Mainstream movies are supposed to be, well, mainstream. There is a world of difference between “mainstream” and skin flicks. Or is there? If a movie is to be shown in commercial movie theaters in the US, it must be rated. A movie is assigned a rating, with “G” being for General audiences and “R” (Restricted) and “NC-17”, meaning the content is for those over 17 years old. Movies with R and NC-17 ratings means nudity and sex scenes, strong language, maybe even drug use. Beyond R there are skin flicks with their graphic, if not always scintillating, s*x scenes. The goal of films like the ones on this list is to push R rating to its extreme limits. To stay barely mainstream.
It will come as no surprise that the films on this list are rated R due to the raunchiness of their subject matter. From same s*x love to adultery and threesomes, here are 13 mainstream films that can be said to be barely legal. When they came out, they tested and pushed the boundaries of what was considered mainstream to extremes and often barely managed to land a mainstream R rating.
13. Chloe – 2009
In 2009 this depiction of same gender love and lust was sensational. The bedroom scenes with Amanda Seyfried (Chloe) and Julianne Moore (Catherine) are hot and heavy. The body parts on display are impressive, so the plot doesn’t really matter. Suffice it to say that Catherine hires Chloe to test her husband’s fidelity and ends up bedding her. In a bizarre twist, Chloe ends up in the sack with Catherine’s son. And then, after threatening Catherine with her diabolical looking hairpin and a final kiss, Chloe falls to her death. In the end, you are left more than a little uncertain about Catherine’s feelings when she turns up at her son’s graduation wearing Chloe’s hairpin.
12. Eyes Wide Shut – 1999
One of the DVDs to look out for is the uncut version of Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick’s last film, set among orgies and mask-wearing secret societies was a cracker. Imagine Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, nude scenes galore, and mask-wearing kinky types. Based on a 1920s German erotic novella, it is set in 1990’s New York. Rated R in the US, its nude scenes were edited and sanitized by Warner Brothers in order to squeak it in with an R rating. Hence the search by many for the uncut version. It was deservedly a box office and critical success.
11. Last Tango in Paris – 1972
Marlon Brando one quipped: “don’t ask me what Last Tango in Paris is about”. He is a grieving widower who lusts for a young Maria Schneider. And what the movie is about is the kind of anonymous sexual binge the two go on after they encounter one another in an empty apartment they both want to rent. They continue to meet in the empty apartment, and there are wall scenes, floor scenes and bathtub scenes. They don’t even tell one another their names, and the ending is not a happy one. Made by Italian art house director Bernardo Bertolucci, it is a true erotic drama. It had to be considerably cut and edited to achieve an R rating.
10. Secretary – 2002
There are times in this erotic romance, like when the boss covers a desk with hay and straps a saddle on the back of the “Secretary”, that this film borders on silly. But they are self-pleasuring scenes and BDSM galore. The plot doesn’t matter, and the characters are few. But the interactions are intense. It starred Maggie Gyllenhaal as a submissive secretary dominated by a domineering boss played by James Spader. Suffice it to say, her submission drives him wild. Despite the whole thing being spoiled by a kind of Hollywood happy ending, it is still totally watchable, and not just for the body parts and strong language (but they help).
9. 9 1/2 Weeks – 1986
It’s a young Mickey Rourke and a young Kim Basinger, and according to The Telegraph, the leading lady was put through hell by the film’s English director, Adrian Lynne, in order to realistically portray a sadomasochistic affair. It was The Fifty Shades of Grey of its day. The grittiest sex scene was shot under gushing water on concrete steps in seeming darkness. The camera cuts in and out while we are shown bodies intertwined. By today’s standards, it’s not so raunchy, but back in the 80s it pushed the R rating to its limits.
8. Basic Instincts – 1992
This 1992 film was controversial on two levels: namely, its depiction of s*x and violence. For obvious reasons, it made Sharon Stone a huge star. The steamy scenes with Michael Douglas, a violent suspended cop who suspected she was a brutal murderer, together with its depiction of same gender love, caused controversy and led to huge box office success. The chemistry and tension between Douglas and Stone brings a sexy, dangerous edge to their scenes together. Sharon Stone has since claimed that the leg crossing scene was filmed without her knowledge.
