If you're at all like me, you spent last weekend loosening your collar after watching Deep Water on Hulu.
This Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas thriller was the latest in Hollywood's new wave of steamy titles for adults. Likely started by the 50 Shades movies, the new wave of erotic thrillers now coming to light is a pleasant surprise. In the 1990s, these movies were made for adults and had a huge audience. But today's Hollywood seems to have no idea what to do with these titles, relegating them to streaming and even, in some cases, burying them.
Erotic thrillers are some of the most loved and most profitable movies out there, so how can this be?
With the rise of 50 Shades, Hollywood understands that sex sells still, but they're not quite sure how to sell it anymore. While those steamy books provided intellectual property to adapt, they still aimed for an R-rating and got a wide release. Those movies made money, so it's no surprise that other filmmakers want to follow in their footsteps. But they have no idea how to do it. While the culture has shifted away from the "male gaze" movies of the 90s, the demand for erotic thrillers has still grown.
There are lots of ways to get into these stories that actually incorporate different points of view. Steamers in particular are always looking for those "date night" movies adults can enjoy with the click of a button and without the stigma of telling people what you're watching.
It also seems like we're sacrificing the budgets these movies used to get. They used to have sumptuous camera angles and cinematography that matches the pleasure on screen. Now they are digital point-and-shoot movies. They need to have room to be sexy and to create a visual language that titillates like the subject matter. And what happened to the box office potential?
This week, a new Vulture article dissected the return of the erotic thriller and debated why Hollywood seems to have lost touch with its once-popular genre. In it, they discuss how movies like Unfaithful made a ton of noise and a huge amount of money at the box office. But as we got deeper into the 2000s, the genre suffered a lot of straight-to-DVD releases that sullied the genre and the public perception around it.
Now, these stories seem to be going to the small screen. Paramount+ has a TV show based on Fatal Attraction, and Showtime is chasing a new version of American Gigolo.
Still, streamers have taken away the risque feeling of going to the theater with your significant other and experiencing these kinds of films in public. They also prioritize clicks and not the box office, so it's often impossible to tell if these movies are breaking out as hits, or just as memes or talking points.
Like, has anyone else watched Deep Water? I know a handful of viewers, but it would have been fun to sit in a crowded theater to watch Affleck get cucked. And it might have made a lot of money.
Sexy movies are making a solid comeback. But as Hollywood sees this genre fit to the times and reinvents itself, it needs to give filmmakers larger budgets and a chance to hit at the box office if it wants to legitimize them again. Otherwise, we're going to see this fizzle out, instead of building to a climax.
Let me know what you think in the comments.