Looking for a movie about sexual fetishism?
The days of BDSM being a sub-culture have long gone since the mania surrounding ‘that’ book and these days you can’t swing a cat in a movie theater without seeing some kind of light bondage scene. But we wanted to know which movies accurately portray this fetish and what films depict other more unusual kinks.
In this feature, we select the best movies that don’t just feature the occasional fetish and kink scenes but faithfully explore the sex they depict.
Fetishes in Film
There are plenty of movies that feature sexual fetishes within them with some being wholly based around just one kink. Some are more mainstream fetishes, whilst others focus on some singular ones that may not resonate with a wider audience.
For instance, the eighties classic featuring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, 9 and ½ Weeks, is the original Fifty Shades of Grey and is based around the premise of two strangers who engage in ever more dangerous and kinky sexual activities. It bombed at the box office but developed a cult following when it was released on VHS. As far as wide appeal goes, there was an avid fan base for the kinds of sex featured in the movie.
Then look at Boxing Helena, a film about a surgeon whose amputee fetishism and obsession with the protagonist (played by Jennifer Lynch). Another financial failure, the movie is widely regarded as a thriller with elements of horror and has a limited appeal when it comes to sexual fetishism.
And then there are those movies that just have one or two scenes which could be described as ‘BDSM’ or ‘foot fetish’. So, which movies have more than just a token nod to the fetish world?
The 18 Best Movies About Sexual Fetishism
We’ve looked long and hard at hundreds of titles to bring you our choices of the best movies about sexual fetishism. From foreign-language, art-house and vintage films to modern box office hits and cult classics, we’ve chosen a selection of films that we think best explore and depict a range of kinks and fetishes from BDSM and swinging to food play, humiliation and role play.
In the interests of variety, we think we’ve covered most people’s tastes but if you have a movie suggestion that we haven’t covered here then drop us a comment and let us know.
Preaching to the Perverted (1997)
A dark British comedy film that was originally developed by the BBC but later abandoned because of its content, Preaching to the Perverted has been described by critics as:
a kind of high-tech, fast-paced, Moulin Rouge for the fetish world
Though it may be a light-hearted looked at the S&M lifestyle and underground fetish scene in the UK, it is both original yet faithful in its depictions.
Banned in Ireland, the film finally received an airing on BBC One in 2004 following critical acclaim for the movie on its release to DVD. It also follows the movie’s success at the fetish awards winning the 2002 Audience Choice Award at the CineKink Festival.
It’s a well-written film with slick dialogue, intelligent cinematography and an excellent cast of performers including several well-known faces from the BDSM scene at the time.
The plot is fast paced and centers on a character called Peter Emery who is tasked by his boss, a Member of Parliament who orders him to infiltrate a BDSM club to put it out of business. Emery is at first set on his mission and obtains plenty of undercover footage to achieve his boss’s goal but eventually falls for the Mistress of the ‘House of Thwax’.
The film has an avid following of fans and was the first European feature film to be remastered by fans on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. It is a fetish cult classic that even has its own website.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
A French-Japanese art-house film that is based on a true story, In the Realm of the Senses was a controversial but critically acclaimed movie.
Set in Tokyo during the 1930s, the film follows the story of Sada Abe, a former call-girl who now works as a maid at a hotel. Abe embarks on a torrid sexual affair with the hotel’s owner, Kichizo Ishida to the point of extreme obsession. Their sexual encounters are experimental to say the least and become increasingly more dangerous including autoerotic asphyxiation and vaginal insertions. The sex scenes are unsimulated and are graphic in nature earning the movie a ban in several countries on its original release.
The plot climaxes when Abe strangles Ishida during an episode of excited lovemaking after which she severs his penis. The insinuation is that she will carry him inside her forever.
Though filmed in Japan, the scenes had to be sent to France for editing and processing in order to avoid the strict censorship laws of the country.
It is a film that explores obsessive relationships and sadomasochism and examines those fine lines between sexual pleasure and danger. Though the ultimate heights of this fetish are disturbing to say the least, it is compulsive viewing and highly memorable, even 40 years on.
Blue Velvet (1986)
A landmark American movie that has achieved cult status and earned David Lynch a second Oscar nomination for Best Director, Blue Velvet is a classic film featuring fetishism.
The plot goes something a little like this….
A college student called Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle McLachlan) returns to his hometown of Lumberton, a sunny and picturesque idyll. He does so to attend his father in hospital who has suffered a stroke. When he comes home, he finds a severed human ear which he takes to the local police detective.
