The 40 Best Movies About Sex Ever Made

The 40 Best Movies About Sex Ever Made

Boogie Nights (1997)

sex movies

New Line Cinema

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights is maybe the ultimate “sex movie.” Loosely based on the real-life story of John Holmes, the film follows a nightclub worker’s adult film rise during the Golden Age of Porn. This is sex truly seeping into art and making everyone ask: but is it art?

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American Pie (1999)

sex movies

Universal

Unlike PTA’s above classic, the pie hasn’t aged all too well; like most R-rated sex comedies of the 90s and early aughts, the drives were all carnal, the lubricant alcohol, and the manner of consent, well, sometimes a little fuzzy. Still, American Pie made a big impact on the genre and, ripe or rotten, is still one of the most iconic films on this list.

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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

sex movies

Warner Bros.

Stanley Kubrick’s final film is also his most erotic and sensual. If you’ve only seen images of Tom Cruise and a mask orgy, well, that’s from Eyes Wide Shut, where Tom Cruise … attends a masked orgy. Kubrick originally got the rights for the story (based on 1926 Austrian novel) in the 1960s. We doubt the film could have taken the same form back then, but we’re happy Kubrick got the chance to make it. He died shortly after filming.

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Don Jon (2013)

don jon

Voltage Pictures

Arguably, the most personal form of sex is the type you have with yourself, and Don Jon artfully explores the burden of expectations on one’s sex life and beyond. Written, directed, starring (and probably inspired by) Joseph Gordon Levitt, the multi-hyphenate filmmaker plays Jon Martello, a womanizing playboy who has to come to terms with his unhealthy relationship with pornography. The film is about sex, but like everything with sex, the film is really about connection and how constant immersion in fantasy can numb one to life’s pleasures, like having sex with Scarlett Johansson (Barbara Sugarman).

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9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

kim basinger and mickey rourke

Warner Bros.

Decades before Fifty Shades of Grey, Mickey Rourke fed a blindfolded Kim Basinger strawberries, chocolate, and honey in the scandalous 9 1/2 Weeks. As Wall Street arbitrageur John Gray (Rourke) and SoHo art gallery worker Elizabeth McGraw (Basinger), the pair engages in a sordid sadomasochistic affair that blurs the line between sexual assault and uninhibited passion in a way that could be a bit cringey. The movie was so shocking for the time it was heavily edited for its theatrical release and was traumatic for the leading lady.

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Belle de Jour (1967)

sex movies

Allied Artists Pictures

Had Kubrick directed Eyes Wide Shut in the ’60s, it might have been the more toned down (though still erotic for its time) Belle de Jour, a film about a French woman who, unable to be intimate with her husband, decides to become a high class prostitute. The film unpacks all kind of sexual fantasy, which would have likely been censored in most countries only a decade or so earlier.

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37° 2 Le Matin (1986)

sex movies

Gaumont

Basic Instinct (1992)

sex movies

Canal +

While the film is often remembered for its nude scenes that made a sex symbol of Sharon Stone, the film is also just a straight up great crime thriller. R-rated sex movie or not, Basic Instinct works on several other genre levels.

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

portrait of a lady on fire

Hold Up Films

Few movies in recent history delicately capture the intimacy of painting someone like French director Céline Sciamma’s stunning Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is tasked by La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) to surreptitiously paint her daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) to attract a male suitor. Due to Héloïse’s reluctance to being painted for the sole purpose of marrying her off, Marianne must memorize parts of her body from their daily walks to paint her when she’s not around. Eventually, the pair grow close and defy 18th-century standards on sexuality by expressing their love through sex. Their sex and sexuality are a subtext of the entire movie and are a rebellious act of liberation from puritanical values. And it all unfolds as the painter intimately learns her subject’s body until the connection is too strong to ignore.

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American Beauty (1999)

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Dreamworks Pictures

Booty Call (1997)

booty call jamie foxx

Sony Pictures

Come for the questionable foot foreplay; stay for the salient lesson on the importance of contraceptives in this ’90s classic. Two horny bachelors— Rushon Askins (Tommy Davidson) and Bunz (Jamie Foxx)— have the wildest night trying to have sex with two savvy women—Lysterine (Vivica A. Fox) and Nikki (Tamala Jones)— on a double date that ends with both of the guys covered in plastic wrap as a form of safe sex and one of them almost accidentally castrated.

