Incest movies are very uncommon, especially nowadays, but like violence, crime or horror, incest is a theme that could either be explored or exploited by the filmmakers depending on their intentions. Films about incestuous relationships between mother and son, father and daughter, brother and sister, sister and sister or brother and brother have often been accused of being emotionally exploitative, offensive, evil and mindlessly provocative and also, to a certain extent, those accusations are true.
Incest movies have so far been limited to low-budget flicks, with a very handful of actors agreeing upon the projects and none of these movies ever received universal critical acclaim. But there have also been movies that explore the emotional side of incestuous relationships and how people were emotionally provoked or coerced to form an incestuous relationship.
Let’s make one thing clear here – we are not talking about incest porn movies, but rather, the depictions of incest in mainstream movies. With all that said, let’s take a look at the list of best incest movies that have been brave enough to try and explore the complicated theme. The list mostly consists of family incest films. Rarely there have been films made on gay or lesbian incest, but yes, they do exist too. The good news is that you can stream a few of these really good incest movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
20. Close My Eyes (1991)
Featuring Alan Rickman, Clive Owen in leading roles, ‘Close My Eyes’ is the narrative of an incestuous relationship between a half-brother and half-sister, Richard and Natalie. Though the brother and sister have been separated since childhood and have grown up in different families owing to their parents’ separation and re-marriage, they strike a chord when they meet up again after a long time. Natalie is married to Sinclair (Rickman), a wealthy stockbroker and Natalie herself has been working in a recruiting firm. Richard is a town planner and the younger brother of Natalie. As disturbing as it may sound, the only thing that attracts Natalie and Richard is their lust towards one another.
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19. Ma Mere (2004)
Arguably the most controversial film on the list, ‘Ma Mere’ is easily the most disturbing and unwatchable film about incest ever made. The film features the great Isabelle Huppert playing an incestuous mother, obsessed with sex who asks her son to have sex with her. They make violent love as Helene asks her son to physically hurt her by cutting her abdomen and as his masturbation reaches its climax, she slits her own throat. The film is blatantly provocative and for the most part, plain unwatchable but you just fail to take your eyes off from an explosive Isabelle Huppert who is in the top of her form in this movie.
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18. Savage Grace (2007)
Based on the infamous Barbara Daly Baekeland murder case, ‘Savage Grace’ is a deeply disturbing portrait of an incestuous relationship between a mother and her son. Julianne Moore plays Barbara and her character has to deal with her son’s mental troubles and confused sexuality. She seduces her son in order to “stabilise” his sexuality and this brings in an atmosphere of absolute fright and horror as their lives culminate in the most tragic of ways you could ever imagine. Julianne Moore is brilliant in her role and carries the film throughout, elevating it into something just more than watchable.
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17. Spanking the Monkey (1994)
A black comedy at the outset, ‘Spanking the Monkey’ is the literal slang for masturbation. Raymond wants to pursue an important medical internship but is forced to stay back home when his mother suffers from a leg injury and his father is going on a tour for work-related purposes. The two begin to develop an unusual relationship that turns into an incestuous one as Raymond’s mental state begins to take a toll on him. Director David O. Russell packs the film warm humour and energy that makes it a very refreshing watch despite how controversial and provocative its content may seem. Or how immoral. On this list, ‘Spanking the Monkey’ has to be critically the most successful incest movie, having more than 90% approval rating from critics and raking in more than 5 times its budget at the box office.
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16. Delta (2008)
This Hungarian gem is a criminally underrated drama that explores a poignant incestuous relationship between an estranged brother and sister. The film possesses a dark tone that reflects the unusual relationship between its characters but it doesn’t tend to exploit the provocative nature of the story. There’s a sense of lurking danger felt throughout the movie but the way it portrays the way it portrays its characters and their relationship make us empathise with them rather than trying to put us off with blatant emotional manipulation. As far as the story goes, ‘Delta’ is the narrative of a lad who has come home to see his family – a sister and his mother, while the latter had been staying with her boyfriend. As he begins constructing a new home for himself, his sister moves in with him and things become even the more complicated.
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15. The Blue Lagoon (1980)
Perhaps one of the pioneers which introduced incest into mainstream cinema, ‘The Blue Lagoon’ is the story of two cousins – Richard and Emmeline who have been stranded on a remote island in the South Pacific. Although initially, they are accompanied by Paddy, a cook who too survived the shipwreck, he dies due to excessive intoxication and Richard and Emmeline are left on their own in the vast expanse of the island. As they grow up and attain puberty without any societal restrictions, they get closer to each other, have a sexual relationship and later Emmeline gives birth to a daughter whom they name Paddy. The movie was widely criticized for glorifying taboos and being unnatural, while the filmmakers’ stance was to depict the kids in a way that would be without any sort of restrictions. The audiences are the best judge, I guess.
