Sex work falls under one of the most controversial, if not complex, things. It is illegal in most places, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen around the world. Much like most other things in the world, films have often turned towards this subject and brought forward stories of sex workers and their lives. While some films have dived into the dark underbelly of this profession, other films, most notably ‘Pretty Woman,’ have found ways to romanticize it. The following films, using different perspectives and genres, have portrayed the lives of sex workers in the best possible ways.
20. Belle de Jour (1967)
Directed by Luis Buñuel, ‘Belle de Jour’ is a psychological drama starring Catherine Deneuve, Pierre Clémenti, Michel Piccoli, and Jean Sorel. It centers on Severine, who, despite her love for her husband, is unable to put into effect her sexual fantasies. Restless, she is drawn to secretly work in a brothel that she comes to know is run by her distant friend Henriette to quench her thirst for sexual satisfaction. But trouble ensues when one of her clients falls in love with her and wants her to be with him forever. Is it possible for her to return to her previous way of life, or is it too late? Can she avoid an impending scandal? To find out, you can check out the movie here.
19. Tangerine (2015)
Sean Baker is the director of this comedy-drama starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian and Chris Bergoch. It centers on a transgender sex worker Sin-Dee Rella who, after coming out of a 28-day prison sentence, finds out that her boyfriend/pimp Chester is cheating on her with a cisgender woman. She thus decides to find and confront him and the woman he is cheating on her with. In the endeavor that occurs during Christmastime, she is accompanied by her best friend, Alexandra, who is also a trans sex worker. Whether she finds Chester is what the movie entails. You can stream it here.
18. Risky Business (1983)
Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, and Curtis Armstrong and directed by Paul Brickman, this classic teen sex comedy is what gave Cruise his big break. It features a wealthy high school senior, Joel Goodsen, who takes advantage of his parents’ absence at home and turns the house into a club. And when things go out of hand and require money to be resolved, the club is turned into a brothel. Will Joel’s plan work? Will he be able to manage his new “risky business,” which is nothing less than pandemonium? To find out, you may stream the film right here.
17. The Girl Next Door (2004)
Matthew (Emile Hirsch), a shy high school senior who hasn’t even touched a girl in his life, sees his luck change when a beautiful girl named Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves next door. Two of them click naturally, and so begin the wildest of days Matthew has seen. However, their sweet and innocent love has to face the bitter truth that Danielle is a former pornstar. Like a dumb brute, Matthew breaks Danielle’s heart and lets her go back to the life she dreaded. Will Matt realize that he is allowing the love of his life to walk away? Today, many teen movies are compared with this one; such is the significance of ‘The Girl Next Door.’ You can watch the movie here.
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16. The Escort (2015)
A young journalist named Mitch Cooper (Michael Doneger) is broke, single, aimless, and addicted to sex. After being fired from work, he needs to write a good story to land a new job. He then meets Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca), a Stanford University-educated sex worker who makes plenty of bucks. She lets Mitch write about her while he acts as her bodyguard. Both are miserably alone but get attached eventually. You can check out the movie here.
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15. Young & Beautiful (2013)
‘Young & Beautiful’ (French: ‘Jeune & Jolie’) is a French erotic drama directed by François Ozon. The film centers on 16-year-old Isabelle, whose unsatisfied sexual experience makes her take up the job of sex worker, lying to clients about her age and saying that she is 20. But when a client of hers dies during the act, her life is torn apart. What follows is how she copes with all the situations that arise, including police interrogation, being grounded, and, most of all, feeling guilty and ashamed. The cast includes Marine Vacth, Charlotte Rampling, Géraldine Pailhas and Johan Leysen. You can stream the film here.
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14. Sonny (2002)
After a stint in the army, former male sex worker Sonny Phillips (James Franco) returns to his home in a run-down New Orleans in search of a stable life. With few job prospects, Sonny reluctantly begins working the streets once he gets to know the financial difficulties faced by his mother, Jewel (Brenda Blethyn), who is also a sex worker. This makes escaping his former life quite difficult. In his otherwise difficult life, the only good thing is his relationship with Carol (Mena Suvari), Jewel’s new protégé. You can stream ‘Sonny’ here.
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13. House of Tolerance (2011)
‘House of Tolerance,’ aka ‘House of Pleasures,’ is set in a luxurious brothel in Paris and follows the life of a group of sex workers. It depicts their rivalries and their hopes, among other things. This one differs from other movies on this list in almost every aspect, a rare good film that gives us a glimpse into sex work. You can stream ‘House of Tolerance’ here.
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12. The Immigrant (2013)
This film follows the story of two Polish sisters, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Magda (Angela Sarafyan), as they escape Poland after the war. Magda is quarantined because of her lung disease. Ewa would’ve been deported if it hadn’t been for Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). But Ewa has to earn money to get Magda released, so Bruno takes advantage of the situation. He pushes her into sex work and even gets romantically involved with her. You can stream the film here.
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11. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage), an acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter, loses his inspiration along with everything he owned and loved, all because of his love for alcohol. Realizing there is no way back, Ben chooses to commit suicide. And which place does he select to end his miserable life? Las Vegas. Once there, he meets a lonely and desolate sex worker, Sera (Elisabeth Shue), who is lost in the crowd like him. He accepts to live with her on the condition that she will not persuade him to abandon what he came there to do. You may watch ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ here.
