20 of Horniest Erotic Thrillers Ever Made

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Screenshot: Basic Instinct/Lionsgate

Whatever happened to the erotic thriller? There’s something of a bell curve to the distribution of the sexy programmer, rising with the relaxing of the production code in the late 1960s, topping out in the ‘80s with prestige fare like Fatal Attraction, and tailing off by the mid-2000s, and the dominance of franchise culture. Today’s box office values big-budget, four-quadrant blockbusters, making marketing of films about adult sexuality nearly impossible.

Streaming has opened a window for movies that resemble the erotic thrillers of yore, but the kind they used to make—feature lurid hooks and big stars—remain decidedly absent from theaters. (Adrian Lyne’s return to the director’s chair for the Ben Affleck/Ana de Armas Hulu thriller Deep Water, which was intended for theaters pre-pandemic, was a welcome—if largely critically reviled—throwback.)

Yes, there’s plenty to criticize, even in the best examples of the form. The sex is often more titillating than realistic; the movies have also almost always been written and directed by men and emphasized on male perspectives, and many of the women who starred in them didn’t have the best time of it (consider Sharon Stone’s oft-repeated accusations that an iconic nude scene in Basic Instinct involved a bit of trickery from director Paul Verhoven).

And yet, it remains curious the way sex seems to have largely vanished from mainstream, theatrically released films. So without further foreplay, let’s celebrate some of the best—or at least the most interesting—examples of a type of movie that they just don’t make anymore.

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