When it comes to lists of the sexiest movies ever made, subjectivity takes on yet another shade of meaning. What’s sexy for you may not be sexy for me, and vice versa. What’s more, these lists often tilt heavily—with good reason—toward erotic thrillers from the 1980s and ’90s. Body Heat, Body Double, Basic Instinct, bound: these are terrific movies, and great place markers for their era: some of us can date them precisely just by noting the size of the shoulder pads on the jackets.

But if those movies are always the first that spring to mind, they’re hardly the whole story. In looking at some of these “sexiest movies” lists, I realized there were titles I loved that never, or rarely, showed up, pictures I saw in the 1980s as a young moviegoer, or later as a more grown-up one, whose memory still offers a frisson of pleasure. Some of these movies aren’t exactly loaded with sex scenes: we’re opting for quality over quantity here. Some are more evocative than racy—they whisper rather than shout. Nor are they all unequivocal turn-ons. In fact, one of the most explicit pictures on the list is also the most melancholic, an acknowledgement that sex is about connection as much as it is about pleasure, and therefore comes with inherent emotional risks.

Still, most of these sexiest movies are joyous or celebratory or just plain steamy. And while some of them aren’t exactly obscure, they still seem to have somehow drifted away from us. Time to reclaim them, preferably in a room lit by candlelight, or nothing but the naked screen.

Read more: The Sexiest Movies of All Time

Dracula (John Badham, 1979)
It’s true that this Dracula, adapted from the 1924 stage play drawn from Bram Stoker’s novel, is a bit cheesy and stiff. But its star, Frank Langella—reprising the role that made him a star in the show’s 1970s Broadway revival—has enough erotic magnetism to keep its heart thumping. When Langella’s broodingly intense Count Dracula decides that Kate Nelligan’s Lucy Seward will be his bride for all time, there’s no arguing with him. “You shall cross land and sea to do my bidding,” he tells her, his eyes seemingly X-raying right through her skin and straight to her core. Long before (the great) Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Spike and Angel persuaded us that vampires are people too, Langella reinvented this particular legendary bloodsucker as a somber romantic hero, stuck in a cycle of everlasting life and worthy of our sympathy. Who wouldn’t want to faint into his arms?

The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
The legendary Italian filmmaker’s explicit and exquisite romance, about three young people exploring the far reaches of desire in Paris during the spring of 1968, almost didn’t make it into American theaters in the version the filmmaker intended. The studio that released the picture, Fox Searchlight, opted to accept the MPAA ratings board’s NC-17 designation, rather than forcing Bertolucci to make the cuts that would have been required to earn the movie a more box-office-friendly R. Their benevolence was our gain then, as it is now. In this story adapted from a novel by Gilbert Adair (itself a reworking of Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles), Louis Garrel and Eva Green play aristocratic twins Theo and Isabelle, who meet a young American student, Michael Pitt’s Matthew, at the temple of motion pictures known as the Cinémathèque Française. They take him home to their sprawling apartment, where they re-enact scenes from movies they adore (the first Scarface, Blonde Venus) before moving on to more games with much higher stakes: for starters, Theo dares Matthew and Isabelle to make love in front of him. The Dreamers is filled with nudity, with tenderness, and most of all, with wistfulness for the ecstatic adventurousness of youth.

The Big Easy (Jim McBride, 1986)
For some reason, this 1980s gem rarely shows up on lists of sexiest movies or, for that matter, romantic comedies—maybe because it’s a little of both and thus not easy to classify. Dennis Quaid’s crooked New Orleans cop romances a sexually timid district attorney, played by Ellen Barkin, even as she’s trying to investigate corruption within the department. What could go wrong? Quaid and Barkin, just baby movie stars at the time, have a playful, teasing chemistry, and though their big sex scene is curtailed by pager interruptus (this was the ’80s), it’s still exactly what the VCR rewind button was made for.

Henry & June (Philip Kaufman, 1990)
Who doesn’t love a good love triangle, especially one involving writers known for smashing taboos? Maria de Madeiros, diminutive and sultry, plays diarist Anaïs Nin, living in Paris with her stable, supportive husband, Hugo (Richard E. Grant). There she meets provocateur Henry Miller (Fred Ward)—whose explicit autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer is yet to be written—and his charismatic wife June (Uma Thurman), becoming both witness to and player in their stormy relationship. Kaufman’s movie—the first to receive the MPAA’s NC-17 rating, the replacement for the board’s old adults-only X rating—is sexy in a way that’s both earthy and elegant, a story about artists brazenly charting their course in a thrilling new world, while also reaching out for one another.

