The film follows Ricky (Banderas), a young man recently released from a mental institution, who has been obsessed with Marina (Abril), an actress, former porn star, and recovering heroin addict, since the pair shared a one-night stand one year ago. Ricky kidnaps Marina, believing that he can force her to fall in love with him. Eventually, Marina does fall in love with him, but still considers herself his prisoner, and tells him to keep her tied up so that she won't try to escape. Subsequently, she reluctantly escapes with the assistance of her sister Lola (played by Loles Léon), but the lovers are eventually reunited.
This film created controversy and was denounced by women's rights groups in Spain and the United States and German feminists for its light-hearted depiction of kidnapping and violence. It was also instrumental in creating the NC-17 rating, along with Henry & June in light of a lawsuit brought on by Miramax and Almodóvar to the MPAA for being certified with an X rating, which carried the stigma of being associated with pornography. The film was initially released unrated and later re-rated NC-17 for video after the Henry & June controversy. Surprisingly, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! contains very few instances of explicit sexuality despite its risqué subject matter.