19 Movies To Stream That Are Way Hornier Than Fifty Shades Of Grey

From contemporary classics to arthouse indies and foreign films, there’s something for everyone.

Originally Published: 
Mark Ruffalo and Meg Ryan in Jane Campion's steamy erotic thriller "In the Cut."
Sony Pictures

If you spend any time reading about or discussing movies online, chances are that you’ve come across people arguing that movies shouldn’t have sex scenes. It’s no big surprise that people are turning away from onscreen intimacy in an era dominated by a movie formula as sexless as the Marvel blockbuster — in recent superhero flicks, protagonists might get a kiss, if they’re lucky. And it’s not just the caped crusaders who aren’t getting it on: Film researcher Kate Hagen told Playboy in 2019 that “Only 1.21% of the 148,012 feature-length films released since 2010 contain depictions of sex. That percentage is the lowest since the 1960s.”

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But there’s a rich history of erotic desire on film — one that should be celebrated, not rejected. Hollywood filmmakers learned how to convey intense sexual desire without actually showing or discussing sex during the restrictive Production Code era of the 1930s to the 1950s; starting in the 1970s, American film became franker and more sexual, and in the 1990s, the erotic thriller reached its apex. Below, you’ll find a list of 19 films, from America and around the world, that make the argument for sex on screen — all of which are better and, frankly, sexier than Fifty Shades Of Grey.

La piscine

Rialto Pictures

Where else to begin a list of erotic movies than in 1960s France? This film by Jacques Deray starred real-life exes Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as lovers whose idyllic holiday is fatally interrupted when an old friend arrives with his disastrously sexy, 18-year-old daughter. The pairs fracture and reconvene, engage in power plays and a whole lot of sex, and there’s finally a murder to cap it all off. The film was a smash hit at New York’s Film Forum in the summer of 2021 — though the film is 60 years old, its tense plot, beautiful vistas, and erotic charge haven’t aged. As programmer Bruce Goldstein explained, “It’s a vacation in the south of France that a lot of people can’t take. There’s also the incredible magnetism and chemistry of the two stars, who were real-life lovers.”

Stream on the Criterion Channel


Criterion Collection

When you think of American films from the 1970s, your mind probably goes to Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films or his friend George Lucas’ first Star Wars. In between these two poles of hyper-serious and hyper-commercial cinema, though, was Shampoo, a sex farce starring and co-written by Warren Beatty. Already known as Hollywood’s most prolific womanizers, Beatty skewered his own celebrity persona — as well as that of larger-than-life celebrity hairdresser Jon Peters — in this tale of a hairstylist who can’t keep himself from sleeping with, or at least hitting on, practically every woman that he meets.

Though there are several sex scenes in this movie, they’re often played to somewhat comic effect; the real erotic charge comes from Beatty’s undeniable magnetism. You get why everybody wants to sleep with him — and why that’s probably a bad idea. Like La piscine, Shampoo features co-stars who had previously been romantically involved with Beatty and Julie Christie, adding an additional layer of sexual chemistry and, in this case, what-could-have-been melancholy.

Stream on Showtime (or rent elsewhere)

Body Heat

Warner Bros.

Kathleen Turner made her debut with Body Heat in 1981, and her performance made such an impression that the New York Times was still calling it “jaw-dropping” nearly 25 years later. This steamy film is based on Billy Wilder’s classic 1940s noir Double Indemnity, in which Barbara Stanwyck plays the central femme fatale; here, the conniving, sexy Turner is a worthy inheritor to the legendary Stanwyck. Turner embarks on an affair with a bumbling (but also, crucially, sexy!) lawyer played by William Hurt, whom she manipulates into killing her husband. Like La piscine and many of the other great erotic thrillers that would follow, this film has a dangerous, violent edge that makes its titillation all the more charged.

