After Period of Chastity, Hollywood Movies Embrace Sex Again

Zendaya, clad in a skintight dress, gyrates on a dance floor in “Challengers,” a $56 million sports drama that arrived in multiplexes on Friday. “It’s getting hot in here,” the hip-hop soundtrack intones, as she closes her eyes and runs her hands through her hair, lost in fantasy. “So take off all your clothes.”

The story continues at a motel, where Zendaya, playing a tennis prodigy, begins a ménage à trois with two guys; it fizzles after they become more interested in each other. The plot moves on — to sultry interplay on the hood of a car, in a dorm room, in the back seat of a car, on the wooden slats of a sauna. There is erotic churro eating.

“Sex is back!” shouted an apparently elated man at the conclusion of a prerelease “Challengers” screening in West Hollywood, Calif., this month.

Trend spotting in cinema is a hazardous pursuit. Think about how many times the rom-com has been declared dead — and alive — and dead. (No, wait, alive.) But this much can be said with surety: Hollywood is hornier than it has been in years.

“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 producing force behind “Challengers.”

“I welcome that,” she added.

Eroticism was common in studio hits like “Basic Instinct,” starring Sharon Stone, in the 1980s and ’90s.Credit…Rialto Pictures
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