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Shame (2011)

sex movies

Fox Searchlight Pictures

We’re gonna go out and say it: Steve McQueen’s exploration of sex addiction is maybe the best film on this list. It captures, in its incredibly lean run time, everything related to its titular emotion, and it features knockout performances by leads Michael Fassbender and Carrey Mulligan, all set to an arresting soundtrack. Never will you feel more alone than when watching this movie. We recommend you watch by yourself.

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La Pianiste (2001)

sex movies

ARTE

Based on the novel of the same name, The Piano Teacher tells of a woman who enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with her piano student. While the storyline might sound a bit … pornhub, the film features standout performances by both actors and garnered much critical praise upon release. It’s the psychosocial erotic movie done right.

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Nymphomaniac (2013)

nymphomaniac

Zentropa Entertainments

Written and directed by provocative auteur Lars von Trier, Nymphomaniac is one of the most brutally honest explorations into sex addiction you will ever watch. Following self-professed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin) in different stages of her life, she recounts the dangerous maze of sexual experiences that range from adolescent sex competitions with strangers on a train to depressively being aroused staring at her abusive father’s dead body. With a star-studded cast featuring Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, William Dafoe, Christian Slater, and an early appearance from X star Mia Goth, Nymphomaniac tears sex open and magnifies the darkest complexities you usually won’t see, and how destructive it can indeed be to a person.

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Stranger by the Lake (2013)

sex movies

Les Films Du Worso

Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake features a nude beach, sexual passion, a drowning, and more passion. As with Basic Instinct it works just as well as a thriller—with, at its rapidly beating heart, a lot of artful sex. Guiraudie took home the director’s award at Cannes for this gem.

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Last Tango in Paris (1972)

sex movies

Les Productions Artistes Associés

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando premiered to public controversy and would eventually be released with an X rating (now NC-17), the most adult of the MPAA rating scale. While the film features sexual violence, which would very much make it not a “best sex movie,” the focus on the two protagonist’s sexual union remains cinematically unparalleled; it caused the kind of uproar to solidify the film’s place in the history of sex in cinema. In many ways, it made many other films on this list possible.

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How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

how stella got her groove back

20th Century Studios

How Stella Got Her Groove Back is the quintessential movie in the sexual liberation movement among Black women in the ’90s. 40-year-old stockbroker Stella Payne (Angela Bassett) falls in love in Jamaica with a 20-year-old local islander with an incredibly unbelievable name, Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs), on a trip meant to rejuvenate her self-image. The positive depiction of an older Black woman having sexual agency is paramount to the movie’s lasting legacy, but Diggs’ bare butt appearing during their steamy shower sex scene didn’t hurt either.

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Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

sex movies

Quat’sous Films

Prudish controversy apparently never goes away. Adbellatif Kechiche’s film was controversial for many reasons, including a very explicit sex scene between the two lead characters. But for a coming of age film about discovered sexuality, what do you expect? Unlike Call Me By Your Name, which tends to put a blanket over actual sexual contact, Blue Is the Warmest Color goes there and nests the scene in an epic of a bildungsroman. It’s not smut; it’s goddamn art.

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Moonlight (2016)

moonlight

A24

There’s not a lot of sex in Barry Jenkins’ tender coming-of-age story because there doesn’t need to be to show how it can change one’s life. Following the maturation of Chiron, played in different stages of his life by Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert, Moonlight artfully depicts how a young Black man’s struggles with his sexuality reverberate later in life. Teenage Chiron and teenage Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) share a kiss before Kevin gives Chiron a handjob, an intimate moment adult Chiron tearfully explains was the last time he was able to be intimate with anyone. Moonlight proves a film doesn’t need to be littered with sex scenes to show the complex consequences of the act.

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In the Mood for Love (2001)

sex movies

Block 2 Pictures

From explicit sexual contact to the heart-aching anticipation of sexual contact: Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (part of an incredible love trilogy, including Days of Being Wild and 2046) finds two neighbors drawn closer and closer in to one another. The cinematography will make you fall in love and then step on your heart.

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Headshot of Joshua St. Clair

Joshua St. Clair

Assistant Editor

Joshua St Clair is an Assistant Editor at Men’s Health Magazine. 

Headshot of Keith Nelson

Senior Editor

Keith Nelson is a writer by fate and journalist by passion, who has connected dots to form the bigger picture for Men’s Health, Vibe Magazine, LEVEL MAG, REVOLT TV, Complex, Grammys.com, Red Bull, Okayplayer, and Mic, to name a few.  

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