SecretaryArguably the best, most balanced mainstream film about an S&M relationship, Secretary is what Fifty Shades should be and almost assuredly is not.
James Spader is the dominant boss (coincidentally named Grey) and Maggie Gyllenhaal the submissive secretary who embark on a set of dominant/submissive games in the workplace and out. Yet, the film is more about their growing passion for each other and what each gets out of the relationship, and not mere kinky titillation for the sake of it.
It’s an oddly gentle, generous film that treats its subject with seriousness as well as a healthy dose of humor, and is definitely worth a watch.
Last Tango In ParisA very different look at a very complex relationship, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris is notorious with good reason. It tells of an anonymous relationship between Paul (Marlon Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider), founded on sex and the refusal to know anything about each other, including names.
Their relationship becomes increasingly darker, devolving eventually into violence, but the film refuses to flinch away from the more unpalatable aspects of their sexual games. As much about human psychology as sexual practices, it is a strange, dark, and hypnotic film.
NotoriousNotorious manages to create steamy scenes without ever violating the stringent Production Code of the time.
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are the lovers in this spy adventure directed by Alfred Hitchcock, their romance forced into an unhappy triangle when Bergman has to marry Claude Rains in order to foil a Nazi plot. Among the most famous scenes is the extended kiss that Hitchcock only got past the censors by breaking it up with discussion of what to have for dinner.
There is such seething passion in this film that it’s a wonder it ever passed the Code.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!If the bondage aspect of Fifty Shades is what gets you, try Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, featuring Antonio Banderas as a man who kidnaps a porn star in the hopes of convincing her to marry him. When she refuses, he takes the obvious romantic step of tying her up.
As with most Almodovar films, the story takes many funny and slightly disturbing twists, but never loses sight of the fact that with all their weirdnesses, these two people are made for each other.
The Last of the MohicansIf romance is more your style, it’s difficult to go wrong with Michael Mann’s gorgeous version of The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye and Madeleine Stowe as Cora, the woman he loves.
In a romance played out via looks and simple physical proximity, The Last of the Mohicans is both epic and intimate in scope. Scarcely less passionate is the relationship between Uncas (Eric Schweig) and Alice (Jodhi May), although their relationship never gets past the looking and not-touching stage.
The film is excellent proof that you don’t need explicit sex scenes to be sexy.
Don't Look NowDon’t Look Now is a sexy movie that is also not just about sex (those do exist, you know).
Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are bereaved parents who move to Venice to try to rebuild their marriage following the loss of their young daughter. There, they become embroiled in a psychological struggle that includes disturbing murders and a growing conviction that their dead child is not actually dead.
But Don’t Look Now is most famous for its intense, extended love scene that spawned the rumor that Sutherland and Christie were having real on-screen sex. It’s one of the most emotional and raw sex scenes in cinema – and the movie is pretty good, too.
The Postman Always Rings TwiceIf you must have some wild (and floury) sex, you can check out the remake of this film that starred Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. But just as good – in fact, better – is the film that introduced the world to Lana Turner and her legs.
The Postman Always Rings Twice has it all: illicit sex, a sweaty summer, and the murder of a spouse or two, as Lana enlists John Garfield to do all kinds of dirty work. She’s a dangerous woman, though, and poor John gets more than he ever bargained for.
Sea of LoveAl Pacino and Ellen Barkin are the lovers in Sea of Love, made more complicated by the fact that he’s a cop and she’s a suspected serial killer. That doesn’t stop them from having a wild time in the bedroom, though it does put a damper on their relationship.
It’s Pacino and Barkin at the height of their careers, a chance to see two great actors in one illicit relationship. And despite the somewhat overbearing 80s soundtrack, Sea of Love has an emotional intensity that is hard to match.
Out of SightBack before she was getting it on with the boy next door, Jennifer Lopez did a few good movies. One of the sexier ones is Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight.
Lopez is a U.S. Marshall chasing down charming thief George Clooney, and falling for him in the process. There’s undoubted heat between Lopez and Clooney as they feel each other up in the trunk of a car, and then later seduce each other over dinner. Their relationship remains ambiguous, though, as their romantic games are complicated by the fact that she’s also trying to arrest him.
While hardly explicit, Out of Sight is very very sexy.
Body HeatA partial remake of 1944’s Double Indemnity, Body Heat cranks things up a bit by tossing in plenty of very sweaty sex.
William Hurt is a slightly stupid lawyer drawn into a murder plot by Kathleen Turner, who proves once and for all that she’s a worthy successor to Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner. Everyone but the leading man knows that she can’t be trusted, but that doesn’t stop him from participating in the murder of her husband.
Billed as an “erotic neo-noir,” there’s no question that it’s one of the sexiest thrillers ever made, even if the leading man is dumber than a bag of rocks.
Cat on a Hot Tin RoofWhile pretty much any movie based on a Tennessee Williams play will fit the bill, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is notable because it has Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor trying to pretend that they don’t want to jump into bed.
Newman and Taylor are a once happily married couple who’ve had a falling out – and now he refuses to have sex with her. Set within an unfolding family drama, the film features drawling Southern dialects and building sexual tension as repressed emotions and memories surface to explain why a man would not want to go to bed with Liz Taylor.
You can almost smell the sweat in this movie, and for once that’s a good thing.