30+ BDSM Movies: Bondage in Cinema

BDSM movies plays a critical role in erotic thrillers and experimental cinema.

BDSM in movies and film is a gripping erotic element and storytelling technique.

As the saying goes, “The person who has power in a relationship is the one who cares the least.” It’s assumed that the one who cares the least is the sadist, while the one who cares the most is the masochist. And to assume that relationships are about power rather than love implies that all romantic relationships have an element of S&M in them.

Fifty Shades of Grey asks: Are all romantic relationships essentially a power struggle?

The word “sadism” is derived from the name of 18th-century author the Marquis De Sade, who was imprisoned for his sexually explicit literary output. Likewise, the word “masochist” comes from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose 1870 novel Venus in Furs describes a man who gets intense sexual pleasure form being humiliated and dominated by a woman he worships.

“BDSM” is an acronym for “Bondage/Discipline/Sadism/Masochism.” The first two letters of the acronym refer more to practices that are related to the sexual/psychological polarities of sadism and masochism.

In varying degrees, the following films all deal with the curious and disturbing overlap between romance, sex, power, and suffering.

Belle de Jour (1967)

Catherine Deneuve stars as a bored housewife who turns to prostitution.

In this S&M-themed drama by surrealist master Luis Bunuel, Catherine Deneuve stars as Séverine, a frigid but beautiful young housewife who is married to a doctor named Pierre. Although they were married over a year ago, they still have not consummated their relationship, and Séverine can’t quite figure out why she does not desire her husband. But she has increasingly graphic S&M dreams and one day learns of a high-class brothel in Paris, which she finally visits to indulge her fantasies, becoming one of the most popular prostitutes there. But she meets a violent young thug named Marcel who wants her all for himself, which throws Séverine’s life into chaos.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this teleplay happens in four acts.

This early experimental film by German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder is actually based on his own obsessive S&M relationship with a handsome young actor. Petra von Kant (Margit Christensen) is an arrogant fashion designer who recently divorced her husband and has launched into an S&M relationship with her submissive maid. But then a young and coldly beautiful woman named Karin enters the picture, throwing the sexual power balance out of Petra’s hands and into Karin’s. The entire film is shot as if it was a play, with acts featuring only a single camera shot for each scene.

The Night Porter (1974)

Charlotte Rampling stars as a former concentration camp prisoner who reunites with the camp guard who dominated her.

Set in 1957 in Vienna, The Night Porter stars Charlotte Rampling as Lucia, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp who is married to a successful but overworked husband. One night at a hotel in Vienna, she locks eyes with Max (Dirk Bogarde), a former Nazi guard who dominated Lucia sexually during their shared time together at the camp. Max is working at night as a hotel porter to hide his Nazi past, but he is still involved with Nazi associates who are holding mock trials to destroy all evidence against them should they ever be brought up on war crimes. Max and Lucia embark once more on their S&M relationship, but it becomes increasingly clear who is trustworthy and who isn’t.

Inquisición (1977)

Inquisición is the first film from director Paul Naschy.

The Spanish Inquisition is a historical event in which the Catholic Church used various torture methods to purge Spain of satanists and Jews as well as the Muslims who had ruled the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 700 years. The central drama in Inquisición involves the twisted relationship between a priest who is the local witchfinder-general and a beautiful and seductive village woman who has made a pact with the Devil to thwart the Catholic Church’s mission specifically by embarking upon an S&M relationship with the witchfinder-general.

9-1/2 Weeks (1986)

Kim Basinger stars as a recently divorced woman who is lured into an S&M relationship with a mysterious man.

Kim Basinger portrays Elizabeth McGraw, a sexually non-adventurous woman who works in an art gallery and is recently divorced from her husband of three years. Mickey Rourke stars as John Gray, a handsome and charismatic Wall Street financier who seduces Elizabeth but is reluctant to share very many personal details about himself with her. Over the course of the “9-1/2 weeks” in the title, he slowly attains sexual dominance over her by doing things such as blindfolding her and running ice cubes over her body, suggesting that she fantasizes about him touching her at 12 noon every day, and making her slavishly crawl across the floor toward him. But as she eventually realizes that she is deeply involved in a physical relationship with a total stranger, she pulls away from him and finds herself emotionally broken.