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002)
Before there was Fifty Shades of Grey, there was Secretary. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a withdrawn young woman who’s just done a stint in a mental hospital. She has serious problems, manifested in her compulsion to cut herself. Then she goes to work for a demanding boss, played by James Spader. (His name, coincidentally, is Mr. Grey.) And under his guiding hand she discovers, to her great joy, that she loves to be spanked. To summarize Secretary that way makes it sound like a male wish-fulfillment fantasy: Man Cures Woman’s Serious Problems by Dominating Her. But it’s really much more delicate and powerful—and more fun—than that. What Shainberg and his actors capture is a peculiar and precious kind of understanding that can connect two people. Loosely adapted from a short story by Mary Gaitskill, this is a tender, perceptive fairy tale about erotic love, with some very good spanking scenes. There’s nothing embarrassed, or embarrassing, about it.

Friday Night (Claire Denis, 2002)
It’s Paris, on the last night of the workweek. Valérie Lemercier’s Laure has packed her last remaining possessions into her car, ready to start a new chapter as she moves in with her boyfriend. But transit workers are on strike, and the city’s traffic is at a standstill. Pedestrians amble between the cars, looking for a lift. Laure, sensibly, rolls up her window and locks her door. But something about the face of one stranger—his name is Jean, and he’s played by the soulful actor Vincent Lindon—speaks to her. She agrees to give him a lift, if things ever get moving. And somehow, later, they end up together in a hotel bed, in a one-night union whose strength lies in its temporality—it shifts something in both of them, before they head out to their respective futures. Friday Night, made by one of our great filmmakers, is erotic in the quietest, gentlest way, and its afterglow lasts and made the list of one of the sexiest movies.

9 Songs (Michael Winterbottom, 2004)
One of only two movies on the list of sexiest movies that feature unsimulated sex, 9 Songs was an oddity when it came out, and it still is today. Winterbottom had grown weary of the fakeness of most movie sex scenes. So he created a project in which two actors—Margo Stilley and Kieran O’Brien, playing an American student and an English glaciologist who begin a relationship after meeting one night in a club—would have actual sex on-camera. 9 Songs (its title comes from the music played by bands featured in the film, including Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Franz Ferdinand) traces the arc of this relationship largely as it plays out in bed. The effect, ultimately, is more mournful than pornographic. At one point O’Brien’s character describes the Antarctic as a place where one can feel “claustrophobia and agoraphobia in one place—like two people in bed.” The fun and pleasure of sex are relatively easy to capture on film, but Winterbottom gets at something more subtle: the wistfulness of its aftermath.

When this work of voyeuristic genius opened, in 2002, many who wrongly considered themselves arbiters of taste hooted at what they saw as its absurdity. And maybe Femme Fatale is over the top—but it’s gloriously so. Rebecca Romijn plays Laure, an American jewel thief in Paris who, while on the run from the crooks she’s double-crossed, serendipitously meets her doppelganger Lily (also played by Romijn). When Lily commits suicide, Laure assumes her identity to achieve her own magnificently selfish aims. Antonio Banderas is the paparazzo who becomes obsessed with Laure/Lily, tracking her every move, and how can you blame him? She’s a diabolical enchantress in Parisian black lace. The movie’s opener, involving the switcheroo of an erotically serpentlike piece of diamond-studded body jewelry (in a ladies’ bathroom at the Cannes Film Festival, no less), is by itself an elegant, witty masterstroke. And the movie’s central symphonic theme, a mystically seductive riff on Boléro by the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, will forever live in your brain alongside Ravel’s original.

Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)
Tom Cullen and Chris New play Russell and Glen, who spend the night together after meeting in a gay bar. The next morning could be the end of it, but the two meet again after the workday ends, learning more about one another—and one another’s bodies—in a union that has no future beyond the weekend. They squabble over theoretical ideas of what it means to be a gay man; they laugh at each other’s silly jokes; they try to guard their feelings, to no avail. The sex scenes in Haigh’s film are ardently carnal and tender; sometimes a person who crosses your path only briefly can stay with you for a lifetime.

10,000 Km (Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2014)
Circumstances demand that a committed couple spend a year apart: Alex (Natalia Tena) moves to Los Angeles for a photography fellowship, while Sergi (David Verdaguer) stays behind in Barcelona. Modern people find ways to keep their love alive long-distance; how hard could it be? But Alex and Sergi struggle with it: they’re rattled by the alienating quality of sex via computer screen, the way longing for another person’s touch can become a kind of torture. This is a gorgeous, mournful movie about the intimacy of longtime commitment, as well as the sadness of realizing that the body of a familiar person has suddenly, inexplicably, become that of a stranger.