7. Blue is the Warmest Color – 2013
They meet for the first time in a gay bar. One self-pleasures herself to thoughts of the other. It is a deeply erotic, coming of age film that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And its depiction of sexuality was criticized as too raw for mainstream. Adele is a shy French high school student who makes love to a boy and then becomes obsessed with Emma (of blue hair), an older art student. Their affair is indeed raw and riddled with violence and it is very hard to watch at times. The French director, Abdellatif Kechiche, has been slammed by the female leads and the French press for his treatment of his stars during filming. But the end result is a film that is a very good, if not great.
6. Wild Things – 1998
This film starring Kevin Bacon and Denise Richards, pushed the R rating to a breaking point. At the time, its steamy scenes, particularly one with a man and two women, was criticized as too graphic for mainstream film. A high school counselor and two students run a scam whereby the girls accuse the man of assault, only to recant their accusations, leading to a huge settlement on the counselor by the girl’s wealthy parents. Scenes of same gender love, violence and murder, provide a heady, dangerous mix.
5. Shame – 2011
In between X-Men movies, Michael Fassbender played a New York s*x addict whose rhythm is interrupted by a visit from his wayward sister (Carey Mulligan). Fassbender’s character Brandon, is so addicted to sex, that he is disassociated from his every day life. His addiction is destructive and the movie is full of nudity, steamy scenes, the “f” word, and even drug use. It is a moody, quiet film directed by Steve McQueen in which the graphic erotic content is balanced by emotional honesty and, at the end of the day, some hope.
4. Body Heat – 1981
A remake of the classic 40s film noir Double Indemnity, Body Heat sees a sultry Kathleen Turner (Matty) seducing lawyer William Hurt (Ned) purely because she wants her rich husband killed so she can inherit his fortune. And she wants him to do the job. Eventually, Hurt’s lawyer character obliges. The plot is full of twists and turns, but for our purposes, we need only note that the absolute stand out performance comes from a sublimely physical, confident Kathleen Turner. The early seduction scenes with Hurt are dynamite and caused a fair amount of controversy. You know she is up to no good, but somehow want her to succeed. The film launched Turner as a major star.
3. Henry and June – 1990
It’s 1931, Paris. Henry Miller (who wrote the classic novel Tropic of Cancer) was married to June (played by Uma Thurman). Hence Henry and June. Based on a French memoir by Anais Nin, it tells the story of Nin’s involvement with Henry and June. Bored with marriage, Nin is drawn to the bohemian couple. First, she has an affair with Henry. Then, she pursues June. The movie’s graphic love scenes were controversial. At the end of the day, Nin returns to her husband, leaving Henry and June’s already fragile relationship in ruins. Beautifully filmed, this dark, steamy and graphic NC-17 film, received an Oscar nomination (for cinematography).
2. Weekend – 2011
Leaving a drunken party with straight friends, Russell heads to a gay club and picks up Glen, for a one night stand. The sexual scenes between the two men are hot, steamy and increasingly tinged with emotion. In between, the two talk and learn about their very different lives. Russell, it turns out, is conflicted about being gay. And Glen is about to leave for America. As the two wait for Glen’s train, emotions run high. But, at the end of the day, they part. And, if not at peace with his gayness, Russell comes to accept it. What started as a random hookup becomes a turning point in his life.
1. Don’t Look Now – 1973
You have to get used to a young Donald Sutherland (President Snow in The Hunger Games) with dark, Afro-style hair acting alongside a young Julie Christie, in this supernatural horror film. They play a couple, who are painfully grieving the death of their young daughter, on a trip to Venice. There are psychics, dire predictions, strange sighting, and lots of steamy scenes between Sutherland and Christie. It is a hot, truly scary film, with so many twists and turns that viewers are exhausted at the end. It caused quite a stir, not so much for its supernatural elements, but because of the steamy scenes between its two young stars.