I remember it well. Someone had clued me in on the existence of a long gone “Golden Age of Porn.” A time of “porno chic,” when robust plots, French cinematography, and resplendent sets were the norm. I was told it was a wondrous epoch, one cruelly destroyed by the sands of time and the march of modernity. Suddenly, I had a mission. These films must be found, ideally by me. Finally, satisfactory porn was within reach. Frantically, I Googled, hoping against hope that malicious purveyors of gonzo hadn’t found a way to scrub the whole Internet of these immaculate films, now all but forgotten.

Then came my first surprise: these movies were super easy to find. Nothing about any of this was a secret. There was literally a list on Wikipedia of the major skin flicks of the 1970’s and early 1980’s. While that surprise was a delight, the second surprise crushed me: plenty of these movies fucking suck. People who think all (or nearly all) the best porn was made between 1972 and 1982 do not have genitalia. It’s incredible that so many of them appear to have eyes.

The worst thing about the myth of the “Golden Age” is that it gets recycled over and over again. Even admirable attempts at listing the best adult features of all time (e.g. here and here) invariably include all the campy garbage that’s famous for being famous. Social proof, peer pressure, and inertia are the only plausible explanations.

Porn addicts of the world, by which I mean Westerners, must demand better. We must never settle, but always push and push for more innovation, higher standards, and more profound depravity. The first step is the reappraisal of what we are told is the “best of.”

When surveying the seventies, the thing to remember is Jeremy Iron’s adage in Margin Call: “Be first, be smarter, or cheat.” Five decades ago, there were a lot of opportunities to be first. Maybe that’s a cool accomplishment, but it’s not a lock on timelessness. Everyone knows the Wright Brothers were some smart fellas, but nobody expects anybody to board their plane. With that in mind, let us begin.

Debbie Does Dallas (1978)

Everyone wants to fuck cheerleaders. How could it be any other way? We see those hotties throughout adolescence and the objects of your early masturbation life are forever ingrained into your sexuality. The first big adult feature centered around cheerleaders was destined to be a classic. And it is. That movie is called, simply, The Cheerleaders. It came out in 1973, five years before Debbie Does Dallas, and is still considered to be part of the porno chic canon. So what did Debbie Does Dallas deliver that The Cheerleaders didn’t? A blonde. America didn’t really wake up and appreciate brunettes until the mid-aughts, and of the main clique in The Cheerleaders, only one of the six is blonde (Kimberly Hyde), and she’s one of the more minor girls.

Debbie Does Dallas served up cheerleaders with an innocent blonde belle (Bambi Woods) front and center. That was enough to rocket it to stardom…which is a shame as all the sex is bad. It’s also beyond campy. Just look at the movie’s tagline: “Everyone on the team scores when her pom-poms fly!” Good grief. The plot is that a group of cheerleaders who want to raise money for something and—look at that; a premise so flat I don’t need to finish writing it. You already know.

Today, we don’t have to rely on this soporiferous 84-minute marathon of lame jokes and dated hairdos in order to watch cheerleaders get pounded. And as such, we shouldn’t. Push Debbie Does Dallas from your mind and just watch any of the dozens of gonzo series centered around the same thing: Cheerleader Diaries, Creampied Cheerleaders, etc. Hell, you can get weird and check out Transsexual Cheerleaders or even the Cross-Eyed Cock Loving Cheerleaders series. And if you’re insistent on features, check out Digital Playground’s Cheerleaders (2007) with Jesse Jane and Stoya, which while far from perfect, is still a cut above (more on that later).

The lesson: if your feature’s “story” is simply a theme, it is not artistically superior to gonzo, because your story sucks. If all you want to deliver is one niche or one aesthetic, gonzo is the best vessel.

Behind the Green Door (1972)

Another major classic. While Debbie Does Dallas coasts on one theme (cheerleaders), Behind the Green Door coasts on one gimmick: a black dude fucking a white woman. Because it’s the 70’s, funk music is played while this transpires. Some other stuff happens too, but with a runtime of just over 70 minutes, there’s not much after the central act. More than anything else, what lies behind the green door is a negro miscegenating. Near as I can tell, this movie became a big deal because it was the first big one to show such a thing. Well, that sure as hell isn’t the case anymore.

The lesson: if your feature’s “story” is simply one gimmick, it is not artistically superior to gonzo, because your story sucks. If all you want to deliver is one gimmick or one taboo, gonzo is the best vessel.

