Tag Archives: 50 Shades Darker

Why Quality Erotica/Romance Movies Are (Almost) Impossible

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A while back, I talked about the box office reception that “50 Shades Darker” received and the implications this had for the future of erotica/romance in movies. In my assessment, as someone with a keen interest in the future of erotica/romance, I painted a mildly optimistic picture.

I had good reason to. After all, “50 Shades Darker” turned a profit, just like its predecessor. Sure, it was panned by critics, but that has never stopped trends in movies before. Just ask Michael Bay. Critical reception aside, “50 Shades of Grey” made a lot of money for book publishers and movie studios. That should be all that’s necessary to spark a new wave of erotica/romance in movies, right?

Well, maybe it’s because I’ve had some spare time while recovering from a terrible cold, but I find myself re-assessing my assessment. In doing so, I’ve surmised a number of major, almost insurmountable obstacles that will keep erotica/romance stories, like the ones I write, from being Jaws-level blockbusters.

Now I say it’s almost insurmountable because Hollywood has defied the odds and/or common sense before. I thought the vomit-inducing shit storm that was “Batman and Robin” had killed superhero movies for the next several decades. Thankfully, I was wrong and three years later, “X-men” came out. However, the erotica/romance genre has challenges that even superhero movies never had to overcome.

With that caveat in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the obstacles that hinder erotica/romance in movies. Yes, they seem daunting, but keep in mind that when there’s money to be made, Hollywood usually finds a way to exploit the hell out of it.


Obstacle #1: The Porn Problem

While the Mike Huckabees of the world may hate it, porn exists. Porn, as a genre and an industry, exists in a big way. According to Forbes, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry with its own line of major brands, product lines, and superstars. Names like Brazzers, Adam and Eve, and Jenna Jameson are all well-known, even though many are still reluctant to admit just how much they know.

This may be good for the industry, but it’s also a big reason why the erotica part of erotica/romance has such a big problem getting into movies. It’s because porn is its own industry that there’s this hard, unambiguous line between porn and cinema.

Show any typical movie next to a typical porn and it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which is which. Even if none of the actresses involved have boob jobs, it’s painfully obvious which one was produced by a porn studio. If a movie is going to be overly sexual in any way, then it’s going to either get hijacked by porn or associated with it. In either case, the romance part will be lost completely.

This is why the erotica parts of movies like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Showgirls” are so watered down. Sure, you’ll see a pair of breasts. Sure, you’ll even see a penis or a vagina every now and then, if only briefly. However, it’ll never be as overt or uncensored as porn.

Some of this because too much T&A will earn a movie the dreaded NC-17 rating, which means no major theaters will carry it. At best, a movie with that rating will end up a late-night softcore porn movie on Cinemax or HBO, which directly ties into another obstacle.


Obstacle #2: The Acting Problem

Here’s a pop quiz everybody should be able to pass. How many Oscar-winning actors or actresses in the past 30 years have ever starred in a porno movie? If you can’t think of any, then congratulations. You passed.

That’s because for actors or actresses, acting in porn or being too eager to take your clothes off is the quickest way to lose credibility in Hollywood. Now some actresses can get away with showing their tits more than others, as Angelina Jolie has proven, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

For men, it’s even worse. Many male actors are willing to get naked on screen, as Leonardo DiCaprio has proven, but chances are they’ll never do a full-frontal where their dick and balls are clear for everyone to see. That’s usually the quickest way to get laughed out of any future audition.

This is a problem because good acting is important to a good story, especially one that involves romantic themes. However, good actors and actresses can’t get quality work if they’re too eager to get naked on camera. That’s because they’ll just be seen as quasi-porn stars of sorts who rely more on their sex appeal than their acting skills to make a living.

Now there’s nothing wrong with relying on your natural or surgically-enhanced sex appeal to make a living. Pamela Anderson is proof that this can work, even if she has become somewhat of a hypocrite about it.

However, for serious actors in Hollywood, it’s an unbalanced balancing act of sorts. Too much sex appeal means your acting skills become secondary. Without those acting skills, it’s hard to tell a meaningful story. Even if the actor or actress has those skills, there’s also the erotic acts themselves to consider, which leads to the next major obstacle.


Obstacle #3: The Performance Problem

By performance, I don’t mean an actor or actress’ ability to cry on cue. Think back to porn for a moment without opening a new tab on your browser. Why is it that many porn actors or porn actresses have such poor acting skills? Well, there’s a simple reason for that. Their acting skills are a secondary concern at best, if not an afterthought at worst.

The biggest challenge to being a porn actor or actress has nothing to do with actual acting. It has everything to do with actually being able to have sex in front of a camera, under weird lighting, and with a director barking orders behind the scene. It’s not exactly an intimate setting is what I’m saying.