During the exchange of information, Beaumont is introduced to the detective’s daughter, Sandy (played by Laura Dern). The two commence their own amateur sleuthing to find out whose ear it is, how it was severed and by whom.
Their investigations lead to the home of Dorothy Vallens (played by a formidable Isabella Rossellini). Curiosity sparked; Beaumont returns in the dead of night only to be found by Dorothy who believes him to be a voyeur. She performs a blowjob on him but they are interrupted by a man called Frank (Dennis Hopper) who subjects Vallens to some violent S&M activity involving role-playing games. These scenes depict some powerful depictions of the psychosexual acts involved in power play and though Hopper is erratic and abusive (and disturbing), there is an honesty and raw emotion about his performance which is show-stopping.
The film continues with Beaumont becoming further embroiled in this dark and sexual world but, in the end, he must make a choice of morality as things take a fatal turn.
Though some have condemned the film as simply ‘pornographic’, it achieves an intelligent exploration into the dark side of fetishes and doesn’t flinch from depicting unsettling scenes of one person’s sexual awakening.
A memorable villain, Hopper is one of the keys to the movie’s success, as is the performance of a truly dedicated Rossellini who is beaten, humiliated and laid bare on screen.
The film has been hailed as one of the best movies of the 1980s and was even chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American mystery films ever made (2008).
Belle de Jour (1967)
A classic French film directed by Luis Buñel, Belle de Jour is a film about a bored young middle-class housewife (Catherine Deneuve) who works as a prostitute at a local brothel whilst her husband is at work.
Whilst Deneuve’s character, Séverine, gets up to some explicit action at the brothel it is her fantasies of domination, S&M and bondage in some nicely depicted dream sequences that offer the best look at fetishes in this film.
The movie is based on the 1928 novel by Joseph Kessel of the same name and was well received by critics when it was first released in the late 1960s. Awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as three other awards, Deneuve herself was nominated for a BAFTA for her role in the film in 1968.
The film was re-released in 1995 with Martin Scorsese promoting the title and it was also released on DVD in 2002. Despite being over 50 years’ old, Belle de Jour remains a classic worth watching if only for the exquisite performances put in by the stunning Deneuve.
Not to be confused by the 2004 Paul Haggis film of the same title, this British-Canadian title, produced and directed by David Cronenberg, remains just as controversial a movie as when it was first released.
Based on the J.G. Ballard novel by the same name, Crash centers on the singular fetish of symphorophilia; a specific paraphilia in which participants are sexually aroused by car crashes. It is a singular fetish that not everyone will appreciate but is handled adeptly on screen by both the cast and director. Together they have produced a film that is beguiling and erotic, irrespective of the fetish involved.
Starring Holly Hunter and James Spader, the plot is pretty straightforward. Spader plays a film producer (James Ballard) and is in an open marriage with his wife (played by Deborah Kara Unger). They engage in a lot of threesomes and extramarital sex but none of this truly excites them. It’s not until Ballard is involved in a head-on collision in which a passenger is killed that the true nature of the film is revealed. Spader and the driver of the other car (Holly Hunter) are taken to hospital and on leaving begin an intense affair, fueled by the intensity and sexual energy shared from their near-death experience.
The film then follows the pair (and Ballard’s wife) as they try to make sense of their fetishism, staging car crashes and watching videos of collisions. The climax of the film involves a death in one of these staged crashes of a side-character and then ends with another crash in which Ballard rams his wife’s car and then has sex with her.
Wherever you stand on the controversial nature of this film, it is a clever piece of cinema that accurately conveys that sense of shared experience and the confusion that can follow the realization of a fetish as it forms. At its heart, the film is about all fetishes and not, simply, symphorophilia.
Another French arthouse film, Maitresse stars a young Gerard Depardieu whilst he was considered a bit of a heart throb.
In this movie, he plays a petty criminal (Olivier) who is invited to fix the plumbing at the home of a lady, Ariane, whom he happens to meet. When he and his friend arrive to do the work, they discover that the building’s landlord is away and they decide to burgle him. However, when they do so, they discover a black marble torture dungeon and, with this, the fact that Ariane is a professional dominatrix.
Ariane asks Olivier to assist her in her work and he becomes obsessed with her and an interesting relationship develops that examines the natural power dynamics between a submissive and a Dominant.
Despite Olivier’s desire to control Ariane, the roles cannot be subverted and to this end, Maitresse is an honest depiction of some aspects of BDSM culture.
The movie features a lot of explicit scenes set in Ariane’s dungeon though the original release had to have some footage removed in order to receive a certification for many film boards. The most notorious of these is when Ariane nails a client’s penis to a plank of wood. Reportedly this scene was not simulated.
