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 swept through 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, disapproval, 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.
Editing Rule: 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.
- If you see an erect penis, it's porn.
- 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 masturbate, 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:<!—index—>
- 9 Songs (2004): Half concert film, half erotic sex film. Very much on the line of It's Not Porn, It's Art.
- 9½ 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.
- 365 Days (2020): The boss of a Sicilian mafia family kidnaps an executive and gives her 365 days to fall in love with him. Based on a best-selling Polish erotic novel.
- This Day (2022): The sequel to the above film, also based on a book. This one adds a love triangle.
- 28 Hotel Rooms (2012): The entire film revolves around the affair between an unnamed man and woman over multiple years, with the two having several explicit scenes of sex/nudity.
- Age of Consent (1969): A middle-aged artist is drawn to the gorgeous young woman who models nude for him. First of two Australian erotic films inspired by the life of Norman Lindsay.
- All Things Fair (1995): Affair between a 37-year-old teacher and her 15-year-old student.
- 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.
- Basic Instinct 2 (2006): The sequel of the above film.
- 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.
- Benedetta (2021): A historical film directed by Paul Verhoeven about a love affair between two nuns in a convent in 17th century Italy.
- Betty Blue (1986): A passionate affair between a would-be author and his fiery, unstable young lover.
- Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
- 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."
- 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.
- 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): An 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 (star of L' Amant).
- Compulsion (2016): A thriller about Sadie, an American erotic novelist, entering a relationship with Italian Francesca at an old villa after leaving her boyfriend, with dangerous and mysterious activities there being revealed.
- Deep End (1970): A cult thriller about a 15-year-old boy who falls for an older coworker at a London bath and then becomes dangerously obsessed with her.
- Dressed to Kill (1980): A faithless wife is pursued by a Creepy Crossdresser serial killer; the serial killer then targets a High-Class Call Girl.
- Ecstasy (1933): A horny wife, an impotent older husband, a handsome young engineer, Hedy Lamarr topless...
- Emmanuelle (1973): The most successful 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.
- Embrace of the Vampire (2013): A timid and sheltered teen has just left an all-girls Catholic school for a new life at a co-ed university, but an ancient evil has followed her here, tormenting her with disturbing nightmares and tempting her with forbidden desires. It is a hunger that can only be satiated by sensual pleasures of the flesh...and a thirst for blood.
- Exposé (1976): A British erotic thriller starring Udo Kier and Linda Hayden.
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999): The final film by Stanley Kubrick. An erotic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, depicting a doctor's infiltration of a secret society's orgies, 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, depicting a literature student's relationship with a billionaire S&M enthusiast.
- Full Body Massage (1995): An entire TV movie that consists of a very sexy rich lady getting a naked massage, while she and her masseuse talk about life and love and their pasts.
- Gate of Flesh (1964): Five hookers in the ruins of post-war Tokyo, often scantily clad, who have only one rule: never give it away to a man for free. That rule is tested when a handsome, muscular soldier returns from the war and winds up staying with them.
- 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.
- Guilty of Romance (2011): A Japanese erotic Thriller.
- Half Moon Street (1986): An American academic living in London decides to moonlight as an escort.
- The Handmaiden (2016): Based on the novel Fingersmith with a Setting Update to 1930's Korea. A thief/conwoman is hired to be a handmaid to a Japanese heiress, to help a conman seduce her then steal her fortune, but finds herself falling In Love with the Mark. There is a long and explicit sex scene between the two women, as well as other sexual content such as antique Japanese pornography, though the main focus is on mystery and romance, and some of the sexual stuff is disturbing rather than titillating.
- Henry & June (1990): About the relationship between novelist Henry Miller, his wife June, and diarist Anaïs Nin in 1930s Paris.
- House of the Sleeping Beauties (2006): A man goes to a bizarre brothel in which all the High Class Call Girls are drugged into unconsciousness.
- The Hypnotized (2004): A psychiatrist grows obsessed with his sexy, mentally disturbed patient, and takes sexual advantage of her while she's in hypnotic trance.
- I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967): This film about an idealistic young Swedish socialist who goes on a tempestuous affair with her new boyfriend is an odd mixture of leftwing agitprop and explicit nudity and sexual content. It was banned in the United States before a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court allowed it to be shown in theaters.
- Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975): The most famous Nazisploitation film ever.
