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(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

The 10 best sex scenes of all time

@Russellisation

Explicit cinema has come a long way since the creation of the popular medium in the early 20th century, with graphic sex scenes now commonplace in mainstream media after decades of censorship and moral panic. Blurring the line between art and mere sexual titillation, a noteworthy sex scene still holds the power to market a movie, with the temptation of big-screen physical romance simply being too much for many to ignore. 

As to what ingredients make a good sex scene, this is another question entirely, being totally dependent on the tone of the film at hand. For a raunchy drama, an impassioned, intimate scene might suffice, whilst for an intricate love story, one intercut with flashbacks and other personal perspectives may make for a more impactful scene.

Whilst many films attempt to reflect the passion of a sex scene, they remain infamously tricky scenes to pull off, particularly when such careful safeguarding measures have to be taken behind the scenes of a film’s production. Charting the most passionate, most heart-aching and even some of the funniest sex scenes of all time, take a look at our list of favourites below, including the films of Nicolas Roeg, Ang Lee and David Lynch.

The 10 best sex scenes of all time:

10. Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990)

It’s a wonder how one of the most peculiar romance films of all time ended up becoming one of the most influential in the genre, with Jerry Zucker’s supernatural love story telling the tale of lustful yearning from across the grave.

Starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, the plot for the film follows a young woman who has recently lost her boyfriend, only for his ghost to contact her and warn her of impending danger. This makes way for one of the most sensual and passionate film scenes of all time, when the two characters take part in a wet, sloppy and erotic pottery-making session that quickly leads to more explicit stuff. 

9. Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

Passionate and explicit, the sex scene in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour typifies the fiery energy of young love whilst well reflecting the raging love that exists between the two lead characters.

Led by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, director Abdellatif Kechiche pushes both actors to their absolute limits, successfully creating one of cinema’s most memorable sex scenes. Whilst the scene is creatively stimulating, it isn’t without its own controversies with Seydoux recalling to The Independent, “Yes. Of course, it was kind of humiliating sometimes, I was feeling like a prostitute”. 

8. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

Perhaps the most iconic gay love story ever put to film, Brokeback Mountain was a landmark film upon its release in 2005, making history as an Oscar-winning culturally significant piece of cinema. 

Passionate and heart-aching, the story follows Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), two shepherds who engage in a sexual and emotional relationship despite their commitment to their girlfriends. The sensual scene in which the two lovers finally make love is one laden with passion, made all the more poignant by the sheer impact of such a scene on the landscape of the industry.

7. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Inspired by the 1997 thriller Perfect Blue by director Satoshi Kon, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is an eerie psychological thriller all about the descent into madness that comes with one’s own commitment to personal gain. 

Starring Natalie Portman as Nina, a committed dancer who struggles to maintain her sanity whilst playing the lead role in Swan Lake, Aronofsky’s film swirls with passion, romance and creeping indulgence. Quickly becoming a favourite in popular culture, the scene in question features Nina and her on-stage rival Lily (Mila Kunis) as the two engage in passionate sex whilst Nina’s own psychology unravels before her eyes. 

6. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

An iconic film of contemporary world cinema, Call Me By Your Name shadowed Brokeback Mountain in its pioneering efforts to put gay relationships in mainstream filmmaking, with one scene, in particular, taking the cake. 

Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, the film is based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, following a romance that blossoms between a 17-year-old student and his father’s work partner in 1980s Italy. It is the infamous ‘peach scene’ that audiences still recall to this very day, as both lead characters engage in some fruity foreplay before going into a truly graphic sexual scene. 

5. Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)

Often recognised as the erotic romance movie, Basic Instinct does graphic sex like no other film on this list, taking the cinema to entirely new places upon its release in 1992. 

Following a violent police detective investigating a seductive novelist for murder, Paul Verhoeven’s film quickly becomes something far more titillating as the two leads lust after each other. Catapulting lead stars Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone to instant international success, Basic Instinct was nominated for two Academy Awards despite the intense graphic sex scene that well reflected the lustful passion of the film itself. 

4. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 drama Blue Valentine feels so heart-aching and so real that it truly defies the expectations of a romance, with little happiness to be found in this fascinating melancholy love story. 

Presenting sex and relationships with physical and emotional realism, Blue Valentine charts the relationship of a married couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, as their love breaks down over a number of years. Charged with decades of love and tumultuous emotion, the film’s iconic sex scene is a psychological mess of minds as lifetimes of romance are spilt out on screen. 

3. Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)

Though sex is usually romantic, sensual and erotic, it can also be incredibly funny, particularly if you know your partner inside out. No film knows this more than Team America: World Police, as Trey Parker delivers one of the most absurd sex scenes of all time, using only puppets. 

Ticking off every sex position in the book, including ones you probably didn’t even know existed, the sex scene takes place towards the end of the film between two special forces agents Garry and Lisa when he promises her “I will never die”. Perfectly put together, the scene is a parody of every Hollywood movie that has ever tried to make a sensual love story, with Trey Parker the creator of South Park simply ridiculing mainstream cinema.

2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

The king of surreal, dreamlike filmmaking, the sex scene that director David Lynch puts together in his 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive is truly unlike any other put to cinema, toying with the very limits of reality and fantasy.

With sensual affection, the scene in question involves Rita (Laura Harring) and Betty (Naomi Watts), two friends locked within an ethereal mystery who sleep together in a sudden moment of lust. Strangely tragic and heartbreaking, in Lynch’s story, the scene is contextualized by the film’s shocking conclusion, providing new context to this iconic scene, making it passionate, romantic, erotic and melancholy.

1. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)

Often in cinema, the sex that we see on screen is between two young, good-looking characters usually played by the hottest Hollywood talents putting on their most theatrical performance. Rarely do we see sex scenes between older lovers.

This is exactly what director Nicolas Roeg gave audiences with 1973’s psychological horror Don’t Look Now featuring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Starring as a married couple who have recently lost their young daughter, the sex scene comes as the two individuals are still recovering from their grievances. Raw, emotional and vulnerable, the two make love on a hotel bed with chemistry that screams of a sexual past.