The marketing campaign for “Fifty Shades of Grey” emphasizes one teasing question: Are you curious? And yet the implication that audiences haven’t already seen this type of provocative bedroom action on screens before is more than a bit naïve. Bondage, S&M and all manner of naughty behavior have been depicted in film for years. To help stoke the fires before “Fifty Shades of Grey” arrives in theaters, here are 16 of the kinkiest movies ever made.
Belle de Jour (1967)
Catherine Deneuve plays a frigid housewife whose erotic fantasy life involves bondage, sadomasochism and sexual humiliation in Luis Buñuel’s surreal masterpiece. Unable to achieve physical intimacy with her milquetoast husband, Deneuve’s character sublimates her desire by working as a prostitute in a Parisian brothel. Although there is no explicit sex depicted, the film’s atmosphere of passion and repression gives it a fever-dream quality like no other.
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Slapped with an X rating at the time of its release, Bernado Bertolucci’s landmark classic about a sadomasochistic relationship between a young Frenchwoman and a middle-aged American expatriate is an emotionally devastating experience. Marlon Brando takes sexual obsession to a painful extreme as a distraught man struggling to cope with his wife’s suicide. Costar Maria Schneider is heartbreaking as the waif who gives herself to him, body and soul.
The Night Porter (1974)
This controversial arthouse drama stars Charlotte Rampling as a Holocaust survivor whose sadomasochistic relationship with a former concentration camp guard is rekindled when the two accidentally meet 13 years after the war. Part psychological mood-piece, part Nazisploitation cult movie, “The Night Porter” remains a deeply unsettling work of transgressive cinema and one of the darkest depictions of Stockholm Syndrome ever filmed.
Set in the peep-show booths and leather bars of New York City, William Friedkin’s violent shocker about a serial killer preying on gay men is notable for its unflinching depiction of the underground S&M community. Playing a rookie cop who goes undercover to catch a psychopath, Al Pacino’s harrowing descent down the sexual rabbit hole includes an explicit lesson from a sex shop worker on the meaning of a a yellow hanky in the back pocket.
Your standard boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl, boy-tattoos-girl-against-her-will love story, this ink-stained riff on John Fowles’ novel “The Collector” contains enough kink to fill three movies. Bruce Dern built a career playing cinematic psychos, yet none is sicker than the perverted artist he portrays in “Tattoo.” If the sight of Dern demanding that Maud Adams masturbate while he spies on her from a bedroom closet doesn’t raise your eyebrows, it may be time to seek therapy.
Cat People (1982)
Paul Schrader’s remake of the dreamy 1942 classic increases the gore and kinkiness to near-operatic levels. Malcolm McDowell and Nastassja Kinski star as siblings whose sexual urges transform them into bloodthirsty panthers unless they mate incestually. In what constitutes the film’s version of a happy ending, lovestruck zookeeper John Heard ties Kinski to a bed spread-eagle and commits what can politely be described as supernatural bestiality with her.
Crimes of Passion (1984)
No stranger to controversy, Ken Russell’s twisted black comedy plays like a gonzo variation on “Belle de Jour” mixed with Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” As an icy fashion designer who moonlights as a fifty-dollar street hooker, Kathleen Turner romances more than the stone when kinky client Anthony Perkins pays her a visit. Wielding a razor-tipped vibrator affectionately nicknamed Superman, Perkins’ demented customer makes Norman Bates look like a choirboy.
Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch’s subversive examination of the dark desires lurking beneath the manicured lawns of small-town America is both hilarious and horrifying. Dennis Hopper redefined sexual dysfunction for modern audiences as a gas-huffing fetishist with a psychotic temper. In the film’s most disturbing scene, Isabella Rossellini’s masochistic nightclub singer begs Kyle MacLachlan’s innocent college student to beat her during sex. Shockingly, he obliges.
9 ½ Weeks (1986)
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel, this gauzily-photographed love story about an intense affair between a divorced art gallery assistant and an enigmatic Wall Street arbitrageur introduced moviegoers to the erotic use of blindfolds, ice cubes and chocolate syrup. Playing a sexually submissive woman who gives in to the demands of a stranger, Kim Basinger was reportedly traumatized by the psychologically grueling methods of director Adrian Lyne.
Dead Ringers (1988)
In David Cronenberg’s chilling character study about twin gynecologists obsessed with a drug addicted actress, Jeremy Irons lovingly ties Geneviève Bujold to a bed with rubber surgical-tubing and medical clamps. Things grow complicated when Bujold learns that the identical doctors routinely swap sexual partners without informing the women. Featuring a menage a trois with twin prostitutes and gynecological tools for operating on mutant females, “Dead Ringers” is a kinky nightmare.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
Pedro Almodóvar’s outrageous sex comedy stars Antonio Banderas as Ricky, a newly-released mental patient who kidnaps a former porn star he once slept with. Tying her to his bed in the hope that she’ll eventually fall in love with him, Ricky’s plan gradually has an effect on his captive. Before long, she’s demanding to be kept tied up so that she won’t be tempted to escape. Released with an NC-17 rating, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” depicts bondage at its funniest.
Body of Evidence (1993)
Despite scenes of voyeurism, bedroom spanking and sexual acupuncture, this moribund murder mystery is about as titillating as a botched colonoscopy. Madonna stars as an insatiable vixen whose penchant for rough sex results in the death of her elderly sugar-daddy. As a happily married lawyer who agrees to defend her, Willem Dafoe does his best to appear turned on while the Material Girl drips hot candle wax on his bare chest and crotch.
Fifteen years after he sent Pacino cruising for a killer, William Friedkin cast Linda Fiorentino as a troubled woman leading two distinct lives; one a clinical psychologist, the other a masochistic prostitute specializing in extreme kink. Called to the scene of a savage murder, an Assistant D.A. played by David Caruso discovers the wealthy victim’s creepy collection of female pubic hair. Though marketed with the tag line “Some fantasies go too far,” “Jade” is a surprisingly dull thriller, memorable only for its tense San Francisco car chase.
Based on J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel, David Cronenberg’s controversial erotic drama stars James Spader and Holly Hunter as car crash survivors whose traumatic experience morphs into a bizarre sexual obsession with auto collisions. Joining an underground society of like-minded vehicular fetishists, Spader meets a grotesquely scarred accident victim played by Rosanna Arquette. The scene where he makes love to her gaping thigh wound takes kink to a whole new level.
The Piano Teacher (2001)
This disturbing French psychodrama stars Isabelle Huppert as a repressed fortysomething music instructor whose codependent relationship with her mother drives her to the point of masochistic self-injury. Haunting the local porno shops and voyeuristically spying on couples having sex, Huppert’s character eventually seduces a 17-year old piano student. Their obsessive courtship moves from humiliation and degradation to rape and murderous violence.
While most films depict sexual masochism as a deviant behavior practiced by damaged people, “Secretary” takes a lighter approach. Maggie Gyllenhaal is charming as a socially awkward office assistant who gains confidence with every spank she receives from her domineering boss. Whether crawling across the floor with his mail in her mouth, or lifting her skirt to receive punishment, Gyllenhaal is the one who sets the terms in this unorthodox, yet romantic, relationship.