Since the beginning of the 20th century, the magic of the silver screen has been capturing the interest of all demographics. Back then, this new art form gave us a previously unavailable escapist outlet for all our dreams, fears, and desires. The movie medium gave us a chance to explore and live someone else’s life. And so, authors and moviemakers began to show us all sorts of controversial things and ideas.
Unfortunately, the scene soon became oversaturated with cheap and generic plots. Predictability was always the trope of the mainstream, not just the cinema. But, amid all the uninspired titles came more diverse and exploitative pieces of art.
Our article aims to list a few of the most sexually provocative movies of all time that successfully broke the mainstream. Let’s get to it!
9 ½ Weeks
Although BDSM is no longer a subject of taboo, there was a movie that tackled the controversial topic way before “Fifty Shades of Gray.” Adrian Lyne’s “9 ½ Weeks” was a groundbreaking Hollywood flick, starring A-list actors of its time, Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. Unfortunately, it was a box office bomb, meaning it made way less money than it cost. But in the following years, it became a cult classic, reminding people of scenes the mainstream still lacks.
The film tells the story of a young and successful woman who falls for a handsome Wall Street yuppie. Even if the synopsis doesn’t sound that radical, Mickey Rourke’s character is. John Gray is a man who’s into full-on kinky sex that he projects on the young and naive Elizabeth McGraw. His desires and fetishes soon become borderline obsessive and dangerous, making the climax of the movie thrilling and suspenseful.
“9 ½ Weeks” is full of (for that time) deviant sexual acts. It shows sex and nudity almost like porn would, making it a hot ride with Kim’s and Mickey’s looks. The steamy sex scene where Elizabeth strips for John still holds up perfectly. And if you add to that high-end ‘80s fashion, scenography, and great directorial vision, it’s no wonder why we put it on this list.
The second film on our list is “Basic Instinct.” Fresh off “Total Recall’s” success, the legendary Dutch director Paul Verhoeven brought us a modern noir classic. Unlike “9 ½ Weeks,” Verhoeven’s movie was a huge box office hit. It’s still a favorite for the newer generations who were a bit too young to watch it when it came out.
The film features a story of a police detective investigating the murder of a rock star in San Francisco. But the plot begins to develop once Michael Douglas’ character begins an erotic affair with the prime suspect, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). “Basic Instinct” was one of the most sexually controversial Hollywood movies of its time. The reason for that was the scene where Stone crosses her legs and shows the camera what’s between them.
Verhoeven is no stranger to violence and gore (cf. “RoboCop”), but this time he took things even further. The movie shows a violent scene of rape. Also, at the time, gay rights activists would complain about it because, in their eyes, it showed queer relationships as obscure and weird. Either way, the movie is still a must-watch for anyone looking for nudity and violence.
Even if we now know Paul Thomas Anderson for masterpieces like “There Will Be Blood,” his second film is still one of the most sexually provocative movies shown in the theaters. Yup, we’re talking about “Boogie Nights.” This period piece tells the story of a fictional porn actor, Dirk Diggler, during the golden age of the adult industry.
An expansion on his earlier short mockumentary, “Boogie Nights” employs an all-star cast including Marky Mark, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many others. It’s full of quirky, comical moments Anderson is known for, but in reality, it’s a dark and depressing story. Nonetheless, a movie about porn is certainly not lacking sex and controversy.
Sure, it’s not “Brown Bunny” or “The Last Tango in Paris,” but we’re talking about mainstream movies. Showing scenes of full-on sex, gangbangs, and blowjobs to your ordinary movie-going audiences is still somewhat unthinkable. You can’t but wonder how interesting it would have been if social media was available in the late nineties.
Eyes Wide Shut
Talking about controversial Hollywood movies and not mentioning Kubrick would be more than shameful. The now late daddy of cinema’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” is a confusing visceral and dreamy erotic thriller. It’s a tale of a broken marriage mixed with a sex cult. The film draws inspiration from a 1926 novella “Dream Story.”
The co-writer and director Stanley Kubrick got two A-list Hollywood stars to play in his movie. Both Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were at the top of their game. Not only acting-wise but also with their looks. People still talk about the orgy scene in the latter half of the movie, which makes it one of the most controversial films in American cinema.
A secret society, masks, perversions, and Stanley Kubrick — what could go wrong? Well, nothing. People didn’t get it. They wanted a straight story with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. Unlucky for them, the movie was never about real-life and mundane. “Eyes Wide Shut” is psychological, unlike Marvel superhero movies.
The last film on our list had to be “Brokeback Mountain.” For a movie to show full-on gay sex and explore queer relationships is still somewhat controversial. And sure as hell, Ang Lee’s romantic drama stirred lots of homophobic cages back in 2005. “Brokeback Mountain” is one of the prime examples of how good both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are as actors.
Unfortunately, Ledger is no longer with us. But knowing that he starred in one of the most controversial Hollywood movies of all time remains somewhat of a comfort. It’s a complex emotional story of two cowboys falling in love with one another. Their lives revolve around an unforgiving society and a time when homosexuality was deviant and punishable by law.
Unlike most films on this list, “Brokeback Mountain” was critically acclaimed. It’s still a perfect example of how queer cinema doesn’t have to be associated with John Waters and old exploitation art movies. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Waters. He’s a legend no matter what. But our interest was, once again, in mainstream Hollywood pictures, and “Brokeback Mountain” was just that.
You could say why [name of the movie] was controversial and wilder than the picks on our list, but that wasn’t the point. Once again, we’re here for mainstream flicks. Sure, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” by Alfonso Cuaron has wild scenes, but it’s not a major Hollywood movie. You can add “Blue Is The Warmest Color” and “Stranger by the Lake,” but they’re French films.
That doesn’t mean we don’t suggest you see them. Moreover, we think they’re great movies worth your attention. But this time, we were all about domestic art. Either way, we strongly recommend all five movies we’ve listed to anyone looking for a shocking yet erotic and emotional ride, alone or with a lover.