Tokyo Decadence (1992)

A Tokyo prostitute escapes her unhappy love life by subjecting herself to abuse.

In Tokyo, a woman named Ai is a submissive prostitute who works at an escort agency that specializes in servicing clients with perverted and kinky interests. Ai finds herself routinely abused by sadistic Japanese businessmen and rough Yakuza gangster thugs. It eventually becomes apparent that Ai endures all this because she is despondent that her former lover has moved on and gotten married. The BBC gave the film a solid thumbs-down: “Almost entirely free of context or comment, it’s like watching a grim, sordid and in fact rather dull porno flick, where the director documents the sexual demands of a number of ‘imaginative’ businessmen and then – unlike the prostitute herself – does nothing with them.”

The Piano Teacher (2001)

A masochistic teacher and her charming young student embark upon a sadomasochistic relationship.

Erika Kohut is the teacher in the title role, a masochistic woman in her 40s who lives with her mother, at first enduring her abuse and then turning the tables on her. When she isn’t teaching piano or quarreling with her mother, she visits porno shops and watches X-rated films. She eventually meets Walter Klemmer, a charming 17-year-old piano student who sexually pursues her. At first he is repulsed by her masochistic requests but then finally indulges her, at one point breaking into her house and violently raping her. But Erika quickly learns that her fantasies were not nearly as fulfilling when acted out in real life as she’d imagined they would be.

Secretary (2002)

Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a submissive secretary who finds happiness with a domineering boss.

E. Edward Grey (James Spader) is an eccentric and demanding lawyer who hires Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a troubled and frail woman with abusive parents who has recently been released from a mental hospital, as his secretary. As their work relationship grows, their sadistic and masochistic tendencies blossom into a sexual relationship. But unlike most such cases, it does not end in disaster and heartache—they find a way to fill one another’s emotional gaps and wind up happily married.

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Famed psychologist Carl Jung gets involved with a woman who enjoys being spanked but also gets in the way of his professional relationship with Sigmund Freud.

Until Carl Jung came along, Sigmund Freud was indisputably the most influential voice in the formation of modern psychoanalysis. The two men admired one another—until a young hysterical woman named Sabina Spielrein started undergoing analysis with the married Dr. Jung but also became involved in a sexual relationship with him that involved spanking and domination. Eventually, Sabina’s involvement with Jung would lead to a giant rift between Jung and his mentor Freud.

Nymphomaniac Volumes I. & II (2013/2014)

Willem Dafoe stars as Seligman, a man who rescues a masochistic nymphomaniac after she was beaten.

In this two-parter, a woman who calls herself “Joe” is a self-described nymphomaniac who cannot achieve satisfaction through intercourse but has taken hundreds of partners since childhood and can only find release through humiliation and torture. A man named Seligman finds her unconscious and wounded in an alley after a vicious beating. He takes her under his care and reveals that he is a virgin. Joe seems to trust Seligman—but should she, or is this simply another abusive relationship?

Venus In Fur (2014)

An extraordinarily talented actress makes a theater director her sexual slave.

In this erotic drama by notorious director Roman Polanski—who fled America in the 1970s and never returned after an alleged affair with an underage girl—a theater director is planning an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s infamous 1870 novel Venus in Furs. A young actress shows up at the theater unexpectedly one day as the director is preparing to leave. At first she seems untalented, but as the director gets to know her, she is almost superhuman in her theatrical abilities. Gradually, the director becomes the submissive and she becomes the domme in an uneasy parallel to the original novel.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Christian Grey is a self-made billionaire who lures a naive young woman into his lair.

In this first of several film adaptations based on the the blockbuster novel by E. L. James, Anastasia Steele is an English lit major at a university in Washington who agrees to interview the enigmatic self-made billionaire Christina Grey for the college paper. During a protracted courtship, Grey eventually lures Anastasia into a sadomasochistic relationship with him. Although she enjoys being bound and dominated by him, she gradually realizes to her dismay that he is a very dangerous man.

