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The 10 Best Sex Movies: A Countdown

A countdown of the greatest films ever made about the small but preoccupying part of the human experience known as sex.From coming of age lesbian dramas to gritty portrayals sex addiction to, erm, loincloths, these are movies with the most to say about doing it, compiled by one of Britain's leading film critics.
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A countdown of the greatest films ever made about the small but preoccupying part of the human experience known as sex.

From coming of age lesbian dramas to gritty portrayals sex addiction to, erm, loincloths, these are movies with the most to say about doing it, compiled by one of Britain's leading film critics.

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Because it had to start somewhere. And no, I'm not talking about flashing thighs in Busby Berkeley numbers, or Claudette Colbert's leg in It Happened One Night (1934) or Fay Wray almost topless in King Kong (1933). Instead, The Outlaw is the movie, more than any other, where the decadent and often leery subtext of Hollywood product (what is King Kong, other than an interracial sex fantasy?) comes spilling out over the surface, and encapsulates the entire project.
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Because it had to start somewhere. And no, I'm not talking about flashing thighs in Busby Berkeley numbers, or Claudette Colbert's leg in It Happened One Night (1934) or Fay Wray almost topless in King Kong (1933). Instead, The Outlaw is the movie, more than any other, where the decadent and often leery subtext of Hollywood product (what is King Kong, other than an interracial sex fantasy?) comes spilling out over the surface, and encapsulates the entire project.
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The Outlaw (1943)

Because it had to start somewhere. And no, I'm not talking about flashing thighs in Busby Berkeley numbers, or Claudette Colbert's leg in It Happened One Night (1934) or Fay Wray almost topless in King Kong (1933). Instead, The Outlaw is the movie, more than any other, where the decadent and often leery subtext of Hollywood product (what is King Kong, other than an interracial sex fantasy?) comes spilling out over the surface, and encapsulates the entire project.

 
Shame is the moment when everything collides. The art house, the S&M flick, the Oscar-worthy sex scene, the mainstream marketing hype. It's all there in Shame, a dark and grimly compelling tale of one man's increasingly insatiable appetite for both sexual fulfilment and emotional annihilation. And yes, as directed by Steve McQueen and performed by Michael Fassbender, the movie is conspicuously low on laughter. And there is, undoubtedly, a flipside Shame that lives in an alternate movie universe, and it's called The Shagger, and features the exact same characters, plot and location, but is shot mostly in daylight, with KT Tunstall playing on the soundtrack, and starring Ben Stiller. And it's pretty funny.
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Shame is the moment when everything collides. The art house, the S&M flick, the Oscar-worthy sex scene, the mainstream marketing hype. It's all there in Shame, a dark and grimly compelling tale of one man's increasingly insatiable appetite for both sexual fulfilment and emotional annihilation. And yes, as directed by Steve McQueen and performed by Michael Fassbender, the movie is conspicuously low on laughter. And there is, undoubtedly, a flipside Shame that lives in an alternate movie universe, and it's called The Shagger, and features the exact same characters, plot and location, but is shot mostly in daylight, with KT Tunstall playing on the soundtrack, and starring Ben Stiller. And it's pretty funny.
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Shame (2011)

Shame is the moment when everything collides. The art house, the S&M flick, the Oscar-worthy sex scene, the mainstream marketing hype. It's all there in Shame, a dark and grimly compelling tale of one man's increasingly insatiable appetite for both sexual fulfilment and emotional annihilation. And yes, as directed by Steve McQueen and performed by Michael Fassbender, the movie is conspicuously low on laughter. And there is, undoubtedly, a flipside Shame that lives in an alternate movie universe, and it's called The Shagger, and features the exact same characters, plot and location, but is shot mostly in daylight, with KT Tunstall playing on the soundtrack, and starring Ben Stiller. And it's pretty funny.

