Junk Drawer: Sexually Controversial Movies

BY CHRISTOPHER HEIM

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is hardly the first film to raise “decency” controversy.

Even before the erotic romantic drama “Fifty Shades of Grey” landed in theaters, news outlets wouldn’t shut up about the film’s strong sexual content and BDSM themes. However, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is far from the first mainstream Hollywood flick to gain attention for containing “scandalous” erotic subject matter.

Basic Instinct (1992): After the brutal murder of a retired rock star, detective Nick Curran’s (Michael Douglas) investigation leads him into a torrid and tense affair with the prime suspect, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Paul Verhoeven’s (“Total Recall,” “Robocop”) erotic thriller generated heated controversy for its graphic violence, overt sexuality (especially the infamous leg-crossing scene that briefly exposed Stone’s vulva), and questionable portrayal of homosexual relationships. Despite the controversy, it went on to become one of the most financially successful films of the 90s.

 

Body Heat (1981): The directorial debut of Lawrence Kasdan (writer of “Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), the story follows a sleazy lawyer’s (William Hurt) intense affair with the wife (Kathleen Turner) of a wealthy businessman. Soon, the two lovers begin plotting to kill the husband and things get more complicated from there. This launched Turner’s career and established her as a sex symbol.

 

Boogie Nights (1997): Set in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, the plot focuses on a young nightclub dishwasher named Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg). Under the stage name “Dirk Diggler,” Adams becomes a popular pornographic movie star during the Golden Age of Porn in the 70s. However, the party can’t last forever and Adams soon has to confront the cold, hard reality of life. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”) and sports an all-star cast (Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reily).

 

Bound (1996): Before The Wachowskis popularized slow-motion bullet-dodging with “The Matrix,” their low-budget directorial debut concerned a woman named Violet (Jennifer Tilly), who is desperate to escape her relationship with her mobster boyfriend. After Violet enters into a secret affair with an apartment neighbor and ex-con named Corky (Gina Gershon), the two women soon concoct a plan to steal $2 million in mafia money. It not only received praise for its humor and film noir style, but also for perhaps being the first mainstream film to give a realistic portrayal of a lesbian relationship.

 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999): The swan song of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Shining”), who died six days after submitting the film’s final cut to Warner Brother’s Studios. Set in New York City, the plot follows the sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who recently learned the shocking revelation that his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) contemplated an affair a year prior. During his night-long enterprise, Harford infiltrates an unnamed secret society that engages in strange massive masked orgies. A brilliant deconstruction of the role that sex plays in our society and its dark implications.

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