Exploring S&M as well as power play, this movie is a stylish, but dark, love story. Remastered and uncut on DVD with interviews from the director, Barbet Schroeder, Maitresse is in French with English subtitles.
This film by Steven Shainberg features the talents of the ever-popular Hollywood actor for fetish roles, James Spader as well as the A-lister, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
It’s a kinky film that explores the intensity of a relationship based on power and features scenes of spanking, role-play (including pony and puppy play) as well as S&M.
The plot of Secretary is based on a Dominant lawyer (Spader) and his submissive subordinate (Gyllenhaal).
It was an indie hit when it was first released and was generally well received by both critics and the audience. Reviewers were quick to point out that although the subject was a tricky one to deal with the film managed to be original and buoyant. One critic commented:
Perhaps there is something bold about saying that pain can bring healing as long as it’s applied by the right hand, but even that seems obvious and even normal thanks to Gyllenhaal.
It is an optimistic love story that is emotionally engaging and far more powerful than Fifty Shades. Here, the characters are well-drawn and we want to see them get together in the end. What makes this a standout fetish film is the fact that the kinks are not depicted as dysfunctional but positive and with an optimistic ending.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
This cult John Waters’ classic covers a mass of sexual fetishes from (at the safe end of the spectrum) exhibitionism, foot fetishism and voyeurism to some extreme scenes of coprophagia, incest and even cannibalism.
It is a dark American comedy featuring the talents of the infamous drag queen, Divine who stars as the ‘filthiest person alive’; a notorious underground criminal, Babs Johnson. She holds the title living in squalor with her 250 lb mama and hippie son, Crackers in their trailer home.
The premise of the movie is a straightforward battle of filth as her crown is challenged by the Marbles, two married criminals who sell drugs to school children and impregnate female hitchhikers, selling the resulting babies to lesbians!! The Marbles challenge Divine and the cast embark on a series of ever more sleazy, filthy, obscure and explicitly crude situations.
Pink Flamingos was initially banned from being released in countries like Australia, Canada and Switzerland due to the extreme content but has gained a cult following since its original release in 1972. A 25th anniversary version of the film was remastered and marketed which included several previously deleted scenes.
It’s final scene features Babs eating freshly excreted dog poop which has earned the film a place in history as being one of the most explicit and crude sequences. It is reported that Divine actually committed to this 100% and what you see on screen actually happened…no CGI or special effects.
A Year Without Love (2005)
An Argentine film about a poet who is living with HIV, A Year Without Love (or, Un Amo Sin Amor) is an adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Pablo Perez.
The film follows the life of the writer, Perez, as he deals with his diagnosis and the loneliness that ensues. A homosexual man, Perez places an ad in a gay newspaper and falls into the underground world of the gay leather scene of Buenos Aires.
Winner of the 2005 Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival: Teddy Award as well as several other gongs, A Year Without Love is a beautifully filmed piece of cinema that is intensely erotic. Compelling to watch and, at times, gritty and hard-edged, this movie is an honest account of one man’s experience with bondage and leather fetishes.
The movie is available on DVD in Spanish with English sub-titles.
Under The Skin (2013)
One out of left field here; a science-fiction movie that stars Scarlet Johansson in the role of an alien come to Earth in search of prey. The film is based on a novel by Michel Faber and has been critically acclaimed since it was released back in 2013.
The plot is pretty simple and follows the various abductions made by this other-worldly woman in human form so she can sate her appetite. Although for many people, this would constitute a thriller/horror movie, there is something very erotic about the acts and the perspective offered by this alien to our world.
Partly this is down to the mesmerizing performance that Johansson gives but is also testament to the way in which director, Jonathan Glazer, has filmed it. Using non-actors for many supporting roles and filming with hidden cameras, there is an intimacy here which gives it a voyeuristic feel. Of course, there are elements of FemDom and power play here as well as the more obvious vorarephilia (being eaten for sexual pleasure).
Named by the Guardian newspaper (UK) as one of the top fifty films of the decade so far, it is a visually stunning film that is well worth a watch even if the fetish themes are subtle.
Venus In Fur (2014)
Based on the novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, this French erotic drama directed by Roman Polanski is all about erotic power games.
At the time of its release in 1870, the book was a ground-breaking portrait of submission and dominance and the use of pain in sexual gratification. In fact, it is to the author that we can now attribute the phrase ‘masochistic’.
