Pornographic films are motion pictures with the purpose of promoting sexual arousal in the viewer, often featuring depictions of sexual activity. They appeared shortly after the creation of the motion picture in the early 1900s. Pornographic films have much in common with other forms of pornography. Pornography is often referred to as "porn" and a pornographic work as a "porno." Older names for a pornographic movie include "adult film," "stag film," and "blue movie." In general, "softcore" refers to pornography that does not depict penetration or "extreme fetish" acts, while "hardcore" refers to pornography that depicts penetration and/or extreme fetish acts. In eastern Asia, pornographic movies are also known as Panu.
Throughout its history, the movie camera has been used for pornography, but for most of that time pornographic movies were typically available only by underground distribution, for projection at home or in private clubs and also night cinemas. Only in the 1970s were pornographic films semi-legitimized; by the 1980s, pornography on home video achieved distribution unimagined only decades earlier. The rise of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s similarly changed distribution of pornography, and furthermore complicated legal prosecution of obscenity.
Pornography is a thriving, financially profitable business: according to a 2004 Reuters article, "The multi-billion-dollar industry releases about 11,000 titles on DVD each year, giving it tremendous power to sway the battle between two groups of studios and technology companies competing to set standards for the next generation".
Pornographic motion pictures are nearly as old as the medium itself. According to Patrick Robertson's Film Facts, "the earliest pornographic motion picture which can definitely be dated is A L'Ecu d'Or ou la bonne auberge", made in France in 1908; the plot depicts a weary soldier who has a tryst with an inn's servant girl. Robertson notes that the Argentine pornographic film El Satario might be even older; it has been dated to somewhere between 1907 and 1912. Robertson notes that "the oldest surviving pornographic films are contained in America's Kinsey Collection." One film demonstrates how early pornographic conventions were established. The German film Am Abend (c. 1910) is, as Robertson writes, "a ten-minute film which begins with a woman masturbating alone in her bedroom, and progresses to scenes of her with a man performing sex, fellatio and anal penetration." (Robertson, p. 66)
Pornographic movies were widespread in the silent movie era of the 1920s, and were often shown in brothels. Many pornographic films were made in subsequent decades, but given the usually clandestine nature of the filming and distribution, details of such "stag films" are often difficult to obtain. It is probably reasonable to assume that many sexually explicit films made before about 1950 are now permanently lost.
In 1969, Denmark became the first country to legalize hardcore pornography, and soon started producing theatrical feature film sex comedies such as Bordellet (1972) and I Jomfruens tegn (1973), starring mainstream actors and usually not thought of as "porno films" though including hardcore pornographic scenes.
In the 1970s, more permissive legislation permitted the rise of "XXX-rated" movie theaters in the United States and many other countries. There was also a proliferation of coin-operated "movie booths" in sex shops that displayed pornographic "loops" (so-called because they projected a movie from film arranged in a continuous loop).
Notable American hardcore feature films of the 1970s include Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972), The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), Radley Metzger's The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975) and Debbie Does Dallas (1978). These were shot on film and distributed in movie theaters. In New York, Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat gained particular notoriety and a certain social acceptance, giving rise to the term "porno chic", perceived as a cultural trend.
One important court case in the U.S. was Miller v. California (1973). The case established that obscenity was not legally protected, but the case also established the Miller test, a three-pronged test to determine obscenity (which is not legal) as opposed to indecency (which may or may not be legal).
Similarly, the camcorder spurred changes in pornography in the 1980s, when people could make their own amateur sex movies, whether for private use, or for wider distribution.
It has been suggested that, among other things, Sony Betamax lost the format war to VHS (in becoming the general home video recording/viewing system) because the adult video industry chose VHS instead of the technically superior Sony system.
The year 1987 saw an important legal case in the U.S. when the de facto result of California Republic Versus Freeman was the legalization of hardcore pornography. Ironically, the prosecution of Harold Freeman was initially planned as the first in a series of legal cases that would have effectively outlawed the production of such movies.
However, the Internet arguably changed the distribution of pornography more than any earlier technology: rather than ordering movies from an adult bookstore, or through mail-order, people could watch pornographic movies on their computers. Rather than waiting weeks for an order to arrive from another U.S. state, one could download a pornographic movie within minutes (or, later, within a few seconds).
The Internet also complicated legal prosecution of obscenity cases: if someone downloads a video clip that no one else in their town sees, are community standards violated? If a pornographic movie is produced in one U.S. state and downloaded in another state (after having been routed through half-a-dozen states via an Internet service provider), in which jurisdiction should the legal case be introduced? These and related questions are still being sorted out in U.S. courts.
That same year, Zentropa also produced Idioterne (1998), directed by Lars von Trier, which won many international awards and was nominated for a Golden Palm in Cannes. The film includes a shower sequence with a male erection and an orgy scene with close-up penetration footage (the camera viewpoint is from the ankles of the participants, and the close-ups leave no doubt as to what is taking place). Idioterne started a wave of international mainstream arthouse films featuring explicit sexual images, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance, which starred Rocco Siffredi.
In 1999, the Danish TV-channel Kanal København started broadcasting hardcore films at night, uncoded and freely available to any TV-viewer in the Copenhagen area (as of 2008, this is still the case, courtesy of Innocent Pictures, a company started by Zentropa).
Current pornographic movies can be divided into a number of sub-genres by the sex of the performers, the types of sex act portrayed, and the intended audience.
Pornography as a genre as often been described by critics has having underdeveloped plots and characters, thus making it very uninteresting length-wise. Critics often state that pornographic films are all based on a same template that is repeated over and over, hence a saturation of the industry and the impossibility for new sub-genres to flourish. That tendency, however, has been reported to decrease with the rise of Internet pornography and the mass distribution it allows.
Opponents of pornography in general claim that it leads to sex crimes, sexual infidelity, offends religious values, or degrades women.
In April 2004, an AIDS scare rocked the heterosexual US porn industry when two pornographic actors tested HIV positive in California, the hotbed of U.S. porn production. The straight segment of the porn industry voluntarily shut down for 30 days (a 60 day moratorium was originally announced but it was lifted early) while it tried to deal with the situation.
As of August 2004, estimates put condom use in the straight porn industry at around seventeen percent of adult performers, virtually the same usage rate as before the industry scare. The gay porn industry is more adamant about condom usage in their productions.
Three actors, Darren James, Jenny Gaynor and Lara Roxx, initially tested positive, and were barred from further sexually explicit content production. About sixty actors who had contact with James or Roxx were barred from working until their next round of HIV testing was completed and they were declared HIV negative.A further estimated 130 actors who had contact with Gaynor were tested and also received a HIV negative result. A total of five actors were diagnosed with the virus by the end of the moratorium: one male and four females, including one transsexual.
James most likely contracted HIV while filming a pornographic movie in Brazil and then passed it to the other women, excluding the transsexual, who was considered an unrelated case. Roxx was shocked by the news of her HIV status, believing porn actors to be cleaner than the general public. This belief is now in doubt.
Due to this limited outbreak, the California State government is considering regulating the industry. Some propose to mandate the wearing of condoms during sexually explicit scenes. Industry insiders say this would ruin sales of their wares since the unprotected content is one of the selling points of some of their films. They say the wearing of condoms ruins the sexual fantasy of many viewers. Insiders say that such regulation would force the industry underground, where it would be more prone to health risks for performers. The non-profit Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation is working with the government, trying to develop policies that both the industry and the government would find acceptable.