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33 Sexiest Erotic Thrillers of All Time
When it comes to adulthood, there are few things more complicated and nuanced than sex. Maybe taxes, but that’s not nearly as enjoyable. Yes, sex is fun, but it also can be a whole litany of other things, including a little bit dangerous. Perhaps that’s why auteurs have fallen back on combining sex with a bit of thrill (sometimes to the point of horror… you know, do you what you’re into, with consent). Turns out, there’s quite a few films that do that, in fact.
So we wrangled a list of them together—films that bridge the distance between eroticism and thrill, without diverging into full smut. The best films use sex scenes and eroticism and intimacy with a shade of nuance. They highlight the vulnerability of sex as opposed to all the grunting and thrusting that porn is so good at. And what you’re left with is a list of movies that can pique your sexual curiosity, get your heart pumping, and still make you feel like you watched something decent.
So turn the air condition down a bit to keep things comfortable, snuggle up with someone who’s down with a touch of dirty, and check out this list of some of the sexiest erotic thrillers ever.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Beside the fact that it’s an excellent film, the sexual tension in The Talented Mr. Ripley is beyond palpable. Starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Matt Damon, the film follows Tom Ripley—a common man tasked with bringing back a wealthy playboy to the States in the 1950s. He travels to idyllic Italy, but it soon becomes apparent that Ripley is far more menacing than initially perceived, and he’ll do anything to either be or have the man he is supposed to be fetching.
You should not fuck with robots. You should not fuck robots. You should not robots, period. Ex Machina is stereotypically A24-level beautiful, but it’s equal parts sexy and terrifying as two men, a programmer and a tech company’s CEO, come to learn that the invention they’ve created—a gorgeous robot by the name of Ava—is far more powerful than the two initially believed. Let’s just say she’s no Alexa.
Desire is a dangerous thing, be it for professional aspirations or personal ones. Black Swan dives deep into the world of ballet, pitting Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis against each other as much as it throws them together. Sensual, intense, and deeply disturbing, the feature from Darren Aronofsky is somehow sexy in a way that is borderline troubling. It will also ensure that you don’t pick at your fingernails ever again,
Be prepared to do some reading after you finish this famously complicated and mind-boggling thriller from auteur David Lynch, which skewers Hollywood with its offbeat humor and dark cautionary themes. While Lynch’s neo-noir focuses mostly on an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) playing amateur detective upon her arrival in Los Angeles, the film features a notorious lesbian love scene between Watts and her co-star, Laura Elena Harding.
Not to be confused with the Oscar-winning movie about how everyone in Los Angeles is secretly racist, thisCrash is directed by David Cronenberg and based on J. G. Ballard’s cult novel. The film stars James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, and Rosanna Arquette as a group of people with a very particular fetish: they get turned on by car crashes.
Richard Gere bared all in this thriller written and directed by iconoclast Paul Schrader. Gere stars as Julian, a suave and sophisticated male escort living in Los Angeles who begins an affair with a wealthy women (played by Lauren Hutton). But when one of his regular clients is murdered, Julian is the prime suspect—and he must prove his innocence while avoiding a similarly deadly fate.
Ang Lee followed up his acclaimed romance Brokeback Mountain with another controversial film: an erotic espionage-themed drama in which a Chinese woman sets out to seduce a Japanese official in an attempt to assassinate him.
Stranger by the Lake
Franck is a handsome young man who spends his idle summer days on a lakeside beach that’s serves as a popular cruising spot for gay men. He spots another gorgeous man he’s like to know, but his affections are complicated when he witnesses the object of his desire drowning another man in the water—which begins a complicated, psychosexual love affair.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
A remake of the 1946 noir film (based on James M. Cain’s classic novel), this David Mamet-penned adaptation stars Jack Nicholson as a drifter who begins a steamy affair with a woman who runs a roadside diner (Jessica Lange). As their chemistry burns with passion, so does their nefarious plan to murder the woman’s husband.
