When the art critic Roland Penrose asked Picasso what he thought of the distinction between eroticism and pornography, he answered: “Oh, is there any difference?” The boundaries between both genres can be so diffuse that it often leads the viewer to get confused.

One of the most obvious cases of this occurring is in cinema. While there are movies that have gotten into the porn ghetto and are real jewels of the seventh art (Deep ThroatBehind the Green Door or The Devil in Miss Jones), others have been released in commercial halls, despite including explicit sex scenes.

A study from the British Psychological Society maintains that the intelligence of men decreases when they contemplate nude women. It’s time to cool the head and review some films that, supported by cinematic alibis, have made their way into the bag of “normal”… but are actually are fairly pornographic.

1. Eyes wide shut (1999): Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in search of pleasure

What is it about? William (Tom Cruise), a prestigious New York doctor and head of a happy family, sees his life turn upside-down when his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) confesses that she has had sexual fantasies involving strangers. As a result of this, William explores his own perversions, making contact with a secret society devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.

Why is it porn? For the twisted version of sex offered by the director, Stanley Kubrick. From the long scene involving masks in the orgy, where disturbing pagan rites are mixed with all kinds of sexual aberrations, to the torrid bedroom scenes where we see Kidman naked. As a side note, Cruise and Kidman were married at that time, although their marriage hardly lasted another year.

The film is so morbid that porn film producers released lots of parodies and (more) explicit versions: the most recommended of which is Open Relationship, where porn stars Romi Rain and Danny Mountain emulate Kidman and Cruise.

 

2. sex and Lucia (2001): explicit sex with intellectual instincts

What is it about? Lucía (Paz Vega) is a waitress from Madrid who escapes to the island of Formentera after the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Tristán Ulloa). But instead of a new life, Lucía finds the ghosts of their torrid relationship.

Paz Vega and Tristán Ulloa in bed in the film Sex and Lucia (2001), shot on the island of Formentera.

Why is it porn? Because the footage is full of erotic scenes, which caused problems in the USA when it came to placing ads in certain newspapers. Despite this, or precisely because of this, it destroyed the box office. The public flocked to see Paz Vega naked, peeing, showering or copulating in very varied positions and situations. Elena Anaya also appears in a disturbing masturbation scene. The director, Julio Medem, acknowledged: “There are totally explicit sex situations, very close to pornography. History demanded it that way and so I shot it.”

 

3. The lover (1992): passion has no age

What is it about? Year 1929. In colonial Vietnam, a French teenager (Jane March) meets a handsome Chinese merchant (Tony Ka Fai Leung) who could be her father or, at least, her older brother. Despite their age difference and the tensions between their respective ethnic groups, they become lovers.

The Lover (1992) is an adaptation of the novel by the French writer Marguerite Duras.

Why is it porn? This adaptation of the already erotic novel by Marguerite Duras benefits from the beauty of the bodies of its protagonists who, by spending a large part of the film naked, make the film not boring at any time. The rest is to the credit of the director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, who is capable of turning fiery encounters into something that is worthy of winning awards.

So suited was March to the bed scenes that she was pigeonholed into erotic roles, such as the erotic thriller Color of Night (1994).

 

4. Diary of a nymphomaniac (2008): censored in the canopies

What is it about? Val (Belén Fabra), a young woman in financial difficulty and very fond of sex, decides to become a prostitute.

Why is it porn? A weak plot serves as a pretext for the Spanish director Christian Molina to string together sex sequences, somewhat hampered by an unfortunate voice-over and a morality that clashes with the aesthetic proposal of the film.

The result only scared the traditional sectors of Spanish society: the poster of the film, where we see a woman putting her hand in her underwear, was banned in the Madrid marquees.

 

5. Tie me up! tie me down (1989): a mental patient’s infatuation

What is it about? Recently released mental patient Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is obsessed with porn actress Marina (Victoria Abril), who he falls madly in love with the day he sleeps with her. Moved by passion, he kidnaps her, determined not to let her go until she realises that he is the man of her dreams.