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10. Pretty Woman (1990)
Edward is an ambitious businessman who decides to hire an escort for some social events while on a business trip. What is supposed to be an uneventful arrangement turns out to be a love story. ‘Pretty Woman’ became a huge success when it was first released because of a combination of factors. Firstly, the acting is superb, with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere giving great performances. Secondly, the smart script written by J.F. Lawton was able to conquer a lot of hearts. Lastly, the refreshing and interesting storyline turned the film into a timeless classic. You can watch ‘Pretty Woman’ here.
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9. True Romance (1993)
A sex worker named Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and a nerdy Elvis fan, Clarence (Christian Slater) fall in love. Clarence ends up killing his boss when he breaks the news of them falling in love. As they flee, he grabs a suitcase of cocaine, thinking it is Alabama’s clothing. After they learn the truth, they try to sell the cocaine, but the mob is on their trail. You can check out the film here.
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8. Klute (1971)
This critically acclaimed thriller stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel and Donald Sutherland as John Klute. Bree is tangled in an investigation following the disappearance of a businessman. Detective John Klute is hired to follow Daniel(who is a New York call girl) and eventually falls for her, but he soon realizes that he is not the only person following her. Things take a turn when it comes to their knowledge that Daniel is being targeted. Feel free to check out the movie here.
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7. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
A Darren Aronofsky masterpiece, perhaps his best effort so far, ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ surrounds the deep, dark, and disturbing lives of Harry, Tyrone, Harry’s mother, Sara, and his girlfriend, Marion. The connection made among them, their obsessions, their dependency on drugs, and the deplorable path they take to overcome their problems is thought-provoking. With scenes depicting oral sex, drug addictions, and pedication, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ explores all possible avenues of addictive pleasure and pain. It portrays them in a forlorn way and rouses deep, empathetic emotions in between, all within a span of 90 minutes. You may watch the film here.
6. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
John Schlesinger is the director of this drama which has been adapted from James Leo Herlihy’s 1965 novel of the same name. Featuring Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Brenda Vaccaro, and Sylvia Miles, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ centers on two young guys named Joe Buck from Texas and Rico “Ratso” Rizzo from New York. Convinced that he is a pro at wooing women, Joe arrives in New York to become a sex worker. There, after multiple unsuccessful attempts at making money out of sex work, he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo, a sick con man. Together, they decide to hustle and make money to come out of poverty. To see how things work out for them, you can stream the film here.
5. Unforgiven (1992)
This Clint Eastwood-directed, critically acclaimed, and commercially successful Western drama stars Eastwood along with Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, and Anna Thomson. Set in 1880, the film incorporates the permanent disfiguring of sex worker Delilah Fitzgerald’s face by cowboy Quick Mike. Following Sheriff “Little Bill” Daggett’s inaction for the crime, Delilah and the other sex workers put a bounty on the cowboy. This brings a young gunfighter named The Schofield Kid and an aged former infamous outlaw named Will Munny to the town. Who among them gets the bounty is what we find out moving forward. You can stream the film here.
4. Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Directed by Federico Fellini, ‘Nights of Cabiria’ is an Italian film (‘Le notti di Cabiria’) that showcases the life experiences of Cabiria, a sex worker, living her craft in the streets of Rome. However, she believes that there’s more to her than her profession, and a man will soon look at her not for her body but for her soul. But this seems to be a far-fetched dream as, one after another, clients try to kill her, rob her, use her, and whatnot. Will her dream come true? The ‘Nights of Cabiria’ cast includes Giulietta Masina, Amedeo Nazzari, Franca Marzi, François Périer, and Dorian Gray. You can stream it here.
3. Lola (1981)
This Rainer Werner Fassbinder directorial stars Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Udo Kier, and Hark Bohm. Set in West Germany, experiencing its reconstruction after World War II, it revolves around cabaret singer/sex worker Marie-Luise, aka Lola (her stage name), and shows how she maneuvers her way through Schuckert, the corrupt owner/developer of the building where she works, and the new building commissioner Herr von Bohm who is inclined to bring the corruption to light and is in love with Lola. The film is loosely based on Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel ‘Professor Unrat.’ You can stream it here.
2. The Camp Followers (1965)
Directed by Valerio Zurlini, this is an Italian movie (‘Le Soldatesse’) set against the occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany during World War II. It features Anna Karina, Tomas Milian, Lea Massari, and Mario Adorf. The film shows a group of Greek sex workers being taken by two Italian lieutenants from Athens, Greece, to Albania, where they shall serve the Italian soldiers. Their experiences along the way, make the film a true-to-form war venture filled with horror and pain of bloodshed that is further heightened by the presence of love. You can stream the film here.
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1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and featuring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, this film is one of the most critically acclaimed ones of its era. A disturbed man, Travis Bickle (De Niro), takes a job as a New York City cabbie. Travis meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), and he is then occupied with the idea of saving the world. He then directs his attention toward rescuing a 12-year-old sex worker, Iris (Jodie Foster). You can watch the movie here.
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