An experiment in temporal sexology — HBO, call us.
The period piece is a time-honored cinematic tradition. But no two time periods are created equal, and let's face it, some are just sexier than others. With that in mind, we will now address the predominant issue of our own time: which time period is the sexiest? The answer may surprise you, although we have to imagine the question has also surprised you.
13. The 1980s
Notable examples: American Psycho, Wall Street, The Iron Lady, Monster, Rules of Attraction, The Wedding Singer
Reagan. Thatcher. Crack cocaine. AIDS. Huey Lewis. Good luck keeping it hard/moist now. Also, nearly every film on this list features detached/debauched/just plain bad sex. And shoulder pads.
12. The 18th Century
Notable Examples: Treasure Island, Casanova, Amadeus, The Duchess, The Patriot, Pirates of the Caribbean
So many powdered wigs. And so, so much syphilis. Oh, and if you're at sea, scurvy. Now, I know what you're thinking: "But the corsets!" Yes, the corsets. You'll enjoy five years, tops, of great cleavage, before your organs are compressed to nothingness or you die of consumption. Probably both. Verrrrrry sexy.
11. World War I
Notable Examples: Titanic, Doctor Zhivago, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lawrence of Arabia, Love in the Time of Cholera, Downton Abbey
All of the inequality, death, and disease of a past era, none of the internet, prophylactics, or breathable fabrics of this one. This is one of cinema's "bummer eras:" all entertainment set in this time period suggests that if you weren't diseased or being massacred, you were staring moon-eyed out of a window fretting about your arranged marriage.
10. The Middle Ages
Notable Examples: King Arthur, Beowulf, Robin Hood, A Knight's Tale, Game of Thrones
Incest, ogre-sex, The Crusades — this was a rough time to be getting laid. Though Game of Thrones certainly has its steamy moments, and there's a lot of doe-eyed Tristan and Isolde romanticism, I don't know too many people who really wish they were getting laid during a time period whose highlight reel included the Black Plague.
9. Elizabethan England-era
Notable Examples: The Other Boleyn Girl, Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Three Musketeers, The Tudors, The Borgias
If half the films based in this time period are to be believed, people did nothing but wear fancy clothing, screw, and plot against each other during the Early Modern period. Those who weren't doing so lived in the gutter. Or aspired to live in a gutter. Also costing it points: the merkin.
8. The 1950s
Notable Examples: Good Night and Good Luck, The Notorious Bettie Page, L.A. Confidential, My Week with Marilyn, La Bamba, Pleasantville,
Considering most of the films on this list deal in some way with the idea of how repressed and puritanical everything was in the '50s, no amount of pocket-squares and fedoras will convince me that this was the dapper behind-closed-doors orgy the decade has recently been painted as. That said, I'm comfortable with my distorted fantasy of the '50s as a dapper orgy. Really comfortable.
7. American Frontier
Notable Examples: Tombstone, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Heaven's Gate, The Quick and the Dead, Hell on Wheels, Deadwood, Little House on the Prairie
The Wild West had a lot going for it in terms of sexiness: guns loaded, mustaches curled, destiny manifested. It also had nearly-unparalleled levels of lawlessness and violence, both of which can be huge turn-ons in the right situation and awful in nearly every other situation. Recent works like Deadwood and Hell on Wheels appear to be working hard to erase any sense of sexiness built up by years of Hollywood by coated everything in a thick layer of blood, grime, and more blood.
6. Ancient Greece & Rome
Notable Examples: Jason and the Argonauts, Troy, Clash of the Titans, 300, Alexander, Cleopatra, Jesus of Nazareth, Ben-Hur, Gladiator
Something about this time period just feels really sexy. Maybe it's the tunics, or the sandals, or the fluid continuum that was sexuality at the time. Maybe it's the democracy. It's probably the democracy.
5. The 1970s
Notable Examples: Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, Lords of Dogtown, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Munich, Summer of Sam, That '70s Show, The Wonder Years
Pros: cocaine, lax standards of sexuality lingering from the '60s, Studio 54, afros. Cons: cocaine abuse, Taxi Driver-era New York, the Vietnam War. Call it a draw.
4. Civil War
Notable Examples: Cold Mountain, Gone With the Wind, Glory, Gettysburg, Dances With Wolves
All that brother-'gainst-brother stuff really fires my loins. Combine that with the sleepy, sweeping majesty of the antebellum South, and everything's all just petticoats, mint juleps in the shade, and nonstop bonin'. Except for the slavery.
3. Depression/World War II-era
Notable Examples: Atonement, Pearl Harbor, Cabaret, Public Enemies, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raiders of the Lost Ark
My understanding of this time period is that everyone was so fit (from the Depression and working in bullet factories) and horny (from the fear of death and/or desire to kill Nazis) that it was pretty much a nonstop fuckfest right up until Eisenhower, at which point everyone stopped abruptly and put on poodle skirts. I should read more.
2. Prohibition/Jazz Age
Notable Examples: Bonnie and Clyde, The Untouchables, Chicago, The Artist, Midnight in Paris, Some Like It Hot, Boardwalk Empire
People were so hopped up on absinthe and jazz that they were literally trying to fuck flagpoles during the '20s. (That's my understanding, anyway.) You know how when you were in high school, drinking was even more fun because you also got to sneak around? That was Prohibition. Everything since then has been one long hangover. Except for…
1. The 1960s
Notable Examples: Apocalypse Now, The Doors, Animal House, Hairspray, Mad Men, American Graffiti, Hair, Dreamgirls
Say what you will about the hippies, but they got laid a lot. Granted, there was a lot of stuff during the '60s that wasn't so sexy, but decades of Boomer nostalgia, television, and film have convinced me that the entire decade was one long orgy, punctuated by extended renditions of "All Along the Watchtower" and the odd police beating. That's the kind of historical revisionism I can live with. And pleasure myself to.