Director Pedro Almodóvar wanted a Madelman Diver doll to get between Victoria Abril’s legs in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989).

Why is it porn? It includes one of the best sex scenes in the history of Spanish cinema, where the director, Pedro Almodóvar, films the actors using a mirror located on the ceiling. As if that were not enough, there is the famous bathtub scene, where a model Madelman diver dives between the legs of Abril … and makes her smile.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! premiered just after the Oscar-winning Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), so the US distributors bought it blindly, only to find a intense sex film that was rated X in the first place.

 

6. Caligula (1979): the Roman Empire breaks loose

What is it about? It’s the story of the ancestry and fall of the Roman Emperor Caligula (played by Malcolm McDowell), focusing especially on his fondness for orgies.

Why is it porn? For starters, Caligula was produced by the movie arm of the porn magazine Penthouse. In addition, it was directed by Tinto Brass, a filmmaker specialising in eroticism that displays a succession of scenes that includes everything: masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, sadomasochism, homosexual sex and, of course, orgies.

Five years after its release, the Penthouse editor, Bob Guccione, produced an “uncensored” version that included the perversions that Brass did not dare to shoot.

 

7. the Dreamers (2003): incestuous trio in Paris

What is it about? It’s Paris, 1968. Isabelle (Eva Green) and her brother Theo (Louis Garrel) take advantage of the fact that their parents are travelling to invite North American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) to their home. The three together will be entangled in a series of emotional and erotic games that will take them far away.

Why is it porn? Director Bernardo Bertolucci, who had already caused global scandal with Last Tango in Paris (1972), tried to repeat the same some 30 years later. While the result only had half the impact, we could see the beautiful Green having a threesome with two men in the bathtub. And as Bertolucci said in one of the interviews of the time, “transgression cannot be achieved now, because there are no taboos”.

 

8. blue is the warmest color (2013): scandal at the Cannes festival

What is it about? A teenage girl named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) discovers the delights of sex in the arms of Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young girl with blue hair who falls in love with her.

Why is it porn? If we take into account that it lasts three hours, it is not so much the time dedicated to the sexual encounters of the protagonists, but its highly explosive footage. To interpret the bed scenes, the actresses had to wear prosthetic vaginas made with rubber and artificial hair.

Prior to the Cannes Film Festival, the film was mired controversy. Even the actresses considered the decision of the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, to shoot such long and detailed sexual scenes as excessive. “The most complicated thing was to repeat them again and again, because there comes a time when you feel humiliated and deranged,” confessed Seydoux.

 

9. The ages of Lulu (1990): from curiosity to voluptuousness

What is it about? When she was 15 years old, Lulu (Francesca Neri) had an unforgettable sexual experience with Pablo (Óscar Ladoire), an adult friend of his parents. Years later, the couple meet again to put into practice all the forbidden desires that they have been feeding over the years.

Francesca Neri gave life to Lulú, along with a very young Javier Bardem in The Ages of Lulu (1990).

Why is it porn? Angela Molina, who was the actress chosen to play the role of Lulu, left the project 10 days before filming began saying: “I had sold a story of eroticism that, at the moment of truth, is porn.”

This film, which was originally titled by its director Bigas Luna From Curiosity to Nymphomania, is not a normal movie where sometimes there is sex, but is instead a bacchanal of few non-erotic moments. The film also involved the discovery of Javier Bardem, who is part of a group sex scene.

 

10. Ken Park (2002): juvenile debauchery

What is it about? It is a  crazy story of a gang of middle-class Californian teenagers who kill their existential anguish by watching TV, skating and getting involved in casual sex.

Why is it porn? With the excuse of offering a crude portrait of the Yankee youth, the directors, Larry Clark and Edward Lachman, embroider a succession of scenes of explicit and sweaty sex. Its premiere was banned in Australia and in several American states.

