Back in the 1980s and ’90s, erotic dramas and thrillers saw quite a boom. They garnered big stars, big box office, and never ending controversy. Throughout that time, no director was more synonymous with showing sex in mainstream film than Adrian Lyne. Coming from the same British commercial world that gave us Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, Adrian Lyne took the over cranked, flashy style and applied it to stories obsessed with sex, its dangers and its prurient thrills.
2022 marks the return of the director after a 20-year hiatus with the erotic thriller Deep Water, starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, that hits Hulu on March 18. While it would have been nice for this to have its originally planned theatrical release, seeing a new erotic thriller from the genre’s grandmaster still generates a ton of excitement. We desperately need a revival of this genre, and there’s no better way to get a new one than from Adrian Lyne. In anticipation of Lyne’s comeback, let us look back at the films that cemented him as the king of Hollywood eroticism.
8. Lolita (1998)
Choosing to adapt Lolita, the infamous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, is a perilous journey to maneuver around an absurd amount of eggshells, as the story centers on the pedophilic relationship between a middle-aged man and his teenage stepdaughter. Stanley Kubrick managed to come out mostly unscathed with his 1962 adaptation, choosing to lean entirely on the blackly comic elements of the book. For Adrian Lyne, he can’t help indulge a little too much in the forbidden elements of the story, nearly wringing the film completely of its satiric nature. Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain both handle themselves well, particularly Swain, in navigating the ickiness, but Lyne’s Lolita aims for respectable when it really shouldn’t.
7. Flashdance (1983)
Adrian Lyne’s breakout film essentially brought what we think of as the MTV style to the big screen. Flashdance is one of those movies where everyone is dripping with sweat, pop and rock music is blaring from wall to wall, and every single shot is over lit. The story is incredibly bare bones, a steel mill worker/stripper (Jennifer Beals) has dreams of becoming a ballerina. What matters here is making every moment as eye-popping as possible. The result is rather overwhelming, and even though Beals is an immensely charismatic performer, and Lyne’s camera cannot stop ogling her, there just is not much to hang your hat on. The best element of the film are its two Academy Award nominated original songs, “Maniac” and “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” which won the award. The ladder is still an absolute jam to throw on any day of the week.
6. 9½ Weeks (1986)
Before Fifty Shades of Grey, the go-to movie about kinky sex was the infamous 9½ Weeks. It really was the first mainstream movie to really depict things like BDSM or food play to a large audience. Of course, the film was considered incredibly controversial at the time and bombed at the box office. People didn’t want to go up to the ticket counter and publicly purchase something to be considered softcore porn, which is why when it hit home video it became a big hit. The film itself consists mostly of Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke making their way through their sexual boundaries through montages, further exposing Rourke’s character’s inner menace. It’s a pretty hollow movie, but Adrian Lyne is working overtime with flooding every scene with harsh blue lighting, quick cuts, and just pumping as much verve he can into every scene. Worth watching alone for the completely insane scene of Kim Basinger stripping to Joe Cocker‘s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”
5. Foxes (1980)
Adrian Lyne’s debut feature is only partially about sex. Coming of age stories about teenagers always need to include some elements of sex, as puberty ravages their minds and sexual relationships become a possibility. Where Foxes differs from the rest of Lyne’s films about sex is that it is the one that is not about the explicit and visual eroticism of sex. Instead, the societal implications of sex are the important parts. Who you are dating, whether you are a virgin, and how you judge other’s sexual relationships are what drive the sexual minds of teenagers. Plus, there’s all the drugs, drinking, hatred of school, and thinking you are older than you actually are. The group of four friends at the center of the picture are played by Jodie Foster, Marilyn Kagan, Kandice Stroh, and Cherie Currie (of The Runaways, in her acting debut), and each one brings their own unique energy to these somewhat archetypal roles. Foxes is a engaging, if pretty shaggy, coming of age picture, but the shagginess certainly aids in its authenticity. A totally solid debut from Adrian Lyne.
4. Indecent Proposal (1993)
The premise of Indecent Proposal is so perfectly juicy. If someone offered you one million dollars, would you and your spouse be okay with letting you sleep with another person? Making that decision even more complex is if that person is the exceptionally sexy Robert Redford. That is the dilemma that the financially struggling couple of Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson have to face when Redford’s billionaire makes this proposition to spend a night with Moore. No, the film does not dig into the true depths of the misogyny inherent in this story, but it is still a highly entertaining morality play of jealousy. Thematically, it is far more successful at showing the stranglehold capitalism has on society. It is the least of Lyne’s unofficial infidelity trilogy but still a fun watch.
3. Fatal Attraction (1987)
Probably the most iconic erotic thriller of the era, Fatal Attraction was a cultural phenomenon. This unabashedly trashy piece of work took in over $320 million at the worldwide box office and earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Adrian Lyne’s sole nomination for Best Director. Erotic cinema poster child Michael Douglas stars as a man who decides to cheat on his wife (Anne Archer) one weekend while she is away with another woman (Glenn Close). It turns out that the other woman also happens to be an obsessive, sociopathic stalker who seeks to ruin his and his family’s life after he breaks it off with her. Fatal Attraction is truly outrageous and features a wrecking ball of a performance from Glen Close, who was also Oscar nominated. 35 years later, the film still thrills.
2. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Ironically, one of Adrian Lyne’s best films is the only one that is not all about sex. Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological horror film about a traumatized war veteran (Tim Robbins) who thinks demons are after him. Lyne uses all those tricks, like the harsh lighting and hazy atmosphere, to create some truly unsettling, sometimes scary images. He has always had a knack of placing you inside the head of a character, but instead of doing it to see what turns them on, it is to see what is driving the titular Jacob Singer completely insane. What Jacob’s Ladder demonstrates most is how dependent he is on a great screenplay. With someone so visually oriented, he often places a greater emphasis on the frame he is creating than how it fits into the larger film. But with terrific screenplay from Bruce Joel Rubin, so much of the storytelling work is already in place for him to put his cinematic flare onto. Jacob’s Ladder was the perfect marriage of material and filmmaker, despite it not being in Lyne’s preferred milieu.
1. Unfaithful (2002)
It looked for a long time like Unfaithful was going to be the way Adrian Lyne goes out. If it was, what a way to go out! This takes the erotic thriller and transforms it into an expertly crafted melodrama. Diane Lane stars as a seemingly happily married woman who begins an affair with a young vintage book collector (Olivier Martinez). Her husband (Richard Gere) is quick to catch on about her wife’s little lies and suspects she is cheating. More than any other of Lyne’s forays into erotic cinema, he makes you deeply empathize with every single character. Lane’s performance alone transcends what could be another trashy story and gives it true emotional truth. A lot of Lyne’s flashier tendencies are gone (barely any blue gels on lights), but he injects all the bigness of his style into the actual content of the film. The opening scene begins in a giant windstorm, and that sets the stage for the grandness of the film’s emotions. Unfaithful showcases Adrian Lyne’s best when it comes to his instincts for capturing sensuality and his growth as a storyteller, and it stands as his best film.
Adrian Lyne will direct the movie, which will be the first film he has directed since 2002’s ‘Unfaithful.’
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