The film takes this novella as a starting point and casts just two actors (Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric) for the whole movie. Amalric plays Thomas Novacheck a writer/director of a stage adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch’s novella. As he sits alone in a Parisian theater after auditioning actresses for the role of the lead character, Vanda jourdain (Seigner) arrives late to audition. She is a whirlwind of energy and intensity, persuading a tired Novacheck to let her read. Of course, she is amazing in the performance and has a clear understanding of the character and Novacheck is instantly drawn to her.
Much of the movie’s sexual content is in the form of innuendo and flirtation yet there is a subtlety to this that is more powerful than graphic scenes could ever be. Dealing with the psychology of fetishes rather than the act of them, Venus in Fur received five nominations for the 39th César Awards and Polanski won Best Director.
Filmed in French with English subtitles, this is a mesmerizing film that plays with tension to create some truly memorable performances.
The Piano Teacher (2001)
An erotic psychological thriller, this French-language film explores a sadomasochistic relationship between a piano teacher (Erika Kohut) and her student (Walter Klemmer).
The sexually repressed Kohut (who lives with her mother) has a strong paraphilia with voyeurism, S&M and self-mutilation that are explored to great effect in this movie.
Klemmer applies to the conservatory where Kohut is a music professor. Though he is a talented musician and she is visibly moved by his audition piece, she votes against him. She is clearly attracted to him; irrespective, he earns a place in the institute and is admitted under her tutelage.
Klemmer begins socializing with other students, one in particular, a young girl named Anna. Witnessing their interactions, Kohut is jealous and slips some broken glass into the female student’s pockets. Anna injures her hand and is unable to play her instrument.
Klemmer suspects something and pursues Kohut into the toilets where he attempts to seduce her. The scene is a powerful example of power play and the middle-aged woman repeatedly humiliates and frustrates the young student, performing oral sex on him but stopping abruptly when he fails to follow her orders. Smitten, Klemmer pursues his teacher but Kohut insists on certain defiling acts in a letter which she passes to him.
Repulsed by her requests, he avoids her but she confronts him and they begin to have sex in a closet….but she is unable to allow him to penetrate her. Following this, Klemmer decides to consent to her sadomasochistic demands and arrives at her home later that night. Following her instructions from the letter, he attacks her and locks her mother away before ‘raping’ his teacher in the fashion she desires. The film climaxes at the concert which Anna was due to perform but Kohut is standing in for her and Klemmer arrives, greeting his teacher flippantly. Distraught by his demeanor, the woman stabs herself in the shoulder and exits to the streets of Vienna.
It’s a riveting movie to watch and features some powerful but subtle performances by the central characters, not least of which is Isabelle Hubert’s portrayal of the piano teacher. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival to prove it.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
The debut film of Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovitch, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen) may be a low budget and slightly self-conscious movie at times but has earned itself universal acclaim over the last thirty years and is a solid classic.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, Sex Lies and Videotape tells the story of a group of white, middle-class 30-somethings; Graham, an old college friend of John, John’s wife Ann and her sister Cynthia.
Right from the off, there are secrets in the group; John is having an affair with his sister, Graham (a voyeur) has a fetish for recording interviews with women as they divulge their sexual secrets. Cynthia discloses to Graham about her affair with her brother-in-law during an intimate session of recording. Ann finds out about the affair and records her own confession to Graham as well as having sex with him afterwards. The film’s climax sees Ann and Cynthia reconciled and an inference that Ann leaves John for Graham.
The script is witty and deals with the more sensitive of issues in a touching and intelligent way. At its heart are the themes of infidelity and voyeurism that, despite the lack of graphic scenes, keeps the film erotically charged. This is achieved via the intimate filming style which focuses on people, faces and conversations so you can appreciate the subtleties of the performances. This also puts the audience in the position of being the voyeur themselves.
Sex, Lies and Videotape has been credited as helping to kickstart the indie film movement of the 1990s and was a surprise commercial success; it earned 30 times its $1.2 million budget.
Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Direct by Julia Leigh, this Australian erotic drama was one of the most talked about films of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
It is a loose adaptation of the classic fairy tale and follows the story of a college student (Lucy) who finds some unusual work in a brothel. Far from prostituting herself for sex, her clients pay to spend the night with her whilst she sleeps. However, this is no ordinary slumber as she is given a strong sedative which gives her the appearance of a corpse.
There are strong overtones of necrophilia here yet her clients are reminded that no penetration must take place. Which it doesn’t. In fact, there are no graphic scenes in the film, instead the eroticism is all built through the taboo that Lucy is offering and unspoken desires. Her clients are often older gentleman who are mourning the loss of their virility.
Overall, the film hasn’t been that well received by mainstream audiences but is well regarded by critics who have praised Leigh for a bold interpretation of feminine power; even in sleep, Lucy is very much the one in control.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Opinion will be split on this choice as it remains a divisive piece of film that you’ll either love or loathe.
