Sex. It happens. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes a narrative hinges on it. Sometimes it’s gratuitous. Sometimes an octopus is involved. Whatever the case, what we want from a sex scene depends on the given circumstances. Should it fortify a story or simply serve as titillation? The difference between the two is what some might call the difference between art and porn (though they’d be forgetting that whole penetration thing). Regardless, you won’t find any sad sex on this list. What we’ve collected here are cinematic love scenes that rev our engines, the kind that unite two warm bodies in what feels like genuine attraction. You won’t find any Wiseau-esque rose petals or R&B here, or anything from the American Pie series. These scenes are hot with a capital ‘H,’ precisely the types of things your parents would’ve fast-forwarded through during family movie night. So queue up that cold shower, ’cause things are about to get steamy.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of 9 1/2 Weeks, here are the foinest sex scenes in film history.
Senior Staff Writer
10. Pottery Love
Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for Ghost, but ask most people what they remember from the movie, and they can sum it up in one word: “pottery.”
Some of it’s just chemistry. Patrick Swayze was at the height of his bare-chested powers — Ghost was released in 1991, tucked neatly between 1989’s Road House and 1991’s Point Break — and while most of his scenes with Demi Moore fall flat, there’s enough warmth in this one sequence to save the movie. Some of it’s “Unchained Melody,” which tiptoes in, gentle as a kiss, and slowly builds toward a hell of an — ahem — climax. But really, it comes down to texture. They wind up in bed afterwards (with clean hands, naturally), but all you need to see is those two at that wheel. The clay is wet, and you mold it with your hands, gently, firmly, and with great pleasure. –Allison Shoemaker
09. Guy-on-Guy Stuff
Andrew Haigh has proven himself a master at cultivating slow-burn emotional turmoil with 45 Years, his sad, understated 2015 awards contender. But it was his 2011 breakthrough, Weekend, that truly established the young buck’s raw, open-wound-style approach to filmmaking, where volcanic emotions seem always on the verge of eruption. Such catharsis doesn’t always result in tears, however. Often, it leads to some of the best sex of our lives.
Such can be said for Weekend’s Russell and Glen, two noncommittal men whose one-night stand refuses to stay as such. After a firm, crushing conversation about where they stand, the duo decide to set emotions aside and give in to what brought them together in the first place: their bodies. Haigh’s camera doesn’t flinch as the pair kiss, suck, and fuck, and he deftly counterbalances any longing that exists between the two with a primal lust that causes their sex to not resonate as a plot device, but to simply feel like pure passion. –Randall Colburn
08. “There’s nothing like a Rolls!”
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Director Russ Meyer is best known for the string of sexploitation flicks he helmed in the 1960s, which uniformly feature leading ladies with large breasts and skinny waists. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is ostensibly Meyer’s first mainstream film, and it gains some credibility because it was co-written by Roger Ebert. But make no mistake: this one is a hot, heavy, and hysterical cult classic with Meyer’s devious fingerprints all over it.
The film gets much of its orgasmic oomph from bombshell Edy Williams, who plays sex-crazed starlet Ashley St. Ives. Apparently Ashley has a thing for fancy cars, too, because she ends up banging the film’s male lead in the backseat of a Rolls Royce. How much does she love the finer things in life? At the moment of climax, she screams, “There’s nothing like a Rolls! Not even a Bentley!” Damn. Now I wish I could afford a Rolls. Or a Bentley, even. Preferably one with a large backseat. –Collin Brennan
07. Beach Kiss
From Here to Eternity (1953)
You know what you don’t see in the beach scene from From Here to Eternity? Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr fucking. But that’s what they’re doing, all the same, and everyone knows it. One of the hottest scenes in film history is also one of the best examples of a movie thumbing its nose at the censors. See, kisses are supposed to happen standing up, and the second Kerr and Lancaster lay down in the sand, they’re 100 percent boning, even if they’re not. Two lovers lie on the beach, too enraptured with each other to take note of the world around them.
They find themselves caught in the frothing foam of the surf (Lancaster’s idea, according to the BFI). The string section soars. Their dark, wet swimsuits glisten. The waves pound. The audience unbuttons its top button and collectively asks if it’s hot in here. If you’ve ever had sex on a beach — and if you have, I hope you’ve gotten the sand out of your ass crack by now — you’ve got this movie to blame. –Allison Shoemaker
06. Roller Coaster Fingerbang
Sex is a roller coaster, get it? Leave it to the eminently campy thriller Fear to take a well-worn metaphor and turn it into a literal scene in which Mark Wahlberg’s psychopathic heartthrob (we don’t know he’s a psychopath yet!) fingerbangs Reese Witherspoon on an amusement park ride. Say what you will about Fear (it’s bad), but don’t deny that this is the most iconic cinematic finger sex of all time. It’s also, in spite of itself, frankly arousing. Witherspoon — who nearly made this list twice thanks to her steamy turn in Cruel Intentions — plays it like a seasoned vet, her face showing enough dizzy pleasure to distract us from the thought that, whoa, this whole thing’s getting kind of creepy. We’ll never look at roller coasters, fingerbanging, or “Wild Horses” the same way again. –Collin Brennan
05. Library Lovin’
Atonement is depressing. Like a number of films on our list, it uses its moments of bliss to make the dark shit just that much darker. But my god, everyone in the world should put on some formal wear, kiss someone really hard, and then get fucked against a wall of beautiful, beautiful books. Nothing more needs to be said.