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Fatal Attraction

Paramount Home Video

It’s hard to imagine an erotic thriller becoming the highest-grossing film of the year in 2022, but in 1987 that’s exactly what happened with Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction. On top of raking in over $300 million at the box office, it was nominated for a slew of Oscars. Don’t let all that mainstream success fool you, though: This is a thoroughly twisted — and erotic — movie. Michael Douglas stars as seemingly square lawyer who makes the mistake of having a one-night stand with a woman played by Glenn Close, who becomes obsessed with him, stalks him as he attempts to get away from her, and generally won’t take no for an answer. The movie isn’t exactly interested in psychological (or dramatic) plausibility, and definitely shouldn’t be looked to as an example of positive representation of mental illness. But it has a undeniably pleasurable camp quality, and, as Roger Ebert wrote in his review, the two leads “have wild, passionate sex. Their couplings take place in a freight elevator, on the kitchen sink and, I think, in bed.”

Stream on HBOMax

Basic Instinct

TriStar Pictures

Michael Douglas would appear in another smash-hit erotic thriller only a few years after Fatal Attraction — Basic Instinct, directed by master of provocation Paul Verhoeven and co-starring Sharon Stone. Douglas stars as Nick Curran, a detective investigating the death of a rock star who gets sucked into a wildly inappropriate sexual relationship with the case’s prime suspect, Catherine Tramell (Stone). The film caused controversy at the time for its extreme sexual content and its depiction of a bisexual woman as a murderous psychopath — concerns about positive representation aren’t anything new — but that content was also defended as transgressive and thrilling. (A scene in which Stone displays her vulva is still frequently referenced as shocking, because so few films and actors have followed in its footsteps.) Like many other erotic films that push the envelope, it’s a fool’s errand to try to pin down what exactly is or isn’t morally acceptable about them: What makes them thrilling is their willingness to skirt convention. (And, of course, all the sex.)

Stream on HBOMax

sex, lies, and videotape

Allstar Collection/MIRAMAX/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

When sex, lies, and videotape won the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, director Steven Soderbergh — then just 26 years old — was immediately hailed as a wunderkind. The film’s subject matter made his accomplishment even more bracing and impressive: Andie McDowell stars as Ann, an unhappy housewife who can’t bear having sex with her husband, but becomes intrigued by his friend Graham (James Spader, a key fixture of the ’90s erotic thriller boom), who derives sexual pleasure by filming women discussing their sexual experiences and fantasies. There’s not much actual sex shown in this movie, but that’s the point. The eroticism comes from the broken taboo of adult men and women who (technically) aren’t involved with each other openly and explicitly talking about their sexual desires.

Stream on Showtime (or rent elsewhere)


Republic Pictures

Unless you’re a serious fan, you probably don’t know that the Wachowski sisters’ debut film is a steamy lesbian neo-noir — at least, you didn’t until now. Unlike their later films, like The Matrix and Cloud Atlas, Bound was made on a tight budget, but its emotional stakes feel epic. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly star as two women who embark on an affair and cook up a plot to steal $2 million from the mob. Though hardly the first American film to feature lesbians as main characters, Bound was nevertheless highly unusual in its era as a mainstream movie. The Wachowskis were forward-thinking in another critical way, too: They hired feminist writer Susie Bright to work as a sex consultant on the film, a precursor to the now-standard, on-set intimacy coordinator.

Stream on Pluto (or rent elsewhere)

Eyes Wide Shut

Warner Bros./Photofest

Eyes Wide Shut immediately acquired legendary status upon its 1999 release, and not just for its explicit content: It drew attention as director Stanley Kubrick’s last film, for being over an extraordinarily long period (a whopping 400 days), and for featuring then-it-couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. The film stars Kidman and Cruise as a New York couple whose marriage begins to falter after Kidman’s character, Alice, confesses she’s considered having an affair; her husband can’t take the thought of this, and subsequently embarks on a sexual bender that culminates in a now-iconic masked orgy. This isn’t exactly a pleasurable film — Cruise’s odyssey is a claustrophobic, often hellish dreamscape — but this list wouldn’t be complete without it. It’s a defining film in the canon of on-screen sex, and as a celebrity text it’s unparalleled. (Plus, refreshingly, Nicole Kidman has since explained that Kubrick allowed her to have final say over her nude scenes in the film.)

