Entertainment

The Best Movies About the Porn Industry

From '70s period pieces set in the Valley to contemporary comedies, these movies are must-watches.

Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Fair warning: While many of the movies on this list contain graphic sex scenes and quite a bit of nudity, they don’t exactly qualify as pornography. Instead, these are movies that tell stories about the business of filming, marketing, and selling sexually explicit material. Sometimes that means the whole movie follows a character who works in the industry; sometimes the world of porn is simply adjacent to the film’s main plot, providing a backdrop to a sweaty crime thriller, a creepy slasher bloodbath, or a slick buddy comedy. Depending on the material or the genre, different filmmakers cast an eye on the business that can be critical, judgmental, or simply curious.

What exactly makes a movie “about” porn? The often-used phrase “I know it when I see it,” deployed by a Justice in a Supreme Court obscenity trial in 1964, comes to mind. For the purposes of this list, we tried to focus on a range of titles that view pornography as a mix of art and commerce. Just like porn itself, movies about porn defy easy categorization.

Radu Jude
Radu Jude
Radu Jude

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021)

Arguably, the Romanian film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn isn’t actually about porn-it’s about a sex tape. That said, questions of morality and what is or isn’t for public consumption are infused throughout Radu Jude’s bizarre and fascinating film. (Also, it opens with a clip of hard-core, unsimulated pornography, so make of that what you will.) Bad Luck Banging follows a school teacher who makes the aforementioned video with her husband. When it gets out, her fitness as a high school instructor is called into question, and she’s essentially put on trial by a raft of angry parents. But before that, Jude takes a series of detours. The first section follows our heroine, Emi (Katia Pascariu), as she walks around Bucharest, the advertising and signage nearly as suggestive as her indiscretion. In the second, Jude presents a slideshow about Romania and fascism. Finally, Emi must defend her job, facing a microcosm of society.

Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Body Double (1984)

A neo-noir with the dramatic stylings of a Hitchcock movie, Body Double uses the latent Los Angeles porn industry for its sickest twist. When struggling actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) agrees to house-sit for his new friend Sam’s rich buddy, Sam (Gregg Henry) makes sure Jake takes note of the telescope his new residence has trained on a neighbor’s window, in which a beautiful woman dances erotically every night. Jake becomes obsessed with the woman, especially after he watches a man she appears to know beat her in full view of their window. Little does Jake know, the woman he sees dancing every night isn’t the one he’s trying to protect but adult actress Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), hired by Sam to impersonate the doomed Gloria (Deborah Shelton) and draw Jake into the murderous scheme so that he can ultimately be framed for it. Brian De Palma’s thriller expertly weaves together the sexy and the sordid, confronting our own voyeuristic sensibilities.

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

Boogie Nights (1997)

This ensemble drama about the porn business, from director Paul Thomas Anderson, is one of the most rewatchable movies ever made. Any stray moment can draw you in: Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler picking his name in a hot tub, John C. Reilly singing that Transformers song, Julianne Moore snorting an afternoon away, Burt Reynolds framing up a shot, or Heather Graham strolling across the screen in nothing but her Rollerblades. Splitting the difference between the laid-back melancholia of Robert Altman and the coked-out frenzy of Martin Scorsese, Boogie Nights remains PTA’s most purely pleasurable film, a loving tribute to an era of big stars, big egos, and big… well… you’ve seen the ending.

Netflix
Netflix
Netflix

Cam (2018)

Unlike the Unfriended films or the indie hit Searching, this web thriller from director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei isn’t locked into the visual confines of a computer screen. Though there’s plenty of online screen time, allowing for subtle bits of commentary and satire, the looser style allows the filmmakers to really explore the life and work conditions of their protagonist, rising cam girl Alice (Madeline Brewer). We meet her friends, her family, and her customers. Based on some of Mazzei’s experiences as a cam girl, the film gets into some of the more realistic details of the job. That type of granular immersion makes Alice’s revelation seeing her evil doppelgänger and the horror elements of the film about a very real industry even more unnerving.

