Sex is at the core of a lot the greatest movies ever made. It is the most natural of human fascinations—a biological need we spend our lifetimes trying to understand and perfect, which explains why it makes for great drama and great comedy.
The art of seduction is not unlike that of film. What is left to the imagination is often what viewers end up wanting to see the most. Whether it’s just out of frame or just out of touch, a healthy dose of yearning can edge us toward the gratifying moment of passion, even if it never ends up being shown. A tender close-up would otherwise be anti-climactic if not for its initial absence.
Here, we celebrate the sexiest movies of all time—the films where sensuality, romance, attraction, and the need for physical touch are driving forces in the narrative. Whether it’s in sophomoric explorations, gut-wrenching unspoken tensions, or the simple deed itself, sex and film have been entangled together as far back as the medium has existed. These are the best movies about lust, love, and everything in between.
Nothing like a bit of art mixed with horror and satire to get the blood pumping. Velvet Buzzsaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal in an oddly steamy film (seriously, the sex appeal in the film makes no sense, but it is there) about a supernatural force that comes for those in the art world whose desire for more has overtaken their appreciation of art.
People don’t give Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike the credit it deserves. Following an adult entertainer who takes a newcomer under his wing, the film is the definition of sex appeal, with a buffet of sexy scenes and dance sequences. But what makes it a great is that its plot is pretty solid, as well… a rarity in a film with this much steam.
Call Me By Your Name
The Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer Italian-set summer romance about a teenage boy who falls in love with his father’s apprentice is absolutely electric. Awkward at times, it perfectly captures the excitement and longing of wanting to be with someone despite having no idea what you’re doing.
Based on a true story, this 2019 crime drama stars Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B as a group of New York strippers who rob rich Wall Street douchebags after drugging them during a night out.
Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone star as Queen Anne, Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Masham in Yorgos Lanthimos’s incredible 2018 dark period comedy. The film follows the love triangle and political power jockeying between Sarah and Abigail as they fight for the queen’s love and attention. All three leads were nominated for acting Academy Awards, with Colman winning for Best Actress.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
One of the most critically acclaimed movies of the last few years, Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows the artistic love affair between Héloïse and Marianne on the coast of Brittany in the 1770s.
From acclaimed director Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden is a period drama set in colonial Korea and Japan. Based on Sarah Waters’s novel, Fingersmith, The Handmaiden tells the story of two women, one Japanese heiress and one Korean woman. The two have come to serve her, but they fall into a deeply lustful rendezvous. The heated relationship is dialed up even further, however, by an underlying crime: the relationship is a scam to seduce the heiress into losing her inheritance.
The To-Do List
Think: Dirty Booksmart. Aubrey Plaza stars as a high school valedictorian determined to cross off her “to-do list” of sexual acts in the summer before she enters college. With supporting performances from Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Johnny Simmons, and Sarah Steele, this hilariously candid exploration captures the naive energy of an Urban Dictionary dive gone too far.
The Shape of Water
When you feel it, you feel it. And, for a Guillermo del Toro protagonist, sometimes that means feeling it for an amphibious humanoid stuck inside of the high-security government laboratory where you work. Both a tender love story and a sci-fi feat, The Shape of Water shows that love heeds no bounds or glass enclosures. It also shows just how important a bathtub can be for a single person on the go.
Robert Eggers’s analysis of two stranded lightkeepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, isolated on a remote island together for two weeks is as bizarre as it is strangely horny. Along with a marathon of ebbing homoerotic tension, the film features an infamous scene between Pattinson and a mermaid figurine. The product is visceral, unnerving, and subtly sexual.
While its themes span much further than sexual exploration, 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight provides a beautifully dynamic presentation of its protagonist’s sexuality. Following the life of Chiron, a young, queer Black man growing up in Miami, the film’s sensual cinematography and weighted tones of latent sexual expression paint a vivid and complex exploration of identity. Its masterful sex scene is one to be studied by filmmakers for years to come, as it balances subtlety with poignancy, and withholding with release.
Wet Hot American Summer
If there were ever an adolescent movie that captured the painfully hilarious stereotypes of being a horny teen, Wet Hot American Summer is top of the list. It’s the perfect parody of a coming of age movie, keeping with the clichés of barely dressed women emerging from a body of water, awkward first times, and a feathered-haired Amy Poehler. That last part is kind of niche to this film, but important nonetheless.
Good Luck Chuck
When Dane Cook is in a movie, it’s best to temper expectations. Nevertheless, the tale about a guy who seems to be a good luck charm for women unlucky in love is surprisingly sweet. Granted, the premise is that any time Dane Cook sleeps with a woman, she soon after gets married. There are a lot of weddings in the film, so… you do the math.