- Indecent Desires (1968): A Sexy Secretary doesn't know what to do when she starts feeling ghost hands caressing her and stimulating her. The real reason is a local weirdo who has gotten a Voodoo Doll of the secretary, that he keeps touching in inappropriate ways.
- 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, in part due to its sex scenes being unsimulated. Yet it received positive reviews from many respected critics, including Roger Ebert, and was added to the Criterion Collection.
- Jeune & jolie (2013): The movie depicts the life of seventeen years old Isabelle who chooses to embrace a life of prostitution.
- Kaboom! (2010): A softcore-erotic Indie film with strong LGBT themes by noted "New Queer Cinema" director Gregg Araki.
- Kiss (2006): Three young women, friends and students at an art college, go on journeys of sexual discovery.
- 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; 2022): 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, depicting an abusive affair between a grieving American widower and a much younger Parisian.
- Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020): The film focuses on Margot first having casual sex with men almost constantly, and then getting into a relationship with Yakuza member Kazu, which is oddly more healthy.
- The Loft (2014): An erotic thriller about an illicit affair gone wrong.
- Love (2015): A twisted love story about a hedonistic young American living in France and the fallout from the three-way him and his girlfriend have with their new neighbour. Notable for its numerous sex scenes, all unsimulated.
- The Lover (1992): Based on the eponymous novel by Marguerite Duras.
- Lust, Caution (2007): Historical film set in early 20th century China, with some erotic scenes. Directed by Ang Lee, also director of Brokeback Mountain.
- A Man with a Maid (1975): A Victorian aristocrat buys a former madhouse and converts it into a "love nest". Unknown to him, Jack the Ripper lives in secret passages lining the building.
- The Night Porter (1974): Controversial erotic film about the sado-masochistic love affair between a Nazi camp commander and a concentration camp survivor.
- The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill: Kissey Hill, the daughter of a notorious madam in 19th Century London, follows in her late mother's footsteps with prositution in catering to various upper class gentlemen.
- 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.
- Poison Ivy (1992)
- Poison Ivy 2: Lily (1996)
- The Ribald Tales of Robin Hood (1969): A tale of Robin Hood, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham with far more bare breasts than normal.
- Room in Rome (2010): A romantic dramedy about Alba (a Spanish woman) and Natasha (a Russian woman) spending the night in a hotel room together, where they have sex repeatedly, along with spending a good amount of time naked or in scant clothing otherwise, with the film focusing almost entirely on their erotic connection.
- 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.
- Sensation (1990): An erotic thriller about a college professor who enlists a student with psychic abilities to find out who murdered his lover.
- 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. Second of two Australian erotic films inspired by the life of artist Norman Lindsay.
- Slave Widow (1967): Japanese film in which a newly widowed young woman finds herself more or less forced into being The Mistress of a sleazy businessman. An erotic film but not as lurid as the English title implies.
- 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 sadomasochistic 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).
- Stripped to Kill (1987): An erotic thriller/sexploitation film about a female Los Angeles police detective who goes undercover posing as a stripper to investigate a series of slayings connected to a strip club.
- Supervixens (1975): Another Russ Meyer film that features his innocent attraction to women with big breasts.
- Teorema (1968): A handsome young man comes to stay with an upper-class family and awakens sexual desire in all of them, males and females, even the maid.
- 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.
- Two Moon Junction (1988): A young Southern débutante sees herself abandoning her posh lifestyle and upcoming marriage to have a lustful and erotic fling with a rugged drifter who works at a local carnival.
- Vampyros Lesbos (1971): Lesbian vampire film directed by Jesus Franco, notable for its cult soundtrack.
- The Voyeurs (2021): A young couple becomes obsessed with watching another young couple, in the apartment building across the street, having sex.
- When Will I Be Loved (2004)
- Wild Cactus (1993): Frustrated, lusty wife held hostage by murderous criminal and his bisexual moll.
- Young & Wild (2012): A film about teenage bisexual girl Daniela, who's strong sexual desires clash with her strict Evangelical family and the restrictions they put on her. She blogs about her sexuality constantly, while having relationships with a man and woman at the same time, whom Daniela feels torn between. Daniela's sex scenes with both of them and sexual fantasies are frequent.
- Young Lady Chatterley II (1985): Cynthia, the new lady of Chatterley, feels neglected by her husband. During his absences, she tries to amuse herself with gardener Thomas, but always gets interrupted by new visitors.
- Y tu mamá también (2001): Mexican road movie and drama film featuring some notable sex scenes.