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What’s sexy about someone trying to kill you?

As Fifty Shades makes a blockbuster out of bondage, we chart the allure of erotic thrillers that cut a little deeper

There’s something quite sexy about sleeping with someone you suspect may also be trying to kill you. We’re talking about sexually complex, physically charged relationships on the silver screen. They are the type of tête-à-têtes that play out like a cat-and-mouse chase plagued with desire, making erotic thrillers so hot you want to get home and indulge in a bit of rough-n-tumble with your boo.

The most sexually evocative thrillers are usually about domination, imprisonment or entrapment – anything that’s deemed inappropriate by many. But that’s the appeal. In the same way that our most sexually heightened experiences are the ones where we play out fantasies we’d never talk about in public, erotic thrillers should provoke a reaction that causes a sexual stir within, even if what you see on screen isn’t on your usual list of turn-ons.

So, as Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of the EL James's book hits multiplexes and mums across the world continue their obsession with the tie-me-up, tie-me-down scenario between its two main characters, we remember the power of the physical thrill on the big screen.

SLIVER (1993)

This was a film that underscored three things: Sharon Stone’s continued reign as a sex goddess of the screen, the appeal of the Baldwin brothers, and (most importantly), just how hot voyeurism can be. With the tagline ‘You like to watch... don’t you’, it’s not surprising the film wasn’t a hit with critics, but then again, that’s what's kept it so cult. Stone plays a book editor who moves into a fancypants New York apartment block only to arrive amid talk of fellow female tenants being murdered. Then she starts to realise her place is bugged. In true Sharon Stone style, though, she finds it a bit arousing that there could be hidden cameras behind her bathroom mirror, because she’s having it off with her landlord (William Baldwin). Is he watching her? Is it him that’s responsible for the murders? These are the questions that play out as Stone’s character continues her steamy affair to what’s ultimately a very tricky ending.

BOUND (1996)

Any film that has a female lead called Corky deserves to be watched, and that’s just one of the sexy-cool traits this cult hit, directed by a pre-Matrix Wachowskis, plays host to. It was also a seductive step forward in sapphic relationships in American film. Gina Gershon plays the butch, dominant lesbian neighbour to Jennifer Tilly’s baby-voiced, LBD-wearing mob wife. The two begin an affair that’s physically so convincing you wonder if they were really getting it on behind the scenes. Gershon turns Tilly into a quivering, submissive, willing wreck, but as a plot to steal her husband’s money unfolds, the tables turn quickly. Neo-noir perfection.


What’s not to love about a movie that brings together 3D manga, a French-speaking Chloë Sevigny and eclectic actress Connie Nielsen getting caught up in the underground world of snuff movie sites. Directed by Olivier Assayas, the film is a vortex of oddball casting and random sexual costumes (Wonder Woman and rubber gimp suits both got a look in), offering a terrifying peek into the world of online secret sex. Nielsen plays Diane, a woman working for a French firm trying to buy the rights to a 3D manga series. When it turns out the company she’s working for is already involved in illegal sites that showcase actual torture for the viewing pleasure of very rich men, things take a really horrifying turn. Shocks aside, it’s internet voyeurism, Charles Berling as a sexually repressed businessman and Gina Gershon’s usual dose of sass that help give this thriller its sex appeal.

XX/XY (2002)

Threesomes have always made compelling viewing, especially when they last longer than a drunken night and proceed to get super-complicated as two of the ménage à trois fall in love, leaving the third wheel to go bat-shit crazy. In XX/XY, an early-00s gem, we get to see this type of story unfold. We also get to see a lot of Mark Ruffalo’s ass. Put simply, it’s about three friends (two girls, one guy) who meet at college and after a booze-fuelled night together, begin to push their sexual boundaries as a trio. Fast-forward eight years when everyone’s moved on from the mess and settled down, the three reconnect with consequences that threaten the stability they’ve each tried to make for themselves.


This Queer Palm-winning French thriller is authentic in a way that other films of its type aren’t because the sex scenes are very real. Even if those scenes were performed by body doubles and not the actors themselves, though, Stranger by the Lake pushes the envelope by portraying the story of a man who can’t help but fall for the bad guy. Filmed in a very scenic Provence, it focuses on Henri, a gay naturist who spends time by the homo-frequented side of the lake. He sets his sights on fellow bather Michel, who unfortunately turns out to be a murderer, as he discovers late one night in the woods when he sees him kill his boyfriend. That doesn’t stop the two beginning a sun-drenched, steamy affair, even though one of them knows he could get his neck snapped at any knee-dropping moment.