Movies with explicit sex scenes will always be subject to scandalous rumours that there’s more going on under the sheets than audiences can see. Some scenes just seem to be too realistic to be faked (e.g. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now) while some rumours are sparked by the fact that the actors were romantically linked off camera at the time of shooting (e.g. Carré Otis and Mickey Rourke in Wild Orchid). Sometimes even assurances from the filmmakers and actors involved aren’t enough to quash these pesky rumours, even decades after the movies have been released. However, there are actually a few mainstream, non-pornographic movies which are much more candid about the fact that they feature very real unsimulated sex.
10. Intimacy (2001)
The Brits have never been too shy about including explicit sexual content in their movies. This may seem rather surprising given the draconian nature of the BBFC, but the editing board made a pretty big concession for downbeat drama Intimacy. Intimacy was the first mainstream English language film to feature unsimulated sex and to be released completely uncut. The film stars Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox as a couple who regularly meet up in a dilapidated house for a no strings attached affair. As realistic as the sex scenes look, there was no penetrative sex between the two actors but Fox does perform very brief fellatio on Rylance in one scene.
9. Romance (1999)
Sexually charged French arthouse film Romance caused a stir when it was released in 1999. Featuring scenes of full frontal male and female nudity (including a scene of a pretty thorough-looking vaginal medical examination), fellatio, penetrative sex, masturbation and ejaculation, Romance unsurprisingly felt the wrath of the editors when it was released in some countries (the UK asked for a 1 second cut from an ejaculation scene) although it received fairly mainstream distribution across Europe and was the first movie to feature real sex in Australia to be rated the R18+ classification. One fantasy sequence in the movie clearly features penetrative sex but it’s unclear whether lead actress Caroline Ducey actually had sex on camera in another explicit scene. Seeing as the other actor in that particular scene is porn legend Rocco Siffredi, it seems quite likely that they may have.
8. Cruising (1980)
Cruising is a seedy thriller starring Al Pacino as an undercover police detective exploring the world of S&M in order to catch a serial killer who is targeting gay men. When the film was released in 1980 it was met by public protests from activists as well as the gay community who criticised the film for being homophobic in its treatment and attitude towards gay culture. Cruising was heavily edited by director William Friedkin to get an R rating after it received an X classification (he said that he had to cut it down by 40 minutes and the excised footage is now thought to have been lost or destroyed), but he managed to slip in subliminal, single frame shots of hardcore anal sex during the film’s first murder scene.
7. The Idiots (1998)
Lars Von Trier is probably one of the most provocative filmmakers working today. The writer/director attracted attention when he, along with other Danish directors, came up with the ‘Dogme 95’ manifesto; a new cinematic movement which emphasised storytelling and performances over gimmicky filmmaking and style over substance techniques. Von Trier’s entry was the highly controversial comedy drama The Idiots. The film follows a group of young adults who act out in public and pretend to be developmentally disabled as a form of provocative self-expression. In one of the movie’s most controversial scenes, the group take part in a gangbang and brief penetrative sex is shown (although Von Trier admits that a stand-in was used and it wasn’t two of the main actors having sex).
6. Antichrist (2009) & Nymphomaniac (2013)
In recent years Von Trier may have worked with a wide range of Hollywood actors but this hasn’t stopped the daring filmmaker from his controversial ways. His trippy 2009 horror film Antichrist features graphic sex and sexual violence throughout. However, he used body doubles for an early scene where the two main characters (played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) are shown having penetrative sex. He took things further for his 2013 double bill Nymphomaniac Pt. I and Pt. II by filming body doubles having sex and digitally superimposing their genitilia over the bodies of the movie’s well-known stars.
5. The Brown Bunny (2003)
Chloe Sevigny is arguably one of the ‘biggest’ actresses to have engaged in unsimulated sex on screen. The actress made her name in movies for indie filmmakers like Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, but she found mainstream success when she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her role in Boys Don’t Cry. However, her career seemed to be in trouble after she starred in Vincent Gallo’s infamous indie disaster the Brown Bunny. The arthouse flick sent the media into a frenzy because it featured a long (and pretty boring) scene of Sevigny performing oral sex on Gallo. Sevigny was dropped as a client from the William Morris Agency who commented that she had ‘tainted’ herself, but the risky project didn’t affect her in the long run and she has continued to find mainstream success in the years since.
4. Baise-moi (2000)
French rape-revenge thriller Baise-moi was called out by many critics as being nothing more than extreme, sick pornography. The movie stars porn actresses Karen Lancaume and Raffaëla Anderson as they play two wronged young women who go on a violent crime spree together. Baise-moi (which literally translates to “Fuck Me”) was banned in several countries and heavily edited in others for its scenes of graphic violence and very explicit sex acts involving penetration and fellatio.
3. Shortbus (2006)
Indie darling John Cameron Mitchell followed up his acclaimed cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch with a very frank look at sex. Comedy drama Shortbus weaves its way through the lives of a group of young New Yorkers as they explore the frustrations, excitements and experimentations of sex. Shortbus features very explicit scenes of masturbation, penetrative sex, fellatio and even autofellatio. Unlike other unsimulated sex-heavy movies on this list, the movie was actually met with critical acclaim and Mitchell was praised for making the very real sex acts relevant to his funny, touching and intimate script without it feeling like a gimmick to stir up controversy and attention.
2. Caligula (1979)
Caligula is probably the most prestigious porno ever made. Back in the 70s, Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione set out to make a sexually explicit feature film with high production values set during the decadent reign of mad Roman emperor Caligula. Working from an original script by Gore Vidal, Tinto Brass was hired as director and presided over a stellar cast of British actors which included Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud. However, while the actors knew that they had signed on for a gritty, explicit historical drama, they had no idea what the final movie would end up like. Vidal left the project during production because Brass kept changing his script and spiced it up with more orgies, phallic imagery and plenty of female nudity (‘Penthouse Pets’ were always on hand to provide naked bodies). However despite Guccione’s constant demands, Brass balked at the idea of shooting actual sex acts to be included into the movie. After filming had wrapped, Guccione apparently snuck onto the set with a small crew and filmed hardcore sex scenes which he later edited into the film, along with other scenes of depravity. Both Brass and Vidal disavowed the film and took their names off the credits. However, Caligula rode its wave of controversy to the bank and went on to become a financial hit at box offices around the world despite receiving widespread negative reviews.
1. 9 Songs (2004)
British director Michael Winterbottom has a reputation for approaching controversial and often challenging subject matters in his films. In 2004, he wrote and directed the low-budget romantic drama 9 Songs, a ‘modern love story’ which follows the brief, intense relationship between a young couple. Winterbottom took an experimental approach by filming the couple (played by Kieran O’Brien and Margot Stilley) as they attended live gigs of bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Von Bondies and Primal Scream. However, the film received considerable attention for its explicit and very graphic sexual nature. The pair engage in mutual masturbation as well as penetrative and oral sex throughout, with Winterbottom not being shy about showing everything that goes on in the bedroom (including a very controversial shot of male ejaculation). The film divided critics with some calling it a failed arthouse experiment while others praised its brave look at modern relationships.