TLA Releasing
TLA Releasing
TLA Releasing

The Fluffer (2001)

Movies about porn-movies about any kind of sex, really-tend to focus on straight practitioners, which made The Fluffer a touchstone for certain gay audiences circa 2001. The low-budget indie follows a highbrow LA film student (Michael Cunio) who develops an infatuation with a gay-for-pay porn hunk named Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney) and abandons his studies to work as Johnny’s fluffer. (A fluffer, for the uninitiated, is someone who keeps a porn performer’s penis erect throughout the shoot.) Too often forgotten in the annals of queer entertainment, it’s a sexy, little flick, part unrequited-love comedy and part seedy melodrama.

Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Hardcore (1979)

As viewers of his most recent movies like First Reformed and The Card Counter know, Paul Schrader is often attracted to stories of lonely men with obsessive streaks. In his script for Taxi Driver, he examined how the alienated cab driver Travis Bickle interacted with the often violent, cruel, and indifferent world around him. With Hardcore, a film that’s equally indebtted to John Ford’s The Searchers as Taxi Driver was, Schrader follows a Michigan bussinessman (George C. Scott) as he makes an often harrowing descent into the snuff movie houses and film sets of California to find his daughter. The guilt, repression, and fear are all boiling right beneath the surface in Scott’s often terrifying performance, a portrait of a father unraveling in real time.

Netflix
Netflix
Netflix

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

Sex sells, but does it make for good documentary content? Sources say: yes! This Netflix film made by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus traces the careers of young, amateur performers. Hot Girls Wanted isn’t a vaguely shrouded stand-in for your casual sexy-time viewing; it’s a serious film going deep on the business of porn, including many of its exploitative practices and unsettling consequences. The first go-round was so striking that Baeur and Gradus came back two years later for a short Netflix series exploring the other corners of the industry they didn’t have space to cover in this original feature.

Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures

Humpday (2009)

Lynn Shelton’s tender, funny snapshot of male friendship has an intentionally provocative premise: Two straight dudes (Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard) get drunk and essentially dare each other into making a gay porn film together as part of an art project. What sounds like the set-up for a broad, raunchy Judd Apatow comedy benefits from Shelton’s more careful, nuanced approach. Without getting particularly self-serious or navel-gazing, the (primarily improvised) dialogue and naturalistic performances shine a light on the limits of male insecurity and sexual timidness, finding morsels of truth in the awkwardness of behavior.

Radius-TWC/Alchemy
Radius-TWC/Alchemy
Radius-TWC/Alchemy

Lovelace (2013)

Critics and worried parents admonished Deep Throat, one of the first mainstream porn films to ever grace the silver screen, when it debuted in 1972. Forty years later, Hollywood made a movie about the making of the movie. Go figure. Lovelace tracks the rise of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), who battled abusive relationships before and after starring in Deep Throat. The movie is as straightforward as they come, but it dares to consider the most famous porn star with the legitimacy that she deserves.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Nice Guys (2016)

Birthed from ’70s funk, covered in porn sleaze, and decorated with the English-language equivalent of shaggy neon carpet, this rollicking Los Angeles-set noir is a comedy of groovy errors. Shane Black’s action film with a spitfire soul teams up an enforcer played by Russell Crowe and an Inspector Clouseau answer to L.A. Confidential played by Ryan Gosling as they try to solve a mystery revolving around an adult film and an auto-industry conspiracy. It all begins when centerfold Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) fatally crashes her car into a stranger’s home, leading our PIs in paisley to look into the questionable production of the “experimental,” stick-it-to-the-man porno How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy?. With a party at what looks like the Valley porn industry’s answer to Studio 54 and bits featuring 12-year-olds expounding on penis size, it’s a neo-noir that’s all for lunacy and smut.

Picturehouse
Picturehouse
Picturehouse

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

From early years of abuse to a descent into mental illness late in life, pin-up icon Bettie Page’s life was threaded with tragedy. But her work as a photographic subject, bringing sexuality and fetish imagery from the underground to just under the surface of the mainstream, made her worthy of the history books. Actress Gretchen Mol and American Psycho director Mary Harron’s dramatization doesn’t hold back in recreating the looks and skin that made Page a controversial but irresistible figure.