 

11. and your mother too (2001): triangle of bizarre love

What is it about? Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) are two young Mexicans who meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú) at a party, a Spaniard who is 10 years older than them and married Tenoch’s cousin. Without thinking twice, Luisa and the two friends t embark on a trip that is full of tensions, fights and lots of sex.

Why is it porn? In this Mexican film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Verdú revalidates her erotic status during a scene when she performs oral sex on the two men while they kiss.

 

12. Intimacy (2001): furtive and laconic sex

What is it about? Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance’s characters meet in secret once a week to have sex. She arrives at his house, they get naked and make love on the floor without saying a word. Things start to change when the man begins to be interested in the life of the woman.

Why is it porn? The way, cold and silent, in which the protagonists copulate, and the fact that they are not precisely sex symbols, but a middle-aged man and woman, makes the sex scenes of this unique feature film is powerfully reminiscent to amateur porn.

The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and generally received good reviews, but the critic Carlos Boyero did not like it, saying: “Detestable. The characters repel me. They are ugly, dirty, vulgar and dull. And if the role is about pure and hard sex, I prefer any mediocre porn.”

 

13. Last Tango in Paris (1972): a classic that was ahead of the times

What is it about? A middle-aged American (Marlon Brando) and a young French woman (Maria Schneider) meet by chance when they go to see an empty apartment in Paris, and end up having sex. Afterwards, they meet for a new sexual encounter without asking each others’ names.

Why is it porn? It is a collection of explicit sex scenes, among which is the most memorable and now legendary moment in which Schneider is sodomised with butter by Marlon Brando –  an idea that occurred to the actor while he was having breakfast. The director, Bernardo Bertolucci, decided to hide that part of the script from the actress to give realism to the scene.

Maria Schneider, Marlon Brando and the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris (1972). It was the actor’s idea that Schneider did not like too much.

On the scene, Schneider said: “Bertolucci used me and humiliated me, forced me to do something that was not in the script.”

 

14. Lovers: a true story (1991): when a man loves two women

What is it? Paco (Jorge Sanz) is a guy who has just left the army and decides to settle in Madrid and marry Trini (Maribel Verdú), his lifelong girlfriend. Everything is twisted when a cheerful widow named Luisa (Victoria Abril) seduces Paco and both fall into an obsessive and vicious relationship that eclipses the innocent love of Trini.

Why is it porn? Lovers is a thriller set in the 1950s Spain, and full of exciting moments. The lethal love triangle in which the character of Sanz is immersed serves as an excuse to capture, on the big screen, two types of sexual relationships: the tender and candid (offered by his formal girlfriend) and the wild and lascivious (courtesy of his lover).

Jorge Sanz, Maribel Verdú and Victoria Abril star in a love trio in Lovers: A True Story (1991), directed by Vicente Aranda and set in 1950s Spain.

The director, Vicente Aranda, threw caution to the wind and filmed the bed scenes as nobody had filmed before, at least in Spain. Maybe it’s because, as his friend and collaborator Roman Gubern said, “he was an atheist, but one of the real ones, so the meaning of his life was given by sex.”

 

15. ‘Shame’ (2011): portrait of a sex addict

What is it about? Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a young New Yorker of unbridled lubricity. Engaged in sex, he spends his life consuming pornography, maintaining sporadic relationships with strangers or hiring the services of prostitutes. One fine day, he receives a surprise visit from his little sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who intends to spend a few days with him.

Why is it porn? It is a constant bombardment of scabrous images, which include masturbating scenes, gay riffs in clubs and a frontal nudity that showed the world how well-endowed Fassbender is.

Despite the erotic charge of the film, it is not a vision of festive and positive sex, but rather the opposite. According to the director, Steve McQueen, “the film focuses on a person who enjoys all Western liberties and who, through his apparent sexual freedom, creates his own prison.”