Body of Evidence
Coinciding with the pop performer’s Erotica phase, Body of Evidence stars Madonna as a woman who is charged with the murder of her lover—who died from erotic asphyxiation. Willem Dafoe plays her lawyer, who cannot help but become entangled by her sadomasochistic charms.
Color of Night
Bruce Willis plays a damaged former psychologist who finds himself attracted to a mysterious woman, who fulfills his most erotic desires. While the relationship becomes manipulative, it also becomes dangerous—as the former doctor is stalked by his patient’s murderer who will stop at nothing to kill him before he discovers their identity.
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in this complex murder mystery from acclaimed auteur Pedro Almodóvar. A director in Madrid meets a mysterious actress, who turns out to be his childhood best friend (and crush) Enrique. The two begin a psychological journey into their troubled pasts in a twist-filled Spanish noir.
Director David Cronenberg is most interested in making his audience squirm, and there’s no better example than this creepy and bizarre thriller in which Jeremy Iron plays a pair of twin gynecologists (yep, you read that right) whose brotherhood is tested in deadly ways when they both fall for the same beguiling woman.
After a young American woman living in Vienna overdoses on pills, a detective investigates to see if the event was a suicide attempt. He soon discovers that she was having an fraught affair with a psychology professor (played by Art Garfunkel)—an affair that sparked a sexual obsession.
Sharon Stone stars as a recently divorced woman who moves into a new swanky apartment in New York. She soon becomes romantically involved with two of her neighbors: a handsome man who’s spying on the building’s residents, and a novelist who may also be a murderer. Things get sexy, but they don’t end well for anyone.
Single White Female
After breaking off her engagement, Allie (Bridget Fonda) is in need of a roommate in her giant Manhattan apartment. She finds Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) through a personals ad and offers her a room. But their comfy relationship turns bizarre when Hedy becomes obsessed with Allie—an obsession that turns deadly.
A serial killer is stalking and murdering gay men in New York City, and Al Pacino’s detective must go undercover in the dark underbelly of the S&M scene to find him. William Friedkin’s thriller was controversial upon its release, but it’s become a cult classic that also serves as a striking time capsule of pre-AIDS queer life.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller, David Fincher’s film is a dark and brooding look at a modern marriage masked as a bloody thriller. When Amy Dunne disappears, her husband Nick is the obvious suspect. But amid a media frenzy that blows apart his life, Nick discovers that his wife is hardly the women he knew and loved.
Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar play two bored, horny, super-rich step-siblings who shamelessly flirt with each other while scheming to destroy the morality of a prim and proper classmate played by Reese Witherspoon. This teen-centered adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses isn’t as deep as its source material, but hey: you don’t need Cliffs Notes for this one.
Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a small-time private detective in New York City who takes an assignment from a mysterious man named Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing singer called Johnny Favorite, who disappeared before World War II. Angel’s investigation takes him to New Orleans, where he encounters plenty of people who have seen Favourite—but all of whom wind up dead. Meanwhile, he meets a voodoo priestess played by Lisa Bonet, and learns that Cyphre might be hiding a shadowy secret himself.
Wild Things is notorious for two things: Kevin Bacon’s exposed penis and a threesome between Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, and Matt Dillon. The latter is mostly an excuse to feature then-unknown Richards topless. Despite its mainstream soft-core nature, the movie is an otherwise overwrought, trashy neo-noir.
Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith gets a South Korean adaptation in Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller. At the height of the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, the young Sook-hee is hired as a handmaiden for Lady Hideko, a Japanese heiress. What Hideko doesn’t know, however, is that Sook-hee is in cahoots with Count Fujiwara, who plans on seducing Hideko and stealing her fortune—but Hideko has dark motives of her own.
Paul Schrader directs this remake of Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 thriller. Nastassja Kinski stars as Irena, a young woman who is visiting her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) in New Orleans. After Irena falls in love with a zoologist named Oliver (John Heard), Paul reveals to his sister that they are, in fact, werecats—and she must mate with another of their species to prevent her ultimate transformation. Thus begins a deadly game of cat-and-human as Irena and Oliver must outsmart Paul—and prevent Irena’s evolution into a deadly leopard.
