The success of Fifty Shades of Grey proves that sex does indeed still sell - with a worldwide gross of $569 million, plus the record for highest opening weekend in a February ($85 million), no one can contest the value of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
By June of 2015, the book alone had been translated into more than 50 languages and had sold over 125 million copies. The film also garnered a storm of negative press centered around the reportedly unhealthy relationship between the protagonist and her dominant partner. Exactly how healthy was the relationship between Christian and Ana? While the question is still up for debate, one thing is certain: people still found it hot. If sales were to determine the validity or legitimacy of a literary work’s or film’s content, there is no doubt that Fifty Shades has the stamp of approval of audiences worldwide.
However, behind Fifty Shades lies an incredible wealth of sexy, boundary-pushing film. In fact, some of the first films ever made were images of sexuality or were vaguely adult in nature. Because of the long history of sex on screen, it’s hard to imagine that Fifty Shades was a film entirely without peers. And, in fact, it isn’t. So, to help illuminate the path to cinematic eroticism, here are 10 erotic films that are better than Fifty Shades of Grey.
Secretary is probably the film on this list that most closely resembles Fifty Shades. Lee Holloway (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is hired as a secretary by an attorney (James Spader) who, coincidentally, is named E. Edward Grey. The two of them, due in part to Gyllenhaal’s character’s inadequate secretarial skills, develop a deep and intricate BDSM relationship.
9 Blue Is the Warmest Color
Blue Is the Warmest Color tells the story of a young girl, Adèle, in the midst of a sexual awakening. Frightened initially by her homosexual desires, Adèle and Emma begin a relationship despite backlash from her friends. Over time, the two find their relationship not as fulfilling as it once was - though throughout the film, a special note of eroticism is reached.
It has been said of the film that it feels like barriers have been removed around the young lovers, and that their flesh becomes more familiar than our own as viewers. This level of intimacy is important to the film, since the ultra-closeups used during sex scenes make it hard to distance oneself from the action on screen.
8 In the Realm of the Senses
A feature length masterpiece by Nagisa Oshima, In the Realm of the Senses tells the tale of a young, sexually active youth who becomes employed by a traditional Japanese brothel, only to fall deeply in love with one of the main proprietors, thus beginning their tangled journey of erotics, fetish, and betrayal.
7 Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II
One of the more well-known films on this list, Nymphomaniac (which is actually two films, totalling over 4 hours) tells the story of Joe, a girl played masterfully by Lars von Trier’s unofficial muse Charlotte Gainsbourg, as she fumbles her way through life as a sex addict.
A hyper-volatile sexy thrill ride, I.K.U. tells the story of a sex robot named Reiko (played variously by different actresses), who ventures out into Tokyo nightlife to collect orgasms, which then are resold to the public in pill form that give the user a sexual high catered exactly to their liking.
Sailors. Brothels. Knives. Cardboard backdrops. Graffiti phalluses. Ever want a look into gay male sexuality in the late 70s and early 80s? Here it is. Based on the 1947 novel “Querelle de Brest” by Jean Genet, Querelle tells the story of Georges Querelle, a sailor on leave and in search of his brother in a town known for its strange sexuality.
This is the harrowing tale of a sex addict living in New York City. Played masterfully by Michael Fassbender, Brandon Sullivan must negotiate his way through his family and friends, avoiding every inch of intimacy he can. Though more haunting than arousing at times, McQueen has created a nuance of sexuality that draws the audience in like a car crash - it’s hard to look away. If anything, the sexuality of Shame serves as a gateway into the damage that addiction can cause on an individual. But for fans of Michael Fassbender, it’s a must-see.
You’re married. You’re unhappy. Your husband, though handsome, does not satisfy you anymore. He doesn’t even try. What do you do? You discover what true romance can be—getting tied up by your boss.
2 Under the Skin
This 2014 thriller by Jonathan Glazer stimulates in multiple ways. The star, Scarlett Johansson, is known for her vaguely risqué films, having been called a modern-age Marilyn Monroe by websites such as Harper’s Bazaar. But Johansson has come a long way since Lost in Translation.
Bilitis is a beautiful French romantic drama by photographer Davil Hamilton. Perhaps better described as a softcore pornographic film, it tells the story of young Bilitis (Patti D’Arbanville) as she spends the summer with friends of her father, accidentally falling in love with her female caretaker. Through experimenting with various school friends and a few young men she meets along the way, Bilitis struggles to come to terms with herself as a sexually mature partner. Because of Hamilton’s career as a photographer, the film plays like an art piece rather than a narrative drama—a beautiful, enticing, subtle journey into adolescent sexuality, a young girl desperate to grow up.
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