Fetish on film: Bulle Ogier (left) taking care of business as the dominatrix in Barbette Schroeder’s Maitresse (1976)
With nothing much happening in the next few days, perhaps you’re looking for something distracting to entertain you on what would otherwise be just another ordinary May weekend?
If so, how about bingeing on some classic fetish and BDSM movies from the last 50 years or so?
Below, we’ve chosen 20 favourites from the last five decades of movie-making that might provide some inspiration. We’re not offering them to you as a ‘Top 20’ chart; instead, we’ve ordered our choices by decade and year. That way, you can dip in and sample something from any point in fetish movie history that interests you.
Each listing here is accompanied by a link to a trailer for the movie. For convenience we’ve standardised on trailers found on YouTube (when available there), and in some cases, you’ll find the movies on YouTube too.
But do bear in mind that YouTube is not necessarily a great platform for kink content and any movies you find there will not necessarily be the most complete versions discoverable online — if you know what we mean!
Promo for The Night Porter (1974) using one of the film’s most iconic images of Charlotte Rampling
1974: THE NIGHT PORTER
Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling star in this controversial Italian movie which has been an enduring influence on fetish fashion and art. A former concentration camp officer working in a Vienna hotel in 1957 is discovered there by an ex-inmate with whom he had a wartime sadomasochistic relationship. The couple try to rekindle their affair; what could possibly go wrong?
The Night Porter: Trailer
1975: THE STORY OF O (HISTORE D’O)
Based on the 1954 novel by Pauline Réage and directed by Just Jaeckin (who later made 1984’s The Perils of Gwendoline), this fairly faithful adaptation of the book that gave us lasting BDSM archetypes (O herself and Sir Stephen) and locations (Roissy) ran into predictable trouble with the British censor.
The Story of O: Trailer
1976: IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (AI NO CORRIDA)
This controversial French-Japanese co-production directed by Nagisa Öshima is based on real events that took place n 1930s Japan. It tells the story of a former prostitute working as a hotel maid who becomes sexually obsessed with her employer. Their romance quickly descends into a very dangerous sexual fixation with dreadful consequences.
In the Realm of the Senses: Trailer
Barbette Schroeder’s groundbreaking French sex comedy includes some of the most explicit scenes of fetishism and sadomasochism seen in a mainstream European film. Dominatrix Bulle Ogier catches Gérard Depardieu (in an early lead role) burgling her dungeon apartment, and they begin a love affair — in charge of which she clearly is.
Kim Basinger’s character crawling across the floor for her master (played by Mickey Rourke) in 9½ Weeks (1986)
1985: SEDUCTION: THE CRUEL WOMAN
Monika Treut’s debut film, inspired by Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, features a Hamburg dominatrix who lures all kinds into her sadomasochistic world and charges audiences to watch. Does her fate lie in the hands of her female lover turned assistant mistress, her motherly shoe fetishist lover or her slave husband?
Seduction: The Cruel Woman: Trailer
1986: 9½ WEEKS
Adrian Lyne’s erotic romantic drama starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke was the precursor for a slew of modern glossy BDSM fantasies featuring wealthy dominant men called Gray or Grey. Relatively tame but regarded as too explicit for US release without heavy editing, it subsequently became a big international hit.
9½ Weeks: Trailer
1989: TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!
This dark romantic comedy was Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s follow-up to his big international success with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Recently released psychiatric patient Antonio Banderas kidnaps porn star Victoria Abril, who falls in love with him and demands to be bound. We’ve all been there.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Trailer
Jennifer Tilly appearing to be a bit tied up in the Wachowskis’ debut movie Bound (1996)
1992: TOKYO DECADENCE (TOPAZU)
Directed by Ryü Murakami with music by Ryüichi Sakamato, this tale of a timid Tokyo student working as a prostitute catering for perverted men was banned in some countries for its ‘cruel and graphic’ nature. By which they probably mean the sodomy, S&M, submission, bondage, asphyxiation and other fun stuff.
