(Editor’s note: This story was originally published in March 2022 and has been updated ever since.)
The erotic thriller – the seediest and at one point most enduring genres of the ’80s and ’90s – seemed on the cusp of a comeback last year with the return of director Adrian Lyne. The maestro behind films like ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘9 ½ Weeks’ is back on (albeit small) screens with ‘Deep Water’, his first film in two decades since ‘Unfaithful’ which earned Diane Lane a nomination to an Oscar and one that steadfastly takes him back to the erotic terrains of his heyday.
Alas, the turgid drama, based on a Patricia Highsmith potboiler and starring a listless Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as open lovers who loathe each other, is a turkey, straight-to-stream disaster that conjures better movie ideas best and fails to be neither erotic nor exciting.
However, “Deep Water” can serve as a double point of instruction: for Hollywood to dig deeper to come up with hopefully better erotic thrillers, and for moviegoers to revisit or, for the first time, discover the films that plunged the existence of “Deep Water” in the first place.
Last year, Karina Longworth transported viewers back to the “Erotic 80s” with the latest season of her “You Must Remember This” podcast, covering quintessential Hollywood erotic thrillers, body horror, neo -noir and sex comedies. The first part of the season debuted last spring, with the follow-up “Erotic ’90s” this year diving into the ’90s erotic films that defined the genre. The season also explored how ‘Basic Instinct’ and all the controversies that come with it blew up 1992 psychosexual thriller drama and caused studios to start churning them out at a fast pace to replicate its winning formula — and often with sad and seemingly hopeless results.
And this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play” put defibrillators into the genre with a shocking psychosexual workplace thriller starring Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor. Netflix pulled it from the festival for a whopping $20 million – expect this to be a big hit on the streaming platform when it releases later this year.
Meanwhile, IndieWire picks 27 of the best movies from Hollywood’s golden age of erotic thrillers to date, starting with 1980’s “Cruising” and ending with a few recent titles that fit the bill.
Jude Dry and Samantha Bergeson contributed to this story.