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The 50 Best Sexy Movies of the 21st Century, from ‘Spring Breakers’ to ‘X’

From "Magic Mike" and "Y Tu Mamá También" to "Phantom Thread" and "Zola," here are the best sexy, steamy, and daring films of the 21st century (so far).

The Best Sexy Movies of the 21st Century

(Clockwise from bottom left): “Spring Breakers,” “The Handmaiden,” “Disobedience,” “Secretary,” and “Nymphomaniac”

Courtesy Everett Collection

40. “Hustle & Flow” (2005)

“Hustle & Flow”

Craig Brewer’s crowdpleaser about a pimp dreaming of music fame is anchored by strong performances from Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, and Taryn Manning. Howard plays Djay, while Henson and Manning are Shug and Nola, two of his girls. Hot-tempered and passionate, Djay begins making tracks with his friend Key (Anthony Anderson), and discovers he has a gift for lyrics. The catchy original soundtrack helps sell the story, as Djay’s songs seem to actually have a chance at getting radio play. While the strip club setting provides ample shots of semi-nude women, Djay and Shug’s sweet romance gives the film its emotional core and shows a softer side to Djay (and his temper). Their undeniable chemistry leads the previously timid Shug to throw down a sexy hook, her raspy croon on “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” making Henson’s star power glaringly obvious. —JD

39. “The Favourite” (2018)

THE FAVOURITE, from left: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, 2018. ph: Atsushi Nishijima / TM & copyright © Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved. / courtesy Everett Collection

“The Favourite”

Fox Searchlight / Everett Collection

Hot and heavy royal trysts are nothing new, with bodice rippers like “The Tudors” and “Bridgerton” attracting viewers who like their onscreen sex with a dash of historical sophistication. But nothing is ever as it seems in a Yorgos Lanthimos film, and the director of “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” took the period piece in a decidedly different direction with “The Favourite.” His black comedy trades royal romance for a Machiavellian power struggle, complete with blackmail and a torrid lesbian love triangle. Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne, the 18th-century English monarch who sleeps with both an influential duchess and, eventually, Emma Stone’s conniving Abigail. While the film’s story is an excellent reminder that powerful women can be just as susceptible to making bad decisions based on sex as men can, the fraught bedroom moments stand out as some of the most vividly bizarre love scenes in recent memory. —CZ

38. “Promising Young Woman” (2020)

"Promising Young Woman"

“Promising Young Woman”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Yes, “Promising Young Woman” is a tragic psychological thriller. It’s also an intoxicating portrait of one woman’s rape revenge fantasy, crystallized in a candy-colored female gaze aesthetic that’s cheeky, playful, and more than a bit sexy. Unflinching in its cynical perspective on pervasive rape culture, writer/director Emerald Fennell’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner includes very few intimate moments that end well; even the film’s main romance with a boyishly charming Bo Burnham proves a thorny rose. But the film’s bait-and-switch premise — a young woman (Carey Mulligan) leads strangers in bars to believe she’s drunk enough to take advantage of, only to turn the tables on the men once they’re alone — crackles with seductive trickery. From an orchestral “Toxic” cover to that unforgettable nurse’s costume, “Promising Young Woman” is a multi-faceted genre defier that will break your heart. —AF

37. “Raw” (2016)

Raw

“Raw”

Focus World

“Raw” is not for the faint of heart, but those who can stomach it will be rewarded with an unforgettable viewing experience. Julia Ducournau’s story of a vegetarian who develops an insatiable craving for flesh when she tastes meat for the first time is unapologetically violent and erotic, but never gratuitously so. The film eschews romance in favor of showing its protagonist satisfying her needs through rough, primal sex. It is certainly one of the sexier films about cannibalism ever made, but when you can look past the excessiveness, there’s a very real metaphor to take away. —CZ

36. “The Worst Person in the World” (2021)

“The Worst Person in the World”

Neon

Joachim Trier builds life-destroying sexual longing as so few do in his portrait of a woman in romantic crisis, “The Worst Person in the World.” Julie (Renate Reinsve) weighs romantic options between the more stable Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) and more chaotic choice Elvind (Herbert Nordrum). In her first encounter with Elvind, they agree not to touch, instead spending a night together at a raucous party outlining all the things they might do to each other if they both weren’t already in other relationships. A gorgeous and literally slow-burning shot of Julie and Elvind passing a smoke ring is one of the sexist moments on screens in recent years. And when she finally runs toward her future and into Elvind’s bed, the delayed psychosexual gratification is worth the wait. —RL