 

16. Henry & June (1990): vicissitudes of an Epicurean bohemian

What is it about? Set in the 1930s, the film is inspired by erotica writer Anaïs Nin (played by Maria de Medeiros), and her relationship with novelist Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his wife June (Uma Thurman).

Why is it porn? Because of the high density of naked bodies. Especially attractive are the lesbian scenes, where the bodies of Thurman, de Medeiros and Brigitte Lahaie merge into a carnal symphony not suitable for the heart.

The director, Philip Kaufman, is inspired by the diaries of Anaïs Nin, who, as is known, considered her sexual life and her literature to be indissoluble.

 

17. in The realm of the Senses (1976): Song of Lust

What is it? Tokyo, 1936. Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), a former prostitute who now serves in a hotel, and the owner of the establishment, Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji), lock themselves in a room to indulge in a kind of sexual marathon, where anything goes in order to maximise orgasms.

Why is it porn? First, because the actors really copulate. And second, because it is almost a catalogue of sexual perversions, ranging from sadomasochism to castration. The excuse? As the male protagonist says, “my pleasure lies in giving you pleasure and obeying all your desires.”

The director of the film, Nagisa Oshima, had to register the film in France, since Japanese laws would not have allowed it to do so on Japanese soil. Although it premiered in Cannes, where it left the most seasoned audience mute, it was banned at the New York Festival and banned for many years in countries such as Canada, Ireland or Japan.

 

18. 9 songs (2004): sex, toys and pop music

What is it about? American student Lisa (Margo Stilley) and Londoner Matt (Kieran O’Brien) meet at a concert at the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and start a relationship in which sex is everything.

Why is it porn? More than porn, pop porn, because the film is composed of a handful of bed scenes between the protagonists and performances of alternative pop bands such Primal Scream, Dandy Warhols or Franz Ferdinand.

In 9 Songs (2004), by indie film director Michael Winterbottom, the actors have real sex.

This, and the fact that the film is directed by the head of indie film Michael Winterbottom, allowed it to be released in theatres, despite being porn: in fact, the actors have real sex.

 

19. Room in Rome (2010): without getting out of bed

What is it about? A Russian (Natasha Yarovenko) and a Spaniard (Elena Anaya) meet at a hotel in Rome and spend 12 hours together, without leaving the room, where they exchange laughter, confidences and body fluids.

Why is it porn? After several setbacks at the box office, the Basque director Julio Medem returned to try his luck with Sex and Lucia’s formula, that is: sex, sex and sex. This time, with no alibi of any kind and no men to muddy his fantasies. Only a couple of actresses whispering, kissing, sucking and, in short, loving each other as if there were no tomorrow. Yarovenko has said: “Elena and I have undressed physically, but also emotionally.”

Natasha Yarovenko admitted that Elena Anaya and she had “undressed physically, but also emotionally” during the filming of Room in Rome (2010).

 

20. Nymphomaniac (2013): luscious exploits

What is it about? One night, an old bachelor (Stellan Skarsgard) stumbles across a wounded girl (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in an alley. After taking her home, the girl tells him the details of her life, which has been full of potholes, darkness and, of course, sex.

Why is it porn? Because that’s what this director, the indomitable Lars von Trier, wanted. After the Antichrist, when we thought we had seen it all, the Danish director decided to produce a film with a high pornographic content of more than five-and-a-half hours, which had to be released in two parts and in two versions: one more explicit and another more edited.

Lars von Trier digitally composed the genitals of porn actors onto the bodies of the protagonists in Nymphomaniac (2013).

For the sex scenes, the filmmaker digitally composed the genitals of porn actors onto the cast members’ bodies. Despite this, Gainsbourg complained in interviews of the difficulty of working with von Trier: “He is sex obsessed and made me feel terrible. But in the end there were only two things that I refused to do in Nymphomaniac : masturbate a porn actor and appear on the same plane as him while masturbating.”

thoughts?