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Y tu mamá también

IFC Films

After making Children of Men, Roma, Gravity, and of course Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón has become a legend in world cinema. But before all those came Y tu mamá también, a Mexican road movie about two teenage boys — played by a fresh-faced Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna — who somehow persuade a woman in her late 20s to accompany them on a long trip to a remote beach town. Lots of sex ensues, between all parties; the film is so explicit that the MPAA in America didn’t initially know what to make of it. After its sensational popularity in Mexico, it was released with an R rating and went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Stream on AMC+ (and rent elsewhere)


Fox 2000/New Regency

Adrian Lyne, who directed Fatal Attraction, made another splash with erotic thriller Unfaithful in 2002. In this film, Diane Lane — who would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for her performance — stars as Connie Sumner, a happy but slightly bored suburban housewife. After her chance encounter with another man (Olivier Martinez) in Manhattan leads to an affair, her husband Edward (Richard Gere) becomes obsessively jealous. The film is packed with explicit sex scenes, which immediately became a talking point upon its release — especially because Lyne and Gere both pushed back against studio demands that the Sumners’ marriage be presented as troubled or sexually unfulfilling. Connie is motivated not by reason but by pure sexual desire, which sometimes can’t be explained by reason at all.

Stream on Amazon Prime


Lionsgate Films

James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal co-star in this lightning-rod of a film — one that manages to be both deliberately provocative and, when you look a bit closer, matter-of-fact and human. Erotic thriller veteran Spader is perfectly cast as a boss who’s mortified to find himself turned on by his secretary’s submissive behavior; Gyllenhaal, for her part, approaches her character — a troubled young woman with a history of self-harm who falls deeply in love with her supervisor — with specificity and lack of vanity. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “About Spader there always seems to be some unarticulated secret hovering, and Gyllenhaal avoids numerous opportunities to make her character seem pathetic, and makes her seem plucky instead — intent on establishing herself and making herself necessary.”

Stream on Showtime (or rent elsewhere)

In the Cut

Sony Pictures

Jane Campion’s been in the news this year for her sensational new film The Power of the Dog, which explores repressed male sexuality and desire. Throughout her career, she’s also examined female sexuality, often in transgressive ways that weren’t always appreciated by audiences at the time. In the Cut, which stars Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, was a critical flop when it was released in 2003 — likely, in part, because audiences were used to Ryan as an all-American rom-com lead — but has since been championed by feminist film critics. Ryan stars as a writer who becomes sexually involved with a detective (Ruffalo) who’s investigating the murder of a young woman in her building — and whom she begins to suspect may be the murderer himself. The film is undeniably dark, and doesn’t shy away from the complicated relationship between fear and desire — and is all the sexier for it. (Ruffalo’s performance, and his surprisingly attractive mustache, don’t hurt, either.)

Stream on Netflix

The Piano Teacher

Janus Films

This film by celebrated Austrian auteur Michael Haneke stars French screen legend Isabelle Huppert as titular piano teacher Erika, a dissatisfied woman approaching middle age who embarks upon a sadomasochistic relationship with one of her students, Walter (Benoît Magimel). Huppert excels at portraying women who have buried their feelings so deep they can no longer access them, and her chilling, mesmerizing performance as Erika is one of her very best: As she tells Walter, “I have no feelings. Get that into your head. And if I ever do, they won’t win out over my intelligence.” “Thrilling in their kink and maudlin in their manner, her fixations still appear unusual,” Philippa Snow writes in Artforum, “now, they also look like prescient expressions of our alienated and dissociative age.”