35. Take This Waltz” (2011)

TAKE THIS WALTZ, from left: Luke Kirby, Michelle Williams, 2011. Ph: Michael Gibson/©Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Take This Waltz”

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Sarah Polley’s hothouse will-they-or-won’t-they adultery drama “Take This Waltz” is sexiest in moments where there’s no actual sex happening at all between Michelle Williams’ aspiring travel writer Margot and Luke Kirby’s Daniel, an unctuously handsome artist and rickshaw driver. As Margot flirts with the idea of leaving her husband (Seth Rogen), she and Daniel share a volatile chemistry over midday martinis, detailing the not-safe-for-public things they would do to teach other if she wasn’t spoken for. Margot and Daniel eventually do turn their emotional affair into a physical one — and in a very torrid montage full of bodies undressing and kink stakes raising, set to the Leonard Cohen tune that gives the film its title. But the film’s most palpably erotic moments simmer in the longing gazes and unspoken passion that flame between the central pair. —RL

34. “Phantom Thread” (2017)

PHANTOM THREAD, from left: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, 2017. © Focus Features /Courtesy Everett Collection

“Phantom Thread”

©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collect / Everett Collection

On the surface, “Phantom Thread” may be made of a quiet, sheer material. But lift up the hem of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, and there’s an intricate network of emotional power dynamics and sexual politics handsewn throughout. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as British dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who selects factory worker Alma (Vicky Krieps) to become his new model and muse. The 1950s-set film positions Reynolds and Alma as an obvious couple in context, despite their glaring differences in taste, status, and demeanor. But as the film slowly unravels under the audience’s gaze, it’s clear the duo have a shared nihilistic iciness. Alma and Reynolds dance (literally and figuratively) around which of them will succumb to their own desires, and which advances will land in fleeting contentment or unleash the wrath of a frustrated artist and overlooked muse. Don’t mistake “Phantom Thread” for a traditional love story; it’s a thriller wearing the coat of a romance rooted in self-hatred, and the true couple lies in Reynolds’ two personae within himself — the tortured inner artist and the famous, publicly revered fashion designer with a legacy to uphold. —SB

33. “Zola” (2020)

"Zola"

“Zola”

Courtesy Everett Collection

Sparked by a viral Twitter thread from 2015, Janicza Bravo’s “Zola” is a harrowing thriller about a cunning stripper, played by the revelatory Taylour Paige, and a deeply scary debacle involving three strangers and a road trip to Florida. When Zola is approached by Riley Keough’s Stefani — another dancer who seems nice enough — the pair become embroiled in a sinister but unquestionably intimate frenemy-ship that threatens to drag Zola into human trafficking. Again, this is a sexy and sex-positive title but it’s also laced with sobering dangers and features a series of coercive sexual encounters that are themselves decidedly repulsive. That said, supernova performances from both Paige and Keough, combined with snappy, internet savvy editing and costume designs from Derica Cole Washington, make “Zola” a seductive sight to behold. —AF

32. “American Honey” (2016)

American Honey

“American Honey”

A24

Andrea Arnold’s coming-of-age film won the Jury Prize at Cannes, telling the story of a young girl from Oklahoma who escapes her brutal household to pursue a salacious affair with a would-be cult leader played by Shia LaBeouf. The film is one of the best uses of LaBeouf’s talents to date, and turned its star Sasha Lane into an indie film darling. The relationship between its two leads is complicated and often problematic, with the film reaching no easy answers about their relationship. But the sex scenes, often shot very closely, are simultaneously sexy and intimate while conveying exactly why this girl chooses this man to help her escape reality. —CZ

31. “God’s Own Country” (2017)

“God’s Own Country”

Picturehouse

There is no “I can’t quit you” moment in writer-director Francis Lee’s expertly crafted cinematic debut, only the bleak but beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire countryside. Gorgeously shot and engaging from beginning to end, “God’s Own Country” is the kind of gay film more people should be making, unflinching in its approach to sex scenes. The documentary-style farm scenes elevate it far beyond traditional gay dramas, and it doesn’t make the mistake of confusing tragedy with quality. It’s the story of a young man named Johnny (Josh O’Connor), who is stuck (in many ways) managing his family’s livelihood in the wake of his father’s stroke. To help with lambing season, the family hires a Romanian migrant worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). While Johnny is well-versed in soliciting random sex at livestock auctions, he isn’t prepared for the intensity of real human connection — much less Gheorghe’s puppy-dog brown eyes. When the two head up the mountain to birth the lambs, things get muddy — and viscerally sexy, as Johnny and Gheorghe’s encounters take on an at first animalistic energy before evolving into something deeper and more tender. —JD

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