Films where the erotic/romantic/sexual tension between people fills the majority of the plot. The eroticism can be done to arouse the audience or to shock them with its explicitness. It appears both as Rule of Drama
and/or Rule of Funny
, sometimes even within the same work.
Erotic films have existed since the invention of the medium near the end of the 19th century.
Because of their nature, these pictures were kept out of the mainstream
and until the 1960s could only be seen in private collections or during stag parties. Don't think these were just innocent films with people showing their ankles underneath their skirts: they featured all the nudity and more explicit stuff that you see today. Throughout the first half of the 20th century films already had sex symbol actors and actresses and played with risqué content, but after The Hays Code
set in 1934 all movies were made more chaste until the early 1960s. As the sexual revolution sweeped Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s many countries legalized erotic and pornographic films. This lead to more nudity and sex scenes in mainstream films than ever before, even bringing porn movies into major film theaters. The arrival of the home video by the end of the 1970s and Internet by the start of the 1990s made erotic films even more widely and instantly available.
Despite being more prominent today erotic film is still subject to a lot of derision, dissapproval and misunderstanding. While Erotic Literature
has gained some artistic recognition over the decades for leaving more to the imagination of the audience and having time for plot and character development erotic films are often dismissed as being too much Fanservice
, Explicit Content
for the sake of being explicit or Porn Without Plot
. Some directors have tried to elevate the status of the nudity or sex in their film, creating an eternal discussion of It's Not Porn, It's Art
that still goes on to this day.
: TV Tropes doesn't allow articles about porn. So we don't discuss such films here. Below we've summarized an index of erotic films that were primarily pitched as not
being pornography (even though some of the content might in effect be the same as in pornography) but artistically meaningful films. They can easily be identified by the following characteristics:
- They have actual titles, that aren't usually just references to what acts or performer characteristics are featured. For example, Basic Instinct or Last Tango in Paris as opposed to Anal Adventures 10 or Barely Legal College Girls.
- They are shown in normal film theaters and on cable TV channels that aren't specifically devoted to porn.
- Usually everything is filmed on a higher budget, with better production values and more care and attention to the story.
- Every titillating scene has a purpose and it usually takes way longer before the characters share an erotic moment together.
- The camera work, lighting, set decoration and music are all done in a creative and inventive way.
- Many erotic films are based on an erotic novel and/or an actual historical event.
- Sex scenes can be explicit, but don't have to be. Usually the eroticism is more subtle, simulated and actually filmed with some effort and passion, making it romantic for some couples to watch.
- Erotic films can be funny, but they are different from a Sex Comedy - the genre where Rule of Funny and Naked People Are Funny and Vulgar Humor are in effect rather than Rule of Drama. For such films: see Sex Comedy.
- Another way to distinguish erotic films from porn is that most erotic films have some serious drama involved. The eroticism is meant to be enjoyed or provoke thought about relationships in general. Alternately, it can be meant to make some sort of an artistic or dramatic statement and can be served up alongside severe angst or outright Nausea Fuel or Nightmare Fuel, being so unerotic and unsexy that viewers (or viewers without very niche fetishes, anyway) wouldn't even think of it as anything but True Art Is Angsty or True Art Is Incomprehensible or Crossing the Line Twice.
- If you are still confused as to whether something belongs here - if it was originally promoted on the basis of being artistic (anything from a big-budget blockbuster to an indie film), it likely does. If it was originally promoted as primarily to help the viewers have A Date with Rosie Palms, it likely doesn't. The best way to identify it is to look at the cover of your DVD. Most porn is always rated X or Only for people of 18 and older.
Examples of well known erotic films:
- 9 Songs (2004): Half concert film, half erotic sex film. Very much on the line of It's Not Porn, It's Art.
- 9˝ Weeks (1986): A romantic drama film about a New York City art gallery employee who meets a mysterious man who subjects her to various sexual practices that push her boundaries. A certain eating scene spawned many tributes and parodies.