Stream on The Criterion Channel

Lust, Caution

Focus Features

Ang Lee followed up his Academy Award-winning Brokeback Mountain with this big, grand swing: a three-hour-long, NC-17-rated period epic. Based on a novella by Chinese-American writer Eileen Chang, Lust, Caution tells the story of a young woman (Tang Wei) who goes undercover to seduce and assist in the assassination of a high-ranking figure (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) in the puppet government of Japanese-occupied Hong Kong. The film’s explicit sex scenes were controversial at the time of its release, but Lee insisted that they were necessary to tell the story, and the film was released with 10 minutes of graphic sexual content — which took 100 hours to shoot.

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IFC Films

Unlike most of the other films on this list, Weekend doesn’t have a ton of sex scenes — but what it does show is refreshingly frank, explicit, and realistic compared to many other on-screen depictions of queer sex. The movie, which was written and directed by Andrew Haigh and stars Tom Cullen and Chris New, is also intensely romantic. Often compared to Before Sunrise, it follows two gay men as they meet and forge an instant connection over the course of a single weekend. Russell (Cullen) is less outwardly comfortable with his sexuality than Glen (New), an artist who records interviews with the men he sleeps with. Over the course of the film, they discuss their past sexual histories, the process of coming out, and more — all while the clock ticks down to their separation.

Stream on AMC+ and the Criterion Channel

Nymphomaniac, Vol. I & II

Magnolia Pictures

Director Lars von Trier loves to scandalize — and with the two-part release of Nymphomaniac, his follow-up to the equally controversial Antichrist, he did achieved that in spades. The film features a starry cast including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe, and Uma Thurman, and tells the story of a self-described nymphomaniac, played by Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin at different stages of her life. As he is wont to do, Von Trier breaks just about every taboo imaginable in this film, filling it with scenes of sadomasochistic sex and everything else you can (or can’t) imagine. As a final provocation, in many scenes, adult film stars feature as doubles, meaning that the sex you’re watching is unsimulated.

Stream Volume I here and Volume II here

The Duke of Burgundy

Sundance Selects

This 2014 film by British director Peter Strickland was rapturously praised by critics for its style, suspense, and eroticism. It depicts the relationship between two women: a professor, Cynthia, and her student, Evelyn, who is both her maid and sexual partner. Although the relationship at first seems to be directed by Cynthia, it becomes clear that Evelyn is really the one in charge. The film is luxuriously textured and meticulously designed, at once restrained — there’s no nudity — and utterly unrestrained, depicting all kinds of kink. As Jordan Hoffman writes in The Guardian, “The Duke of Burgundy is the most tender love story you’ll see in which a woman forcefully urinates in her lover’s mouth.”

Stream on AMC+ (or rent elsewhere)

The Handmaiden

Magnolia Pictures

Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ hit 2002 novel Fingersmith shifts the story from Victorian London to Japan-occupied Korea, but it preserves the novel’s sly, twisting plot — and its eroticism. The Handmaiden follows Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a pickpocket who’s hired to spy on the wealthy Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) and facilitate her marriage to a con man. Instead, the two women fall in love — though at first it’s more like falling in lust. As it happens, Lady Hideko isn’t easily manipulated, nor is she naive when it comes to sex. At first, the film perfectly captures the longing between Sook-hee and Lady Hideko — then it shifts to explicit sex scenes, in which the women consummate their desire.

Stream on Amazon Prime


Bleecker Street Films

Like Weekend, Disobedience isn’t full of sex scenes — in fact, it only has one. But that climactic sequence, between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, became immediately iconic for showing Weisz spitting into McAdams’ mouth. The scene is electric partly because the film has earned it, and partly because it isn’t trying to cater to our ideas of how sex should look onscreen. Instead of the carefully posed tableaus that you’ll find in The Handmaiden, Disobedience prioritizes real emotion and real human bodies. In the film, Weisz plays Esti, a bisexual woman who has left London’s Orthodox Jewish community, while McAdams’ character has stayed, stuck in an unhappy marriage (to the superb Alessandro Nivola). When Esti returns for her father’s funeral and reunites with McAdams, whom she’s known since they were children, both their lives start to spiral out of control — with, for the audience, delicious results.

Stream on Hulu

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