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The Emmanuelle Movies Might Be Too Steamy For Any Streaming Service

The history of film isn't defined by just award-winners or celebrated dramatic interpretations. It's also built on the sub-genres, hidden gems, misfires, and seemingly salacious additions that have graced screens for well over a century. Perhaps no time epitomized film's ability to be all things to all people quite like the 1970s. This period gave birth to artistic endeavors that celebrated auteurs while also welcoming the unexpected, anything-goes filmmaking seen in the Grindhouse movement.

Referring to the "grindhouse" theaters that showed low-budget exploitation films, this movement ranged from genre-defining horror and blaxsploitation flicks to titles that defied labels (via Film Cred). Some even straddled the line between critical darling and crowd-pleaser thanks to their mix of creativity and ambitious storytelling.

One particularly interesting influence this period had was the rise of adult films in mainstream cinema. The decade took adult films and made them a cultural phenomenon. Suddenly, people were openly admitting to watching these titles and reviews of genre flicks like "Deep Throat" were even hitting respected outlets like Variety, which began to regularly review porn films and report on the adult film industry (via The New York Times). Titles like "Behind the Green Door" were no longer relegated to porn-only theaters and drew in mainstream audiences (via The Hollywood Reporter).

During this pornographic film boom, few projects found the success or notoriety of 1974's French classic "Emmanuelle." The film-turned-franchise transformed into something well beyond expectations after it became a part of the home entertainment revolution. So, why isn't it a fixture on streaming services?

Emmanuelle's content doesn't fit into most streaming models

"Emmanuelle" was a box office sensation in its native France and that interest soon extended globally, as viewers around the world flocked to the film (via PopMatters). The film was — and still is — considered softcore and received an X-rating in the U.S., both of which perhaps contributed to the interest in it (via Variety).

Sylvia Kristel played the title role in this Just Jaeckin-directed project and became known around the world as the face of Emmanuelle. Emmanuelle is a French woman, who travels to Bangkok to meet up with her diplomat husband. While there, she experiences a series of sexual encounters and forms of intimacy. The film ends with her contemplating the events that unfolded during her time there.

Roger Ebert gave the film a glowing three out of four stars and highlighted Kristel's portrayal of Emmanuelle in particular, writing that "Kristel actually seems to be present in the film, and as absorbed in its revelations as we are." 

However, there were others who found it to be nothing more than another genre film. The New York Times described "Emmanuelle" as made of "sexual simulations that is largely uninspired and hardly a revelation to enthusiasts long exposed to the genre." Regardless of what the critics thought, it couldn't be denied that "Emmanuelle" had become a hit and it soon launched a franchise that included two more films with Kristel and countless other iterations (via IMDb).

Cable TV and home video were more accepting of the film

The popularity of "Emmanuelle" and its sequels got a boost during the '80s thanks to home video and the burgeoning popularity of cable TV. Channels like Showtime, Cinemax, and HBO offered the perfect venue for softcore titles that could be viewed on a prestigious network, which gave many adults the safety and comfort of discretion (via The Los Angeles Times).

In this pre-internet era, the rise of softcore fare on paid cable networks also found a significant audience with teenagers. For many young people coming of age in the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, cable TV offered the chance to experience never-before-seen movies in the privacy of one's home. The "Emmanuelle" franchise was in the right place at the right time to spur on these open minds. 

Cinemax emerged as the place for softcore films, including the "Emmanuelle" series, and its Cinemax After Dark late-night adult programming block earned it the nickname "Skinemax" (via Variety). "One friend of mine recounted staying up until 2am and sneaking into the living room to watch these films on many a Friday or Saturday evening," wrote Justin Harlan for Cinapse. He wasn't alone, as young men and women consistently found their way to these late night viewings of the "Emmanuelle" movies.

While the "Emmanuelle" franchise helped put Cinemax on the map, the influence of this series started to wane as countless sequels, spin-offs, and rip-offs diluted the effect of the original. More importantly, cable networks like Cinemax and HBO moved away from centering programming blocks around softcore titles due to the rise of prestige television and internet pornography (via Variety).

The internet helped streaming get around softcore content

With the end of cable TV's late-night programming blocks, viewers who want to seek out the "Emmanuelle" series now have to do so elsewhere. They do have a number of ways to do so, just not on popular streaming sites. The success of streaming services like Netflix or Hulu is in no small part due to their expansive catalogues, which seem to include every genre under the sun.

However, one genre that isn't yet openly welcomed among the major names is adult fare. They still do feature steamy titles but when it comes to actual softcore content like "Emmanuelle," you won't find it on Netflix, Hulu, or other popular streamers.

Despite the success of racy titles like Netflix's "Bridgerton" or Hulu's "Normal People," the streamers are wary of associating with porn even if scenes from their series technically qualify as softcore (via Slate).

These companies also don't feel the pressure to include these titles since the internet has it covered anyway. Where cable TV networks and paid subscription channels were once the home of porn, it has since moved to the internet. The "Emmanuelle" series was important in the world of cable TV, but the changed business models of both porn and television have rendered it less so (via The Wall Street Journal).

It's a sentiment echoed by many viewers, as seen in the overwhelming "no" responses to u/human_virus asking on Reddit if Netflix should add porn to its genres. Many noted that it wasn't necessary, since that content can be found for free and more discretely elsewhere. Luckily, fans of "Emmanuelle" can find it easily, but it may be a long time before we see it on a major streaming site.