There's a difference between sexy films and erotic ones. It's a small, almost undetectable difference, but it's definitely there. Especially in films that have been released in the 2000s, when the definition of sexy expanded from being a man and a woman having passionate sex to anything you could possibly imagine. These modern erotic movies released since 2000 focus on our fantasies, putting to film the dreams of our lusty selves that maybe we would prefer not to reveal but have no problem watching behind closed doors.
For many, erotica is one step away from being pornography. For others, it's the arty cousin of smut. Last Tango in Paris is an erotic film starring Marlon Brando and directed by an art house auteur Bernardo Bertolucci that uses butter in ways I won't ever forget. The same can be said about 9 1/2 Weeks with Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke and their ice cube filled tryst. But, no matter how well known these films are, it was Fifty Shades of Grey that managed to bring bondage, submission, and sadomasochism to the mainstream audience. That shows how far we've come.
Some of sexiest movies from the early 2000s are no longer considered "dirty;" they're now just a step above sexy. And best of all, you don't have to travel behind some black curtain: you can stream them online.
1. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Before he was Mozart in the Jungle, Gael García Bernal was just a teenage boy taking a road trip with his friend. Of course, that road trip would become his sexual awakening with a mysterious older woman and his bestie, played by Diego Luna. That scene in the hotel may be short — 30 seconds or so — but it won't be forgotten by those who see it.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
This David Lynch thriller will have you on the edge of your seat, which isn't much of a surprise — there's plenty of strange and occasionally horrifying imagery to go around. But Mulholland Drive also gives us one of the most beautifully shot lesbian love scenes ever put to film. Yes, from the guy who did Twin Peaks.
3. Secretary (2002)
Though it may have come out 13 years before Fifty Shades of Grey, this BDSM film feels so much more modern. Perhaps because Maggie Gyllenhaal's character seems very in control of the pleasure she seeks, even if she's allowing James Spader to control her. It doesn't make this sexual fantasy seem taboo, but instead something universal.
4. The Dreamers (2003)
This Bernardo Bertolucci film is not as iconic as Last Tango in Paris, but the Italian director certainly doesn't skimp on the sexiness or the sex. Yes, we're specifically talking about that threesome. In fact, if the R-rated version of this movie, which tells the story of an American college student in Paris who gets entangled with a strange brother and sister film-loving duo, doesn't quite do it for you, there's an uncut NC-17 version to see much more of Michael Pitt and Eva Green. Much, much more.
5. The Notebook (2004)
You may ask, "How can anything Nicholas Sparks has written be considered erotic?" And the truth is: only when it's in the capable hands of Nicholas Cassavetes, who turns this tearjerker into something that will make Sparks' readers blush. This movie is romantic, but that moment when Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams kiss in the rain takes it further. Their passion is palpable, and we've been waiting over an hour to see it put into action. It's also so wrong — she's about to get married! — but it just looks like it feels so right.
6. Closer (2004)
There's a lot of sex in this Mike Nichols movie, most of which feels rather dirty, because it's just so emotionally raw. However, the most erotic scene in Closer doesn't actually feature sex at all. It's watching Natalie Portman's character Alice — a stripper in a very pink bob —teasing Clive Owen in the pleasure room, toying with both his heart and his libido. It's cruel, it's sexy, and it's unforgettable.
7. Match Point (2005)
Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers have so much passion in this movie that they're ruining apartments because of it. There's something so wrong about what they're doing to their respective partners, but it's hard to look away when they're getting steamy in the rain and ripping each other's clothes to shreds. What can I say, moral compass be damned.
8. Atonement (2007)
Some may remember this Keira Knightley film as being a stodgy British Oscar nominee about what can happen when someone tells a lie. But that scene in the library between Knightley and James McAvoy will get your heart pounding as loudly as that ticking clock that seems to keep time with their hushed moans and heavy breathing.
9. Love & Other Drugs (2010)
This Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway movie is a tearjerker about what it really means to love someone in sickness when you're in good health. But it starts off as a sexy romp that shows these two getting it on pretty much everywhere. That's the part you should watch... and then maybe turn it off before anything sad happens.
10. Blue Valentine (2010)
This movie is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it covers the final moments of a marriage, flashing back and forth between the present and the past, when a couple — played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling — were young, beautiful and in love. But in that scene in which Gosling pleasures Williams in the shower (the one that got the movie an NC-17 rating) you can't help but feel aroused and possibly a little sad about his last-ditch attempt at intimacy.
11. Carol (2015)
This beautifully filmed drama by Todd Haynes focuses on the relationship between Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). Set in the '50s, no one was very keen on the idea of two women having an affair, which this film deals with without being heavy-handed. Haynes also gives the world one of the sweetest and sexiest love scenes between two women. It's not played to be risque, but tasteful — showing two women in the heat of passion, enjoying each other's bodies, which is hard not to enjoy when watching.
Films like Last Tango in Paris feel like another generation's erotica, which means it's time to update the canon. These 11 movies are what women of this millennium want from their erotic films.