Netflix’s new steamy series Obsession proves that erotic thrillers are officially back in our cultural zeitgeist.
The genre, which usually involves an illicit sexual relationship, a dangerous femme fatale and Michael Douglas playing a good guy trying his best not to be seduced, hit peak popularity in the 80s and 90s with films like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.
Since all but disappearing in the 2000s and 2010s, the genre has seen an unexpected renaissance in recent years.
In 2021, we saw Sydney Sweeney and Michael Mohan star in The Voyeurs, an erotic thriller that follows a young couple who become obsessed with the sex life of their neighbours. Not long after in 2022, iconic erotic thriller director Adrian Lyne returned with his first new film in over 20 years, Deep Water—an erotic thriller starring Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas.
More recently, Fatal Attraction reimagined for a new audience and of course, Netflix’s Obsession, a series based the 1992 erotic thriller Damage.
Of course, we can’t ignore that the return of a genre so rooted in 90s culture doesn’t come with it’s own problems. While the female characters are deadly and often portrayed to have more agency than the men they’re seducing, their power is still reduced to that of their bodies.
But if you can ignore the slightly problematic cultural politics, these films can provide some perfectly steamy, suspenseful and trashy escapism.
The Best Erotic Thrillers To Add To Your To Watch List
American Gigolo (1980)
American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian, a sex worker who gets asked to service a wealthy man (Tom Stewart) and his wife (Patricia Carr). After the wife turns up dead, Julian becomes the prime subject. The film is one of the earlier erotic thrillers but also one of the best.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Fatal Attraction in the film that’s credited with the erotic thriller’s rise in popularity, while also giving husbands everywhere a fear of cheating on their wives. The film follows Michael Douglas as Don Gallagher, a married lawyer whose one-night stand with a bunny boiling Glenn Close has fatal consequences.
Basic Instinct (1992)
Michael Douglas returns to the genre as police detective Nick Curran, who investigates a murder case and becomes entangled with the prime suspect. The film features that controversial vulva baring leg cross, which Stone later revealed she was tricked into filming.
Watch on Stan.
By now, you might have gathered that Michael Douglas practically defines the genre of erotic thriller. In Disclosure, which is based on a book by Michael Crichton, he plays another “good guy” who gets seduced by an evil temptress (this time played by Demi Moore) who’s after his job and his life.
Watch on Amazon Prime.
Cruel Intentions (1999)
Cruel Intentions is an adaptation of the classic French novel Les Liasons Dangereuses. The story follows two teenage step siblings (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe) who make a bet to sleep with the headmaster’s daughter (Reese Witherspoon) before the start of term. What makes the film even more fun is that Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon were actually into each other for real—even later getting married and having two kids together.
Watch on Amazon Prime.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut follows a married couple who become entangled in a web of infidelities after Alice (Nicole Kidman) tells her husband Bill (Tom Cruise) about her attraction to another man.
Wild Things (1998)
If you were a teenager in the 90s then you might have strong feelings about Wild Things. Set in a Florida resort town, the film follows two high school students who accuse their guidance counsellor of rape. The film is one of the first to show a threesome and full frontal male nudity on screen (aka Kevin Bacon’s penis). Basically, its a must watch.
Unfaithful is Adriane Lyne’s adaptation of the 1969 French film The Unfaithful Wife. The film follows Richard Gere and Diane Lane as a suburban married couple whose relationship struggles when the wife starts sleeping with a younger man.