Lest you think sex in movies started with 1992’s “Basic Instinct,” consider this list of the 5 best old erotic movies. In earlier generations, people looked to the movies to reflect contemporary attitudes about love and sex, just as they do today. These films are indicators of the passions of their times, and some of them are pretty darned hot even by modern standards.
- “Ecstasy.” A very modern film made in 1933, when future Hollywood legend Hedy Lamarr was still Czech actress Hedy Kiesler. Sultry Hedy swam nude, frolicked with a lover, and enjoyed what may be the first female orgasm captured on film (she swore she faked it). Hedy went on to a long Hollywood career, while the film was banned in America for seven years, and not shown in its complete form for decades.
- “The Blue Angel.” Marlene Dietrich set new standards for sultry with her role in this 1930 German import. Dietrich became an international star in her role as Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who destroys the professor who’s obsessed with her. The Hays censorship code came into effect a few years later, and American audiences would not see another film as unapologetically sexy as this one for decades.
- “The Seven Year Itch.” Lucky Tom Ewell is tempted by sexy upstairs neighbor Marilyn Monroe while his wife is out of town on a hot holiday weekend. Monroe sums up the sexual longings of a generation by stepping over a subway grate and letting her skirt fly where it may. Racy for the time, still sexy now, the scene became a pop-culture touchstone. After 1955, cinema sex would never be the same.
- “Barbarella.” Jane Fonda reinvented her own image in this 1968 live-action adaptation of a sexy French comic strip. As space-faring Barbarella, Fonda found herself in one scantily-clad situation after another, which she played as straight as any queen of camp. The will-she-or-won’t-she dynamic is only one factor that made this into a cult classic.
- “Last Tango in Paris.”Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar-nominated film pushed the envelope of what was permissible in 1972. Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider’s passionate lovemaking set new standards in cinematic sex, while exploring two characters who were desperately unhappy. The volatile combination inspired controversy, a huge box office, and critical acclaim. Critic Pauline Kael said, “This is a movie people will be arguing about for as long as there are movies.”