10 Best French Erotic Movies

A lot of films could be included on the list of the 10 best French erotic movies; the French are well known for sex and high-quality cinema. (Also, for food and superior attitudes, but that’s another list.) The following films are influential, award-winning or erotically charged, and often all three. (The groundbreaking “Last Tango in Paris took place in France, but it was actually an Italian production.)

  1. …And God Created Woman.” As far back as 1956, French filmmakers were shocking audiences around the world with their straightforward approach to sex. With this film, director Roger Vadim introduced his wife, sex symbol Brigitte Bardot, to the world. The movie also helped make foreign films fashionable in the United States.
  2. “Belle de Jour.” Pioneering art-film director Luis Buñuel always loved to push the boundaries, and by 1967, he had a whole new set of moral standards to flout. His method: casting French actress Catherine Deneuve, often regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women, in a series of masochistic fantasies. Deneuve’s character, a sexually frustrated housewife, found fulfillment in these scenarios, and the film won acclaim and the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival.

  3. “Barbarella.” Once again, Roger Vadim broke new ground, and once again, he cast his wife in the sexy central role. In 1968, that woman was Jane Fonda, who had fun destroying her previously wholesome image as the daughter of Hollywood icon Henry Fonda. The sexy sci-fi spoof became a cult classic; its legacy included the pop band Duran Duran, who took their name from one of the characters.

  4. “The Mother and the Whore.” Jean Eustache’s 1973 film contains neither a mother nor a whore, at least not literally. A Parisian couple reconsiders their relationship after adding a third, a rootless, promiscuous woman they met in a nearby café. The three talk about sex and every other topic in this award-winning and critically acclaimed film.

  5. “Emmanuelle.” Just Jaeckin’s 1974 film capitalized on the brief “porno chic” of the 1970s, when erotic films were first considered art. “Emmanuelle”’s stylish soft-focus scenes and lack of hardcore footage gave it increased appeal to couples who weren’t quite ready for “Deep Throat.” The influential film spawned numerous sequels and inspired other arty erotic films, such as “9 ½ Weeks.”

  6. “Betty Blue.” Director Jean-Jacques Beineix gained international acclaim for his debut film, “Diva.” His 1986 follow-up riveted audiences with its erotic opening sequence and unflinching approach to sex scenes. The movie was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

  7. “The Lover.” This 1992 French-English co-production made waves at the time of its release. It uncompromisingly portrayed the sexual awakening of lovely Jane March, dallying with a female classmate and an older Chinese man in 1920s Vietnam. It was based on the early life of author Marguerite Duras, and her subsequent novel.

  8. “Beyond the Clouds.” For the French, sex isn’t just a way to sell movie seats; it’s also a way to tell a story. In this 1995 anthology film, sex illustrates how people can fail to connect, even while making love. Or, in the case of Carmen and Silvano, their closest connection comes when they stop just short of touching each other’s naked bodies.

  9. “Romance.” Almost 50 years after “And God Created Woman,” the French were still breaking boundaries in sex and film. Catherine Breillat’s 1999 film made headlines for its unsimulated sex scenes, ushering in the taboo-breaking movement dubbed the “New French Extremity.” True to form, the sex was used to reveal the characters, who, as it turned out, didn’t like each other all that much.
  10. “The Dreamers.” Director Bernardo Bertolucci may be Italian, but his 2004 film is very French: produced in France, taking place during the May 1968 Paris riots, and referencing numerous classic French films. Sex scenes involving the film’s three central characters won the film controversy even as it won critical acclaim. As the French say: “Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose,” that is, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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