- All Things Fair (1995): Affair between a 37-year-old teacher and her 15-year-old student.
- L' Amant (1992): Based on the eponymous novel by Marguerite Duras.
- Bad Timing (1980): A thriller by Nicolas Roeg about cop investigating a tryst between a psychiatrist and a married woman that led to an overdose by the latter.
- Basic Instinct (1992): An infamous erotic thriller by Paul Verhoeven starring Sharon Stone about a woman accused of committing murders based on her best-selling novels and a police detective who can't resist her.
- Belladonna of Sadness (1973): Deeply bizarre anime film about a formerly innocent young woman who makes a Deal with the Devil (which involves sex with the devil) and becomes a Hot Witch.
- Belle de Jour (1967): A film by Luis Buñuel, based on the erotic novel by Joseph Kessel.
- Betty Blue (1986): A passionate affair between a would-be author and his fiery, unstable young lover.
- Body Heat (1981): A neo-noir thriller starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.
- Body of Evidence (1993): An erotic thriller starring Madonna, which nevertheless flopped.
- Bolero (1984): A romantic drama starring Bo Derek about a woman determined to find the right man for her first sexual encounter.
- Blue Valentine (2010): An independent drama film about the doomed marriage of the protagonists as it plays out toward its end. Notable for having been cut and recut in the United States due to an explicit scene of simulated oral sex on a woman - which led to a small controversy regarding NC-17 ratings being given to media depicting female orgasms, while male orgasms could sometimes pass with an R rating if there was no visible "money shot."
- Brokeback Mountain (2005): One of the first mainstream drama films to revolve around a gay romance and include a consensual gay sex scene (as opposed to one Played for Laughs as Queer People Are Funny or a gay rape scene played for Black Comedy Rape / Rape as Drama.) Most of the eroticism is kept romantic and not explicit.
- The Brown Bunny (2003): An arthouse film drama noteworthy for the controversy around it (involving a Flame War between Vincent Gallo and Roger Ebert) and being one of the few art films to feature unsimulated oral sex.
- Café Flesh (1982): Artistically surreal erotic movie with an actually clever satirical plot that even manages to be Fan Disservice. It got picked up by mainstream theaters, received good reviews by respected film critics and became such a cult classic that it was even included in Danny Peary's third edition of Cult Movies
- Color of Night (1993): An erotic mystery film starring Bruce Willis and Jane March.
- Ecstasy (1933): A horny wife, an impotent older husband, a handsome young engineer, Hedy Lamarr topless...
- Emmanuelle (1973): The most succesful erotic film franchise of all time, based on the eponymous novel by French author Emmanuelle Arsan. It became an international blockbuster phenomenon that launched Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel's career and inspired countless sequels and rip-offs. Was listed in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies too.
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999): The final film by Stanley Kubrick. An erotic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman that got banned or censored in many countries. Even the USA screened a digitally censored version of some scenes. Not particularly erotic or arousing at any point and most of the story is more about the protagonists' own paranoia and obsessions.
- Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965): Campy road movie by Russ Meyer starring big breasted women and nothing more explicit than that.
- Flaming Creatures (1963): Avant-garde experimental black-and-white homosexual and travesty movie. Deemed to be obscene by a New York Criminal Court at the time.
- Fifty Shades of Grey (2015): Movie adaptation of the best selling erotic novel.
- God's Own Country (2017): A Yorkshire sheep farmer and a Romanian migrant worker develop a gay relationship. As with Brokeback Mountain, Most of the eroticism is kept romantic and not explicit.
- Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975): The most famous Nazisploitation film ever.
- Intimacy (2001): Erotic film by Patrice Chéreau about a man and a woman who have casual weekly sex with each other without knowing each other's name. Gradually the man falls in love with her and wants to know more about her...
