In the past five months of isolation, lockdown, and touch starvation, many of us have turned to movies for a comforting reminder of the world as it once was. Whether that be walking outside aimlessly without the fear of contracting a deadly virus, Saturday nights at your favorite bar, or the ease and comfort of hookups, we all want to revisit those once-comfortable, now-prohibited spaces.
Now we’re all familiar with the “thirst-watch,” and I’d put good money on the assumption that most of us have resorted to a few of these during quarantine. But if you’re getting tired of rewatching Before Sunrise while longing for an ounce of affection and want a departure from the norm, these are some solid alternatives.
The following films aren’t necessarily chock-full of sexual acts (well, some are), but they all encompass a remarkably racy atmosphere that will make you either super uncomfortable or maybe even a little too comfortable. (I’ll spare you the more obvious additions of the Fifty Shades trilogy, Nymphomaniac I & II, and the inexplicably lusty closing remarks of the 2010s that was Cats.)
- Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
One of Pedro Almodovar’s more problematic endeavors, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! explores obsession and Stockholm syndrome through the story of a man who kidnaps a former flame, certain that she will fall in love with him. Like the rest of Almodovar’s work, it’s a visual Garden of Eden; but unlike his other films, this one’s content rings more hellish than sexy. If not for the film’s title alone, it makes the list for Antonio Banderas’ seedy, lustful performance.
- Special Effects (1984)
Eric Bogosian’s magnum opus? Maybe so! Special Effects follows an egomaniac movie director who, after murdering a young actress, decides to recreate the act on screen under the guise of a film. While definitely not peak horniness, it has its sadistically sexed-up moments. If you’re looking for a thriller that’s as 1984 as 1984 gets, this is the one.
- Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
This gem emerged at the height of the American sexual revolution and remains an iconic slice of its era to this day. Following newly sexually enlightened couple Bob and Carol and their cautious, conservative friends Ted and Alice, the film is brimming with tension throughout. This was one of the first on-screen explorations of open relationships and orgies, so its appearance on this list was a must.
- Phantom Thread (2017)
“For the hungry boy” reads a note handed to Daniel Day Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock (I’d be valid in stopping my description right here). The bearer, a waitress named Alma, soon becomes the object of Reynolds’ fascination and a muse for his haute-couture dressmaking. Phantom Thread is over two hours of insatiable codependency that lingers much longer after it cuts to black. Plus the added bonus of it being, like, super horny.
- Call Me By Your Name (2017)
What was I going to do? Not include it? This one is certifiably horny. In addition to launching both Timothée Chalamet and a peach into stardom, Call Me By Your Name is one of my favorite films of the 2010s. It centers on Elio, a teenager lounging in his parents’ Italian villa for the summer (as one does) and his budding relationship with an American graduate student, Oliver. Yearning has rarely felt as alluring as it does here. Later!
- Duck Butter (2018)
Making only $6,800 at the box office, Duck Butter is a film that has flown decidedly below the radar. After meeting in a club, two women spontaneously decide to spend 24 hours together, having sex every hour, in order to bypass the drawn-out process of getting to know each other. While the film has some odd and arguably unnecessary moments, you have to give it due credit for being almost entirely about sex while rarely making the women’s relationship feel exploitatively sexual.
- The Favourite (2018)
Pairing Yorgos Lanthimos with a castle and a trio of ridiculously talented actresses was such a good move… A loose retelling of Queen Anne’s reign and relationships with women in her court, The Favourite not only gives us a Colman-Weisz-Stone love triangle, but it also uses the word “cuntstruck” on more than one occasion. Oh, and rabbits!
- Quills (2000)
Any film that recounts the infamous Marquis de Sade is bound to be horny. Here, Philip Kaufman reimagines the later years of the Marquis’ incarceration when he pens his final works while spiraling into insanity. All the while, his pornographic literature is being covertly carted out of the asylum, prompting an uproarious sexual revolution in Southern France. Bolstered by its cast—Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, and Joaquin Phoenix—and teeming with perversity, Quills is an interesting watch, to say the least.
- The Doom Generation (1995)
In a world where accidental murder appears never-ending and every cornerstore purchase amounts to $6.66, three disaffected youths try and make it through the night. In proper Gregg Araki fashion, this movie is pulpy, blood-soaked, and chock-full of sex and drugs. The film even begins with an acknowledgment that eleven minutes of its runtime have been removed to assure an R-rating over an unrated one. Do with that info what you will.
6. Videodrome (1983)
I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that Videodrome skates right past horny and straight to obscene. Following a sleazy television station president into the depths of torture porn and hysteria, this film creates an environment that is so lecherous it burns. But again, I don’t believe that the overtly sexual is de facto the sexiest so this doesn’t quite make my top five. (Also, because it’s so viscerally tied to the horror genre, I would never recommend this as a fun, scandy watch, but it’s just so unapologetically horny.)
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
A cult classic that has definitely earned its status, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a tribute to all things sultry and salacious. Mad scientists, pretty boys boasting gold underwear, and “transsexual Transylvanians” come out to play when newlyweds Brad and Janet stumble upon a mysterious manor. A film whose kitschy glamour is superseded only by its profound influence on LGBTQ+ visibility in film, Rocky Horror is peak horniness. In the wise words of Frank-N-Furter: give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
- Climax (2018)
New York Times film critic A.O. Scott described Climax as “a party that assaults the senses and scrambles the brain,” and that really is the perfect summation of its tactics. Climax is the kind of film that makes you feel paralyzed, ill, and entertained all at once and does so with a remarkable degree of sexual tension. The film follows a group of competitive dancers holed up in an abandoned school while a bowl of LSD-spiked punch works its magic. Like Videodrome, it often borders on the pornographic and brings attention to its own artificiality but unlike Videodrome, it rarely veers away from its overwhelming atmosphere. If you can stomach it, it’s a great watch.
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Kubrick’s last gift to the film industry was arguably his most ambitious: a feverish New York odyssey that delivers Cruise-Kidman tension, cults, and orgies. The film draws comparisons between sex and the occult that feel both entirely ambiguous and glaringly obvious. Some see Eyes Wide Shut as a direct invocation of the Illuminati, others as a play on monogamy and marriage, but the one thing that everyone can agree upon is that it’s insanely horny. It’s also the ultimate Christmas film and you can quote me on that.
(If you want to turn this into a drinking game, take a shot every time Tom Cruise says that he’s a doctor.)
- The Handmaiden (2016)
Ranking The Handmaiden as runner-up was a very difficult choice for me because it’s just such an incredible watch. Art meets eroticism in Park Chan-wook’s most recent film set in the opulent hallways of a Korean mansion. It’s smutty elegance at its best. (I’m omitting a synopsis for this one because I think it’s the perfect film to go into completely uninformed.)
- Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
I’d be remiss to place this anywhere other than first. Cuarón’s fourth feature film follows two best friends, Julio and Tenoch, as they take a cross-country roadtrip with a beautiful married woman. This may be the horniest film I can think of but it’s also much, much more than that. It’s deeply sad, romantic, hilarious, forgiving, and honest, and this multidimensionality is what enhances the film’s sexier ventures.
Audiences are fickle; it’s not easy to keep them engaged—let alone aroused—for an entire film. So if nothing else, this list is a testament to strong filmmaking. Happy watching!
By Saffron Maeve
Visual by Vy Nguyen