By Tara Bennett
After watching Leonardo DiCaprio snort some blow off the backside of a prostitute in The Wolf of Wall Street, it could seem Hollywood has reached its limits with sex in films. However, if history teaches us anything, it is very likely movies will continue shocking audiences with new and unusual portrayals of what goes on in the bedroom.
Modern films are undeniably more explicit in their presentations of sexual behavior than ever before, but movies have been making jaws drop since the early twentieth century. The following films were shockingly progressive for their time in terms of sexual content as well as violence and language.
Baby Face (1933)
When discussing pre-Code era Hollywood films, “Baby Face” will come up every time as a movie that led to true censorship under the Code in 1934. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, the film depicts a young woman named Lily who climbs her way up the social ladder at her job by sleeping with every man there. The pre-edited “Baby Face” had no moral or sentimentality, and even after the film was edited, audiences were still shocked by a woman using her sexuality to get what she wanted.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Starring sex icon Marilyn Monroe, this risqué film was the highest-grossing comedy ever at that time and was advertised as being “too HOT for words.” It was game-changing for its inclusion of unprecedented innuendo, reversed sex roles and cross-dressing, so much so that the Catholic League of Decency protested the film for being “seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency.”
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Before the MPAA trademarked the NC-17 rating in 1990, films with explicit sex and violence received an “X” rating, meaning that no one under 18 could be admitted. “Midnight Cowboy” is historically significant for being the first and only X-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. With a central character that aims to be a male prostitute and many disturbing scenes of sexual abuse, the fact that this film won an Oscar so soon after the Hays Office disintegrated showed how quickly the film industry was progressing.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
This French-Japanese film is considered the first non-pornographic film that shows fellatio on the screen. Critics saw it straddling the line between porn and art but was ultimately shown at the New York Film Festival in defense of art.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick was no stranger to his films being thrown an adult rating, but many protested the MPAA’s initial NC-17 rating for “Eyes Wide Shut,” which stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The MPAA requested that Warner Brothers digitally edit the film’s minute-long orgy scene with images that partially concealed the sexual activity taking place. Critics complained that the MPAA’s rating showed a flaw in the system by placing a film that artfully explored the bonds of sex in the same category as “crude frat-boy jokes.”
Before 50 Shades, this movie was called “groundbreaking” by The New York Times for its portrayal of an office relationship founded in built-up erotic energy and masochism. Called anti-feminist by some for putting Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of a secretary being dominated by her boss, the film actually showcases a woman who understands what she wants and goes out of her way to get it – “it” being a spanking from her boss anytime she makes a typo in a newsletter. “Secretary” explores the freedom felt after shame is laid aside in favor of personal pleasure and satisfaction.