Movies About Sex Work That Don't Sugarcoat Anything

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

At first, it seems like Mike Figgis’ drama is going to go along with the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trope as Elisabeth Shue’s Las Vegas streetewalker, Sera (above), tries to save Hollywood washout Ben (Nicolas Cage) from his plan to drink himself to death. But then things get darker and darker, especially in a horrific scene in which Sera takes on multiple awful young clients.

Leaving Las Vegas is a sad, sad movie, but Shue imbues Sera with dignity and supreme likability throughout, even as her plans collapse — and she still holds onto her dreams.

Cage won a Best Actor Oscar, and Shue was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Susan Sarandon for her role in Dead Man Walking. Sarandon is great but Shue absolutely deserved to win for a harrowing, tough performance in one of the most bluntly sad movies about prostitution.

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