10 Best European Sex Movies
Nobody does sex like the Europeans, and the proof is in the ten best European sex movies. These classics broke new ground in cinematic explorations of the erotic. American audiences flocked to see them; American filmmakers were inspired to imitate them. Years later, they’re still just as artistic, innovative, and sexy.
- “Last Tango in Paris.” This 1972 Italian film about the no-strings-attached sexual affair between two strangers shocked audiences in America and around the world. Part of it was the sex itself, explicit even by today’s standards. Part of it was the presence of Marlon Brando as the male lover. The film won controversy, an X rating, and two Oscar nominations.
- “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” An obsessed fan abducts an actress and ties her to a bed. American filmmakers would make this story into torture-porn, but in the hands of maverick Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, it becomes a touchingly sweet romance. Explicit sexuality, including a scene of female masturbation, earned this 1990 film one of the first NC-seventeen ratings. It also introduced a young Spanish actor named Antonio Banderas to American audiences.
- “Belle de Jour.” Luis Bunuel was another Spanish director who liked to mess with viewers’ minds. In his 1967 masterpiece, Catherine Deneuve is a housewife with S&M fantasies who moonlights, or rather daylights, as a prostitute. Her fantasies blend with her reality to an extent that even she isn’t sure of the difference.
- “I Am Curious (Yellow).” During the ‘60s, American audiences had to look to Europe to find what was missing from domestic films. While films like “Midnight Cowboy” received X ratings without even showing frontal nudity, “Curious,” a Danish import, was casual about its simulated sex scenes, including oral sex. American lawmakers tried to ban it; American audiences rushed to see it, then wondered what all the fuss was about.
- “Ecstasy.” This sums up the enlightened European attitude to sex in movies. In this 1933 Czech film, actress Hedy Lamarr appeared in a nude swimming scene, and later faked an orgasm in a non-nude sex scene. This did not stop her from later having a long and successful Hollywood career, although her husband was so scandalized he tried to buy and burn all copies of the film.
- “The Dreamers.” As Paris is rocked by the May 1968 riots, an American college student finds refuge with fraternal French twins Theo and Isabelle. They become a threesome in more ways than one, escaping into classic movies and each other as the world outside descends into chaos. Their taboo-breaking sex play earned the film an NC-seventeen rating in 2003.
- “Pandora’s Box.” Louise Brooks caused shock and awe among audiences of 1929 with this silent German classic. She redefined the cinematic sexpot as Lulu, who flirted with men and women alike. Lulu drove her lovers to murder and suicide, but Brooks sent female fans racing to their hairdressers to imitate her distinctive bobbed cut.
- “And God Created Woman.” In 1956, a year after Marilyn Monroe’s skirt blew up in “The Seven Year Itch,” American audiences saw a lot more of French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot. This was the first European sex film a lot of Americans got to see. Its popularity helped launch the foreign-film market, and made Bardot a sensation around the world.
- “Women in Love.” British director Ken Russell broke new ground with this 1969 adaptation of a novel by D.H. Lawrence, author of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” One of the first mainstream films to feature male frontal nudity, it shocked audiences who didn’t know men had penises. Glenda Jackson’s Best Actress Oscar was also the first for a role that included a nude scene.
- “Stealing Beauty.” A quarter-century after directing “Last Tango in Paris,” Bernardo Bertolucci made a thoroughly modern European sex movie. Liv Tyler launched her film career as virginal Lucy, seeking love, sex and her father in an Italian artist’s colony. Long, loving views of Tyler and the Tuscan countryside make the film a beauty to behold, indeed.