something to say about it. We learn something about ourselves from the movie and the behavior it depicts, even if that something is difficult to describe. This is a list of the best sex movies ever made, in no particular order.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Boogie Nights, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is perhaps the pinnacle of the “sex movie” genre. Film depicts an adult film worker’s rise during the Golden Age of Pornography, loosely based on John Holmes’ real-life story. Sex has made its way into art, and it’s causing some to wonder: Is it really art?
American Pie (1999)
However, compared to PTA’s above-mentioned classic, this pie hasn’t aged all that well; like other R-rated sex comedies of the early aughts, the driving force was all carnal, and the lubrication was alcohol. It’s still one of the most recognizable films on our list, whether it’s fresh or rancid.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
This is Stanley Kubrick’s most sexual and sensual film. If you’ve just seen photographs of Tom Cruise and a mask orgy, well, that’s from Eyes Wide Shut, in which Tom Cruise… attends a masked orgy. In the 1960s, Kubrick first acquired the rights to the plot (which was based on a 1926 Austrian novel). If Kubrick had been allowed to direct it, we doubt it would have taken on the same form. After filming, he passed away.
Belle de Jour (1967)
A more subdued (but still erotic) version of Eyes Wide Shut might have been made by Kubrick in the 1960s, called Belle de Jour, about a French woman who, unable to have sexual relations with her husband, turns to prostitution. A decade or two ago, most governments would have prohibited the film’s depiction of sexual fantasies.
37° 2 Le Matin (1986)
While we’re here in France (and we’ll be back several times), we recommend 37° 2 Le Matin (also called Betty Blue). Even though critics still labeled the picture a “smut,” the film is stunning in all the proper creative ways. Let the haters rip.
Basic Instinct (1992)
While Sharon Stone became a sex icon as a result of the film’s nudist sequences, the film is also a fantastic crime thriller in its own right. Basic Instinct, whether or not it is rated R for sex, works on a variety of other genres.
American Beauty (1999)
Some commentators aren’t convinced if American Beauty still holds up after all these years. Many people will find it difficult to see Kevin Spacey in a part in which he shows sexual interest in a teenage girl because of the real-life sexual assault allegations against him. In spite of this, the film is a well-crafted and poignant depiction of suburbia angst in the 1990s. Even without Spacey, the script is fantastic.
That Steve McQueen film about sex addiction is the finest one on this list, we’re going to say it. As a result, the film is a veritable encyclopedia on its subject matter, with Michael Fassbender and Carrey Mulligan delivering some of their best work, all paired to a haunting music. Watching this film will make you feel more isolated than any other time in your life. We advise you to view on your own.
La Pianiste (2001)
Following the novel of the same name, this film depicts a piano teacher and her student in a sadomasochistic bond. In spite of the sexy plot, the picture received a lot of critical acclaim upon its premiere, and the performances of both stars were praised. In this film, the erotic psychological thriller is done properly..
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Stranger by the Lake, by Alain Guiraudie, depicts a nude beach, sexual desire, a drowning, and more passion.. In the vein of Basic Instinct, it works equally well as a suspense thriller, complete with plenty of sensual action. This gem of a film earned Guiraudie the Cannes Director’s Prize.
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Last Tango in Paris premiered to public controversy and was issued with an X (now NC-17) rating, the most mature of the MPAA rating scale, by Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando. However, despite the fact that this is not a “greatest sex movie,” the concentration on the sexual union between our two major characters is cinematically unequaled, and it made enough of a stir to cement the film’s place in cinematic sex history. Our film paved the way for a slew of the others on this list.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
There seems to be no end to the conservative backlash. To name only one reason, the film of Adbellatif Kechiche featured an overtly suggestive sexual subplot between the two leads. What can you anticipate from a film about adolescence and sexual awakening? In contrast to Call Me By Your Name, Blue Is the Warmest Color gets right to the heart of a bildungsroman and nests the scene in an epic of a bildungsroman. You can call this art, but it’s not smut.
