Looking at sadomasochism through a lens isn’t always a pleasurable experience for bondage aficionados. Lazy stereotypical characters are infuriating, and the focus is often skewed toward vanilla titillation. But don’t despair, here are five of the best BDSM films from the last 20 years.

Crash (1996) - BDSM film about car crashes

From spankings to S&M toys and handcuffs, mainstream audiences are pretty cool about a little deviant sexuality in their BDSM film. However, Crash, ratchets the action straight past comfortable and into the realms of fear, by exploring car crash horniness. Director David Cronenberg isn’t known for his depictions of normality on screen, but in this film, he goes for all-out provocation. 

James Spader plays a character called James Ballard who experiences unusual arousal after being involved in a car accident with Dr Helen Remington (Holly Hunter). From here he meets a whole sub-culture of fetishists who are turned on not just by horrific crashes, but also their aftermath. In one of the most disturbing scenes of this fetish film, the audience is invited to share his attraction to Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), as she displays a gaping leg wound through fishnet stockings. So maybe it's a little vanilla, but we still think Crash is one of the best fetish films made in the last 20 years.


Fetishes (1996) - A fetish documentary

Strictly speaking, this is more a documentary than a movie, but it’s worth a mention as one of the best fetish films on this list for the extreme nature of the content. Fetish films aren’t uncommon, and Nick Broomfield’s documentary keeps nothing behind the curtain.

We’re surrounded by images of vanilla sex and desire on a daily basis. The S&M scenes in Fetishes, which is divided into eight chapters, provide a refreshingly perverted alternative. The action centres on what was New York’s most infamous torture dungeon. The film includes insightful interviews with the people who work there and their clients. Somehow Broomfield manages to give everyone a voice without pathologising or sensationalising their preferences. The moment when a penis, lube, sandpaper and toilet roll meet, is the runaway showstopper.


Preaching To The Perverted (1997) - The dominatrix and the nerd

An indie BDSM film based in London, this low budget production is not universally loved. However, it’s definitely worth a watch, even if it’s just for the barnstorming central performance from Guinevere Turner. At the time, even Empire magazine was impressed, announcing in its review: “Turner makes Sharon Stone look like a mother superior.”

As the American dominatrix, Tanya Cheex, Turner's the devil to computer nerd Peter’s (Christien Anholt) angel. He begs her to tone down her no-good ways as she tries to tempt him over to the dark side – ain’t love grand? It’s a cute, witty romp that doesn’t take itself seriously, but the naive ‘normal versus fetish’ focus grates slightly. Still, this is definitely one of the best fetish films in recent times.


The Piano Teacher (2001) - Uncomfortable and dark

Even for the freakiest BDSM film fans, The Piano Teacher can sometimes be an uncomfortable ride. Self-genital mutilation is never easy to watch, and neither is a semi-incestuous mother/daughter relationship. Isabelle Huppert as Erika is the film's intellectually gifted but sexually repressed heroine. A music teacher who flickers between numerous fetishes in an attempt to satisfy herself.

Loose in the public domain Erika visits porn cinemas, pays for peep shows and spies voyeuristically on couples having sex. At home she sleeps next to her suffocating, domineering mother and the pair fight frequently, slapping each other as their anger rises. Into this toxic mix comes Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Entirely oblivious for Erika's BDSM secrets he pursues her in a conventional way, but Erika can’t bring herself to have any part of it. Instead, she slips him a list of her sadomasochistic demands, which is when things take an even darker turn.


Secretary (2002) - With a happy ending

If you’ve ever fantasised about putting that report in your mouth and delivering it to the boss on your hands and knees, you’ll love this ultimately life-affirming BDSM film, one of the best movies on this list. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the dowdy, Lee, an office worker who just loves screwing up so she can catch the attention of her hot, pervy boss, Mr Grey (not that one), played with relish by James Spader.

Lee's self-harming habit becomes clear while she’s bending over to carry out some demeaning task devised by the sadistic Mr Grey. But rather than relishing in her pain, Grey makes her promise to stop. After confessing to being equally dysfunctional in his own way, their strange and erotic relationship begins to bloom. The path of true love doesn’t run smoothly at all, but you can expect a happy ending from this one.


Have you watched any of these films? What did you think? Do you have any other favourite BDSM film? Let us know in the Fetish.com forum.

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