As the old saying goes, “sex sells.” You can bet Hollywood is fully aware of that fact too, having given us a host of sex scenes since the day they were first allowed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Sometimes, a scene isn’t subject to the limitations of a mainstream audience, a la HBO. For others, a director is tasked with finding a tasteful, yet compelling way to get around the censors. The one thing they all have in common is a commitment to delivering the best possible depiction of the beast with two backs. But who did it best? We have some thoughts on that.
1. Watchmen (2009)
A good deal of credit goes out to Malin Akerman and Patrick Wilson for their respective performances here. It’s not easy to sell a convincing sex scene when you start out wearing superhero spandex, only to strip down and try to convince an audience that you love each other.
Aptly set to Leonard Cohen’s “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” it doubles as both an artistic and steamy sex scene, and is one of the highlights of what was otherwise a massively disappointing movie from director Zack Snyder.
2. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine may very well be the most depressing statement on relationships you’ll ever see in a movie. It wasn’t without a good deal of controversy leading up to its release too, with the Motion Picture Association of America almost issuing a controversial NC-17 rating. Eventually, they backed off of that stance and gave Blue Valentine an R-rating, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t without its decidedly steamy (albeit insanely sad) sex scenes.
3. Cruel Intentions (1999)
Cruel Intentions features an incredible cast, an understated visual language, and most of all, one of the most tastefully done and compelling sex scenes in cinematic history. In it, we barely see more than a close-up of Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon, and yet still it feels like you’re right there in the room with them.
Any time a scene can show as little as this one but keep your undivided attention, you know something (or someone) has been done right.
4. The Magicians, Season 1 (2016)
The Magicians has never been shy about their sex scenes, but this one toward the tail end of Season 1 really took the cake. There’s something wonderfully progressive about a fantasy series about magic and mysticism, devoting a whole episode to a couple trying to find the best way to pleasure the woman in the relationship in bed.
Eventually, they come to terms, in a scene that numbers itself among the hottest you’ll ever see on basic cable.
5. The Notebook (2004)
The Notebook is widely known for its presence as the seminal “chick flick,” but it also features a scene where Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams get hot and heavy in a big way. Soaked from the rain, the two strip down and adjourn to the bedroom, silhouetted against a dark blue backdrop.
All in all, it’s more than you’d ever expect to see in a movie dealing mostly in loud arguments and a thin story.
6. Wild Things (1998)
Wild Things is a movie that makes no apologies for its sexuality, highlighted by Neve Campbell and Denise Richards going topless in a swimming pool together and … well, see for yourself.
Keeping in mind that this was in 1998, it was pretty damn unheard of, and even by today’s standards is surprisingly steamy.
7. Game of Thrones, Season 1 (2011)
For all the hot water Game of Thrones has gotten in over its treatment of women, it’s way back in Season 1 where we get the best (and most progressive) sex scene of the entire series. After being wed against her will to Khal Drogo, Daenerys Targaryen finally finds equal footing with her new husband, getting on top of him and finally facing him during sex.
It’s a scene that seals the short-lived love between the two, establishing them as equal partners together for the first time.
8. Top Gun (1986)
Top Gun is a thrilling movie for many reasons, but it really hits a home run when Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis’ heated “will they/won’t they” vibe comes to a head. It’s not exactly the most graphic sex scene you’ll ever see, but it’s set to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” and shines as a cinematic classic that holds up to this day.
9. Spartacus, pretty much every season (2010–2013)
Long story short, Spartacus made a habit over its run of being the ultimate “don’t watch this with your parents” TV show. The series regularly features large-scale Roman orgies, full-on top-to-bottom male and female nudity, and isn’t a long way off from being considered insanely well-plotted soft-core porn. Close your eyes and aim a dart at any episode and odds are there’s a graphic sex scene somewhere.
10. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brokeback Mountain was nothing short of groundbreaking when it hit theaters in 2005. We’ve come a long way as a society in the years since, but much of that progress wouldn’t have been possible without Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s iconic performance as lovers.
11. Luke Cage (2016)
Odds are, no one started watching Luke Cage thinking that they’d get a steamy sex scene just one episode in. That’s exactly what fans got though, when our titular bulletproof hero wasted no time hooking up with Misty Knight in the very first hour of the series.
12. Risky Business (1983)
The most recognizable scene from Risky Business may be Tom Cruise in a long white shirt, sock-surfing across his hallway, but the tender train scene between him and Rebecca De Mornay comes in at a close second. It’s a scene that’s both visually and emotionally compelling, as the two young lovers get into it while the world passes them by in the background.
13. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
It’s more than a little interesting to see Alfonso Cuarón direct a movie with a steamy threesome, given the fact that his most popular work to date is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Regardless, the scene features three people living their youth to the fullest, as they sensually share each other in Y Tu Mamá También.
14. Deadpool (2016)
Sure, you’re probably not watching Deadpool for the sex, but the minute-long sequence where Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin celebrate a year’s worth of sex holidays is more than worth watching. It’s a sequence that’s equal-parts hot and hilarious, capturing a tone that not many superhero movies have managed to duplicate.
15. Basic Instinct (1992)
There are any number of lovemaking scenes in Basic Instinct that could potentially make this list. Back when it hit theaters in 1992, it revolutionized the thriller genre, adding a psycho-sexual element that Hollywood had never seen to this extent. That being so, it’s a worthy addition to our list for a handful of sex scenes featured throughout the film.
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