Sony Pictures Releasing
Sony Pictures Releasing
Sony Pictures Releasing

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

After chronicling the battle between Mozart and Salieri in his classical music comedy Amadeus, Czech-born director Miloš Forman turned his eye to the American legal system with this biopic about Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt. Played with expected nerve and wit by Woody Harrelson, Flynt is a great subject for Forman, who loved to poke and prod at matters of good taste and notions of decency. The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the writers behind similarly off-kilter biopics like Ed Wood and Dolemite Is My Name, provides the expected beats of a biopic, packed with funny trivia and wild details of Flynt’s Hustler heyday, while still retaining a thematic focus on Flynt’s uniquely American story of money, sleaze, and personal freedom.

A24
A24
A24

Red Rocket (2021)

Director Sean Baker followed up The Florida Project with another-almost more relentlessly uncomfortable-look at an unglamorous, unvarnished corner of America. Red Rocket stars Simon Rex (who you might know as a onetime MTV VJ) as Mikey Saber, a porn star who returns to his hometown of Texas City in the summer of 2016. He’s bruised and beaten and has some crazy story about MS-13, and asks his estranged wife, also a former porn star (Bree Elrod), if he can crash with her and her mother. While in town, he starts dealing weed and pursuing a not-quite-18-year-old who goes by Strawberry (Suzanna Son) and works the register at a local donut shop. Mikey sees the savvy Strawberry as his ticket back into the porn industry. If that sounds gross, well, that’s also the point. Mikey has a certain motor-mouthed charm, but he is also a vicious narcissist who cares about little but his own success. It’s an entrancing performance by Rex, and another triumph for Baker, who is never afraid to turn away.

Music Box Films
Music Box Films
Music Box Films

Starlet (2012)

Before Red Rocket, director Sean Baker concocted another segment of the porn world: a low-rent Southern California apartment where an aimless 21-year-old named Jane (Dree Hemingway) lives with an adult-film actress (Stella Maeve) and her uppity boyfriend (James Ransone). Jane sometimes participates in their productions, but the core of Starlet centers on the unlikely friendship Jane forces upon a cranky octogenarian (Besedka Johnson) after mistakenly walking away from a yard sale with a stack of cash that belongs to the woman. At once funny, sweet, and unnerving, Starlet-which takes its name from Jane’s beloved chihuahua-is a cross-generational gem about the hesitant connection between two lost souls.

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

Videodrome (1983)

A paranoid techno-thriller that’s also a political sci-fi horror that’s also a nightmarish prophecy of how humans and machines become ever closer as technology makes it easier to find and express our darkest desires, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome has something for everyone. A movie that presents playing a Betamax tape as akin to a sex act obviously has some freaky notions of human sexuality, including a scene where, after flirting brazenly on television, pirate-TV programmer Max Renn (James Woods) and sadomasochistic radio host Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry) make love to each other after watching an episode of a subversive, porny show operating out of a mysterious unknown station. The case study of a lost era of television broadcasting swiftly descends into Cronenberg’s typical sci-fi body horror territory, but not before offering a sensationalized glimpse of the ways in which people used to create and distribute forbidden entertainments.

A24
A24
A24

X (2022)

Ti West’s X has its roots in the slasher cinema of the 1970s as well as the era’s homemade porn movement that rocketed two salacious genres into the counterculture. As such, there’s plenty to unpack in X‘s treatment of its own historical influences, and how it depicts the changing social threads of the time-notably its depiction of female sexuality, which, in the film, can be a form of sensual entertainment, a weapon, or a pleasure that, if it’s withheld, has the power to incite horrifying violence. The aspiring smut crew-played by Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, and Jenna Ortega-find themselves face-to-face with a gun-wielding, semi-reclusive elderly couple who’ve grown bitter at their sexless existence and can’t stand the sight of the pretty young things roaming their property. Hell (or is it slasher-movie heaven?) breaks loose, and director Ti West captures the rustic intergenerational battle with both formidable dread and ample humor.