Famously starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman when they were married to each other, Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film about infidelity was widely misinterpreted when it was released. For many people, the sex overshadows the plot and the film has a grossly exaggerated reputation for being graphic. We can probably agree that the sex scenes are the least appealing part of Eyes Wide Shut and, in the main, not that persuasive. However, it is the psychosexual moralizing which is the true heart of this film that accurately examines the issues of trust, fidelity and intimacy in a relationship.
The film, though not Kubrick’s finest work, cleverly but subtly focuses on the ‘deviancy’ in many ‘normal’ sexual relationships and the effect that this can have.
Set in New York City, Cruise and Kidman play the roles of Dr Bill and Alice Harford. When Alice confides her deepest fantasies of sleeping with another man, Bill (enraged but excited) goes off in search of his own inner sexual demons. After several failed attempts he is brought to a secret sex party, the scene of that infamous and ‘bizarre’ sex orgy.
The key to the success of this film is the bland couple played by Cruise and Kidman against this elite and decadent underworld of sexual hedonism that strikes a chord. The fact that their fantasies are just that, fantasies, is one of the underwhelming conclusions of this film. However, it is the desire for transgression contrasted with opportunity that, in our opinion, makes this film a mischievous satire.
Tokyo Decadence (1992)
Also released under the name Topaz and Sex Dreams of Topaz, this erotic yet violent movie by Ryū Murakami was originally banned in several countries including Australia and South Korea.
The plot centers on Ai, a specialist S&M prostitute working with an elite escort agency in Tokyo. She is unhappy in her work and is suffering from the pain of an unrequited love with a married gallery owner.
The first two thirds of the film include her visits to clients depicting some of the graphic sexual acts she must perform for them. These sequences include submission, bondage, S&M and anal sex as well as asphyxiation.
At its core, Tokyo Decadence is a story about unrequited love and has some poignant scenes. Yet this is counterbalanced with the brutal work that she does that at times appears to be a self-inflicted punishment.
The film has received mixed reviews and was notably re-edited to bypass censorship laws.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover (1989)
A very British film based around the excesses of the Thatcherite era (1980s), The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a sumptuous movie. With costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and an elaborate score by Michael Nyman (The Piano and McQueen), it is a richly put together piece of cinema that is almost operatic in style.
It is this indulgent aspect of the film which provides the film’s fetishist central themes of gluttony, sex and domination. Something that was inspired by the Jacobean play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.
The plot unfolds with Michael Gambon in the role of the ‘thief’ who is an aspiring restaurateur much to the chagrin of his ‘cook’ (Richard Bohringer). Gambon’s ‘wife’ (played by Helen Mirren) is an upper-class snob who embarks on an energetic affair with the owner of a bookshop (Alan Howard) who is, of course, her ‘lover’.
Mirren and Howard fuck hungrily throughout the film in all manner of locations from the pantries to the store cupboards in a frenzy of insatiability that encompasses food and flesh. There is lots of nudity and some scatology plus violence culminating in the film’s infamous final scene where Mirren feeds the flesh of her dead lover to her husband….so, a bit of cannibalism too.
Directed by Peter Greenaway who is known for his movies that contrast sexual pleasure and painful death, the movie was well received on release by the critics. It is a British classic that deserves a broader audience despite now being thirty years old.
The Little Death (2014)
And finally, our safe box-office choice takes its title from the French phrase for an orgasm (le petite mort), The Little Death is an Australian romantic comedy.
Far from being a typical romcom, this motion picture is all about a group of suburban couples who have pretty boring and dull sex lives…until, that is, they start exploring their fetishes. It’s quite vanilla in terms of the kinks that are covered but shines a light on just how common sexual fetishes can be and how ordinary they are.
Explored in a comic way, this film will appeal to anyone who’s ever had to have that awkward first-time conversation with a partner about what really turns them on. From podophilia (feet) and phone-sex to role-play and cuckolding, this is a film you could definitely watch with a date.
There is a scene when one character discovers she has dacryphilia (arousal from someone crying) and proceeds to leaving out onions for her husband to chop. The resulting sexual frenzy means he is motivated to cry all the time leaving him dangerously dehydrated.
It’s a fun romp of a film and a far cry from other titles on here but is our pick of films that is unoffensive and easy to watch.
The Little Death was written and directed by Josh Lawson who also stars in the movie. Well received by critics, it won the SXSW Audience Award for Narrative Film Feature in 2015.
Featured image of Crash via IMDb.