Sex Before Christian Grey

In light of the Fifty Shades of Grey release on Valentine’s Day over the weekend, and our feature piece ‘Fifty Shades of Success’, we’ve decided to highlight our top picks of the best erotic movies of history to show that, although gorgeous, stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are positively PG13 in comparison to their prédécesseur’s.

Betty Blue (1986), Fr: This French POV film focuses heavily on risqué erotica and the pains of obsessive love. Originally titled ‘37° 2 le matin’ (meaning ‘37.2 C in the morning’), sensual (and real, as is the case with many movies from the French capital) love scenes feature throughout. It stars Jean-Hughes Anglade and Beatrice Dalle.

Bitter Moon (1992): A Roman Polanski classic, the musical score for Bitter Moon is absolutely haunting. It stars Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Coyote as the leading sex-stars in this sort of French, sort of British, sort of American, but wholly stimulating thriller.

Jamon, Jamon (1992), Sp: This steamy Spanish short, literally meaning ‘Ham, Ham’ and written as an allegory for life in Spain catapulted a young and sensual Penelope Cruz to success. It uses unauthentic food as the vehicle to define sexual pleasure (note the recurring images of dead pigs) and also features an early, but still rugged, Javiar Bardem as Raul.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999): As seems to be the case with so many films of the erotic nature, a sick menage a trois love twist is usually incumbent to propel the story along, and for this Arthur Schnitzler novella adaptation (Dream Story, 1926), there is no divergence. This film featured one of the first portrayals of a masked orgy and made discussing sex openly a thing in the late nineties.

Romance (1999), Fr: This French art-house drama about a young Francophile who engages in sadomasochistic acts with an older man (Rocco Siffredi, a real pornographic actor) features completely un-simulated sex scenes, and was actually barred from most cinemas outside of France because of a completely true-to-form ejaculation shot. It’s weird, it’s arty, it’s absolutely fantastic.

Secretary (2002): Need we say more here? The truly original Fifty Shades. If you haven’t seen this highly sinister but weirdly erotic cult film, it’s time to acquaint yourself as soon as possible. A rosy-cheeked and baby-faced Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the quintessential Anastasia Steele-esque character, timid, malleable and naïve, and James Spader as the detached and obsessed employer. Who can forget the scene where he instructs her to eat her dinner pea by pea? It’s really a no-brainer.

Sirens (1993): It’s our personal belief here at FIB HQ that Australian films are too undervalued on the global stage, so we refuse to go past Sirens, written and directed by prominent Aussie filmmaker, John Duigan. Starring Hugh Grant and set in Australia between the two World Wars, this is the film that strangely made Grant famous to an American audience (how does that work?) and features a lot of pseudo-religious sexual tension. Weird, but worth it.