What makes a great sex scene in a movie? Is it one that documents true passion? Is it about conveying something visually that often goes unspoken during sex? Is a great sex scene something we want to see or something we want to do? And do we evaluate great sex scenes in the same ways we evaluate great sex?
Movie critics and film nerds have long debated which are the greatest movie sex scenes and documented Hollywood's tortured love affair with sex in cinema. But when do regular movie goers get a chance to weigh in? Back before it was part of the Amazon empire, Europe's top DVD rental service, Lovefilm, surveyed 120,000 of its members on what they thought was the greatest sex scene in film.
On the one hand, the absence of 9 1/2 Weeks (which is ubiquitous on U.S. movie-goer top 10 sex scene lists) indicates a superior European taste in sex scenes. On the other hand, the car wash scene from Wild Things appears five spots above The Hunger which I just can't understand. The complete list is below.
Lovefilm customers ranked the spanking scene between Lee (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her boss Edward (James Spader) as the best sex scene. Secretary
, and Gyllenhaal's performance in particular, deserves to be acknowledged for its relatively complicated and at times realistic portrayal of a sexual relationship based on consensual power exchange or BDSM
. In any dramatic feature we can expect some representations that don't really fit with reality, but I particularly liked the fact that the movie emphasized (by the end) the loving nature of a relationship which on the surface looks like it's just about pain and control.
It's a sign of our society's deeply ingrained homophobia
that the sex scenes between Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) in this film were parodied, critiqued, and dissected in far more intense way than any other movie sex scene in recent memory. But it's a tribute to the skill of the writer, filmmaker and actors that audiences largely related to Jack and Ennis as if they were any other couple struggling with their feelings. Lovefilm viewers singled out the kiss between Jack and Ennis as their number two pick.
Out of Sight
is something of a study in sexual tension, and clearly Lovefilm customers who put this movie at number three are the kinds of people who prefer a slow teasing build-up to sex instead of getting right down to business. It's no surprise then that viewers chose the fully clothed scene between Jack (George Clooney) and Karen (Jennifer Lopez) when they are locked in the car trunk, over the sex scene proper in a bed with some skin.
In case anyone thought Europeans were all about the slow burn, there's Betty Blue's
incomparable opening sex scene between Betty (Beatrice Dalle) and Zorg (Gean-Hughes Anglade). Shocking at first in its raw intensity, the seemingly never ending intercourse
scene eventually elicits laughter along with arousal, fear and confusion. It's a beautiful portrayal of how sex can be both creative and destructive, and a perfect set-up for what's to come.
The manipulative kiss between Selma Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar in this teen remake of Dangerous Liasons
(itself a remake of Liaisons Dangereuses
) may lack the passion of other scenes on the list, but it offers a good example of two other aspects of sex most of us can relate to -- the thrill of first sexual experiences and the fact that not every kiss is planted out of love.
The line between movie sex scene and pornography
sometimes gets blurry, and the choice of this movie -- and the infamous car washing scene featuring Neve Campbell and Denise Richards -- is as good a proof as any that sometimes moviegoers would like a bit more porn in their mainstream movies.
The Grace Kelly/James Stewart kiss riled the imaginations of many viewers, reminding them what a great director can do with sex: Every subtle movement and look is captured and seems to last for minutes instead of seconds (not unlike the way we remember our own favorite sex scenes).
Michelle Pfeiffer's memorable rendition of "Makin' Whoopee'" while writhing on the piano
is beautifully shot and in some ways feels like a weird kind of public sex scene between her and Jeff Bridges as the camera moves around the piano and we're reminded that the whole scene is taking place in front of a few hundred people. One viewer commented that this was the sexiest scene involving a fully clothed actress.
The obvious parts of sex may be explicit and conscious and these are the parts that get the most press. But the really interesting stuff is what lurks beneath the surface, and David Lynch is arguably the master of this domain. Lovefilm viewers singled out Betty (Naomi Watts) and a mysterious brunette (Laura Harring) sharing a bed together as their favorite sex scene, but could easily have chosen the whole film or any number of other scenes given the intense and lush sexual energy Lynch creates. In some ways you could say that David Lynch shows us what sex is like from the inside out.
The sexual act is one of both creation and destruction, and vampires who both live forever and are constantly taking the lives of others make for a powerful metaphor, particularly if they happen to be David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. The seduction scene between Deneuve and Susan Sarandon
is found on almost all top sex scene picks list, and rounds out this one.