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10 sexiest films of all time, from Basic Instinct to Moonlight

Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct, 1992 (Alamy Stock Photo)
Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct, 1992 (Alamy Stock Photo)

Valentine's day can sometimes be a slog, with couples feeling obliged to buy gifts (most of which fall flat) and dine out in restaurants rammed full of other couples, all desperate to prove their romance isn't dead.

But for others, that fire is still raging: and Valentine's is an opportunity to fuel that passion even further. For those looking for a bit of inspiration on the night, here's our selection of the sexiest, most erotic movies of all time.

In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

Nagisa Ōshima’s In the Realm of the Senses is arguably the sexiest film of all time. It tells the story of an obsessional love affair between a hotel owner and a maid who works for him, which culminates in a crime of passion (and which is based on a true story). Although the film was quite hard to get hold of, the Criterion Collection has now re-released it, and copies can be bought on Amazon and on the film’s website. For some, it’s worth it: one reviewer said, “This uncompromising film has not dated one iota, perhaps because films that are really about sex are still such a rarity... Oshima’s film widens and deepens the sensual realm.”

Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct was controversial long before it was released, and then became one of the most talked about films of the year, grossing a whopping $352 million worldwide. Three decades later, the film is still regarded as one of the sexiest of all time. The erotic thriller, with sex very much at the centre of the story, was directed by Paul Verhoeven. It stars Sharon Stone stars as Catherine Tramell, a wealthy author who is suspected of murder when her lover is killed in the exact same way as a murder in one of her novels. Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) investigates the case, but starts falling for Catherine and her mind games.

Lust, Caution (2007)

The title of Ang Lee’s unforgettable erotic espionage film describes the narrative in a nutshell. Set in the late Thirties and early Forties, the story is about a group of Chinese students who plan to assassinate collaborating police chief Yee, (Tony Leung) during Japan’s occupation of China. Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is selected to seduce him. There's a long, slow build up to the love affair, which makes it all the more impactful and intense.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

This erotic mystery from Stanley Kubrick tells the story of husband and wife Bill Hartford’s (Tom Cruise) and Alice (Nicole Kidman) whose sexual fantasies start to have real-life consequences. Bill ends up being drawn into an underground sex cult after Alice admits she has been feeling unfulfilled by their love life. Although the clandestine party makes for a thrilling watch, it’s the private moments between Bill and Alice at home that are actually sexy.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, is also widely regarded as one of the sexiest of all time, but for very different reasons than Basic Instinct. The film, which tells the story of two Mexican teenage boys who take a road trip from Mexico City to a beach in Oaxaca with a Spanish woman in her late twenties, has been heralded for the open, joyful way it depicts sex.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

This stunningly shot story from Céline Sciamma tells the story of painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) who has been hired by the mother of aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) to secretly paint a portrait of her daughter. Héloïse has been refusing to be painted because when her portrait is completed it will be sent to a Milanese nobleman she will then be married off to. As Marianne and Héloïse spend time together, they start to fall in love. Forbidden desire is this film’s undercurrent, which culminates in a memorable sex scene.

Moonlight (2016)

This gorgeous Oscar-winning film written and directed by Barry Jenkins follows a young man, Chiron, as he grapples with his sexuality and identity growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood of Miami. The film, which focuses on three key chapters of his life, does not have explicit sex scenes or nudity (though they are indicated) But still manages to be sexy. Tension is sky-high between Chiron and Kevin, the young man with whom he has an on-off love interest.

Love (2015)

Gaspar Noé is known for his outrageous, sometimes mind-blowing, sometimes horrible – but always interesting – films. So his explicit love story, Love, which has a number of unsimulated sex scenes (and 3D ejaculation sequence) was always going to divide critics. It’s a meditation on sexual love, following the story of young couple Murphy (Karl Glusman) and Electra (Aomi Muyock) in Paris as they go through relationship highs and lows.

Noé’s goal with the film was to depict sexual intimacy, in a way that is so rarely seen on screen. “When you’re madly in love with someone, you only think about having sex and kissing and hugging and taking a shower with the person,” he said to Time. “I wanted to be as close as possible to what love addictions are.”

The Dreamers (2003)

Described by one critic as having “lashings of homoeroticism and incestuous fervour" Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is set in Paris in the Sixties, and stars Eva Green and Louis Garrel. The story, which is about youth, passion and freedom, follows exchange student Matthew (Michael Pitt) who befriends twins Théo (Garrel) and Isabelle (Green). Their relationship is bizarrely intimate and he gets drawn into their world of fantasy.

Body Heat (1981)

Set in a coastal Miami town in the middle of a heatwave, this erotic thriller from director and writer Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), tells the story of a woman (Kathleen Turner) who persuades her lover (William Hurt) to murder her husband. The Eighties hair and music still very much work, adding to, rather than detracting from, the film's tension, and Body Heat remains an intelligent exploration of lust and greed.