- In the Realm of the Senses (1976): Infamous French-Japanese film about the historical nymphomaniac murderess Sada Abe. Banned in many countries, including Japan. Yet it received positive reviews from many respected critics, including Roger Ebert, and was added to the Criterion Collection.
- The Italian Stallion (1970): The better known title of the originally titled "The Party at Kitty and Studs". Forgettable low-budget soft erotic movie that only gained notoriety for starring the then unknown Sylvester Stallone.
- Kaboom (2010): A softcore-erotic Indie film with strong LGBT themes by noted "New Queer Cinema" director Greg Araki.
- The Kiss (1896): According to today's norms this would not qualify as an "erotic film", because all it features is a man kissing a woman. But at the time this picture was the first example of a movie with an erotic theme (kissing) and it caused an immediate scandal. People deemed it "pornographic" and wanted to have it banned. For that reason alone it deserves to be mentioned.
- Lady Chatterley's Lover (1955; 1981; 1993; 2006): The infamous novel by D.H. Lawrence, banned for almost 35 years in the United Kingdom, has been filmed several times, but there is no definitive best-known version. The 1981 version starred Sylvia Kristel, the star of Emmanuelle.
- Last Tango in Paris (1972): An erotic film starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.
- Lust, Caution (2007): Historical film set in early 20th century China, with some erotic scenes. Directed by Ang Lee, also director of Brokeback Mountain.
- The Night Porter (1974): Controversial erotic film about the sado-masochistic love affair between a Nazi camp commander and a concentration camp survivor.
- Odd Obsession (1959): An aging, impotent husband pushes his hot young wife into an affair with his doctor, because it turns him on.
- Original Sin (2001): A mystery thriller about a Cuban businessman who realizes that his American wife, with whom he's passionately in love with, may not be who he thinks she is.
- Secretary (2002): A comedy-drama about a young woman who takes a job as a secretary for a demanding lawyer and soon enters upon a BDSM relationship with him.
- Shame (2011): A Slice of Life drama about a sex addict and his life as it spirals out of control due to his addiction and the resulting Jerkass behavior. Got enthusiastic reviews by many renowned film critics, including Roger Ebert.
- Shortbus (2006): Film about anorgasmia and a woman exploring her bisexual nature, featuring a few erotic scenes that made the film notorious.
- Showgirls (1995): Drama film set in the striptease business of Las Vegas. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Was a huge flop, but became a cult classic later.
- Sirens (1993): An Anglican minister (Hugh Grant) is a guest in the house of a bohemian painter, and his wife (Tara Fitzgerald) has a sexual awakening brought on by the painter's three lovely and frequently naked models.
- Sliver (1993): An erotic thriller with Sharon Stone, William Baldwin and Tom Berenger that was received as a forgettable flop. Based on the novel by Ira Levin.
- The SM Judge (2009): A Belgian erotic drama film based on the true story of a judge and his wife who were framed because of their sado-masochistic relationship.
- Spetters (1980): A Dutch film by Paul Verhoeven about a group of three young men who spent their lives with drinking, drugs, sex and visiting a disco nightclub.
- The Story of O (1975): "L' Histoire d' O." in French, a soft erotic S&M drama film, based on the famous erotic novel by Pauline Réage (Anne Desclos).
- Supervixens (1975): Another Russ Meyer film that features his innocent attraction to women with big breasts.
- Turkish Delight (1973): Original Dutch title: "Turks Fruit". Based on the erotic novel by author Jan Wolkers, this was film director Paul Verhoeven's breakthrough film. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and is regarded as a classic in the Netherlands. In 1999 it was named "Best Dutch movie of the Century" and in 2007 entered into the official Dutch film canon.
- Vampyros Lesbos (1971): Lesbian vampire film directed by Jesus Franco, notable for its cult soundtrack.
- When Will I Be Loved (2004)
- Y Tu Mamá También (2001): Mexican road movie and drama film featuring some notable sex scenes.