You’ll find no shortage of smut here on the internet. That’s Rule 34: If it exists, there’s pornography of it. No judgment from us! (You can even check out our guide to the best porn movies of all time.) But what of the full-length, actually plot-driven movies about sex, more sex, and, well, sexual tension? Well, that’s what this list is all about.
While Marie Claire's list of the best sex movies of all time necessarily includes a robust selection of erotic thrillers like Body Heat and Dangerous Liaisons—what some may consider the “quintessential” sex movies—we also went and defined the term broadly. This list includes great movies that don’t shy away from sex scenes, even though their plots are ostensibly about other things. You’ll find a section below on queer movies that contain thoughtful and inclusive depictions of sex, like Blue Is the Warmest Colour and the subtly groundbreaking Bound. There’s also a section on campy films that approach the topic of eroticism with a wink, like Secretary and Cruel Intentions. And, of course, we’ve included space for the films that are so stunning they deserve (and have won!) awards, while still being extremely sexy: Think The Handmaiden, She’s Gotta Have It, and Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Celebrate the times when Hollywood has done movies with nudity right with our guide to the best sex movies of all time.
Classic Sex Movies
Affairs. Plotting. Murder. Crimes. Steamy sex worth killing for. This 1981 erotic thriller starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner was based on the classic Double Indemnity and takes that basic idea (a woman and her lover plotting to murder her husband so they can be together—and get his money) and turns up the sex to eleven.
Basically mainstream porn with a plot. The "erotic historical drama" is about the rise and fall of real-life Roman emperor Caligula. Released in 1979, Caligula features unsimulated sex scenes and stars actual A-list talent like Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren.
Essentially the '80s version of Cruel Intentions with unintentional LOLs. Although young John Malkovich—surprisingly hot (even in a ridiculous wig)! Also, TW: rape.
'9 1/2 Weeks'
The 9½ weeks in question refers to the length of the relationship of film's main couple—during which time they mostly have sex. It was considered too explicit by its U.S. distributor.
The whole movie's kind of been reduced to that scene. You know, that leg-crossing scene, featuring Sharon Stone's mile-long legs and not featuring any underwear. But the film also has a whole BUNCH of sex—sometimes rough, often sexy, usually with the fear that your partner might be a murderer. Casual!
Queer Sex Movies
Gina Gershon happily lets herself be seduced by her neighbor (Jennifer Tilly), whose husband is a jealous criminal. Drama (and more sex) ensues. Fun fact: The scenes were choreographed by a sex educator, and critics praised the film for its realism. So they're hot and empowering, all at the same time!
'Below Her Mouth'
This 2016 erotic drama follows two very different women over the course of three days as they fall in love with (and make lots of sexy, steamy love to) each other.
This 2003 drama is about an American student in Paris who becomes involved with a brother and sister who are twins and act out, erm, ~fantasies~ together.
This erotic thriller follows a cop (played by Al Pacino) who is on the trail of a serial killer who is attacking people in New York City's gay S&M club scene.
'Blue Is the Warmest Color'
This movie is proof that a film can be beautiful and heart-wrenching and also, like, 99 percent about sex.
The plot of this movie is literally two women meet in a club and then decide to get to know each other by having sex every hour, on the hour.
'Sex and Lucía'
Sex and Lucía follows a woman (played by the gorgeous Paz Vega) who goes on a personal journey to a remote Spanish island after learning that her tortured artist boyfriend may have committed suicide. On the island, she runs into said boyfriend's former flame and a hot scuba instructor and, well, things happen.
This sexy film noir is trippy (after you watch, do yourself a favor and hop on Reddit to read the theories about it). But it also, as my college friend once told me excitedly, has a "surprise lesbian sex scene right in the middle of it."
Campy Sex Movies
Forget Fifty Shades (don't worry, it's coming, pun intended). Secretary dives into the kinky, BDSM-centric relationship between a boss and his new secretary, with so much detail. It's romantic and sweet and sexy AND still a tiny bit shocking. 10/10 would recommend.
'Eyes Wide Shut'
This Kubrick masterpiece is basically three hours of trippy sex parties, marital relations and, well, extramarital relations.
In which an evil and vaguely incestuous brother-sister duo make a bet about claiming the virginity of the local "good girl." Honestly, no to this concept, but yessssssss to this movie.
Hugh Grant plays a man who meets an older writer confined to a wheelchair while on a cruise with his wife. Things take a turn for the sexy and strange when the older man decides to teach Hugh Grant's character his erotic skills so he can pleasure both of their wives. Yep.
'50 Shades of Grey'
Can you think of a more successful movie franchise that's fully just about sex? Didn't think so. Though to be fair, Fifty Shades Freed tried its best to have an actual plot.
Not to be confused with the 2004 Oscar-winner of the same name, 1996's Crash is about people with a sexual fetish for car crashes. Really.
This film puts the the erotic in erotic thriller, big-time. It features a whole bunch of sex—including a makeout sesh between Neve Campbell and Denise Richards, a threesome, and a full-frontal Kevin Bacon. The film's dark and twisted (trigger warning: alleged rape, murder) but also OTT in a sexy, ridiculous way.
This coming-of-age horror, inspired by the rather Freudian folktale vagina dentata (“vagina with teeth”), follows a teen who navigates her sexuality while dealing with the literal affliction, putting a feminist twist on the misogynistic myth.
Award-Worthy Sex Movies
This Korean drama film centers on a conman's quest to seduce a wealthy Japanese woman to steal away her inheritance. Emphasis on the seduction.
'In the Realm of the Senses'
Another movie with unsimulated sex, In the Realm of the Senses is about a former prostitute who starts an affair with her employer, whose penis she ends up casually severing. We'll give you a moment.