Most men can’t exactly rise to the occasion under those situations. As a man, I can attest that our biology makes that difficult for us. Just as many women can’t exactly get in the mood either. That’s why male porn stars are judged more on their ability to keep an erection and why female porn stars are judged by their ability to keep the sex going, even after the mood has passed.

This is why sex in movies is so overly-censored. Even in softcore porn movies, it’s extremely watered down. If you do see a penis, it’s never erect. If you do see a vagina, it’s rarely that wet. That’s why the sex never looks real or genuine. It’s a matter of skill more than story.

Good actors and actresses have the skill to make a character seem real. Good porn stars have the skill to actually have sex in front of a camera. Few, if any, have the ability to do both, which is why erotica/romance has so much working against it.


Obstacle #4: The Stigma Problem

As I’ve pointed out before, Hollywood still has a few oddly outdated attitudes when it comes to sex. Again, just go see any slasher movie made in the past 30 years. The first person to die is always the man or woman who is too eager to get naked or have sex.

In any major romance movie, a relationship that has too much sex will be portrayed as shallow. A relationship that lacks sex or sex appeal will come off as more genuine. It’s an either/or scenario that rarely gets challenged and for good reason.

Too much sex in a movie will cause it too lose credibility. Too much sex in a romance will make it seem shallow. The idea that sex can actually complement a romance might as well seem alien to a Hollywood producer. That would be like claiming Seth Rogan can do a good movie that doesn’t involve weed. It seems outrageous.

Beyond the stigma within the movie, there’s the stigma outside the studios as well. As I mentioned with the acting issue, those involved in an overly sexy movie will get labeled as the kind of people who can only do movies that involve a lot of sex.

This is why few victims in slasher movies go onto win Oscars. They commit the sin of getting naked in a few too many scenes and they’re basically blacklisted in Hollywood. It’s not fair, but that’s how the industry works.


Reasons For Hope

Now if these obstacles make it seem like erotica/romance will never be a legitimate movie genre, I apologize if I give that impression. Granted, these are obstacles that few genres have ever had to overcome. Even with the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” it’s not like studios are clamoring to make knock-offs on the same level we’ve seen with superhero movies.

That said, there does appear to be an emerging market for more mature content that doesn’t shy away from showing nudity in more than a few scenes. How do I know this? It can be best summed up by three words: Game of Thrones.

Say what you want about the critical reception of “50 Shades of Grey.” There’s no denying the cultural impact that “Game of Thrones” has had since it debuted on HBO. It’s violent. It’s sexy. It’s downright gratuitous in the way it glorifies Emily Clarke’s breasts. It’s also a damn good story full of great acting and compelling characters.

Now that’s not to say “Game of Thrones” qualifies as an erotica/romance story. It’s very much a different kind of story, one that fits more into established fantasy genres. However, it’s willingness to use a balance of sex, violence, and story offer hope that this balance can find its way into other genres.

So while it may be a while before we see an erotica/romance movie, like my upcoming book, “Passion Relapse,” we’re a lot closer than you think. Sex still sells. Meaningful romance still sells. It’s only a matter of time before Hollywood finds a way to combine the two and make a boatload of money off it.

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“50 Shades Darker” And The Future Of Erotica/Romance Movies

What can we say about the state of sex in movies that hasn’t already been said by radical feminists and Christian fundamentalists? That’s not an entirely rhetorical question. Sex in cinema is as old as cinema itself. Like every major advancement, we kinky humans just love to take great technological advancements and wonder how we can have sex with it. Why else would sex robots be a thing?

It’s also a very relevant question to ask. Earlier this month, “Fifty Shades Darker” came out in theaters. It’s the sequel to 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In terms of erotica/romance in movies, this is basically the alpha dog of the pack. This is the big gun and, in some respects, the only gun with any bullets in the chamber.

Why is that and why does it matter? Well if, at this point, you don’t know about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon that started out as Twilight fan fiction, then you’re either just waking up from a coma or are too shy to ask your parents about why they keep ropes under their beds. It shouldn’t be too shocking. It’s not like E. L. James invented erotica literature or BDSM fiction. That has been around longer than movies, TV, or whatever else priests and mullahs thinks are corrupting society.

What makes “Fifty Shades of Grey” so important is that it achieved such staggering success. This wasn’t some niche title that a couple horny housewives read while their husbands were busy fucking their secretaries. This book sold over 5.3 million copies. That’s more than the last Harry Potter book.

For reasons that still baffle and frustrate many, especially in the Catholic Church, this book struck a nerve, among other things. It tapped into our collective libido like few things haven’t outside of Barry White music. The fact it’s finally manifesting in movies should shock no one. Like any form of successful media, Hollywood is going to milk that tit until it’s bone dry.

Now, I’m not going to gloss over some of the obvious here. I know that both “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Fifty Shades Darker” have been eviscerated by critics. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has a pathetic 9 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. For some context, the much-maligned Fantastic Four movie that came out in the same year also got a 9 percent. The sequel to that movie was promptly cancelled.

