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If ever there was a decade that flourished with erotic thrillers and hyper-noirish throwbacks, it was the glorious 1990s, which saw a surge in the genre with late night cable titles and shelves stuffed at local DVD rental stores, thanks mostly to the success of Basic Instinct. Not quite low budget but not blockbusters, these were high-level exploitation fodder riding on the wave of skin flick mainstream interest. Here are 6 big budget 90s Basic Instinct wanna-be erotic thrillers … ranked.
In the 80s, one of television’s hottest leading men was Don Johnson, wearing loose pastel like no other, and it only made sense that his transition to film took advantage of his good looks, even if that career never really took off. Here, he stars with another hot lead of the previous decade, Rebecca De Mornay, and while the movie might not have the overt sexuality and tantalizing nudity of the films that follow on this list, it certainly tried to sell itself like it did.
Directed by legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet, the seedy story follows a self-professed womanizer named David Greenhill (Johnson) who is accused of murdering his wealthy wife, seeking the counsel of up-and-coming lawyer Jennifer Haines (De Mornay). Of course, the two end up in the sack and well, you can guess what happens next, especially if you saw Jagged Edge eight years earlier. Good looking cast and some solid direction yes, but a generic plot and not much sexual chemistry leave this one wanting.
Some might say Sharon Stone is the queen of erotic 90s thrillers, and there’s certainly proof enough she deserves the credit. Having become a household name the year before starring opposite Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, she takes another ride on screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ money train in this ultra schlocky thriller with then rising (and soon after, falling) sex symbol William Baldwin.
Directed by Philip Noyce, the story revolves around a beautiful woman named Carly Norris (Stone) who takes an apartment in a NYC hi-rise where the previous tenant supposedly fell to her death off the balcony. Carly is soon super sexually doing it with smoldering Zeke (Baldwin), and not long after, romantically pursued by novelist Jack (Tom Berenger), both of whom come to have some disturbing secrets. Lots of sweating gyrating and moaning naked bodies, this is a slap-together cash grab to take advantage of Stone’s sudden fame, spread thin and almost completely lacking any thrills, yet is an undeniable cheesy guilty pleasure that serves as a kind of tentpole for where the whole genre was heading at that time. Plus, Sharon Stone. 90s. It’s like a little bit of magic.
Somehow, some way, Michael Douglas became a wanted man in the late 80s and early 90s, with women in movies literally doing whatever they could to have him. Setting the standard in the aforementioned Basic Instinct, here he is once again putty in the hands of a powerful woman. Based on a Michael Crichton novel of the same name, it was a modest box office success even as critic were divided, mostly due to its controversial sexual twists and the stiff leading performance of Demi Moore. The girl was in incredible shape though, have to admit that.
Directed by Barry Levinson, the story follows a man named Bob (Douglas) who believes he’s about to be promoted in a tech company, only to have the job given to a beautiful woman (and former lover), Meredith (Moore). When a late-night encounter between the two sees her sexually forcing herself on him, he calls foul but few believe him as she reverses it and claims the opposite. A super-charged sex scene that is equally uncomfortable puts this thriller here on the list, not to mention some descent thrills along the way. Not Levinson’s best work, but sexy just the same.
Bruce Willis is a huge star … or rather, a huge action star, and that’s an important distinction. We want to see him blowing things up and knocking helicopters out of the sky with a car because that’s what he does best. What we don’t want to see is his die hard naked dangly parts, which is what we get here, playing a depressed psychologist suffering from psychosomatic colorblindness trying to solve a murder while carrying on an illicit affair with a beautiful mysterious woman (Jane March).
Corny to near epic levels, a battle over which cut would go to theater put director Richard Rush in the hospital, and to add further agony, the movie was a box office bomb, thoroughly gutted by critics. And yet, it became one of the biggest home-rentals of the next year, so maybe we do want to see the dangly parts, though more likely it was for the excessive nudity of March, who is the film’s singular saving grace. Actually, that’s exactly why.
In the early 90s, a cop show called NYPD Blue was all anyone could talk about, at least when it came to TV dramas, and one of its stars was a charismatic redheaded actor who seemed die-cast for his role. David Caruso was winning praise and fans all of the place for his sardonic but affecting performance on the show, so it was a big surprise that he suddenly jumped ship and made a go in the movies. He made two of them in 1995, and both pretty much sealed his fate, with this erotic thriller from … you guessed it … 90s go-to steamy screenplay Zen master Joe Eszterhas, the worse of the two.
In it, Caruso plays San Francisco Assistant D.A. David Corelli, who becomes involved in a brutal murder, finding that an ex-girlfriend Katrina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino) seems a prime suspect and which gets him wound up in sex tapes, cut brake lines, drugs, and more. It also has plenty of sex (especially in the director’s cut) but no one was willing to accept Caruso in a darker role. It bombed big, but like most of these movies, the women save it, and here, Fiorentino is absolutely scorching hot. Seriously. She makes this watchable and rockets it to this position.
As mentioned, Sharon Stone‘s Basic Instinct was the top of the genre heap in this decade, it’s themes pushing studios to test the limits of just how far they could go with what was basically turning into soft-core porn in mainstream movies. Others tried to copy its formula but few did it with the same head-spinning off-the-rails commitment as Body Of Evidence. Coming out a year after Basic Instinct, and starring an icon of absurd sexuality and famous for breaking barriers, Madonna, it was all about the sex this time. Her co-star, Willem Dafoe, who is himself a fearless actor, jumped in head first (quite literarily in a few explicit moments), and under the direction of Uli Edel, the movie was clearly an exercise in titillation rather than story, earning itself a rare NC-17 on release.
Naturally, the movie, which sees a lawyer (Dafoe) defending a murder suspect (Madonna) while engaging with lots and lots and lots of kinky sadomasochistic sex, is barely watchable if you’re remotely looking for a compelling story as both leads under (over?) perform, giving it far too much melodrama, but, who’s watching it for the story? While Madonna’s allure is up for personal appreciation, her wink-wink watch-me-push-the-buttons approach is an acquired taste, but this movie is so deliriously obvious about what it wants to be, it’s impossible not to watch and snicker with lights-off, tell-no-one glee.
Got some personal favorite of your own? Let us know in the comments.