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

The relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele gets more complicated as it grows more intense.

In this sequel to the original, Christian and Anastasia’s sexual relationship continues while they both are beset by personal and external conflicts. Christian and Anastasia rekindle their warped “romance,” but this time with no rules or punishments. Christian begins to face his own inner demons and control issues, which he realizes are due to an abusive childhood. Anastasia, for her part, must deal with the enraged jealousy of all of Christian’s former paramours. Is their bond strong enough to survive all these challenges?

Fifty Shades Freed (2018)

How long will Christian and Ana’s new marriage be able to withstand all their baggage?

After successfully dealing with demons both internal and external during the second film, Christian and Anastasia decide to get married—but their marital bliss is fractured during their honeymoon when they receive news that there’s been a break-in at Christian’s corporate headquarters. Tapes and files have been stolen, and all evidence points to Jack Hyde—Ana’s former boss, who had been dismissed for being sexually abusive. Further complicating matters is the fact that Christian has hired a new housemaid named Gia, who openly flirts with him in front of Ana. Was the resolution of their personal problems only an illusion, and will the suffering continue forever despite their best intentions?

Bonding (2019)

Bonding is an original Netflix TV show about bondage and the world of BDSM.

This Netflix TV dark comedy series whose name is stylized as BONDiNG is said to be partially based on the personal life of its creator, Rightor Doyle. Zoe Levin stars as Tiffany “Tiff” Chester, an NYC grad student who moonlights as a dominatrix. She employs her gay best friend from high school Pete Devin (Brendan Scannell), who is working as a standup comic with a vicious case of stage fright, to be her assistant. Through their friendship and his exposure to the BDSM world, Pete learns to overcome his fears.

Other BDSM Movies

  • Fireworks (1947) this first short film by famed avant-garde director Kenneth Anger stars Anger himself as a man who is raped and brutalized by sailors.
  • Venus in Furs (1967) a man who is obsessed with the novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch finds more than he bargained for at a woman’s country mansion.
  • Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff (1973) a sadistic doctor hypnotizes and tortures a young disabled woman.
  • Swept Away (1974) when a rich woman and her proletarian ship’s captain get shipwrecked, the power dynamic between the two suddenly changes.
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) the true and disturbingly graphic story of a geisha who cuts of her lover’s penis and walks around with it inside of her for days.
  • Cruising (1980) Al Pacino stars as a police detective who gets swept up in NYC’s gay S&M underworld as he hunts a serial killer.
  • Blue Velvet (1986) in this classic by David Lynch, Dennis Hopper stars as the sadomasochistic pervert Frank Booth.
  • The Clairvoyant (1982) detectives hunt the “Handcuff Killer,” aided by a sketch artist who for some reason always knows where and how the killer will strike next.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) disgusted by the swingers who live in their building, an uptight married couple find a way to get rid of them—namely, cannibalism.
  • In a Glass Cage (1986) a sadistic Nazi doctor flees to Spain after the war, only to continue his activities until he winds up trapped in an iron lung.
  • Wild Orchid (1989) a beautiful young attorney is drawn into a sick world of erotic fantasy while vacationing in Brazil.
  • Basic Instinct (1992) Sharon Stone stars as the icily cold killer of a famous rock star.
  • Body of Evidence (1993) a sexually insatiable woman (Madonna) stands accused of killing a wealthy elderly man.
  • American Psycho (2000) a twisted and obsessive yuppie named Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) vainly attempts to purge his narcissistic emptiness by becoming a serial killer.
  • Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-2011) is a British drama television that sometimes touches on BDSM.
  • Billions (2016 – 2021) one of the main characters of this Showtime orignal regularly visits dominatrixes.

Meet The Author

Chrissy Stockton

Chrissy is the co-founder of Creepy Catalog. She has over 10 years of experience writing about horror, a degree in philosophy and Reiki level II certification.

Chrissy Stockton