It doesn’t help that the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie scored only a 25 percent, but at least that movie can say it made a decent profit. According to BoxOfficeMojo, the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie made over $571 million worldwide on a $40 million budget. That’s nothing to scoff at. Even Roger Ebert would admit that.

As a rule of thumb, movies typically need to make double their budget at the box office to turn a profit. By that measure, “Fifty Shades of Grey” succeeded. At the moment, “Fifty Shades Darker” has grossed over $284 million on a $55 budget. It’s not exactly “Avatar” numbers, but it is a profit. Rotten Tomatoes can bitch about it all they want. If a movie makes a profit, then that counts as a success.

It’s the fact that movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are turning such a profit that the prospect for erotica/romance in movies is changing. It used to be that if a movie had too many erotic themes on it, it would be doomed to an NC-17 rating or left to whither in late-night time slots on Cinemax.

As a result, not many studios put much effort into these movies. There’s a reason why all those unrated movies or MA-TV series on Cinemax are just glorified softcore porn. Maybe that sort of thing had its place in the days before the internet, but now any 13-year-old can whip out their phones and look up the most hardcore sex acts this side of a German brothel.

Now, thanks to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” studios have a precedent. They now know that there is a market for movies with heavy erotic themes. Unlike cult classics such as “Showgirls,” it can be profitable. It can have a place in a market currently dominated by movies about superheroes and Legos.

That said, being profitable and being good aren’t the same thing. Just ask Michael Bay. Profitable movies that are not well-received will make some short-term profits. In the long run, however, audiences will catch up to the lack of quality and lose interest. Again, just ask Michael Bay.

It’s in the best interest of a studio and a genre for a movie to be both well-received and profitable. That’s how one good X-men movie or one good Iron Man movie can turn a franchise into a full-fledged phenomenon that culminates in a billion-dollar blockbuster.

In some respects, erotica in movies is in a similar place compared to superhero movies. While it’s hard to imagine now in an era where a talking raccoon can benefit from the superhero craze, but there was a time when superhero movies were box office poison.

In the mid-90s, thanks to the misguided efforts of Joel Shumacher, superhero movies and comic book movies were right up there with Paulie Shore in terms of things studios avoided. The idea that superhero movies could be so profitable was just ludicrous. It would only take away vital resources from making more Die Hard rip-offs.

It took a few studios with the balls to take risks, as well as some actual effort beyond just giving Roger Cormen a few bucks, to make superhero movies work. I’m not saying erotica movies can follow the same path, but there is precedent.

There’s also one other factor that’s working in favor of erotica movies and that’s demographics. According to census data, the population of major industrial countries is getting older. That means the market for more adult-oriented media is growing. Sure, kids still have their Disney movies and princess toys, but an older population isn’t going to be content with remakes of old cartoons and “Frozen.”

At some point, a standard PG-13 movie where the blood is CGI and all the boobs are covered just isn’t going to do it for some audiences. They’re going to want something else. The softcore themes of movies like “Showgirls” just doesn’t work anymore, thanks to the impact of internet porn. Tits and ass alone just aren’t enough. For erotica movies to grow, it needs both story and sex appeal.

I say this as someone who is trying to do that with his novels. However, there are already plenty of erotica novels out there that also have rich, engaging stories. I hope to write a few of them in the future with “Passion Relapse” being a stepping stone. For movies, however, the road is a bit longer.

Right now, I get the sense that Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a good erotica movie that doesn’t devolve into softcore porn. While “Fifty Shades of Grey” turned a profit, it’s poor critical reception does not bode well for the long-term prospects of the genre. However, that can change with only one movie. Just ask “Die Hard.”

What kind of movie would that be? Well, if I knew, I’d be working in Hollywood right now scheduling dates with Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Hollywood has a lot of problems right now and not just because of things like “whitewashing.”

Many Hollywood movies still are somewhat uptight when it comes to certain themes, especially those involving sex. Just look at slasher movies for proof of this. In those movies, characters who dare to be too sexual are often killed or are the villains. It’s extremely sex-negative, albeit indirectly.

For an erotica movie to work on a large scale, it needs to be more sex-positive. Movies like Deadpool were rare exceptions in that it was extremely sex-positive. The fact it was such a successful movie definitely helped.

It also needs actors and actresses who are just as sex-positive in spirit. That means those who rely on body doubles for nude scenes probably wouldn’t fit the role. That may be challenging because collectively, our culture still reacts like school-girls around a sick puppy when celebrities dare to show a nipple. However, I do believe that with demographics and more movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this attitude will evolve.

At some point in every movie genre, there’s a moment where the situation is just right to get it going. The current situation isn’t quite there for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I do believe it’s much closer than we think. I, for one, intend to have plenty of loose pants handy for when that day finally comes.

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