Dangerous Love at the Movies: 10 Sexy Films Before “50 Shades of Grey”

Before you head to the theater to see “50 Shades of Grey,” take a look at this list of 10 movies that explored the darker sides of love and obsession long before anyone ever heard of Anastasia Steele, Christian Grey and their twisted romance.
50 Shades of Grey Photo

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Photo: Universal Pictures/Focus Features)

Even if you’re not one of the reported 100 million fans of E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades” trilogy, you’re probably aware that the first novel of the three, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” has been adapted into a movie featuring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. This erotic story about a young woman, an older man and some very “singular” sexual practices is being released just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Whether or not you’ve read the book or plan to see the film, you might be curious about other movies that have already shown how love and desire can lead to all kinds of risky business, from some very surprising sex to madness and murder. Ready to be enlightened? Here’s a list of 10 films that take romance to the edge.

Dangerous Liaisons, 1988

Two elegant French aristocrats, played to perfection by Glenn Close and John Malkovich, get their biggest erotic thrills by controlling and corrupting other people. Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer play two unsuspecting pawns in their games, and Keanu Reeves appears as one of Close’s secret lovers.

Wuthering Heights, 1992

There are several film versions of Emily Brontë’s book, but this one captures all the drama and darkness of the original story. Well-born Cathy (Juliette Binoche) and orphaned servant Heathcliff (Ralph Fiennes) share a wild, tormented passion on the English moors, and Heathcliff just might be the original jealous, brooding leading man in romance fiction.

Double Indemnity, 1944

Would you kill for love? That’s what insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) has to decide when he has an affair with the alluring Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). This film noir classic unravels its characters’ motivations in a sharp and sinster plot that has influenced countless other movies over the years.

Vertigo, 1958

In this iconic Alfred Hitchcock thriller-drama, Kim Novak is the icy blonde with a secret (or two) and Jimmy Stewart is the private detective who’s hired by her husband to follow her. This story has so many layers of deception that you’ll end up dizzy just from watching.

Henry and June, 1990

Set in Paris in 1931, this film tells the true story of the American author Henry Miller (Fred Ward) and his stylish wife June (Uma Thurman) and their erotic encounters with the writer Anaïs Nin (Maria de Madeiros) and other bohemians in the decadent City of Light.

Belle de Jour, 1967

Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful woman with an apparently perfect life: a devoted husband, a home in Paris, a designer wardrobe. But when she can’t stop having violent sexual fantasies, she begins spending her afternoons working as a prostitute in an upscale brothel in order to indulge her hidden desires.

Last Tango in Paris, 1972

Bernardo Bertolucci directed this erotic drama co-starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider as an American widower and a young Frenchwoman who share an anonymous sexual relationship. This film was originally released with an X-rating in the United States and is still infamous for its graphic content.

9 1/2 Weeks, 1986

An attractive art dealer (Kim Basinger) and a mysterious financier (Mickey Rourke) meet by chance on a New York street. In their short romance (guess how long?), the woman submits to her new lover’s sexual tastes, involving the creative use of blindfolds, riding crops, ice cubes and more.

Fatal Attraction, 1987 

When married man Dan (Michael Douglas) has a brief affair with his sultry colleague Alex (Glenn Close), he has no idea what the consequences will really be. This revenge drama triggered plenty of conversations about the price of infidelity—not to mention a few jokes about bunnies.

Secretary, 2002

This black comedy paired up James Spader as attorney E. Edward Grey and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the quirky young woman named Lee Holloway who takes a job as his office secretary. When Grey spanks her for making some typing errors, Lee realizes that her job might include some additional duties—and that’s just fine with her.