Emmanuelle – 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong
In 1974, Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel played a youthful model who moves to Thailand to be with her husband, a French diplomat. The film was Emmanuelle, and it depicted Kristel’s character on an erotic journey that changes the direction of her life forever. Emmanuelle initially earned a reputation as a sophisticated blue movie before forming the basis of the cable-TV smutty flick revolution of the 1980s and early ’90s.
Without meaning to, the Emmanuelle film series created an entire genre of pseudo-adult films that were shown late at night on paid cable networks like Cinemax, with its “Friday After Dark” franchise, inspiring teenage boys to stay up to ungodly hours of the night with hopes of catching a hint of sexuality. These films, some of which initially built a large following with female viewers during the ’70s, became a rite of passage for young people a decade later.
Without trying to, this sultry drama became the highest-grossing domestically produced French film of 1974, and created an aesthetic and tone for countless imitators and the Skinemax phenomenon.
Emmanuelle was released in France on June 26, 1974, and was an immediate hit, creating such a stir among female audience members that Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the film theatrically, making it the first time they took a chance on an X-rated film. Columbia marketed the film as a sophisticated film based around sensuality rather than focus on its sexual nature — its tagline read, “X was never like this.”
Marketing the film as a “classy” movie paid off — Emmanuelle brought in more than $11 million stateside and helped dig the distributor out of the hole after a series of losses. When Emmanuelle was released in the states, Roger Ebert gave the film a fairly positive review, stating that “It’s very well done: lushly photographed on location in Thailand, filled with attractive and intriguing people, and scored with brittle, teasing music.”