Emmanuelle (1974)

Another “first.” This one pioneered the really soft, super-boring, quasi-porn made for chicks who fear the real deal. The creation of this genre was a tragedy, and it still is. Without it, women who wanted to “go there” without going there would probably be watching beautiful and risqué European arthouse cinema by people like Bernardo Bertolucci. Yet somehow, Americans have instead been suckered into watching the shit on “Max at Night” whenever they want to cum to something without penetration.

The lesson: if you’re too fancy for close-ups or even penetration, be a real movie.

Wanda Whips Wall Street (1982)

Incredibly, this one earned a mention in Danny Peary’s meticulous and otherwise dependable Guide for the Film Fanatic and a bizarrely positive overview from the AV Club. Wanda (Veronica Hart) seduces stockholders, then threatens to tell their wives about the trysts unless they give her their investment portfolios. Its 1980’s kitsch is even worse than 1970’s camp, the non-porn scenes that supposedly make the movie “smart” are just inane conversations, and all the men are ugly, especially Ron Jeremy.

The lesson: there is none. This movie just blows. Fuck Ron Jeremy.

Candy Stripers (1978)

Another “story” that’s just a theme. This time, it’s nurses. Yes, hotties who take care of you when you’re sick, another classic of the male psyche. As with cheerleaders, I’m fine with the theme, but it just isn’t a plot. Making things worse is the jokes. Anyone out there think you can replace narrative arc and character development with zingers and puns? Apparently, tons of people who make porn do and it’s awful. Hilariously, the “plot” section of this movie’s Wikipedia entry is two paragraphs, when all it needs is this sentence, “As the [nurse] volunteers go about their duties, they have various sexual encounters with the patients and staff.”

The lesson: porn should not be infused with lame jokes. Why does so much of the industry insist on this!? Also, the director, Bruce Chinn (who Burt Reynolds’s Jack Horner in Boogie Nights is based off of), is considered a titan of the Golden Age, and shouldn’t be.

Femmes de Sade (1976), Babyface (1977), and Pretty Peaches (1978)

These are a trilogy (stylistically, not narratively) by Alexander de Renzy and they are all horrifyingly rape-y. Another myth about porno chic is that all of it was tame and in good fun, whereas now everything is too hardcore. In Femmes de Sade, two guys get out of prison and one of their girlfriends picks them up. The non-boyfriend then brutally, and I mean brutally, rapes the boyfriend’s girl. Pretty Peaches features a forced enema by a hideous giggling goof. This shit is nasty.

The lesson: ugh, maybe you’re into this stuff, I don’t know. I guess if you are, you’ve gotten yourself three solid recommendations.

Are all Golden Age pornos bad? Thankfully, no.

Deep Throat (1972)

Gerard Damiano’s big kahuna and the undisputed patient zero of porno chic. The 70’s camp is not ideal, but the premise is brilliant. Linda Lovelace cannot cum, try as she might, and boy does she try. In an act of desperation, she has a doctor (Harry Reems) examine her, and the man discovers the problem: her clit is all the way in the back of her throat. With this key knowledge in hand, Miss Lovelace’s mission to cum takes on a whole new strategy. This is a fine example of how to use a plot to drive the sex. All the fucking has a motivation: this bitch can’t cum. Then there’s a revelation that reorients the fucking. Regardless of whether you like Deep Throat’s particular plot device, it gives all the banging a reason in a way that “sexy cheerleaders” or “slutty nurses” does not. Having said that, the plot device in Deep Throat is great. Way more porn should feature biological imperatives as the driving force behind the sex. I should come up with one for a flick centered around ass to mouth and write a screenplay.

Taboo (1980)

I’m surprised this one hasn’t resurged in popularity these past few years given that it’s the original incest movie. It’s a slow burn, which should be required of any movie dealing with something emotionally complex (and is there anything more emotionally complex than incest?) Dad is out of the picture, and Mom is trying to find some satisfaction with the lesser sex as a middle-aged woman. Son, meanwhile, is growing up. What’s great about it is that we see Mom make more than one honest effort at catching a decent man outside of her home, all while son sniffs around and slowly but surely advances towards his goal. Competition is an aphrodisiac, even for the voyeur. Forget about the mountain of stepsisters on Pornhub; watch Taboo.

The Devil in Miss Jones (1973)

Of all the mega-famous Golden Age movies, The Devil in Miss Jones is the best. Directed by the man behind Deep Throat, Gerard Damiano, it is the first—and only—existential porno. Allegedly inspired by No Exit, this movie is way better than anything Jean-Paul Sartre ever wrote. I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that without giving it all away, but trust me, this movie is awesome. Think of it this way: it’s a porno so good that a reviewer doesn’t want to include spoilers.