Oh, fine, let’s say more. There’s something about the contrast of the finery and the rich surroundings — up to and including the color and light, which are so goddamn beautiful you assume everyone who ever stepped in it immediately had the best sex of their lives — that makes the actual action just that much more erotic. Tuxedos have so many buttons, long dresses can be terribly inconvenient, and the libraries of well-to-do families are places where lots of things take place, but sex isn’t one of those things. This is loving, to be sure, but for all its tenderness, it packs an animal punch. Buttons are fumbled with. A foot slips out of one graceful, high-heeled shoe. This is, plain and simple, one person needing to be inside of another right now. It’s hot as shit, and not even Saoirse Ronan stumbling in and ruining everyone’s lives can’t spoil it. –Allison Shoemaker
04. Oral Flashback
Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine’s duality is its greatest strength. By oscillating between the early courtship and tragic latter days of Ryan Gosling’s Dean and Michelle Williams’ Cindy, Derek Cianfrance’s film paints a positively dire portrait of how poverty, parenthood, and the snap decisions of youth can curdle love into something sick and coagulated. Sex is integral to the way Cianfrance counterbalances love’s innocence with time’s cruelty. One of the film’s most crushing sequences is a misbegotten overnight trip that devolves into intercourse that’s violent and relentlessly resentful. Juxtapose that against one of the duo’s first sexual encounters: a sun-dappled afternoon in Cindy’s bed, when Dean’s tongue brings her to the kind of swift, intense orgasm that leaves nothing but breathless giggles in its wake. Part of what makes it so hot is just how in sync they are, their bodies moving in concert as each strives towards the same goal. Fast-forward a decade, and despite how close their bodies might be, they might as well be on different planets. –Randall Colburn
03. Betty and Rita
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Mulholland Drive’s much-discussed sex scene, wherein Naomi Watts’ Betty and Laura Harring’s Rita share a midnight tryst in bed, actually has a lot less sex in it than you remember. That’s not to say it’s not sexy. In fact, the few seconds where Betty cautiously strokes Rita’s exposed breast are some of the most arousing ever put on film. But there’s nothing all that explicit: they kiss, Rita undresses Betty, and they hold each other as Betty asserts, with breathtaking conviction, how in love she is with Rita.
It feels like a fantasy, honestly, and that’s because – sorta spoiler? Can you spoil this movie? I think not – it is. Sex lends itself to the surrealism of David Lynch and especially this movie, his most romantic by any measure, as intense moments of physical connection can often feel like a dream where, in this moment, logic is ephemeral and any and all things are possible. But what resonates above all is the sense that we’re witnessing a sexual awakening, a woman who’s finally discovered what’s been missing and wants nothing more than to melt into it. Is there anything more sexy? –Randall Colburn
02. Adèle’s Sexual Awakening
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
To call the sex in Blue Is the Warmest Color simply arousing feels like a slight against director Abdellatif Kechiche’s unflinching camera work — and certainly against the explosive chemistry between stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. The film’s initial lesbian sex scene clocks in at nearly seven minutes, revealing an interesting thing about sex in film: seven minutes in a darkened movie theater feels a lot longer than seven minutes in the bedroom.
But get over the awkwardness (hot tip: don’t watch this film with your parents) and you’re left with the Iliad of cinematic lovemaking, an intense journey that depicts at least four aspects of lesbian copulation you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other non-pornographic, feature-length film. The two women explore each others’ bodies in ways that feel both natural and electric, shoving their fingers and faces wherever their instincts take them. It’s as realistic as on-screen sex gets, and the hotness comes from how relatable it all is, regardless of your sexual orientation. –Collin Brennan
01. Ice Cube Tease
9 1/2 Weeks (1986)
Though it might come as a shock to some, 50 Shades of Grey is not the first film to tap into mainstream America’s fascination with submissive sex. Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger played this dangerous game 30 years ago in 9 ½ Weeks, and they played it with all the freaky charisma they could muster. The film’s most famous sex scene involves a bit of food play, in which Rourke sensually feeds Basinger treats that include maraschino cherries, spicy-hot jalapenos, and what appears to be a whole gallon of honey. If you’ve ever laid a tarp out in the bedroom and gone to town on your bae with some chocolate syrup, you probably have this scene to thank. Or blame, because let’s be real: food doesn’t belong near vaginas.
A far more sexy (and sanitary!) moment in the film involves a simple ice cube, which Rourke slowly melts all over Basinger’s body after blindfolding her. He starts way up at her lips and works his way south until — whoa boy, game over — he runs the frozen toy along her pantyline. The scene is over in less than two minutes, but it imparts a lasting lesson that men would do well to heed: foreplay is important. And (pay attention, because this is crucial) you don’t need to use actual butter to get her all buttered up. –Collin Brennan