I know what you're thinking. Is this what it's come to? A list of erotic thrillers? Steamy romances? Glorified softcore? Sizzling sex scenes? Borderline-blue pictures? R-rated cinema?
But think again. Sexiness lies in the eyes of the beholder. Look beyond the physical implications, and "sexy" implies a very distinct kind of attraction. Sexy can be intellectual, psychological, emotional, eccentric, even silent. It can be shy, tense, resistant, crazy or all at once. Consequently, a "sexy film" isn't always limited to the skin and characters and themes. The filmmaking can be smart, the narrative can be brave, the subtext can be titillating, the chemistry can be naked, the protagonists can be raw and vulnerable. Just the idea of being different, or casting against type, or subverting the viewer's perception, can be sexy too.
A slick heist (Ocean's 11), a wicked whodunnit (Andhadhun), a bleak sex-addiction portrait (Shame), an existential superhero drama (The Dark Knight) – as Paris Hilton once said, that's hot. At times, even sadness and loneliness can be sexy. (O.K., maybe I've gone too far, but you're a fool if you think Lost In Translation is not wistful-sexy.). The point being: Some of the sexiest movies of all time don't obviously strive to be racy or arouse the viewer. It isn't always about carnal pleasures and sexually explicit content.
Naturally, I'm going to exclude the literal ones, the "sex movies" so to say: Basic Instinct, Wild Things, Cruel Intentions, Fatal Attraction, The Dreamers, Eyes Wide Shut, Love, even Blue is the Warmest Color and Y tu mama tambien. (Don't come at me with 50 Shades of Grey. Please.). Nothing wrong with them – in fact, most are legitimate classics – but that's not the point. The sex is too blatant, too visual. Secondly, this list only features the titles currently available on Indian streaming platforms. So if you're wondering why there's no Lost In Translation, In The Mood for Love, Skyfall or A Bigger Splash – all of which are my actual list-toppers for revealing the versatility of sexiness – then please write to your streamers on a sweaty summer night.
That said, here are 12 – I'm going to say this for the first and last time – of my sexiest films:
If there was ever a film that lampooned the Hollywoodization of sex to seduce the unsuspecting viewer into enjoying a dry "finance" movie, The Big Short is it. From its frenetic cutting to its anti-Sorkin-ish crudeness to its quasi-dumbing-down of Wall Street – with random inserts of attractive models and popstars explaining technical terms – The Big Short is both a masterclass and satire on sexy storytelling.
Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's epic novel is filmed in hues of reds and greens and unattainable goldens. The famous "library scene" – where an aspiring young writer catches an amorous couple spread up against a regal bookshelf – is both a literal and figurative fetisization of the written word. It helps that Keira Knightley, in a role marked by vampish cigarette smoke, plays a sensual tragedy – epitomizing the inherent carnality of desire and longing.
Vishal Bhardwaj's Meerut-based adaptation of Othello makes deceit – a hallmark of both bodily and spiritual connections – look strangely fruity. Casting a correct and blue-blooded metropolitan star like Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi actually mirrors the film's revisionist Shakespeare-gone-Shukla tone: so paradoxical in form that it's hard not to be swept away by the audacity of it all. Consequently, the entire film is a prolonged feeling of being stunned by how imaginative and outspoken your reticent internet friend turns out to be.
The kind of bristling, dangerous sexy that Vishal Bhardwaj and protege Abhishek Chaubey bring to the table riffs on the red-blooded Indian perception of the term. The allure of Vidya Balan in Ishqiya is undeniably literary – at once a small-town femme-fatale ode as well as a subversion of the way roguish male crooks tend to experience (and therefore, imagine) the notion of love from smutty novels.
Don't you judge me. Most David Fincher movies make sociopathy look sexy, and this one just happens to star a creepily enticing Rosamund Pike scaring the living daylights out of us and an equally creepy Ben Affleck in a role that can best be described as Hannibal-Lecter-Has-A-Vegan-Author-Daughter. Gone Girl is the artistic version of a toxic fling – edgy, dark, intangibly addictive and unsettling. I'm not aroused, you are.