In the Mood for Love (2001)
Wong Kar-In wai’s the Mood for Love (part of an astonishing love trilogy that also includes Days of Being Wild and 2046) depicts two neighbors who get increasingly entwined as the film progresses from explicit to heart-aching anticipation of sexual encounter. You’ll get taken in by the cinematography and then crushed by it.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
But not in the sense that the main characters first assumed, sex is an important part of this story’s rite of passage. At a time of transition for each character, Alfonso Cuarón’s film follows two friends and an elderly grandmother as they travel across Mexico. It’s also a masterfully-told coming of age story that has aged like good wine, and it’s more than just a sexy road trip movie!
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
The film adaptation of André Aciman’s novel, Call Me By Your Name, is a hazy vision of a July afternoon. In modern cinema, this is one of the best love and sex flicks ever made. Although the film’s chemistry isn’t always evident (the fault of the medium) and the film’s last monologue wraps things up a touch too didactically, the film is nonetheless a success. When I first saw the film, I was impressed, but it has only become better.
The Realm of the Senses (1976)
The Realm of the Senses, by Nagisa shima, was released as a form of artistic erotica. The movie contains scenes of real sex between the performers (more on that below). shima couldn’t have made the picture in Japan without the help of French producers since it was so racy. Despite this, the picture was censored upon its initial release. One of the most ingeniously provocative and taboo-shattering films ever made, it’s now widely regarded as such.
La Grande Belezza (2013)
Compared to American Beauty, Paolo Sorentino’s La Grande Belezza (The Great Beauty) is the urban ennui meditation that will age like the best Italian wine. A Roman socialite, who had been enjoying the high life of parties, meals, and women, suddenly finds herself in a predicament. After that, everything turns tragic before reversing to be stunningly lovely. Having a bottle of red wine on hand is a must for this film.
Strella tells the account of a night spent with a transsexual woman by a newly freed prisoner. Director Panos H. Koutras faced some backlash in his native Greece, however such backlash was unfounded. The film is a simple, raw statement about the importance of family and the importance of love.
The color blue has the highest degree of warmth. Love, on the other hand, was explicitly meant to startle. The film’s unsimulated sex between the characters puts it on a constant collision course with the debate about gimmick versus true intent, smug versus artful. Because we know filmmaker Gaspar Noe, like shima, does not toy about, we lean toward the latter. In any case, he’s not very interested in your puritanical views.
Como Agua Para Chocolate (1992)
If you’ve ever seen something like this before, you won’t be disappointed. Gender, sexuality, and family tradition all feature prominently in this magical-realism-infused romance tale. Also, there’s food involved. Plenty of tasty treats.
The Graduate (1967)
When it comes to films about sex, it’s common to see a conflict between the protagonist’s want and something else, such as tradition, the character’s sense of self, or another character’s desire. In The Graduate, a mother and daughter’s opposing desires are played out as a comedy. But it’s still one that tugs at your heart and smacks you in the gut. Unquestionably one of the greatest sex comedies ever made.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
To be honest, it’s hard to defend a sex picture like Cruel Intentions because it’s stuck in the American Pie age of sex comedies (this one is obviously more serious). Despite this, it’s a compelling film that doesn’t give a damn about what you think.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
There are a lot other books by Adrian Lyne that could be on this list as well, but we’re going to focus on Fatal Attraction, which takes the idea of an exciting one-night encounter and transforms it into a nightmare. Sex has repercussions, and nowhere is it more apparent than in this place.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
This film, directed by Ang Lee, is absolutely outstanding. It’s hard to think of anything new to say or appreciate about Brokeback Mountain. To remind us that it lost to Crash at the Oscars. Here’s a movie that doesn’t have anything sexual in it.
The Handmaiden (2016)
The final entry on this list comes from South Korea, whose film is now seeing a resurgence in North America. One of my favorite Korean directors Chan-wook Park pulls a Victorian tale into the current day and adds some Hitchcockian suspense and a whole lot of romantic tension to the mix. It’s wonderful.