By Blake Turck
The 1990s are known for many film trends, and the rise of one genre in particular, the ‘90s erotic thriller. Though plenty of these style movies came before and after, it's this decade that really birthed the movement, an onslaught of films (memorable and not) featuring mystery, intrigue, murder, lust, and, of course, lots of sexiness.
The erotic thriller wasn't exactly a new phenomenon. It started with film noir in the ‘20s, which grew in popularity from the ‘30s through ‘50s. It was a darker atmosphere, rich with debated morality and realism. Exploring the ideas of how men and women really relate. It also brought a stronger female (or as she's also called: a femme fatale) into the forefront.
After that era, noir seemed to dissipate, making room for new focus, and different character studies.
By the ‘80s however, they had re-emerged as neo-noir. Repackaged as thrillers, or suspense with a slightly new sensibility, and updated leading lady. Brian de Palma took the reigns, taking modernized noir and creating erotic thrillers like Dressed to Kill and super guilty pleasure Body Double.
In 1992, the genre changed again with the epitome of the erotic thriller: Basic Instinct and its femme fatale Catherine Tramell. Writer Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven ruled the ‘90s with these types of movies and created a growing and divisive film trend which thrived. It also paved the way for imitators and a new generation of the genre.
More regarded dramas like Internal Affairs or The Last Seduction. Also overt, cheesy films like Jade and Sliver (both Eszterhas) and the kooky Color of Night. They put women in power of their sexuality while simultaneously objectifying them. Many are corny, or crass. And there's lots of elevator jazz music. Yet for some unknown reason they continue to captivate me. Maybe it's just the thrill of a salacious mystery.
After the ‘90s, the erotic thriller seemed to die down. Though we continue to occasionally find them (Black Swan, Nocturnal Animals), they're not a flourishing genre. But in a turbulent world, there's hope we can still find a place in modern society for the escapist fun that is erotic thrillers. In all their forms.
Here are nine of the best ‘90s erotic thrillers:
Verhoeven's infamous film catapulted Sharon Stone into fame and remains under appreciated. It's brilliance mostly masked by its infamy and notorious issues.
The cult classic that launched a thousand paranoid female roommates. Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, each in some of their best. A stiletto heel and a sexy, crazy Leigh puts this one high on the list of best nineties erotic thrillers.
The super sexy Wild Things is a soft core erotic thriller, the kind you might find on Cinemax late at night. But it also has elements of old film noir, including a constantly twisting mystery, and a sultry setting.
Linda Fiorentino never quite made it big, but she still remains an unforgettable femme fatale. Especially of ‘90s erotic thrillers. Her turn in The Last Seduction both dazzled and intrigued.
Another Eszterhas creation hot on the heels of Basic Instinct's success. Stone's Carly Norris didn't have the charisma or presence of Catherine Tramell. But the movie's campy vibe, plus a memorable UB40 soundtrack means it still ranks on the list.
Easy to overlook, but the Alan J. Pakula-directed flick has notably noir ideas.
It would be impossible to talk about the best 90's erotic thrillers without including the beautiful bizarre disaster that is Color of Night. In the neo noir, erotic thriller we get a completely naked Bruce Willis, and love scenes complete with cringe worthy music . One DVD Netflix reviewer described it as "terrible, complete and total trash.… extremely entertaining though."
A standard ‘90s thriller (ok, ok, technically this one is '89) with extra schmaltz. A “is she or isn't she a killer” storyline (pre-dating Basic Instinct) and some seriously sexy moments between stars Pacino and Barkin.
Manhattan native, writer, story-teller and founder of NYC site Style Island. Obsessed with movies, (especially classics), 70's typography, Jean Paul Belmondo, and vintage. An old soul who can be found anytime devouring cappuccinos and discussing cinema.