 
Sex is funny. We know this. Everyone who's ever done it knows this. Everyone who's ever said something really fucking stupid while they were fucking and then burst out laughing afterwards knows this. Movies, however? Not so well clued in. And the worst of them, and the ones that fall flattest on their faces, are the ones that box out completely even the tiniest possibility of humour. Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin, ramming themselves repeatedly and energetically against a concrete pillar in Sliver is one of them (they're physiologically nowhere near coitus – unless his penis is penetrating her, through her black dress, somewhere above the fifth lumbar vertebrae). Most of Basic Instinct is another (
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Sex is funny. We know this. Everyone who's ever done it knows this. Everyone who's ever said something really fucking stupid while they were fucking and then burst out laughing afterwards knows this. Movies, however? Not so well clued in. And the worst of them, and the ones that fall flattest on their faces, are the ones that box out completely even the tiniest possibility of humour. Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin, ramming themselves repeatedly and energetically against a concrete pillar in Sliver is one of them (they're physiologically nowhere near coitus – unless his penis is penetrating her, through her black dress, somewhere above the fifth lumbar vertebrae). Most of Basic Instinct is another ("Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick?" No, it's mostly ale and kebabs, Shazzer), and all of Showgirls (1995). And no, contrary to received critical wisdom, Showgirls was never meant to be funny, camp or kitsch. Director Paul Verhoeven has always claimed it was intended to be, and still is, a "beautifully shot, and elegant" movie.
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Team America: World Police (2004)

Sex is funny. We know this. Everyone who's ever done it knows this. Everyone who's ever said something really fucking stupid while they were fucking and then burst out laughing afterwards knows this. Movies, however? Not so well clued in. And the worst of them, and the ones that fall flattest on their faces, are the ones that box out completely even the tiniest possibility of humour. Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin, ramming themselves repeatedly and energetically against a concrete pillar in Sliver is one of them (they're physiologically nowhere near coitus – unless his penis is penetrating her, through her black dress, somewhere above the fifth lumbar vertebrae). Most of Basic Instinct is another ("Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick?" No, it's mostly ale and kebabs, Shazzer), and all of Showgirls (1995). And no, contrary to received critical wisdom, Showgirls was never meant to be funny, camp or kitsch. Director Paul Verhoeven has always claimed it was intended to be, and still is, a "beautifully shot, and elegant" movie.

 
Stay with me. Yes. Casino Royale. Think about it. The greatest sublimated sex scene in film history. Better than the train into the tunnel in North by Northwest (1959). Better than the chess game in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Instead, it's Bond (Daniel Craig), barely conscious and dragged into the rusty bowels of a moored torture tanker. Naked and bound, 007 is rammed into a seatless chair, forcing his balls to poke through.
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Stay with me. Yes. Casino Royale. Think about it. The greatest sublimated sex scene in film history. Better than the train into the tunnel in North by Northwest (1959). Better than the chess game in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Instead, it's Bond (Daniel Craig), barely conscious and dragged into the rusty bowels of a moored torture tanker. Naked and bound, 007 is rammed into a seatless chair, forcing his balls to poke through.
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Casino Royale (2006)

Stay with me. Yes. Casino Royale. Think about it. The greatest sublimated sex scene in film history. Better than the train into the tunnel in North by Northwest (1959). Better than the chess game in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Instead, it's Bond (Daniel Craig), barely conscious and dragged into the rusty bowels of a moored torture tanker. Naked and bound, 007 is rammed into a seatless chair, forcing his balls to poke through.

 
Kids is pretty much in its own category. For the questionably voyeuristic child-sex genre is, thankfully, a limited business, and mostly limited to the films of Larry Clark – see also Bully (2001), Ken Park (2002) and Wassup Rockers (2005). It doesn't help that, with Kids – a day in the life of teenage New York skaters, dossers, drinkers, stoners and shaggers – Clark shoots his subjects via a
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Kids is pretty much in its own category. For the questionably voyeuristic child-sex genre is, thankfully, a limited business, and mostly limited to the films of Larry Clark – see also Bully (2001), Ken Park (2002) and Wassup Rockers (2005). It doesn't help that, with Kids – a day in the life of teenage New York skaters, dossers, drinkers, stoners and shaggers – Clark shoots his subjects via a "documentary" style that borders on creepy cinematic stalking, where every lifted limb is captured, every naked profile, every panty flash noted. Neither is the subject matter going to win him any friends (Kids got a commercially damaging NC-17 rating [no children under 17] on release), especially when the film opens with odious 17-year-old protagonist Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a self-described "Virgin Surgeon", deflowering a doe-eyed 12-year-old girl, and closes with Telly's teen buddy Casper (Justin Pierce), raping stoned acquaintance Jennie (Chloë Sevigny), in her sleep.
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Kids (1995)