'A Dangerous Method'
The period drama is set just before World War I and delves into, among other things, the complicated relationship between famed psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Those "other things" includes a BDSM relationship between Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) and his patient, Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley).
This movie is about the porn industry, so obviously sex is the metaphorical bow that ties everything together. Fun fact: Mark Wahlberg had a prosthetic penis for the film, and it's the only prop he kept from set.
This 2015 French arthouse movie premiered at Cannes and actually features unsimulated sex scenes in 3D. DAMN.
You might argue that this movie is actually pornography, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. The plot revolves around a couple who watch a bunch of their favorite indie bands play shows, and have a bunch of sex while they're at it. The sex is unsimulated and extremely graphic.
A secret agent in World War II is sent on a mission to seduce and assassinate a government official, only to find herself falling in love with the mark.
This movie is somehow simultaneously devastatingly sad and devastatingly sexy. There is some very rough (and tough-to-watch) sex, so FYI if that bothers you.
Meanwhile, Nymphomaniac is also about sex addiction, this time centering on a woman who recounts her sexual dalliances to a man over tea. (Totally normal tea-time conversation.) It can get super dark, FYI, (TW: rape) if you like your sex light and fluffy.
'She's Gotta Have It'
This Spike Lee classic follows Nola, a beautiful woman who doesn't believe in monogamy and juggles relationships with three men.
'Henry and June'
This 1990 movie took a literary love triangle (between author Henry Miller his wife, June—played by Uma Thurman—and writer Anais Nin) and made it the first movie to get an NC-17 rating.
With a title like The Concubine, is it surprising this movie makes the list? The story focuses on a young woman who is forced to become a royal concubine, only to find herself in a royal love triangle.
That scene with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis though.
Shame is one of three movies about sex addicts on this list. It's now infamous for a jaw-dropping, full-frontal shot of Michael Fassbender, but it's also pretty dramatic and serious. So if you like your sex addiction with a side of comedy, may we present....
'Y Tu Mamá También'
Another story about sexual awakening, the film centers around two teen boys in Mexico on a road trip with a gorgeous, mysterious older woman. You guessed it: Lots of sex is the result, although not necessarily between the people you expect.
Comedy Sex Movies
Through a series of wacky circumstances and questionable decisions, a teen ends up turning his family home into a brothel. Naturally.
A.k.a. the movie that scandalized Saved by the Bell fans everywhere because it starred Jessie Spano as an aspiring Vegas showgirl, complete with lots of nudity.
A high school movie take on The Scarlet Letter in which a smart, squeaky clean teen lies about losing her virginity and sees her reputation spiral from there.
Like all great teen raunch comedies, Superbad is about two friends trying to jumpstart their sexually active years—all while navigating the big final party of their high school careers.
'Sleeping With Other People'
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis star as two people who reunite by chance 12 years after losing their virginity to each other in a one night stand—and then take on the daunting task of attempting (and not really succeeding) to be platonic friends.
'The To Do List'
Who says women can't be the horny center of a good teen sex comedy? In 2013's The To Do List, Parks and Rec star Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy, a '90s-era high school valedictorian who decides to put her laser focused determination to use checking off every item on a sexual to-do list during the summer before starting college.
'Thanks for Sharing'
In this film exploring sex addiction, a recovering addict (Mark Ruffalo) tries to make a relationship work with his new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) after five years of abstinence.
'Yes, God, Yes'
Set in 2000, when AIM ruled the internet, this comedy follows a teen at a strict Catholic school as she begins exploring her sexuality following a particularly racy AOL chat sesh. As you do.
In this one, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a porn addict who falls for his dream girl (Scarlett Johansson), only to find that his porn habit could (shocker) threaten their budding romance.
'The Girl Next Door'
There are teen sex comedies and there are movies about porn stars, and then there's The Girl Next Door, which bravely blended the two genres.
'The 40-Year-Old Virgin'
The entire plot of this movie is a 40-year-old man attempting to lose his virginity. But! If you prefer the Nerdy Male Virgin Trope with a slightly younger cast, stay tuned for....
Perhaps the most iconic movie about sex on this list, American Pie will forever go down in history as "that movie where a man literally has sex with baked goods."
This romantic dramedy is basically Shame with mild LOLs and Jude Law's charming grin. As you may have guessed, he plays a sex addict who has relationships with several women including Susan Sarandon and Sienna Miller.
'40 Days and 40 Nights'
This movie is about a guy (played by Josh Hartnett) who decides to abstain from sex—and masturbation—for Lent. Apparently it's really difficult for him to go slightly over a month without getting his jollies given the hoards of women who love him, so many hijinks ensue.
'Zack and Miri Make a Porno'
In case the title didn't make it clear, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is about friends named Zack and Miri who make a porno. Not so shockingly, they develop feelings for each other.
Sex Tape, the worst-titled movie ever, stars Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz who film themselves ~making love~ and accidentally upload the tape to a bunch of friends' iPads. In other words, it's a movie about everyone's biggest nightmare.
'Friends With Benefits'
It's the age old story: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl become friends. Boy and girl decide to have sex without the complicated emotional part. Boy and girl fail—at the no-emotion part, not the sex part. They succeed at the sex part. A lot.
In 2018, virginity-loss pacts aren't just for teenage boys. They're also for teenage girls. In Blockers, a group of high schoolers are determined to each lose their virginity on prom night and their parents are determined to stop that from happening.
'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'
This early teen sex comedy covered everything from masturbation to blowjob tutorials with vegetables to the uncomfortable reality that sex isn't always what you expected.
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Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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