This is admittedly more conventional. Bullets and brawn, muscle and bronze. A silly action film can be fetching, but War is in the ring for primal reasons. To paraphrase the wise Lego Batman: Hrithik Roshan has aged phenomenally. As has the subtle homoeroticism of the quintessential Bollywood two-hero flick. After all, a mentor-protege equation is as poignant as it is suggestive.
George Miller's perversely unhinged film is sexy in the be(a)st sense of the term: the "action" is gloriously messy and melodic, the post-apocalyptic landscape talks dirty, the chase is sweaty and excitable, strong men team up with stronger women and a flame-flinging, jumpsuit-sporting, live-background-score-blaring guitarist called Doof Warrior is inextricably attached to a truck with a mobile stage. An adrenalin rush is just another way of being turned on.
Brad Pitt as the arrogant and peerless Achilles oozes it, and sure the Eric Bana v/s Pitt combat scene can be a Redtube video, but Wolfgang Peterson's movie is the overall James Bond of period war epics: so suave, so sure, so roguishly gentlemanly and reckless and ruggedly handsome. It's the absolute opposite of Mad Max – not a hair out of place, the glamorous aristocrat to Mad's enticing drifter. The casting of Pitt as a villainous hero and, best of all, Orlando Bloom as the cowardly but humane Prince of Troy, is nothing if not stimulating.
I know the brooding, neon-lit Los Angeles palette is an oversmart movie genre these days, but Nicolas Winding Refn's Ryan Gosling starrer is simply irresistible with its poker-faced, electro-synth, sharp-metallic sex appeal. The dead-inside protagonist is the perfect antidote to Carey Mulligan's fragility and a red-haired Christina Hendrick's brokenness. If anything, this is simply risque filmmaking – all style, quiet substance – that deserves its own Tinder profile. (Bio: Stuntman, heist driver, hearthacker, Cliff Martinez homeboi).
Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War uses cold filmmaking to reveal a scorching tale of doom. The storytelling is mercurial and defiant – lean (88 minutes) as an epic love story spanning 15 years, a romance without the romanticisation of the wait, a montage of reunions without realising the pain of separations, and a curt black-and-white story about colours of time. It resists the languid language of its genre with such verve that Cold War becomes that rare, wild rebel-with-a-cause dancer at a drunken soiree. We can't help but stare. Rudely.
We all dream about returning to our hometowns as winners and being lauded by the land that bore us. Some of us, seduced by the Before Sunsets of our generation, dream of meeting a stranger and talking to them while walking quaint streets. Those are lofty expectations, but Blue Jay – about a down-and-out loser returning home and having long walks and "what if" moments with a high-school ex – is the stark reality. It's disarming and exposed like a wound, full of hopelessness and hope and awkward history, and curiously captivating in its monochromatic depiction of lost chances and muted regrets. Sadness is sexy, I told you so.
Anvita Dutt's period-supernatural-feminist fable, starring a striking Tripti Dimri as a mysterious demon, proves that horror doesn't always have to be a loud and desperate one-night stand. The horror of Bulbbul is rooted in the senses: old-school, sophisticated and innately beguiling, evoking the charm of a colonial-era waist-coat and pocket-watch in a crowd of khaki police uniforms. The nostalgia is platonic, and leaves more than just a fleeting visual impression on the viewer. More than most movies, Bulbbul is the filming of desire.
Duck Butter (Netflix)
Two girls meet at a club and decide to have sex every hour for 24 hours to test their infatuation. Yet, the film is far more profound than the saucy premise.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Netflix)
A buddy flick in sepia-washed Spain is good-looking, but also deceptively charming in the way its boyish masculinity is forced to reveal a tender – and thus, charismatic – heart.
The Great Gatsby (Netflix)
Baz Luhrmann turns literature into a musical circus of longing in his trippy but weirdly bare-chested interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel. To be fair, the film is lent its sonic allure by Lana Del Rey's haunting Young and Beautiful.