Tokyo Decadence: Trailer
Later famed as Matrix directors, the Wachowskis made their debut with crime thriller Bound, which put Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon into situations so like American bondage magazine images, it couldn’t be a coincidence. The film was praised for its style, humour and authentic mainstream depiction of a lesbian relationship.
David Cronenberg’s erotic thriller based on JG Ballard’s novel continued the controversy Ballard stoked with depictions of sex instigated by violence and, specifically, car crashes (as fetishised by symphorophiliacs). Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette, it won a Cannes Special Jury Prize and was banned by Westminster Council.
Directed by renowned British documentary-maker Nick Broomfield, Fetishes (originally made for HBO) explores New York’s legendary professional dungeon Pandora’s Box, presided over by Mistress Raven. Footage of Bettie Page opens the film, and topics covered thereafter include slaves, mistresses, rubber and wrestling fetishes, corporal punishment, masochism, infantilism and socio-political fetishes.
1997: PREACHING TO THE PERVERTED
Stuart Urban’s fanciful but endearing morality tale/love story pitching late-’90s British fetish clubbing culture (presided over here by Guinevere Turner’s American dominatrix) against killjoy politicians has achieved cult status with fetish audiences. Features lots of contemporary fetish performers and a host of British acting talent including a young Julie Graham.
Preaching to the Perverted: Trailer
Gretchen Mol as pin-up turned bondage model Bettie, flexing her muscles in The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush, is a fictionalised account of the ten years the Marquis de Sade spent in Charenton insane asylum. Also starring Kate Winslet, this highly acclaimed production was described by its creators as an exploration of censorship, pornography, sex, art, mental illness and religion rather than a biography.
This erotic/romantic comedy-drama addresses sadomasochism with a light and affectionate touch not always associated with such subject matter. A young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets a secretarial position with a very exacting lawyer (James Spader) who rapidly escalates their work relationship into a consensual sub-dom love affair.
2005: THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE
With a screenplay by director Mary Harron and actress Guinevere Turner (who had starred in 1997’s Preaching To The Perverted), this biopic follows the progress of Bettie (Gretchen Mol) from naïve Nashville God-botherer to bondage queen for Irving Klaw, meeting the legendary John Willie (Jared Harris) along the way.
The Notorious Bettie Page: Trailer
Krista Kosonen as Mona, the dominatrix encountered by a grieving surgeon in Finnish movie Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2019)
2013: VENUS IN FUR
Roman Polanksi’s erotic drama is a film based on a play about a play inspired by a novel (the title of which you can probably guess). An actress turns up late for an audition with the play’s writer-director, and it transpires she is unexpectedly well-suited to the sub/dom subject matter.
Venus in Fur: Trailer
2014: THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
Peter Strickland’s film is an intelligent, impressively nuanced exploration of the psychological arc of real dom-sub relationships as opposed to their fantasy iterations. It depicts a lesbian mistress-maid affair between a lecturer (Sidse Babette Knudsen) and student (Chira D’Anna) but could equally apply to a hetero or gay male relationship.
The Duke of Burgundy: Trailer
2017: EX-DOMINATRIX: A TRUE STORY
Made by ex-London fetish scenester Darren Cavanagh, this documentary tells the story of legendary hardcore dominatrix Mistress Lucrezia, aka Goddess Ira, whose world turned upside down when a British client died in her Antwerp dungeon. She lost everything, was locked-up, pilloried by the tabloids and eventually chose to leave Belgium.
Ex-Dominatrix: A True Story: Trailer
2017: PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMAN
Charming biopic about the man who created comic heroine Wonder Woman and also invented the lie detector. Marston was a keen BDSM afficionado who brought this influence into his work whenever possible, albeit in apparently ‘innocent’ guises. Diana Prince found herself tied, caged, paddled, gagged and kidnapped in the comic’s early issues.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman: Trailer
2019: DOGS DON’T WEAR PANTS
One of the most interesting recent films referencing BDSM, this Finnish erotic black comedy is about an emotionally numbed, widowed surgeon whose chance encounter with a dominatrix makes him start to feel again. At first he seems like a sad and potentially suicidal loser, but eventually a corner is turned.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants: Trailer