Intriguing plots, erotic atmospheres, underlying sexual tension, graphic scenes. Films about love and lust tangle in the fine line between porn and art or creating such a strong, sexual atmosphere through their characters and surroundings that no erotic scene is needed.
To describe most of these films merely as sexy would be a huge understatement since they are widely considered as some of the best works cinema has to offer. They do include either a building erotic connection between the characters the viewers can identify with, or some masterfully shot explicit scenes that are worth noticing. Having come a long way since the times of tough censorship, filmmakers are choosing more and more frequently to concern themselves with themes such as passion and sexual attraction and their depiction on film.
This list consists of movies that pushed the boundaries on how sexual attraction and/or explicit scenes can be portrayed on film: unapologetically and without any shame or taboo. They showcase how those kinds of human desires can be explored in very artistic and aesthetically pleasing ways.
20. The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)
In 19th century New Zealand, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), a mute piano player, is sold into marriage to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). Alisdair sells Ada’s piano to George Baines (Harvey Keitel), who uses it as an excuse to get closer to Ada, resulting in the two of them forming an affair.
Jane Campion delivered a great, honest film that explores female sexuality in a visually stunning way. The intimate moments of the characters are shot in a direct, realistic manner in scenery where the external environment and the human nature harmoniously co-exist.
The amazing performances from the whole cast elevate this film that masterfully combines a compelling erotic atmosphere, the beauty of the landscape, and the emotional world of its characters.
19. Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo (Julián Hernández, 2014)
Emiliano (Hugo Catalán) is a film director who starts a relationship with dancer Octavio (Alan Ramírez). When the affair suddenly ends, the two continue their sexual experimentation with various other people and cope through various forms of art.
This is a relatively unknown South American film that is not for everyone. It is quite slow paced with very little dialogue and not a particularly engaging plot. What makes it worthwhile is the beautiful cinematography and its interesting portrayal of sexuality.
The various graphic, explicit scenes greatly photograph the human body, and the narration of a particularly long explicit scene turns the moment into pure poetry. In addition, it is noticeable in the character of Emiliano the connection of one’s mental state and approach toward both sexual and romantic relationships.
18. A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012)
In 18th century Denmark, Princess Caroline Mathilde of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander) is forced to marry Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard). The king’s unstable mental health prompts his court to recruit German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) as his physician, but soon enough Johann and Caroline form a dangerous affair.
Based on historical events, Nikolaj Arcel’s Oscar-nominated film proves how tragic erotic affairs can be, especially if there is a political intrigue behind them. The atmospheric, gloomy setting and the beautiful aristocratic costumes set the mood for the sexual mischiefs that are about to take place.
The actors’ intensive performances create a sexual attraction the audience is aching for, and the masterfully shot graphic scenes make up the much needed closure. Its tragic, devastating ending excellently explores the darker side of sexual desire.
17. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
Recent college graduate Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) starts an affair with married woman Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), only to find himself falling in love with her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).
This critically acclaimed classic deserves all the hype surrounding it. It is a witty and funny film with a great screenplay, clever editing, and an amazing soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel. Thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking, it explores themes of love, relationships, self-doubt and family expectations.
It lands a place in this list because it is a master class on seduction. Bancroft’s performance is worthy of praise; her classy looks, suave ways and soothing voice would persuade just about anyone, and teamed with Hoffman’s awkwardness, they make a one of a kind cinematic couple.
16. Cruel Intentions (Roger Kumble, 1999)
Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) are two spoiled, smug and manipulative step-siblings. One day they make a bet that Sebastian must seduce Annette (Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of the headmaster at their school. If Kathryn wins, she gets Sebastian’s vintage car and if Sebastian wins, he gets to sleep with Kathryn.
This film is a high school movie with a twist. It consists of teenagers exploring their sexuality, but through deceit, intrigues and sexual manipulation. The film found huge commercial success with a lot of its famous scenes, like the great sapphic kiss between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair.
This film is a people pleaser. It is sexy and sensual, with great performances by beautiful actors, and the bad guy gets it at the end. It is a stylish take on teenage sexual awakening with a dose of intrigue.
15. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
An aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) has just moved to Los Angeles, where she meets and befriends an amnesiac woman, Rita (Laura Harring), and together they try to find the true identity of the latter.
One should really avoid all interpretations while watching David Lynch’s masterpiece and try to accept it as the beautiful confusion it is. Combining elements of thriller, mystery and erotica, the film finds its way into the deep depths of your head, but lets you draw your own conclusions.
Among the madness and confusion of what is a dream and what is reality, the great chemistry between the actresses and the beautiful explicit scenes, the film creates an one-of-a-kind sexual atmosphere that can only add to the brain teaser that is its plot.