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The Challengers Question: Is Sex Back On The Big Screen?

The Challengers Question: Is Sex Back On The Big Screen?

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“S

ex is back!” Or should we ask: Is sex in movies back on the scene?This has been the resounding headline and public reaction to the chock-full of intimate encounters in television’s recent history. After the theatrical release of “Challengers”, the Zendaya-led $56 million sports drama, the internet became insanely horny. 

I mean, everyone’s favorite actress clad in a skintight dress, engaged in what looked like the steamiest sex scene involving two guys, why not? Other than the intense sexual tension that was enough to send people into a frenzy, “Challengers” tells a story of a love triangle that starts from, and goes beyond, the tennis court. 

 
 
 
 
 
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So far, “Challengers” has been well-received by critics and audiences alike. The movie has exceeded expectations, topping the box office, with some outlets noting that young fans were the ones responsible for propelling it to the top, obviously with Zendaya as the big pull. However, this outcome is shocking because young people embracing overtly sexual movies marks a pivot for television. This is because Gen Zs have become known as the anti-sex generation when it comes to films and TV. They deem the depiction of this integral part of human experience as “pointless,” “gratuitous,” and “creepy.”

A period of screen sex hiatus

sex-back-in-movies
Photo: @challengersmovie/Instagram

A 2023 study by the New York Post found that young audiences preferred “silly TikTok dances” and “a nonstop bombardment of cardboard YA movies” to entertainment that depicts “sex and romantic relationships.” This led some to blame Gen Z for a decline in films exploring sexuality. Gen Z really is killing entertainment. And twisting the knife while it dies,” someone noted. It’s that bad.

All of this is coming at a time when film has become relatively sexless. However, sex is critical to all kinds of cinema. The New York Times notes in a piece, that in the 1980s and ’90s, overt sex and movies were the norm. Some of the most famous movies from those decades—like “Basic Instinct,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Disclosure,” and “Cruel Intentions”—are known for their explicit scenes or generally erotic themes. But that changed in the 2000s when film companies started to focus on PG-13 ratings instead of R ratings to widen audience reach to places like China.

A return to adult relationships?

sex-back-in-movies
Photo: @challengersmovie/Instagram

“Challengers” might be a sign of a coming change. The film, while undeniably “horny,” as critics describe it, avoids explicit scenes. This approach is praised for depicting sexual tension without resorting to gratuity. Also, just as many romantic films have infused the very nature of sports into the mechanics of central relationships, tennis plays into the idea of depicting horny scenes in the movie.

As explained in the words of screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes, “Tennis, by its nature, is a very erotic sport. It’s sort of the opposite of boxing, where you’re all alone, and you’re trying to spend the whole match touching another person. Tennis is about being all alone, and being at a distance from somebody, and trying not to touch them…There’s a deep intimacy and a deep eroticism in that, and also a lot of repression.”

Photo: @challengersmovie/Instagram

Building up to this point, there is a trend that has kept the tradition of unforgettable cinema sex scenes alive and well. 2023 features like “Saltburn,” “Oppenheimer,” “Poor Things,” “Mars One,” and so many others seemed to be getting in touch with their horny side. “It absolutely feels like the pendulum has swung back toward filmmakers exploring adult relationships and sexuality in their projects,” said Amy Pascal, the former chairwoman of Sony Pictures and producer of Challengers. “I welcome that,” she added.

But whether we’re going to see a significant change with sex in movies remains to be seen.

Featured image: @challengersmovie/Instagram


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