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Last week Universal Pictures and Beyonce dropped the first trailer for the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, a trashy novel of Twilight fan fiction that somehow turned into a genuine cultural phenomenon. In case you’re unaware – I’m jealous of you, incidentally – the book focuses on Anastasia Steele, a mousy young woman who turns into the sexual plaything of Christian Grey, a disturbed sadomasochistic playboy who gets away with it because he’s rich and handsome. I’ve never read the novel; in fact, the closest I got was during a roadtrip when my buddy would excerpts from the book with goofy accents. It went down a lot like this:


By all accounts, Fifty Shades of Grey is a terrible novel. It has been rejected by critics, feminists, and even the BDSM community. For a more detailed account of how terrible it is, here’s a hilarious/snarky takedown from Britt Hayes over at ScreenCrush. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s an indicative excerpt:

I know it’s fiction, but we live in a culture with women’s magazines that cultivate these neurotic women who over-analyze every non-incident in a relationship –and subsequently provide articles on taking relationships too seriously and how many times it’s okay to text/e-mail a guy before you look insane. Anastasia is Cosmopolitan’s target reader.

So even though everyone agrees it’s terrible, the film is going to become a huge hit because you and me both won’t want to miss the conversation (if the novel’s biggest fans are sexually unsatisfied middle aged women, partial blame goes to their prudish husbands who will not go down on them).

But I digress. Since I cannot stop you from seeing Fifty Shades of Grey – and believe me, I wish I could – I can at least steer you towards movies with actual eroticism, instead of a regrettable mix of melodrama, emotional torture, and bad porn. Most of these movies are streaming on Netflix, so next Valentine’s Day please consider cuddling on your couch with your loved one instead of paying $12 for this well-groomed horse shit.


What’s the deal: Released several years ago and only added to Netflix recently, this French drama focuses on a middle-aged journalist (Juliette Binoche) who is researching high-end prostitutes for an article. She’s unhappy with her children and her husband, so the prostitutes inspire her to take brazen steps in order to re-discover her sexuality.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: Writer/director Malgorzata Szumowska may not be subtle, but her film understands the trappings women often face. This one is chock full of nudity, including from Binoche who somehow grows more stunning with age, and it’s a terrific example of how the mid-life crisis is not always about a new plaything, whether it’s a trophy wife or a sports car.

Don’t Look Now


What’s the deal: Directed by Nicolas Roeg, Don’t Look Now is a thriller about an unhappy couple who try to save their marriage after their child drowns accidentally. They pick up the pieces of their relationship in Italy, where they’re both terrorized and intrigued by visions of the dead child.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: While it works on its own as a thriller, Don’t Look Now is infamous for its sensual, protracted sex scene. It’s between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, by the way, and who knew he could be so fucking hot? If most porn is shot like an exercise video, here’s how a talented director gets it right.

Stranger by the Lake

What’s the deal: This thriller is about a young man who spends his holiday cruising at a lakeside resort. He fucks random dudes, and strikes up a relationship (of sorts) with an older man who turns out to be a psychopathic murderer. Attracted to the danger and paralyzed by fear, the young man struggles with how he should proceed.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: There is simply no way Fifty Shades will have this much sex in it. Stranger by the Lake is full of sex scenes, all between men, and it includes at least two cum shots (from what I remember). It’s also the sort of thriller Hitchcock would admire, as it’s full of long takes, tense close-ups, and gnawing suspense.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover


What’s the deal: This one is somewhat notorious since it received an X-rating from the MPAA (it was released prior to NC17). Starring Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren, it’s about a monster of a man and the lengthy revenge his wife has for him. It involves sex, of course, and also the kind of passion that’s rarely captured on film.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: The short answer is that young Helen Mirren oozes eroticism more than all current IT-girls times infinity. The slightly longer answer is that director Peter Greenaway has a unique sense of style and cinematography, one that translates into a film defined broad, powerful feelings like lust and rage.