Brian De Palma often turned to Hitchcock for inspiration, paying homage to one of cinema’s greatest auteurs with splash an flair—and plenty of seductive and sexy plot twists. Femme Fatale is no exception. The film stars Rebecca Romijn has a jewel thief who double-crosses her partner and assumes a new identity after a major heist during the Cannes Film Festival. Years later, her quiet life is turned upside down when her partners in crime track her down.
Sea of Love
Al Pacino plays New York City detective Frank Keller, who is investigating a string of murders—the victims of which are men who wrote lonely hearts columns in a local weekly magazine. When Keller writes his own column in order to nab the killer, he meets an alluring and beautiful suspect played by Ellen Barkin. Naturally, Keller falls for the woman—despite the fact that she may indeed be the killer he’s looking for.
The Last Seduction
A smoldering Linda Fiorentino plays Bridget, the beautiful wife to a handsome and successful doctor (played by Bill Pullman). When she convinces her husband to sell a batch of medicinal cocaine to some drug dealers, Bridget takes off with the cash—revealing herself to be a manipulative crook who targets men to fund her peripatetic lifestyle. Soon she meets another man while hiding out in a small town, who she plans to convince to protect her against her ex-husband.
In the Cut
Meg Ryan sheds her America’s Sweetheart status for this psychological thriller from Oscar-winning writer-director Jane Campion. Ryan plays a New York City schoolteacher named Frannie who embarks on a sexual awakening with a cop (Mark Ruffalo), who’s attempting to solve the murder of a young woman whose body turned up outside Frannie’s apartment. Soon, Frannie’s sexual journey turns dark and unnerving as she questions her lover’s motives—and her own.
Here’s a sexy parable for you. Dan (Michael Douglas) has brief weekend affair with a stranger named Alex (Glenn Close) when his wife and daughter are out of town. Dan thinks it’s a one-time fling. Alex, on the other hand, will stop at nothing until Dan’s hers and hers alone, and she stalks the family man until their relationship meets violent ends.
The Wachowski siblings burst on the scene with this sexy crime thriller featuring Gina Gershon as an ex-con who seduces the wife of her crime boss neighbor. The women conspire to steal $2 million from the mobster—but first, Gershon and her co-star, Jennifer Tilly, engage in some sexy scenes choreographed by feminist social critic Susie Bright.
Eyes Wide Shut
In Stanley Kubrick’s final film, then-husband-and-wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman played a pair of Manhattanites whose relationship is tested when the wife reveals her deep sexual fantasies concerning another man. In retaliation, the husband wanders throughout the night and eventually finds himself in a country mansion at a masked ball—that soon turned into an Illuminati-esque orgy.
Brian De Palma pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Vertigo with this sexy, voyeuristic thriller. A down-on-his-luck actor discovers that his girlfriend is cheating on him and accepts a fellow actor’s invitation to housesit in his luxe modern home in the Hollywood Hills. Soon he becomes entranced with his neighbor: a woman who strips in front of her window every night. But his growing obsession leads him down some dark and twisted paths, and soon he’s suspected of murder.
Lawrence Kasden might very well have directed the last great American noir film with this ’80s Double Indemnity of sorts featuring William Hurt as a pretty dim lawyer and Kathleen Turner as the requisite femme fatale. While its complex plot harkens to the old-fashioned films of the genre, Body Heat ups the ante with hot and heavy love scenes that would’ve made Barbara Stanwyck blush.
Paul Verhoeven’s neo-noir is one of the most infamous erotic thrillers of all time, featuring some crazy sex between its lead actors and a notorious nude scene from Sharon Stone. The actress stars alongside Michael Douglas as a bisexual crime novelist whose boyfriend winds up murdered—stabbed to death with an ice pick in bed, mirroring a plot from one of her novels. Douglas’s detective investigates the sultry blonde femme fatale and gets closer than he intended—putting his own life at risk.
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