Kids is pretty much in its own category. For the questionably voyeuristic child-sex genre is, thankfully, a limited business, and mostly limited to the films of Larry Clark – see also Bully (2001), Ken Park (2002) and Wassup Rockers (2005). It doesn't help that, with Kids – a day in the life of teenage New York skaters, dossers, drinkers, stoners and shaggers – Clark shoots his subjects via a "documentary" style that borders on creepy cinematic stalking, where every lifted limb is captured, every naked profile, every panty flash noted. Neither is the subject matter going to win him any friends (Kids got a commercially damaging NC-17 rating [no children under 17] on release), especially when the film opens with odious 17-year-old protagonist Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a self-described "Virgin Surgeon", deflowering a doe-eyed 12-year-old girl, and closes with Telly's teen buddy Casper (Justin Pierce), raping stoned acquaintance Jennie (Chloë Sevigny), in her sleep.

 
Met Willem Dafoe recently and I asked him about Body of Evidence. The film, in which he stars as a lawyer in rainy Portland, Oregon, defending a part-time gallery owner and full-time dominatrix (Madonna) charged with murder-by-vagina, is generally derided as a giggle-inducing, all-time cinematic low. Perhaps typically, or not, Dafoe had much to defend in the film. He liked playing the bitch to Madonna's butch. He was disappointed with the marketing hype that revolved around Madonna's nudity. And mostly, he felt that Madonna became an unhelpful
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Met Willem Dafoe recently and I asked him about Body of Evidence. The film, in which he stars as a lawyer in rainy Portland, Oregon, defending a part-time gallery owner and full-time dominatrix (Madonna) charged with murder-by-vagina, is generally derided as a giggle-inducing, all-time cinematic low. Perhaps typically, or not, Dafoe had much to defend in the film. He liked playing the bitch to Madonna's butch. He was disappointed with the marketing hype that revolved around Madonna's nudity. And mostly, he felt that Madonna became an unhelpful "symbol" for the bad buzz around the film.
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Body of Evidence (1993)

Met Willem Dafoe recently and I asked him about Body of Evidence. The film, in which he stars as a lawyer in rainy Portland, Oregon, defending a part-time gallery owner and full-time dominatrix (Madonna) charged with murder-by-vagina, is generally derided as a giggle-inducing, all-time cinematic low. Perhaps typically, or not, Dafoe had much to defend in the film. He liked playing the bitch to Madonna's butch. He was disappointed with the marketing hype that revolved around Madonna's nudity. And mostly, he felt that Madonna became an unhelpful "symbol" for the bad buzz around the film.

 
Something happened with sex scenes around the millennium. They went from being slightly tawdry (Angel Heart, 1987), titillating (Risky Business, 1983) and tacky (Porky's, 1982) to dramatically satisfying and, ultimately, Oscar-worthy. Kate Winslet in 2008's The Reader (Nazi sex), Charlize Theron in 2003's Monster (serial killer lesbian sex), Michelle Williams in 2010's Blue Valentine (Gosling sex), and Maria Bello in A History of Violence (2005) got a Golden Globe nomination for dress-up as a cheerleader then a bit-of-rough-on-the-stairs sex.
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Something happened with sex scenes around the millennium. They went from being slightly tawdry (Angel Heart, 1987), titillating (Risky Business, 1983) and tacky (Porky's, 1982) to dramatically satisfying and, ultimately, Oscar-worthy. Kate Winslet in 2008's The Reader (Nazi sex), Charlize Theron in 2003's Monster (serial killer lesbian sex), Michelle Williams in 2010's Blue Valentine (Gosling sex), and Maria Bello in A History of Violence (2005) got a Golden Globe nomination for dress-up as a cheerleader then a bit-of-rough-on-the-stairs sex.
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Monster's Ball (2001)

Something happened with sex scenes around the millennium. They went from being slightly tawdry (Angel Heart, 1987), titillating (Risky Business, 1983) and tacky (Porky's, 1982) to dramatically satisfying and, ultimately, Oscar-worthy. Kate Winslet in 2008's The Reader (Nazi sex), Charlize Theron in 2003's Monster (serial killer lesbian sex), Michelle Williams in 2010's Blue Valentine (Gosling sex), and Maria Bello in A History of Violence (2005) got a Golden Globe nomination for dress-up as a cheerleader then a bit-of-rough-on-the-stairs sex.

