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Top 10 Best Sex Scenes: 90s to Now

By Jim Patterson · June 17, 2013

When it comes to sex and cinema, the relationship has not always been a passionate affair. From the early days of Hollywood, where censorship boards were set up to control the amount of nudity, sexuality, and violence portrayed in films to greater permissiveness and tolerance and the infamous naughty flicks of the 70's and 80's to the development of the ratings systems and the MPAA replacing X with NC-17 in 1990, sex and cinema has been a contentious evolution.

With that said, as I began to compile a list of Ten “Best” Sex Scenes, I quickly came to discover this evolution and how “sex” was defined differently throughout the generations. And not only has the “sex” perception of what is acceptable to portray on film changed, so are there differences between a sex scene that is deemed as “hot” or “carnal” versus “violent” or “abusive” versus “tender” or “sensual”, etc.  Who ever said a great sex scene has to be fodder for the imagination late at night?  Sometimes a great sex scene can be just as insightful, moving, or even hilarious as any other kind of scene — and oh, yeah, sometimes you even see nudity.

But… there are so many to choose from over a century of filmmaking, and therefore, the compromise: I focused on modern cinema. So these are ten of the best I've seen from the 90's to now. There's a lack of foreign films on the list as well, but to be honest — it was hard whittling it all down to just ten.  Apparently, I've seen more sex on screen than I ever should've admitted to….

10. Out of Sight (1998)

Steven Soderbergh's classy adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel was one of the sexiest modern films; then again, when your movie stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in their primes, it would be pretty hard to miss the hotness mark.  Their flirtatious foreplay is what makes the sex scene so memorable.  Soderbergh isn't very interested in watching two naked people thrash around in a bed; instead, he intercuts their earlier dinner table conversation with them both stripping down in a hotel room, admiring each other. 

It's a very delicate scene, but is probably the one that lingers in the memory the most (that and the delightful car trunk sequence).  Casting two of Hollywood's most gorgeous people certainly helped, but by making the scene more about the anticipation rather than the climax, Out of Sight was a winner.

9. Shoot 'Em Up (2007)

Again trying to show that not every sex scene has to be incredibly hot, Shoot 'Em Up is, in it's own way, the most logical sex scene ever witnessed in an action film.  Usually the hero and damsel in distress somehow find a quiet hour apart from getting shot at, long enough to toss the covers around in a not-revealing PG-13 kind of way.  In Shoot 'Em Up, though, the bad guys come bursting in right during the steamy stuff, and Clive Owen picks up a gun and blasts them all away — all without stopping the sex!

If it sounds ridiculous, it absolutely is; the whole film is pitched at a Looney Tunes level, so seeing Clive Owen shooting a bunch of trained assassins while humping a beautiful Monica Belluci isn't actually all that far-fetched.  Instead, it just becomes a laugh-riot of a scene; action-packed, humorous, bad-ass, and containing two of the most attractive people in the movie business going crazy on each other (Belluci surprisingly doesn't show much nudity, considering her ease with it in stuff like Malena, but…you can't win 'em all).   

8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Not that you asked, but I figured I should toss it out there — I'm a straight male.  That also might explain why several of the picks on this list are between two gorgeous women.  Now, as a straight male, the initial sex scene in Brokeback Mountain between the two closet gay men doesn't turn me on in the normal, physical sense.  But again, this list is a Best list, not a Hottest, and I can't deny that this is one of the strongest and most culturally significant sex scenes ever filmed, and the two actors within the scene (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall) were never better.

If you haven't seen the achingly sad film, Brokeback Mountain is about two cowboy's in the 1960's, who fall in love with each other but know they can't possibly be together.  The first time they finally succumb to their feelings is very raw, brutal, and physical — the sex sounds painful (the tent is so dark, it's hard to see any details), and the aftermath is as uncomfortable as it comes.  But it's such a shocking scene, then and now, and it's quickly followed by one of the most tender and emotional love scenes in modern films.

7. Team America (2004)

I don't want to judge, but let's just say that if any of you have ever gotten aroused by the sex scene in this movie, please seek immediate psychiatric help.  Sexiness is not in the repertoire of creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker (remember their movie Orgazmo, back before they created South Park?)  When they made Team America, a hilarious satire of American international policies and Michael Bay action flicks, they were so worried about the MPAA forcing them to cut back on the profanity and gross-out content that they decided to go for broke and make the nastiest, most pornographic sex scene between two puppets that the world had ever seen.

Shockingly, despite this scene existing only to distract the incredibly conservative MPAA, they insisted on only two cuts — the shots of the lovers pooping and peeing on each other had to be jettisoned.  The rest, in which the puppets perform every sex act, in every position, possibly imaginable…well, that was all fine and dandy, I guess.  I remember the first time watching this scene, I was in tears from laughing.  It's shocking and disgusting, but oh so funny, and very ballsy (that's not a pun, by the way — come on, they're puppets!  They don't have genitalia!  Stop being gross.)

6. Wild Things (1998)

This is one popular and well-known sex scene that somehow manages to make it on lots of people's Best lists, and also their Worst lists.  As an actual movie scene, it's flawed in the most ridiculous ways ever.  But as B-movie, trashy fun, it's a blast (much like the flick itself).  Yes, it's awkward as hell that during a topless lady-man-lady threesome, Neve Campbell keeps all her clothes on.  Yes, the spilling of wine all over Denise Richard's surgically enhanced assets is more funny than sexy.  And yes, Matt Dillon's "ohhhh yeeeeah" face during the entire ordeal will make you less aroused than if you saw porn of the Queen of England.