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14. La Luna (1979)
Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial drama explores the disturbing relationship between a mother and her son. Joe, a teenager, has a troubled relationship with his parents and after his mother’s husband commits suicide, he moves along with her to Rome. However, the boy’s emotional troubles begin to take a toll on him and he begins to use drugs. In order to free him from the web of addiction, his mother grows increasingly closer to him which develops into a sexual relationship. The film as a whole doesn’t hold up well but the incestuous part is done in a very effective manner.
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13. Beautiful Kate (2009)
‘Beautiful Kate’ is about a writer, Ned who returns with his fiancee to visit his dying father and his sister. The film is one complex cycle of incestuous relationships. Ned’s fiance discovers that he had a sexual relationship with his older sister Kate who died in an accident along with her older brother Cliff. Ned’s sister Sally tells him that she believed Kate had developed a sexual relationship with Cliff too and he couldn’t live with the guilt of committing such a gross sin. The film despite its convoluted story is very effective, partly because of the writing and the way in which it treats such a disturbing subject.
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12. The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’ is a beautifully flawed film about the painful delicacies of human relationships. Actor extraordinaire Daniel Day-Lewis plays Jack, a farmer with a heart condition who lives with his daughter who is isolated from the world outside her home. When Jack brings in his girlfriend, Kathleen and her teenage sons home, his daughter begins to develop jealousy towards Jack’s extended family. When Jack discovers that his daughter had sex with Kathleen’s son, he is infuriated but also is deeply torn when he realises that she was in love with him. It’s a beautifully made drama that occasionally tends to drift and meander but manages to strike a chord in you because of the sheer warmth and humanity that it brings in.
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11. Lolita (1997)
Perhaps one of the crowning jewels of incest movies, although the incest is mostly implied and not direct, ‘Lolita’ made news for the steamy sexual relationship that bordered with paedophilia. Humbert, a professor of French literature is visiting New Hampshire and rents a place at Charlotte’s, a single mother who has been living with her teenage daughter Dolores. Filled with lust for Dolores (or “Lo” as she’s called), Humbert marries Charlotte to get closer to her daughter. When Charlotte finds out about Humbert’s intentions, she flees the house and is killed in a car accident – something that comes as a blessing in disguise for Humbert as he can openly pursue Dolores, whom he now calls “Lolita”. After travelling places, Lo escapes with another lad Clare Quilty, only to be abandoned by him too. Jeremy Irons as Humbert has done exceptionally well, although, for critics, as opposed to any incest movie, ‘Lolita’ was praised for being artistic and passionate.
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10. Illegitimate (2016)
‘Illegitimate’ tells the story of all sorts of sins prevalent in the society and the so-called “sinners” who perpetuate them further. An Orthodox family with a doctor as its head, a man who is proud to have prevented many abortions has a heated argument with his children who think otherwise. Meanwhile, his children, twins Sasha and Romeo are in an incestuous, intense relationship and soon Sasha realizes that she’s pregnant. Sasha later comes to know that she has always been an unwanted child, for her father never agreed and allowed her mother to abort her. The complicated saga of relationships becomes entwined and tangled within its own weight and leaves audiences in an engaged yet crumbled state, for we don’t know which is the “right” side after a few minutes into the movie. ‘Illegitimate’ is perhaps one of the most intriguing incest movies ever made.
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9. Beau Père (1981)
The French word for the stepfather, ‘Beau Père’ is the love incest affair of a pianist and his teenage stepdaughter, whose mother has died in a car crash. With a storyline very similar to ‘Lolita’, the story begins with Remi, a pianist who lives with his wife Martine and step-daughter Marion. Marion, after her mother’s death, is left with two choices – stay with Remi or go back to her drunkard father Charly. Though Charly forces her to stay with him, she comes back to stay with Remi, her step-father. Marion then gets attracted to Remi, which the latter resists owing to their relation. Although there’s an involvement of a taboo, it hasn’t been glorified as with other incest movies which garnered positive reviews for ‘Beau Père’ – a rare feat for an incest movie.
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8. The Cement Garden (1993)
Set among a family of four children whose parents have passed away, ‘The Cement Garden’ is a tale of incest with a twist. The story begins with Jack, a teenage boy who is helping his father with the chores, although the latter dies soon, leaving Jack and his two sisters Julie and Sue and a younger brother Tom, along with their ailing mother. While they know they are going to be orphans pretty soon, Jack and Julie decide not to tell anyone about their mother’s illness otherwise they will be sent to foster care. After their mother dies, instead of burying her, Jack and Julie prepare a cement tomb for her mother to entomb her. Jack and Julie soon fall into an incestuous relationship, while worrying about the repercussions of their relationship on them and on the society, but nothing substantial comes out of it. ‘The Cement Garden’ received mostly positive reviews for the performances and especially the direction.
