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Barely Legal: 30 Nearly Pornographic Mainstream Films

Full-frontal nudity, steamy threesomes, one-for-the-money shots — these movies pushed the envelope and still played multiplexes
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Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection; Courtesy Everett Collection

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Arriving on a wave of high anticipation, hype and bag-headed public appearances, the first "volume" of Lars Von Trier's two-part, five-hour magnum opus Nymphomaniac will start rolling into theaters on March 21st. (Vol. 2 doesn't arrive until April 4th, though you'll be able to catch both chapters on video-on-demand starting on March 20th.) Never one to shy from provocation — he's more likely to sprint towards it — the Danish director's chronicle of one woman's sexual awakening is littered with spankings, fellatio, a ménage à trois or two, sodomy, masturbation and good old-fashioned humping. Though some stunt, er, parts were employed, you are basically watching actors like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LeBeouf engage in the sort of unsimulated activities you associate with porn stars. (LeBeouf even sent in a homemade pornographic videotape for his audition.)

Whatever Happened to NC-17 Movies?

Despite the abundance of explicit sex on display, however, Von Trier's film is not pornography. Rather, it's the latest in a long line of films that have pushed the envelope in terms of what can be shown in "mainstream" films and not be considered the sort of movie that requires you to give your credit card to a Web site in order to watch. These films are cast with A-list movie stars and directed by world-class filmmakers. They are designed to play in multiplexes and art houses. Some have been imported in as prestige foreign films, and others have been produced and distributed by Hollywood studios. But the 3o films here all share one thing in common: They all come as close to being pornographic as mainstream films will allow. Read this NSFW list with someone you love.

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