Booksmart elevates the horny coming of age genre with a bit more of a thoughtful spin on leaving high school and your best friends behind. Make no mistake though, it doesn’t miss the opportunity to lean into one universal teenage truth—always thinking about sex. One of the best scenes involves a van, a principal, a porn, and a cringeworthy phone volume issue that is all too relatable.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Two roommates—played by Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen—get in some financial shit, so they try to make some money in the adult film biz. Stay away if you’re not ready to let Star Whores ruin your childhood.
Before a movie about nerds and numbers became our favorite baseball flick, there was Bull Durham—where Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis and Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy find themselves doing the only thing that could make minor league baseball interesting.
Love and Basketball
Two star-crossed ballers try to make a relationship work amidst coach-enforced curfews and the beckoning of D-1 basketball. Featuring what’s probably the only one-on-one game of strip mini-hoops depicted in the history of the moving image.
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s final film stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of a modernist Austrian novella. It’s also pretty much all about sex, with Cruise and Kidman playing a married couple navigating a truly astonishing number of romantic temptations—including a potentially murderous masked orgy cult.
In between breaking each other’s hearts in Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling and Michelle William find time for a sexual encounter often lauded as one of the most authentic oral sex scenes committed to film.
Atonement is a heavy WWII-era film about the human cost of life-ruining lies, but damn if it doesn’t have the sultriest library sex scene of all time.
Of all the superhero movies, Deadpool is certainly the horniest—a film based on the sexual chemistry between Ryan Reynolds’s Wade and Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa. As you’ll notice throughout the film, these two lovebirds really enjoy having sex! Good for them!
Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn epic reveals a behind-the-scenes look at the industry’s heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
A pair of horned-up, upper-crust Manhattan teens (and step-siblings) scheme to bring social ruin upon their classmates in this sexed-up update of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
This erotic thriller is notorious for Kevin Bacon’s nude scene and a threesome between Denise Richards, Neve Campbell, and Matt Dillon.
An Englishman and an American woman go to a bunch of concerts and then have a lot of sex. That’s…pretty much it.
I guess if you’re planning to cheat on Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez is as good a choice as any.
Not the one about how everybody in Los Angeles is secretly racist—this movie is about people who get really horny over car crashes.
Kathleen Turner plays a Floridian femme fatale in this neo-noir, who easily convinces William Hurt’s dimwit lawyer to help her murder her husband.
Three teenage boys embark on a mission to lose their virginity before leaving high school, and manic hijinks ensue.
A group of teenage girls vow to lose their virginity on prom night—but not if their parents succeed in their mission to stop them.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Name a sexier horror-comedy-musical. We’ll wait.
Gaspar Noé’s 3D fuckfest probably isn’t as mind-blowing on your laptop, but the unsimulated sex scenes are still pretty steamy.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but name a sexy movie that is this funny (especially since it’s not meant to be).
9 1/2 Weeks
This is the movie that Fifty Shades wanted to be, and you can’t beat the creepy chemistry between Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke.
Make no mistake: The lead character in this two-part, four-hour art film is very horny. But it’s a Lars Von Trier movie, so it’s potentially less sexy than you think.
This might be the only movie about a madcap search for a pack of condoms. It’s a sex comedy with a safe sex message!
What enterprising young man wouldn’t operate an escort service out of his home when his parents are out of town?
Stranger by the Lake
The lead character in this film is so horny that he’ll willingly sleep with a guy who he assumes might also be a serial killer.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
A generation of Hollywood stars appeared in this comedy that revealed the not-so-secret sex lives of California teenagers.
Jason Biggs is probably not the only actor in Hollywood whose claim to fame comes from having sex with food. But his tryst with a pie is iconic nonetheless.
Y Tu Mamá También
One of the sexiest coming-of-age stories follows two teenagers who take a road trip with an older woman. Think of all the possibilities!
Friends With Benefits
They’re more than friends, but they’re not dating. They’re simply boning. A lot.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Steve Carell’s titular character tries to use it before he loses it in Judd Apatow’s grown-up sex comedy.
It’s the movie that convinced white women that they could rock cornrows—and dudes who looked like Dudley Moore that they could land women who looked like Bo Derek.
The Girl Next Door
What do you do when you find out your neighbor is a former porn star? Ask her to prom, of course.
Henry & June
Inspired by the true story of Henry Miller’s affair with French writer Anaïs Nin, this is the movie responsible for the creation of the NC-17 rating.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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