by Carl Franzen
Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, and you know what that means: roses, dinner reservations, and the world premiere of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. The hotly-anticipated adaptation of the bestselling erotic novel from author E.L. James (who actually began the Fifty Shades series by writing Twilight fan-fiction online) lands in US theaters on Thursday, February 12th. And judging by the massive ticket pre-sale numbers, it’s bound to be a hit.
The book series was the subject of controversy for its depiction of a BDSM-tinged relationship and the impending release of the film has proven no different, drawing criticism from the usual camps of morality crusaders as well as BDSM practitioners, some of whom believe that the Fifty Shades story arc is a damaging and misleading portrayal of their experiences. Lead actress Dakota Johnson and her costar Jamie Dornan have also taken heat for their comments about BDSM and the making of the film.
If all that controversy turns you off from making your way to the theater this Valentine’s Day, or you want Fifty Shades to be just one part of your erotic movie marathon, there are of course many other classic sexy films available for you to watch at home. Here’s a starter kit of the top 10 hottest non-Fifty Shades films for the sexy cinephile in all of us.
1. Ghost (1990)
Yes this movie is often goofy and comedic, thanks mainly to an excellent supporting part by Whoopi Goldberg. But Demi and Patrick have never been better cast as a great-looking, lovestruck couple separated by his untimely death. And that pottery scene — that pottery scene! Not only did it become inexorably associated with “Unchained Melody,” but it changed how we look at pottery forever, turning a simple, family friendly craft into a steamy, innuendo-filled erotic dance.
2. Nine 1/2 Half Weeks (1986)
The setup of this movie isn’t too dissimilar from 50 Shades: a mysterious and wealthy businessman pursues an emotionally vulnerable, younger woman and gradually draws her into progressively more taboo risque games, eventually culminating in abuse. As the leads, Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger have a magnetic, almost timeless quality to them, and that’s saying something in a movie that revels in 1980s New York grit. Probably not the best first date movie, unless your date is an especially adventuresome film goer.
3. Secretary (2002)
This oft-overlooked 2002 arthouse gem stars James Spader as a mysterious lawyer named, coincidentally enough, Mr. Grey, who hires a mentally-ill woman, Leigh Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) as his secretary. Their odd working relationship quickly turns into full-on BDSM. But more important than the physical aspects of their bond are the psychological effects the two lead characters have on each other, which evolve in surprising and ultimately heartfelt ways. For a movie about some uncomfortable roles, it’s surprisingly sweet.
4. Magic Mike (2012)
Steven Soderbergh supposedly retired as a filmmaker a while ago, after completing the 2013 HBO film Behind the Candelabra. If that’s true, Magic Mike would be one of his final theatrical movies, and what a fittingly sexy bookend to a long and eclectic career. The trailers made this film seem like eye candy for straight women and men who like men, but the actual story of a male strip troupe in Tampa, Florida, was broadly appealing to all adult audiences. Compelling performances by Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey (the latter in the midst of his McConaissance) help turn this guilty pleasure into a new classic. And it’s the main reason we have higher hopes than usual for the upcoming sequel, Magic Mike XXL.
5. Bound (1996)
The Wachowskis, best known for The Matrix, have been unapologetic filmmakers for as long as they’ve been making movies. Their latest flick, the space opera Jupiter Ascending, has opened to terrible reviews and even worse box office returns. But their first feature is a quietly enduring erotic classic: Bound, the 1996 lesbian crime thriller starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon as a couple who try to steal millions from the mafia. Although the movie is often brutally violent, the chemistry between Tilly’s and Gershon’s characters is compelling and realistic, and the two share a few steamy sex scenes.
6. Closer (2004)
It’s not just Natalie Portman’s turn as a pink-haired stripper that makes this film an underrated, erotically-charged modern masterpiece. Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Clive Owen all are at the top of their game as the other three quadrants of a love square, whose love lives become hopelessly entangled, to the detriment of all. Both sexy and emotionally draining, the film looks at infidelity and the lies we tell ourselves about our romantic relationships. Directed by Mike Nichols, the man responsible for *The Graduate* and numerous other classic films, who passed away late last year.
7. Pretty Woman (1990)
Another romantic movie that has withstood the test of time. Julia Roberts appears in her iconic starring role as a sex worker with a heart of gold, while Richard Gere embodies yet another lonely heartthrob businessman who is secretly a great pianist. The jokes may be corny at times, but the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
8. Cruel Intentions (1999)
A thinly veiled remake of *Dangerous Liaisons* set in a posh New York high school, it’s hard to overstate how popular this movie is among Millennials, who were on the cusp of adolescence when it was released. Although critically drubbed at the time, it’s still celebrated as a guilty pleasure and a time capsule of the sexiest 90s stars in their prime: Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillippe, and of course, Sarah Michelle Gellar, the latter of whom steals the show as the manipulative femme fatale at the center of a plot to deflower an avowed virgin.
9. The Notebook (2004)
What list of romantic and steamy movies would be complete without this Cassavetes modern classic, adapted from the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same? This was the film that catapulted Ryan Gosling to fame and forever cemented him as the ideal leading hunk in the hearts of millions of viewers. It’s got kissing in the rain, an idyllic American rural landscape, Gosling ascending a Ferris Wheel — all the ingredients necessary to melt the hearts of even the most jaded singles.
10. The Graduate (1967)
Not just one of the sexiest movies of all time, but one of the greatest, bar none. The smoldering, stocking-clad “Mrs. Robinson” character portrayed by Anne Bancroft was the ultimate MILF, long before the term was coined. And while Dustin Hoffman went on to become one of the most beloved actors of a generation, his performance as the listless college grad Benjamin Braddock will almost certainly be his defining role. Their relationship is both sad, funny and scintillating all at once. This film won Mike Nichols the Oscar for Best Director, and it’s easy to see why, as the movie is artistic without being too showy, and completely commands your attention from its classic opening scene on an airport moving walkway. Appropriately, it too is referenced in 50 Shades.