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7. Oldboy (2003)
For those who haven’t seen this explosive thriller directed by Park Chan-wook, I’d ask you to stop reading this part and go watch it first. ‘Oldboy’ is as viscerally exciting and emotionally challenging as cinema can get. It follows a man, Oh Dae Su who was held captive for no apparent reason and has been released after 15 years. He sets out to unveil the identity of his captor but things take a bizarre turn when the disturbing truths of his past are uncovered. Dae Su had a rival in school named Lee Woo-jin whom he caught sharing a physically intimate moment with his own sister. He spreads the news to his classmates and this causes Woo-jin’s sister to commit suicide. As a revenge, Woo-jin imprisoned him for 15 years and used his own grown-up daughter to make him fall in love with her so that he now realises the same pain Woo-jin had gone through.
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6. Shame (2011)
Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ is an astonishingly powerful drama that penetrates on to the darkest corners of the human psyche. The film follows a New York City executive who is a sex addict and frequently has sex with prostitutes and is badly addicted to masturbation. But when his sister comes to stay with him for a few days, he is forced to curb his feelings. This film can be interpreted in multiple ways. While there are many who believe there is nothing between Brendon and Sissy, I happen to think that they have a dark past. Their level of physical intimacy and the way they talk to each other create an uneasy feeling and offer subtle hints about their incestuous past. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan were widely appreciated for their stellar, riveting performances and so was the pathology of its characters which was relatable at many levels. How do you agree?
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5. The Quiet (2005)
When a deaf and mute teenage girl Dot goes to her godparents’ house to live with them, after her parents have died, she comes to know about their teenage daughter Nina who supposedly is in an incestuous relationship with her father Paul. On the other hand, Paul has some secrets to keep and has suspicions on Nina while secretly, Nina plans on murdering her father, a dream of hers that comes to fruition when Paul is strangulated and pushed from the building to death. Nina moves on with her life and Olivia gets arrested for murdering Paul, as opposed to Dot who was perceived as the murderer. ‘The Quiet’ surprisingly opened with positive reviews from critics, with some of them praising the lead actors, especially Elisha Cuthbert, for her splendid performance and for having depths in its characterizations. Because incest was involved, there were a host of negative reviews as well, only if someone cares.
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4. Murmur of the Heart (1971)
Louis Malle’s humour filled portrait of adulthood and sexuality is one that manages to move you in its charming affection and warmth. The incest between Laurent and Clara here does not disturb or unsettle you but there’s a certain amount of charm and lovable affection that makes it so endearing despite how strange and provocative their relationship actually is. Their relationship has an eerie romantic quality that makes it so feel so refreshingly distinctive. The film has influenced many contemporary directors including Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach.
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3. Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998)
Anna and Otto share a mutual affection for each other as children but things take a turn when Anna’s mother, after the death of her husband, marries Otto’s father. However, they begin to develop an incestuous relationship as they grow increasingly attracted to each other but life takes them apart and the two go separate ways and would meet again years later. The film treats its characters as plain human beings, drawing no judgements and the romance is handled in a refreshing manner with toned down melodrama and sentimentality. ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ is an absolute gem and one of the best incest movies that certainly deserves more attention.
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2. The Dreamers (2003)
Rather than being disgusting, as one could find how incest movies are, ‘The Dreamers’ is one of the most erotic movies with incest in it. The film begins with Matthew, an American student who is visiting France to learn French literature, where he meets with twins Theo and Isabelle. At their invitation, Matthew agrees to stay along with Theo and Isabelle, only to disagree and later agree to their “liberal” ways of staying, sleeping, bathing together naked. At the subtle approval of Theo, Matthew and Isabelle get into a relationship, but everything stays creepily under Theo’s “observation”. There are disturbing scenes of masturbation, incest, and frontal nudity which make ‘The Dreamers’ one of the most explicit incest movies ever made. The trio later joins the ongoing protests at the street and slowly let go of their inhibitions and attachment towards one another. A widely accepted movie by critics and audiences alike, ‘The Dreamers’ was praised for being “sweet and enchanting”.
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1. Dogtooth (2009)
Brilliant would be an understatement to describe this unflinching piece of art. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, ‘Dogtooth’ tells the story of a family who confines their kids to the family compound and doesn’t let them know of the world outside. Violence is normalised in the film and even the most brutal things fail to disturb you. Incest here develops in an unnervingly naturalistic way as the parents ask the boy to choose between his sisters after the father dismisses the woman whom he used to pay to have sex with his son because she showed them Hollywood films. It almost plays out like a Michael Haneke film minus the punitive effect.
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