But…that's all kind of the point, isn't it?  The sex scenes in Wild Things aren't really meant to be great movie moments — they're trashy, pulpy, hilarious garbage, with the occasional breasts and lesbian kiss thrown in for good measure.  Most of Wild Things' infamous moments are like this — Richards and Campbell's forced foreplay in the pool, for instance, is often more embarrassing than sexy.  But it's hard to watch this scene and not feel SOMETHING, whether that be arousal or amusement.

5. Monster's Ball (2001)

Halle Berry had already gone topless in Swordfish a few years before her Oscar-winning role in Monster's Ball, but that was a completely gratuitous boob-shot that existed solely to arouse the men (and women, let's face it — she's gorgeous) in the audience.  But the nudity in Monster's Ball had much more of a purpose, and Billy Bob Thorton didn't shy away from revealing himself either.  In the scene in question, Berry's character doesn't want sex so much as a physical escape from the nightmare her life has become — her painful groaning of "make me feel good" is more sad than arousing.

But that's what helps elevate this sex scene to something really special.  It is sad, and complicated — Thorton is, after all, a racist man, but he doesn't violently have sex with Berry, nor is it tender.  These two just want to, well…"feel good".  That it's also artfully shot by Marc Forster and gives us a heaping dose of Berry's amazing naked body is almost a bonus.  The film contains other sex scenes and moments of Berry-boobs, but none are more potent than this scene. 

4. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

When I was asked to write a list of "hottest sex scenes", I quickly asked if I could change it to "best"; not only so I could include hilarious ones like the Team America raunchy-fest, but also so I could use something deeply troubling and creepy, like the infamous orgy scene from Kubrick's final film.  It's hard to explain the feeling of the scene to anyone who hasn't seen it yet — mysterious, haunting, operatic, disturbing, freaky, and despite endless copulations and nudity, it's never remotely sexy.  But who said a great sex scene has to be?

Tom Cruise wanders the halls of a large mansion during this orgy, where members of a black-robed cult get it on, and watch others get it on.  He glides through, the opera music still ringing on the soundtrack, and we see MOST of what he sees (the film was unfortunately subjected to posthumous digital tinkering after Kubrick died, so most of the naughtiest bits are covered up with CGI cloaked figures).  But even with a lot of the bodies being obscured, the scene is easily the stand-out sequence of the film — despite Eyes Wide Shut as a whole not being in the same league as Kubrick's other classics, there's no denying the power of these visceral five minutes.

3. Original Sin (2001)

This lurid 2001 melodrama is only still (barely) known for two things, and two things only — Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie have hot steamy sex, and….nope, nevermind, just one thing.  That's really all this mediocre film has going for it; two of the sexiest leads in Hollywood do the naked mambo on more than one occasion, and as you're probably aware, any time Angelina Jolie was naked in the early 00's, it meant a LOT of people took notice.

Their sauciest scene, that alternates between a spinning ceiling view and close-ups of Banderas and Jolie's most famous bits and pieces, is campy, silly, soft-core hotness.  It's one of the few not-funny ones in this list that has no deeper meaning, nor contain great acting; hell, both of the actors are hardly in love by this point in the movie, and are really only getting it on with at all so that we, in the audience, can marvel at the two specimens before us.  Banderas shows less skin, of course (as most guys in a drama do), but Jolie is woman who generates sex appeal to both men and women.

2. Mulholland Drive (2001)

There are two lesbian sex scenes in David Lynch's hallucinatory nightmare of a film; one is, as Ebert called it, a "masturbatory fantasy", and the other a "romantic dream".  For my money, the best sex scene is the more romantic one, the first time Naomi Watts pushes past her nerves and kisses the mystery woman next to her, played with voluptous fun by Laura Elena Harring.  Both women are incredibly sexy, yes, but it's the personalities within the scene that make it so memorable — Watts delicately reaching out, both of them unsure, tentative, but ready to go all the way with their innermost desires.

Despite an early trip-up in the sex scene by blurring out Harring's below-the-belt nudity (Lynch wanted to "protect" her, which doesn't make sense, and is distractingly obvious), Drive's first erotic scene is both tender, beautiful, and sexy as hell.  The scene isn't chock full of nudity; yes, both women are topless (what else is new for Naomi Watts?), but the scene isn't about breasts, it's about the character's hands gingerly touching another woman's breasts for the first time.  And their kissing is among the better romantic kissing scenes I've ever watched; lesbian or not, these two are deeply (and surprisingly) in love with each other, and that passion shows.

1. Black Swan (2010)

As I mentioned several times before, this isn't a list of hottest sex scenes; but if it WERE, Black Swan's infamous lesbian entanglement would still be at or near the top.  Yes, it's also an intense and sometimes disturbing scene — certainly it pinpoints Natalie Portman's insanity becoming unstoppable, and the moments where Mila Kunis' back tattoo's move or her face turns into Portman's are kinda creepy and trippy.

But that's what makes the scene special –it's combination of the mysterious and distressing with the deeply sexual and passionate.  Before the movie even came out, word of it's sex scene had spread everywhere — Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in a lesbian scene!  Mind blown!  And indeed, the 40 second long scene is just as hot as the description allowed; neither actress has been known for showing much on camera (despite both of them being among the sexiest actresses in Hollywood), so the two of them locking lips in their underwear was guaranteed to satisfy on at least one basic level.  In fact, Kunis had already played a lesbian in the little-seen film After Sex, with the gorgeous Zoe Saldana, and they didn't even so much as kiss each other.  Black Swan remedied that disappointment quite well.

But there's a lot more to the scene (and, of course, the whole movie) than what appears on the surface.  Darren Aronofsky did a great job directing the flick, and this scene is among his very best — it's not as nasty as Jennifer Connelly's lesbian sex in Requiem for a Dream, but it's just as inquisitive and intriguing, and yeah…it's really freakin' hot, too.