Barbara Broadcast (1977)

With a touch of the surreal, writer/director Radley Metzger takes us to a swanky New York City restaurant where all manner of fucking is on the menu, literally. It’s a bustling mix of socialites and big city careerists chatting, eating, fucking, sucking, and cavorting amongst themselves and the dedicated waitstaff. Barbara Broadcast masterfully manages to be light and fun without being stupid and campy. Bobby Astyr, who plays the maître d’, deserves special praise. If you’re looking for a classic your girlfriend and your cock will like, this is probably it.

The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976)

Another hit from Radley Metzger, this one is an erotic spin on My Fair Lady. One “Dr. Seymour Love” (Jamie Gillis) swoops up a silly whore (Constance Money) and sets to transforming her into a masterpiece of female sexuality. Gillis gives an incredibly strong performance, and his “training” of the female lead is thorough and convincing. Constance Money is radiantly beautiful, and her chemistry with Gillis is superb.

Score (1974)

This one is directed by Radley Metzger as well, but unlike the two above, it was written by Jerry Douglas, who was a rather accomplished man of arts and letters. Score is the tale of a polyamorous couple on the prowl. The pair has invited a nice younger couple to a dinner with ulterior motives. Indeed, the elder couple even keeps a running “score” of which half is more successful in its conquests. The tension-building is incredible. Score is in a different galaxy than Couples Seduce Teens. It’s 90 minutes long and the loaded, simmering conversations leave you dripping with pre-cum well before the action kicks off. The acting isn’t good for porn; it’s good acting, period. Oh, and there’s a big surprise, too. Watch it, really.

Café Flesh (1982)

I’ve gushed about a few films, but honestly, I may have saved best for last. Like Deep Throat, Café Flesh features a biological imperative, only a much better one: it takes place in world where a huge number of people cannot fuck. You see, World War III came and went, and all that devastation and radiation did a number on the survivors, leaving most of them sexually inoperable. The few out there who can still get it on perform for the rest of the world in underground cafés. We follow the drama in one of these locales, and there is plenty of drama, especially when a certain audience member feels a creeping awakening coming on. Andy Nichols, in particular, really shines as “Max Melodramatic.” It’s also Stoya’s favorite adult movie, if that means anything to you (it should).

Are there any movies after the Golden Age that match that period’s best of? Yes, absolutely.

Teenage Lesbian (2019)

This is an indie coming-of-age drama with loads of lesbian sex. Writer/director Bree Mills hits you in the feels more than once and you find yourself rooting for the protagonist the way you normally would for the hero in the latest Focus Features release. Like Radley Metzger’s films, the acting in Teenage Lesbian isn’t just porn-good, it’s good-good. The all-star cast really delivers on the cunnilingus, too.

Corruption (2007)

Political thrillers remind us of just how true it is that “everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.” David Walker Helms is a Machiavellian senator with his eyes on the White House. His path to power is beset by intrigue, betrayal, and lust. The rivalry between his mistress and his wife is especially vivacious, and further confirmation that competition is an aphrodisiac, even for the voyeur. It’s over four hours long and there’s never a dull moment. A true porn epic.

Perspective (2019)

Another masterpiece from writer/director Bree Mills, this movie tracks the collapse of a marriage. The brilliance lies in its dialectic: We see two completely different relationships disintegrate over the course of alternating scenes. Through the eyes of Daniel (Seth Gamble), we see a nice husband mercilessly exploited by a slutty succubus. Through the eyes of Jennifer (Angela White), we see an innocent wife suffer at the hands of a monstrous abuser. It’s all done very well, and like Teenage Lesbian, packs an emotional punch. Not only do the two leads deliver great acting and excellent sex, so does just about everyone else, especially Abigail Mac and Gianna Dior.

The Fashionistas (2002)

Written and directed by the Buttman himself, John Stagliano, The Fashionistas is probably the best anal movie ever made. It’s a beautiful Cinderella story set in the cutthroat L.A. fashion world. The scenario is made all the sweeter by the fact that Belladonna is Cinderella and Rocco Siffredi is the prince. Regardless of how much you like latex, this movie features some of the hottest sex you’ll ever seen. You’ll cum while you watch it and you’ll keep watching because you’ll want it to make you cum again and you know it will. The Fashionistas is so good, ejaculating doesn’t satiate you. You keep watching and keep going. That’s what happened to me, anyway.

Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy (2017)

Craven Moorehead and Bree Mills co-directed this one and it’s safe to say it will be remembered as Pure Taboo’s best title. It takes a simple premise—a married teacher having an affair with a student—and cuts it with a clever blade: another student finds out, but instead of just getting jealous or blowing the whistle, she and her family devise a blackmail scheme. The movie’s two teenage girls, Jill Kassidy and Kristen Scott, are both enthusiastic and exuberant 10s. Charles Dera was born to play Mr. Davies, the handsome high school teacher, and Small Hands is at his malicious, domineering best throughout.

In one of the best-shot scenes in porn history, Mr. Dera/Davies is lying in bed when his wife (Cherie DeVille) decides to spice things up by dressing up as a schoolgirl and blowing him. His mind was already on his student, Lola (Jill Kassidy), and the outfit only further reminds him of who he really wants. As Mrs. Davies sucks him off, he imagines Lola doing it instead. The frame quick-cuts back and forth between wife and student, both wearing the same outfit, lying in the same bed, sucking the same cock. It’s two scenes in one, and the most unique double blowjob of all time.

Flashpoint (1998)

Flashpoint likely ranks as the best of the 1990’s glam porn. Starring queen Jenna Jameson, the movie follows a troupe of firefighters who love to get it on. Directed by Wicked mainstay Brad Armstrong, Flashpoint is pretty in the way so much porn was before gritty and “real” became the industry’s du jour. It’s filled with sexy blondes and is blessedly devoid of camp and cringy humor.

Since many of the supposedly great “Golden Era” movies are bad, is there a similar clutch of adult titles since the 1980’s that actually suck despite their hype? Boy is there.

Pirates (2005)

The most famous of Digital Playground’s many glossy features, most of which were directed by the recently deceased Robby D (though Pirates was directed by Joone). All of them are direct descendants of Debbie Does Dallas and Candy Stripers. They all feature threadbare plots that serve as an excuse for a theme and are peppered throughout with lame plays at humor. With high production values and A-list casts, it’s easy to find worthy scenes here and there (often thanks to Stoya), but none of them merit a start-to-finish watch. Pirates is just one of many: Fighters, Top Guns, Bridesmaids, Code of Honor, Nurses, Body Heat, Cheerleaders, Fly Girls>, etc. They’re all the same and they all punch well beneath the weight of their budgets and star-power.

Love, Anonymous (2015)

Although the sex is explicit, what we have here is a descendant of Emmanuel. It’s a soft and syrupy appeal to married couples who shudder at so much as the stills from Evil Angel releases. A lot of the features from Adam and Eve fall into this category, like Pirates; I’m using this particular title as an example of a common set of bad practices. It would be one thing if these movies carried emotional heft, the way Teenage Lesbian does, but the work required for that never gets put into them. Instead, you’re always left with a chintzy, Hallmark-y “all sex” release with pleasant lighting, mediocre acting, and flair-less fucking.

All Parodies

Parodies are dumb. To watch a parody is, implicitly, to settle. With parodies, we accept that porn is incapable of developing and executing its own stories with its own characters and should just consist of references to superior cultural content, stupid jokes, and intercourse.

The Obsession (2017)

If there was one porno of the last ten years that should have been good, but wasn’t, it’s The Obsession. An explicit reworking of Single White Female, this movie just doesn’t deliver. Abella Danger, beautiful as ever, comes off as robotic and disinterested instead of cold and strange. And despite the presence of Michael Vegas and Chanel Preston, none of the sex is very memorable. On paper, this movie promises to be great, but it just isn’t. Strange but true. You have been warned.

The Abyss (2001)

You’re right; this one is not very famous. But as a matter of record, I’d like to point out that descendants of Alexander de Renzy’s rape-y oeuvre do still kick around. For a time, most of them came out of the Extreme Associates studio, as is the case with this title. Like de Renzy’s early titles, The Abyss is by no means gonzo: there’s a plot, costumes, and what you might even call high production values. But it’s repulsive. After sustaining avalanches of slaps and chokes, most of the women are killed after they’ve served their carnal purpose. In the last scene, there’s some group sex with the Virgin Mary, who says, “God is fucking dead and you’re gonna fucking die.” The last part, at least, proves true. Gross stuff. You can read a hilarious review of it here.

Now for some honorable mentions from all eras.