The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)
Cheryl Dunye’s micro-microbudget film, part of the new queer-cinema explosion of the 1990s, is mostly about an aspiring young filmmaker, Cheryl (played by Dunye herself), who’s struggling to make a documentary about a lost Black character actress from the 1930s, one generally relegated to playing housemaids and “mammy” roles. But it’s also a romance, one that kicks off in the aisles of the video store where Cheryl works. Diana (Guinevere Turner, also the co-writer and star of 1994’s Go Fish) is the hot spoiled-white-girl customer who stops by to borrow a few tapes; it’s not long before she and Cheryl end up in bed, tentatively figuring out where their relationship might be going, if it’s going anywhere at all. Their big sex scene feels relaxed and lived-in, an exploration of mutual pleasure that’s only heightened by the flickers of annoyance that pass between them.

Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
To be fair, Shortbus—the creation of John Cameron Mitchell, the playful genius behind Hedwig and the Angry Inch—isn’t exactly sexy in the steamy sense. But it’s such a charming, funny, open-hearted work that it belongs on this list. Set in post-9/11 New York City, this relaxed, semi-improvised movie—one of the two films on this list that features unsimulated sex—follows one of the cutest couples you could possibly imagine, played by Paul Dawson and P.J. DeBoy, as they decide to open up their relationship, which means navigating some emotionally rocky shoals. During a therapy session, their couples counselor, played by Sook-Yin Lee, confesses to them that she’s never had an orgasm. Inappropriate, I know! But Shortbus is so effervescent and teasing that you’ve just got to go with the fantasy. They invite her to an underground sex salon (it’s run by singer and bon vivant Justin Vivian Bond), where all three explore their options, in all manner of combinations. Shortbus is about having fun, and about getting to know yourself, in all ways. But it’s also about how dislocating it can be to seek connection, and sometimes even to find it.

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930)
You could sum up Morocco’s sultry allure with five words—Marlene Dietrich in a tux—but I’ll add a few more. As a free-thinking cabaret singer who knows her own mind and still decides (spoiler alert!) to follow her man into the desert, Dietrich, making her American film debut, is seductive to the millionth power. The man she falls for, a Legionnaire played by the very young Gary Cooper, is nearly her equal in beauty and charm, maybe because he’s not the only one wearing the pants. All of the collaborations between Dietrich and von Sternberg, the director who best understood her appeal and her potential, are great, but Morocco’s wistful romantic aroma—with hints of cigarettes, cloves, and oranges, mixed, perhaps with the sweetest sweat—lingers the longest.

The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, 2007)
French provocateur filmmaker Catherine Breillat made some of the most daring and unnervingly exciting films of the early 20th century—if you’ve seen her 2004 Anatomy of Hell, the words tampon teabag will mean something to you. The Last Mistress is among Breillat’s subtler films, but it still simmers with raw romantic hunger. Asia Argento plays a sexually insatiable 19th century courtesan who’s about to be abandoned by her young aristocratic lover (Fu’ad Aït Aattou), and she’s not having any of it. She’ll do whatever it takes to hold him, and to secure her own pleasure: when he’s wounded by a bullet, she licks the bloody hole with a kind of feral tenderness. The movie is based on a 19th century novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, controversial in its day; Breillat had always wanted to adapt it. The Last Mistress, she has said, “is the film where I plunge to the core of romanticism.” Not to mention that the movie’s languorous, muted-velvet color palette is a plushy pleasure unto itself.

Gloria (Sebastián Lelio, 2013)
“Older” people having sex: who wants to think about that? Nobody—until you get there. In Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s exuberant Gloria, a late-fifty-something office worker, divorced for 13 years—played by the wondrous Paulina García—decides she would simply like to meet a new guy. She heads out to a dance club where she sees plenty of others around her age, hoping for a similar outcome. And she does meet a guy (Sergio Hernández), who offers, at least for a time, the promise of romantic bliss and sexual joy. Lelio remade his own film in America, the 2018 Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro. It’s a good picture, but somehow it doesn’t have the same bittersweet radiance of the original, a testament to the idea that you’re never too old to want sexual intimacy—although, as always in dealing with other humans, keeping a sense of humor is key.