The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

It’s possible you’ve never seen this Seth Rogen movie, his sole collaboration with director Kevin Smith. In Zack and Miri, a pair of down-on-their-luck roommates (Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) aim to squash their pile of utility bills by making a Star Wars porn parody. While the movie didn’t find much of an audience in 2008, Smith told us that he and Rogen were suuuuuper high while editing the finished product, which should indicate if this silly comedy is for you. But even in all of the silliness (and there’s a lot of it), as the heat turns up on the coffee-shop-turned-porn-set, feelings do too and you’re dying for the best-friend leads to finally get it on.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Entertainment

'Top Gun: Maverick' Is the Perfect Adrenaline Rush

Tom Cruise's sequel brings the charms of the original classic into the modern era.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

What does it take to make a great action drama? Fighter jets. Kenny Loggins music. Tom Cruise. In 1986, Top Gun, perhaps the ultimate “guys being dudes” action movie set within a training school for the Navy’s best fighter pilots, patented this formula, and added in a bunch of sweaty guys playing beach volleyball and an iconic love scene to seal the deal. Top Gun‘s massive popularity made the announcement of a sequel seem the most natural thing in the world, if not the most exciting: an elder Tom Cruise handing the reins off to a new generation of elite actors. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for a surprise. Top Gun is a classic. Top Gun: Maverick does everything Top Gun did and more.

It’s been thirty-six years since Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) completed his TOPGUN program, but he’s far from the decorated officer he was destined to become by the end of the first movie. He’s dodged every promotion he could dodge, working as a test pilot flying hypersonic stealth jets for the military, but the specter of unmanned drones looms ever closer, spelling the end for an entire era of warfare. Not so fast, though-Maverick is called back to a certain fighter training school as an instructor, tasked with putting together a team of the best of the best to complete a bombing run involving some absurdly complex flying maneuvers at high speed much too close to the ground in enemy territory. If you will, an impossible mission.

The new crop of airmen, now flying F/A-18 Hornets instead of F-14 Tomcats, are kids in Maverick’s eyes, and he shows up to teach them what’s what, inventing training exercises to test their mettle and teach them how to fly as a team. It’s not going to be easy, with the egos of pilots like “Hangman” (Glen Powell), “Fanboy” (Danny Ramirez), “Coyote” (Greg Tarzan Davis) and “Phoenix” (Monica Barbaro) repeatedly clashing as they struggle to work together. And there are two more problems: He only has a few weeks to train these kiddos up to fly a mission from which they might not all return, and one of his students, sullen Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is the son of Maverick’s old flying partner Goose, who tragically died in the first movie. Not to mention reconnecting with an old flame, single mother Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who manages the local bar and is not about to fall yet again for a guy who’s left her more than once. You see where this is going.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The movie begins with a collection of the greatest hits of its predecessor, including but not limited to a montage of jets landing on an aircraft carrier lit by the golden light of the sun, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” and Maverick defying orders to do something with an aircraft that nobody’s ever done before. This is, after all, a movie that will have more than a few similarities to the one that came before. After that, though, the engines kick into gear (I apologize if this car metaphor doesn’t also work for planes), and Top Gun: Maverick starts to try out a few new tricks.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters are fun and fully realized (Maverick’s perpetual battle of egos with his commanding officer, a Vice Admiral known as “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm) is a highlight) and there’s just enough downtime between white-knuckle action to really get to know everyone. The sweaty beach game returns, but the macho posturing is toned down, given that we live in a new millennium and one of the main pilots is a woman. Val Kilmer reprises his “Iceman” for a touching scene. All of this is complemented by unbelievable flying sequences that will genuinely leave you breathless, each lightning-fast dogfight game and training simulation grander and faster than the last. This is the type of film to see as big and loud as possible.

But, as the original was, Top Gun: Maverick is also simply a straight-up great time at the movies. It makes the act of being a good movie look like the easiest thing in the world, with director Joseph Kosinski showing off everything he’s got. (Yes, you should give Tron: Legacy another shot.) Because “the enemy” is never named, as in the first movie, it is comfortably apolitical (if you disregard the fact that the jets Maverick eventually goes up against are Russian, and what a boon the original Top Gun was for U.S. military recruitment programs), and even though the whole movie is working towards a life-or-death wartime mission, it never forgets that its purpose is to thrill and excite. Great action movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Like a good wingman, Top Gun: Maverick swoops in to save the day.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

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