 
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"I've never touched a man before!" It's Bo Derek as Jane, kneeling over an unconscious Tarzan (Miles O'Keeffe) in their first screen encounter after 45 minutes of solo swimming, snake-dodging and needless knocker action on behalf of Jane and her lovingly photographed breasts (photographed, I might add, by director-husband John Derek, so that's OK). Tarzan is lying on the sand in his trademark loincloth and, oddly, a funky headband. Undeterred by the outfit, Jane starts touching. "It's nice," she says, going slowly, yet directly, for the crotch. "It's very nice!"
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Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981)

"I've never touched a man before!" It's Bo Derek as Jane, kneeling over an unconscious Tarzan (Miles O'Keeffe) in their first screen encounter after 45 minutes of solo swimming, snake-dodging and needless knocker action on behalf of Jane and her lovingly photographed breasts (photographed, I might add, by director-husband John Derek, so that's OK). Tarzan is lying on the sand in his trademark loincloth and, oddly, a funky headband. Undeterred by the outfit, Jane starts touching. "It's nice," she says, going slowly, yet directly, for the crotch. "It's very nice!"

 
Art house movies. We get it. They do sex. That's their thing. From Swedish nudes in 1953 (Summer with Monika) to the butter-based penetration of 1972 (Last Tango in Paris) to crazy irascible beach-side sessions in 1986 (Betty Blue), nothing screams
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Art house movies. We get it. They do sex. That's their thing. From Swedish nudes in 1953 (Summer with Monika) to the butter-based penetration of 1972 (Last Tango in Paris) to crazy irascible beach-side sessions in 1986 (Betty Blue), nothing screams "art house" more than a smartly directed and gamely acted sex scene. Then came Blue is the Warmest Colour.
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Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Art house movies. We get it. They do sex. That's their thing. From Swedish nudes in 1953 (Summer with Monika) to the butter-based penetration of 1972 (Last Tango in Paris) to crazy irascible beach-side sessions in 1986 (Betty Blue), nothing screams "art house" more than a smartly directed and gamely acted sex scene. Then came Blue is the Warmest Colour.

 
Meet slick corporate titan James Wheeler (Mickey Rourke). He likes helicopters, cars, motorbikes, boardroom takeovers and having complete erotic control over submissive women. He was abused as a child, doesn't like to be touched, and in almost every other way possible he articulates the character template for Fifty Shades of Grey's Christian Grey. He even speaks in that same halting, slightly sick-making, so-pervy-it's-sexy (yeah, right) prose beloved of …Grey creator EL James.For example, when out for a flirtatious stroll with potential conquest Emily (Carré Otis), Wheeler suddenly falls back and starts leering at Emily's arse, Benny Hill-style. When she asks him what's up, he simply smiles, super cool, half-winking at the boys in the audience, and sighs,
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Meet slick corporate titan James Wheeler (Mickey Rourke). He likes helicopters, cars, motorbikes, boardroom takeovers and having complete erotic control over submissive women. He was abused as a child, doesn't like to be touched, and in almost every other way possible he articulates the character template for Fifty Shades of Grey's Christian Grey. He even speaks in that same halting, slightly sick-making, so-pervy-it's-sexy (yeah, right) prose beloved of …Grey creator EL James.

For example, when out for a flirtatious stroll with potential conquest Emily (Carré Otis), Wheeler suddenly falls back and starts leering at Emily's arse, Benny Hill-style. When she asks him what's up, he simply smiles, super cool, half-winking at the boys in the audience, and sighs, "I just like watching you walk!" Wow, what a ladykiller!
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Wild Orchid (1989)

Meet slick corporate titan James Wheeler (Mickey Rourke). He likes helicopters, cars, motorbikes, boardroom takeovers and having complete erotic control over submissive women. He was abused as a child, doesn't like to be touched, and in almost every other way possible he articulates the character template for Fifty Shades of Grey's Christian Grey. He even speaks in that same halting, slightly sick-making, so-pervy-it's-sexy (yeah, right) prose beloved of …Grey creator EL James.

For example, when out for a flirtatious stroll with potential conquest Emily (Carré Otis), Wheeler suddenly falls back and starts leering at Emily's arse, Benny Hill-style. When she asks him what's up, he simply smiles, super cool, half-winking at the boys in the audience, and sighs, "I just like watching you walk!" Wow, what a ladykiller!

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