Insatiable (1980)

You’ve got to tolerate some 70’s camp, but the all-star cast carries it (Marilyn Chambers, John Holmes, and John Leslie). The flashback to how the protagonist lost her virginity is great, and the movie features the “full spread” of lesbian, hetero, and anal sex.

Nightdreams (1981)

This one is an absolute trip. A surreal mix of dream, fantasy, and maybe even reality. A real visual pleasure, even though the sex isn’t all that.

Dark Angels (2000)

Dark Angels has the charm of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer plus some solid sex.

The Condemned (2010)

Likely Vivid’s best feature, for some reason this one doesn’t get talked about much anymore. The crime thriller plot isn’t bulletproof, but it isn’t stupid or forced, either. The cast is really incredible: Kagney Linn Karter, Krissy Lynn, Faye Reagan, Kimberly Kane, Tory Lane, and Mr. Pete, to name just some of them. It’s also got that sure-to-satisfy full spread of lesbian, hetero, and anal sex.

Missing: A Lesbian Crime Story (2016)

Personally, I don’t really care for this one, but I get why a lot of people do—and will. It’s a well-shot marathon of girl-on-girl action with Reily Reid leading the charge. Plus, the premise is interesting, especially the part about collecting pussy juice in order to…well, maybe just watch it.

“Uncle Fucker” (2018)

The biggest problem with recommending Pure Taboo DVDs is that they generally come with two different “episodes,” and one is often way better than the other (e.g. Family Tradition and The Last House on the Right). But “Uncle Fucker,” with “What My Cousin Did” on its B-side, is uniformly good. If you’re looking to elevate the quality of your incest intake, this is the way to go. Steve Holmes, starring as the uncle, actually manages to be pervy instead of just creepy. He’s paired with the beautiful Giselle Palmer, and her facial expressions are to die for, especially her eyes when she’s bugging out. Dick Chibbles is also great in his minor, but essential, role.

The second part not only makes me want to fuck, it makes me want to fuck for the first time. I know this is hard to believe, but the apprehensive glances the two teens shoot at the bedroom door really make the scene. Plus, the way gorgeous Ivy Wolfe’s face gets redder and redder as she blows Robby Echo is not easily forgotten. Be sure to watch to the end.

Explicit Arthouse

“Best of” porno lists sometimes include films that were made outside the adult industry, but contain loads of (often explicit) sex and/or nudity. I don’t think these movies should count as porn, as none were made with the intent that the audience masturbate to them. However, most all of the movies in this somewhat blurred genre are quite good. So for the record, Love (2015), The Brown Bunny (2003), The Dreamers (2003), Caligula (1979), and Last Tango in Paris (1972) are all good, they just aren’t porn. However, Shortbus (2006) and In the Realm of the Senses (1976) both suck. Finally, Larry Clark and several Dogme 95 directors (most notably Lars von Trier) have made films with explicit sex, but good or bad, they sure aren’t erotic.

Omissions? Well, there’s a hell of a lot of porn out there, and this overview is already set to top 4,000 words.

The Golden Age

I’m pretty burnt out on this stuff, and just by going off the titles, some are obviously not even worth giving a shot. But who knows; maybe a couple of the others are decent. It cannot be denied that there’s at least another dozen major ones I haven’t seen. Maybe Mona the Nymph (1970) is great and its absence above a criminal omission.

Glossy Features

Again, I’m burnt out, but I can’t actually tell you for sure if The Friend Zone (2012) is any good or just another pathetic appeal to unimaginative and prudish cowards. If I go down this route again, it will be to explore Brad Armstrong’s filmography. The guy’s got talent, no question.


There is a somewhat forgotten era of American porn, and it’s what came after porno chic (though it somewhat includes the tail end of it) but before the total dominance of gonzo and its foil, those big budget features from Wicked, Vivid, and Adam and Eve. I bump into this stuff periodically, and it’s generally pretty good. John Leslie’s Dog Walker (1994) is supposed to be great; I’ve just never run across a copy. Ditto Anonymous (1993) and a lot of Tom Byron’s early directorial work.

Marc Dorcel

Marc Dorcel is a fancy French studio. Everything I’ve watched from it is good; I’ve just never really dived in. Foreign porn is a whole new ocean to tread in.

Now, readers, it falls to you. Add good titles I missed in the comments thread. Don’t be shy or embarrassed; do it. However, do not use the comments thread to contest my claims. I am right and you aren’t. Only comment to expand the list.