As I sat in the theater, squinting through the darkness at my watch during “Fifty Shades of Grey’s” stunningly unexciting sex scenes, I thought to myself: Remember when sex on film was actually sexy?
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan,” for example. Or Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman.” Matt Dillon, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell in “Wild Things.”
According to film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, most critics are not turned on by the movie adaptation of E.L. James’s bestselling erotic novel. So, if you want a more-pleasurable experience, here are five movies we’d recommend that are 1) also about unusual relationships based on sex, 2) contain sex scenes that are genuinely sexy and 3) of much higher quality than “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
‘9 1/2 Weeks’
Year of release: 1986.
Stars: Mickey Rourke, as self-absorbed Wall Street shark John Gray, and Kim Basinger, as divorcee Elizabeth McGraw.
The strange thing is: This romantic drama could have been titled “9 1/2 Shades of Gray.” Not only is the guy’s last name Gray, but he too is self-absorbed, and his entire relationship with Elizabeth is built on getting her to satisfy his sexual urges, luring her beyond her boundaries, and causing her emotional pain.
Hottest scene: It involves Rourke and Basinger sitting on the floor in front of an open refrigerator, and him feeding her grapes, cherries, strawberries, wine, cough syrup, pasta, Jell-O, hot peppers, milk, soda water and honey. Lots and lots of honey.
‘Friends With Benefits’
Year of release: 2011.
Stars: Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as twentysomethings Dylan Harper and Jamie Rellis.
The strange thing is: There’s nothing lurid about this sweet rom-com. But the basis for the film’s sex may seem as foreign, to some, as “Fifty Shades of Grey’s”: After becoming friends, Dylan and Jamie agree to sleep with each other sans emotion or commitment. (Then things get complicated.)
Hottest scene: Creating a scene that’s both funny and sexy is a trick, but Timberlake and Kunis pull it off with gray silk sheets, Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” a little bit of coaching and a sudden sneeze.
‘Eyes Wide Shut’
Year of release: 1999.
Stars: Tom Cruise, as New York City doctor Bill Harford, and Nicole Kidman, as his wife, Alice.
The strange thing is: This dramatic, mysterious romance – which follows Bill’s walk on the (very) wild side after he learns Alice has had impure thoughts – came much closer to an NC-17 rating than “Fifty Shades,” thanks to a massive orgy that needed digital alteration to get an R.
Hottest scene: It happens in Bill’s imagination: Alice trysting with the young naval officer she once fantasized about.
Year of release: 2002.
Stars: James Spader, as demanding lawyer Mr. Grey, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as former mental patient Lee Holloway.
The strange thing is: The male lead is again named Grey, and on top of that, it too is about a man exerting control over an impressionable young woman. Oh, and Mr. Grey is obsessed with sadomasochism. This movie is a little more twisted than “Fifty Shades,” but a lot more fun (and funny).
Hottest scene: There are several, although the one that finds Lee by herself feels strikingly authentic.
Year of release: 1983.
Stars: Tom Cruise, as high school senior Joel Goodsen, and Rebecca De Mornay, as call girl Lana.
The strange thing is: Made for $6.2 million, the dramedy grossed $63 million and was the stuff of fantasies for countless teenage boys in the 1980s: Boy meets hooker, boy falls for hooker, hooker falls for him.
Hottest scene: After both Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and a few commuting stragglers disperse, Joel and Lana find themselves alone on a Chicago “L” train late at night.