What’s the deal: Sally Potter is one of my favorite filmmakers, and her approach to sexuality is sophisticated yet relatable. In Yes, arguably her best film, an unhappy middle-aged wife finds a lover in a Lebanese cook. Oh, it’s worth noting that the entire film is written in iambic pentameter, the language of Shakespeare, so it sounds lyrical and poetic in a way that most films do not.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: Before they even sleep together, the man and woman realize that the build-up is better than the release. There’s a scene that happens at a dinner table that’s so god damn steamy you may have to hit pause and take care of yourself afterward.

House of Pleasures

What’s the deal: This is yet another French drama – yes, French filmmakers are less prudish than their American counterparts – that centers around a brothel at the turn of the century. The Madame takes care of her girls, up to a point, so it’s fascinating look at where camaraderie ends and exploitation begins.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: Unlike Ana, a diminutive woman who constantly submits to her abuser, these women know that they’re doing. The costumes and production values are stunning. As an added bonus, director Bertrand Bonello includes some incongruous songs classic rock tunes to make the brothel seem vibrant, modern. House of Pleasures ends with a brutal shot about the state of the modern sex worker, so the preceding action strikes an odd, powerful balance between nostalgia and admonishment.

Lust, Caution


What’s the deal: Ang Lee made this thriller a few years after Brokeback Mountain, and it’s rated NC17 for its intense sex scenes. Set during WW2, it is about a young revolutionary who spies on her enemy, only to be seduced by him.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: Ang Lee is a master craftsman, and his sex scenes are unafraid to show the awkward gymnastics of getting two bodies to fit (there’s a lot of male nudity, too). This is not mere exploitation: he shows two people who become emotionally and physically involved, so there are real stakes when the inevitable betrayals occur.

Tuesday, After Christmas

What’s the deal: In the past decade, there has been a proliferation of terrific slow-burn films from Romania, and this one is from that low-key tradition. It centers on a classic love triangle – a man, his wife, and his lover – and has the patience to watch the drama unfold with relentless realism.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: When creating an erotic scene – or even a dramatic one, for that matter – character development matters more than beauty. The characters in this film do no act like melodramatic automatons, and the director takes the time to hash out their nuanced feelings. The film is also full of long takes, giving ample opportunity to see just how two lovers might communicate.

Blue is the Warmest Color


What’s the deal: This film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but now it’s (arguably) better known for its overlong sex scene between two young women. It’s a three hour relationship saga, full of lust, love, and heartbreak. While the male gaze dominates the director’s style, he has sympathy for his fully realized characters.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades: No parsing words here: the sex scene might as well be pornography. It is long, it is intense, and it feels reel (the actors did not use their real genitals). When I saw the film, a few people walked out of the theater. Frankly, if there are no walk-outs in a movie that’s ostensibly about sex, then the filmmakers haven’t done their job.

I Am Love


What’s the deal: Tilda Swinton stars in this sweeping melodrama about a Russian-Italian woman whose world is upended after she falls in love with her cook, a younger man. She still loves her family, especially her children, and Swinton’s unhappiness becomes a catalyst for defiant rage against patriarchal family dynamics.

Why it’s sexier than Fifty Shades:  Tilda speaks perfect Italian AND Russian in this one – holy shit, you guys – and writer/director Luca Guadagnino gift for bold gestures elevates the movie so it’s uncommonly moving. There’s a lovely scene her Tilda and her lover go for a hike, and the shots of nature are a metaphor for the  simmering emotion between them.  The seductive score for the film, clearly inspired by Philip Glass, only adds to the considerable tension.

There you have it, folks: ten steamy movies that are assuredly sexier than Fifty Shades of Grey. This phenomenon will not go away any time soon, and with any luck, the inevitably dissatisfied audience will look elsewhere to see just how hot it can be when two lovers are each other’s equal, and know how to push the other’s buttons in just the right way.